Spring Mills Creek and Tributaries (2009)
Fisheries Survey Summary
On June 15, 2009, DEC Region 9 fish staff, assisted by angler volunteers, sampled the trout population in Spring Mills Creek and three tributaries. The stream is located in southeastern Allegany County, near the Village of Whitesville. The stream has been sampled several times (2002, 1992, 1979, 1975, 1972, 1965, 1953, 1941 and 1926). The original survey in 1926 recommended stocking rainbow trout fingerlings. This was changed in 1942 to stocking brook trout fingerlings and in 1976 to stocking brown trout fingerlings. Finally in 1992, stocking was removed entirely due to finding a significant wild brook trout population. Wild brook trout were found in limited numbers in the 1979 survey with moderate numbers found in 1992 and 2002.
The Spring Mills Creek watershed is mostly forested with some active agriculture, primarily in the higher elevations and ridge tops. Two poorly run farms were noted adjacent to the stream corridor and at least one small section appeared to still be in pasture. Many parts of the riparian areas appear to be old pasture that are becoming fairly well vegetated with willows and hardwood trees, including some extensive planting done by the Upper Genesee Chapter of Trout Unlimited. There are no public fishing easements on Spring Mills Creek or its tributaries, however posting was not extensive. Anglers wishing to fish these streams should obtain landowner permission prior fishing.
We sampled five sites on Spring Mills Creek in 2009, spread along the stream from 0.4 miles above the mouth to about one mile below the source. Adult brook trout were found at all five sites, and young-of-year (YOY) brook trout were found at the upper four sites. Overall, we sampled 1,150 feet of stream and collected 27 adult brook trout and 10 YOY. This number of fish captured equates to 150 adult brook trout per mile of stream. Adult brook trout collected ranged from 4.9" to 10.1". This is a low to moderate abundance of trout, and the population appears to be relatively stable compared with what was found in the 2002 and 1992 surveys. Low numbers of YOY trout in the main stream likely resulted from excessive sedimentation in much of the main stream. Adult trout abundance is limited by a combination of low reproduction and a general lack of adult trout habitat.
Two other limiting factors on the brook trout population may be high summer water temperatures and competition with other fish species. Generally high quality brook trout streams only contain sculpin and blacknose dace. In Spring Mills Creek, we found several competing fish species that also are indicators of elevated water temperatures. These other fish are creek chub, central stoneroller, white sucker, redside dace and longnose dace. These other fish were fairly abundant, especially at the upstream most site, where the bottom was heavily silted and there appeared to be beaver activity upstream. Water temperature data was collected on August 14, 2009, by an angler volunteer and showed water temperatures ranging from the mid to upper 60's along the stream on a day in the 80's. However, stream flows were far above the normal summer low flows this stream experiences. The summer of 2009 was characterized by moderate to high stream flows, thus "worse case" stream temperature data could not be collected.
We also sampled fish at four sites on three tributaries of Spring Mills Creek. None of these tributary streams had ever been sampled and are not classified as wild trout streams. We found reproducing wild brook trout populations in two of the three tributaries and the water classifications will be upgraded for these streams to better protect their populations in the future.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Spring Mills Creek has improved as wild brook trout water over the last thirty years, mainly through the abandonment of riparian farm land. However, there are likely several methods that could be employed to further enhance the stream's trout population. Trout Unlimited volunteers have already undertaken tree planting projects along several areas of the stream, and this should be encouraged and supported. Increasing the amount of the main stream and tributaries shaded by trees will help to reduce summer water temperatures. Additionally, any steps that can be taken to inventory and reduce sources of excess sediment entering the main stream or tributaries will benefit the brook trout's ability to spawn successfully. Finally, projects designed to increase the amount of habitat to shelter adult trout (pools with overhead cover) will likely increase the abundance of adult fish.