It’s early morning and sun blazes down, flashing off the rapids of the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Woodie Walker stands in waders, flicking a fly fishing line into the rain- swollen waters an hour south of Washington, D.C. All around him, the silvery blue backs of scores of fish flash like blades from the gray-green current and then disappear.
It is the running of the shad, an annual springtime ritual in which the migratory fish surge up Chesapeake Bay tributaries to spawn. Cormorants stand on the rocks, feasting on the profusion of fish, as vultures circle overhead.
Walker, a conservationist with an environmental group called the Friends of the Rappahannock, said he has seen an increase in several species of fish in recent years – a trend confirmed by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
“The hickory shad is doing very well, and the American shad is doing better," Walker said. "A lot of the reason is that 11 years ago, Friends of the Rappahannock and other partners, including the Army Corps of Engineers, removed a dam about 5 miles upstream from here. And that dam was obviously an impediment to the migratory fish -- the shad and the striped bass. Removing the dam has really improved access for fish, and as a result our fishery is getting better.”