Football teams have home fields and basketball squads enjoy a home court advantage, so it is only fitting that a fishing group have its own river.
But in the case of the Blue Ridge Chapter of Trout Unlimited based in Winston-Salem, its friendly confines are about 40 miles away — where the Ararat River meanders through Mount Airy and lures anglers from around the region.
That includes members of the Winston-Salem Trout Unlimited group that was formed about 40 years ago, who have embraced a section of the river in Mount Airy. That not only includes fishing its pristine waters, but holding periodic cleanup events to keep it that way, such as one on Nov. 19.
“We just kind of took it under our wing,” chapter President Roy Davidson explained of how the group adopted the Ararat as its home stream.
“It was the closest trout stream to Winston-Salem, and we thought that was a good opportunity for us,” Davidson, a retiree who is a lifelong fisherman, added regarding the Blue Ridge Trout Unlimited efforts to care for the local waterway. It also is appealing to escape a big city by coming to Mount Airy.
“Well, it’s kind of like our hometown — many of us love visiting Mount Airy,” Davidson said, praising its warmth and friendliness to out-of-town anglers who also patronize restaurants and stores while here.
“We have right at 400 members, all within the Winston-Salem area,” he said of the Blue Ridge Chapter of Trout Unlimited. About 60 of those are considered active members, who take part in events such as the Ararat River cleanups.
Davidson said one catalyst for the Winston-Salem group’s embracing of the local river was a streambank restoration project within the past 10 years. It repaired decades of erosion and improved its overall capability to support the fish population.
This led the Ararat to once again be classified as a delayed-harvest stream by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and its stocking with trout.
Under the delayed-harvest program, selected trout streams are heavily stocked during the cooler months, but there is a “catch” in that actual harvest of the trout is postponed until the warmer periods. This includes a catch-and-release system in place from October through the first Saturday in June.
“It’s fun to catch those bigger ones,” Davidson said of one effect of that designation.
Looking to future
So while there is an admittedly selfish motive for an out-of-town group such as Blue Ridge Trout Unlimited wanting to take care of the Ararat River, there is also a long-range goal of stewardship.
This includes a desire to conserve the river “and make it available for our children later on,” Davidson said.
That’s where the ongoing cleanups play a role.
“We usually do it twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall,” Davidson said.
During the most recent one in late November, members gathered for day-long activities that included removing trash and other items from the river and a picnic at a shelter in Riverside Park.
“We actually had 33 people participate in the stream clean that morning, but as the day wore on the weather became quite windy and kind of ruined our picnic, games and fly rod casting tournament we had planned,” Davidson related.
“Maybe next spring will be better.”
Davidson said one regular task with the cleanup surrounds tires that were embedded along the river over the years to reduce erosion. As time passed, tires have become dislodged and found their way into the river, awaiting removal by the cleanup crew.
Catrina Alexander, Mount Airy’s parks and recreation director, appreciates how the Winston-Salem-based group “has become such a vital partner for fishing tourism, education and conservation” in the aftermath of the river-restoration project.
“We are certainly grateful for the members of BRTU,” Alexander added.
“They set a tremendous example in our community, and they don’t even live here!”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.