ROCK RIVER FEATURED
The Rock River is one of our physical features here in Watertown and it is gaining in visibility all the time, or so it seems.
The river is a dominant part of the landscape, coming into the city on the southeast corner and then traveling north and a bit westerly until reaching its apex near Spaulding Street and then heading south again until it leaves the city on the southwest corner of the city limits.
The Rock River is what enticed Timothy Johnson to settle here back in 1836. The city was originally called Johnson Rapids because of the fast currents in the river which were caused by the large drop in levels as it winds through the city.
It took almost no time at all before mills were built along the banks and several dams constructed to harness the river's power. Today the upper and lower dams have both been extensively rehabilitated and actually generate electricity which is used locally and also put into the Wisconsin Energy grid.
Years and years ago, the Rock River in Watertown was a perfect spot for fishing and it yielded lots of trophy game fish.
But, gradually carp and other dirty fish were introduced and became the fastest growing species of fish, pushing out many of the preferred game fish.
That all started to turn around some years ago when a small group of local fishermen and people concerned about the community and the river banded together and decided it was high time to bring the quality of the river back to its old standards. The group, called Rock River Rescue, and many other interested citizens have been making incredible progress.
Every summer at Riverfest the "Carp Classic" is held where prizes are awarded for the most carp caught and the total weight. It wasn't all that many years ago that the take at that annual event was simply huge, but now each year the number of carp caught at the contest goes down. That's because the carp population has peaked and is heading down -- a very good thing for game fishermen.
All of the work of the Rock River Rescue group has been the focus of many stories here in the Daily Times.
And, now, it is the topic of a front page story in the latest edition of Wisconsin Outdoor News which is being distributed starting today. The article was written by Dan Small, a contributing editor for the publication and was supplemented by several photos of the progress that has been made.
Tom Beyer, co-founder and president of Rock River Rescue, is quoted extensively in the article.
He pointed out that the river had become overloaded with carp which uprooted the vegetation needed for game fish. Carp were also the culprits for stirring up the sediment. That in turn made it more difficult for game fish to find forage and the result was fewer game fish.
The answer was to sharply reduce the level of carp infestation which was done by stocking the river in Watertown with the right kinds of game fish. They included flathead catfish, muskies, pike, smallmouth bass, perch, crappies and bluegills.
The article by Small said since the stocking was started in 2002, over one million fish have been placed in the river in the Watertown area.
At the same time hundreds of thousands of carp have been removed by dip netting and seining.
The results have been nothing short of incredible. Aquatic vegetation has improved dramatically and at the same time the turbidity has declined.
Today more and more people are seen fishing in the river and the catch includes more and larger game fish and varieties of pan fish.
Brian Torreano, a biologist, is a consultant to the Rock River Rescue group, and he was quoted in the article as saying "In terms of diversity of fish species, the Rock is second among Wisconsin rivers, only to the Mukwonago. In addition to the game fish and pan fish present, there are several species of darters, spotfin, black-nose and sand shiners that are indicators of good water quality."
Here at the Daily Times we often get reports of large game fish being caught from the Rock River in Watertown.
Just a week ago we received a call from a friend who said one of his neighbor kids had landed a 37-inch muskie near the wastewater treatment plant , one of the popular fishing spots.
Our guess is the muskie got that big by feasting on carp eggs and that's a good thing!
With all the progress that has been made in the past 17 years, it's hard to imagine what things will look like in the next 4-5 years.
The article also has comments from Mayor Emily McFarland who strongly supported the efforts to bring the river back to the high quality it once enjoyed.
She also noted the city is working hard to focus on the river and the great asset it is for the community.
If you take a look around you'll notice a lot of good things are happening along the banks of the Rock River within the city limits. Riverfront property is prized like never before and development plans are under way in many areas.
You need to look no further than the block on Main Street where the Daily Times offices are located. The city purchased that whole block and there are plans to make it a focal point for redevelopment, including a public gathering spot.
We're also seeing fishing piers and boat launches popping up around the city, most all of which are on property owned by the city.
The Rock River is certainly headed in the right direction and with the commitment from the Rock River Rescue group as well as other interested citizens, the future of the river is bright indeed.
If you want to know more about Rock River Rescue or ways you can help their efforts, you can go to www.rockriverrescue.org.
Dan Small's article put a really nice focus on these efforts and it is sure to spur more of them in the future.