I was just taking a break from writing a research paper and happened to stop by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries website. I noticed a news release from yesterday that discussed the fish kills that have plagued the river for the past few years. I live about 5 minutes from the river and have fished it my whole life, so this article was of particular interest to me.
The Shenandoah is a beautiful and fast flowing river with a rocky bottom that makes it ideal for Smallmouth bass fishing. My Dad and I used to be able to wade out in the river and catch upwards of 50 bass in half a days time, and often some of these fish would be in the two to three pound range. After the first fish kill in the Spring of 2004, I remember not being able to catch more than a handful of Smallmouth, and most of them were less than ten inches long. We also began noticing that almost all of the Smallies and Sunfish we caught had lesions on them. Oftentimes we would see dead fish covered in lesions floating dead past us in the river.
There were still fish in the river, but the numbers and size of fish that we caught had significantly dropped off. Last year was really the first year that I started catching more fish, with a few of them being in the two to three pound range. One of my good friends caught an 18 inch Smallie out of a deep pool early this Fall.
The news brief states that many studies have been done, and some possible causes have been found, but they still don't know exactly what is causing the fish kills.
Unfortunately, despite its beauty, the Shenandoah is a very polluted river. There are industrial wastes and heavy metals that have contaminated the water so that you are cautioned to not eat the fish, and if you do, only in small amounts. There are also numerous agricultural contaminants that runoff into the river and cause a horrific algae bloom in the summer when the water is low. The Shenandoah is part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, and undoubtedly the pollution and fish kills in the Shenandoah are poisoning the Bay.
Hopefully there isn't a horrible fish kill this year and hopefully the VDGIF and scientists will eventually find out what is killing the fish. Unfortunately, the river is so polluted and there are so many possible causes that I doubt they'll have a definitive answer to the problem any time soon.
Here is a map of the Shenandoah River Basin that I found on the NOAA website...