In my experience, you don’t need to hang around the fly fishing community for very long before you come across the iconic phrase, “match the hatch”. What an incredibly simple, yet powerful concept! From what I’ve learned, selecting your fly based on the insects you find in the stream you’re fishing went mainstream with Schwiebert’s 1955 book on the topic, and this technique has remained foundational to the sport. But macroinvertebrates, the tiny insects that spend most of their lives underwater, can tell us a lot more than just what fly to try casting next. They are the base of the river’s food chain upon which all other animals depend. Who’s there and who isn’t can teach us a great deal about the health of a river system as a whole. This was the key message we were trying to pass on when we took the Green Team out on the Neponset in late July.
Around ten AM on a hot summer morning, fifteen members of the Green Team and their crew leaders rode their bikes over to the Edgewater Drive canoe launch in Mattapan where they met with us and representatives from Greater Boston Trout Unlimited (GBTU). The Southwest Boston Community Development Corporation has been running a conservation focused youth program called “The Green Team”, for most of the past decade. Comprised of high school aged kids primarily from Hyde Park, West Roxbury, and Mattapan the Green Team works all summer cleaning up and restoring the urban wilds that speckle the lower Neponset River. I imagine for the Green Team a day on the river learning how to fly fish was a welcome break from pulling invasive garlic mustard.
The team was a little apprehensive at first, unsure if the water was safe. One team member even asked half-jokingly if there were piranhas in the Neponset. For a lot of these kids, this was the first time they’d ever worn waders or been in the river that runs through their backyard. We spent the rest of the morning learning how to use a kick net, and how to identify the various critters that call the Neponset River home. They learned that some species are more sensitive to pollution than others, and depending on the number of sensitive species found you can tell how clean or polluted a river is. Based on the pollution sensitive caddisfly and mayfly larvae we found, the Green Team concluded that the Neponset was surprisingly healthy in Mattapan.
In the afternoon, the real fun began. GBTU Chapter President Rui Coelho and chapter member André Alguero brought out the fly rods that they had rigged up during lunch. They showed the Green Team all of the different types of flies and how the different shapes, colors, textures, and sizes mimic the insects we saw in the morning. Before long the kids were out on the water learning to cast. “Ten and two” and “remember to pause on the back cast” echoed down the river. Even though we didn’t catch any fish the kids had a blast. I blame our bad luck on the river being swollen from storms earlier in the week.
Former president John F. Kennedy once said, “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” I certainly believe that’s true. If we are to ensure a future that is rich with clean rivers to enjoy, we need to instill a desire for that future in our kids today. There’s no better way to gain an appreciation for a river than splashing around in it. Its days like these that really open kids’ eyes to the natural world, and to the wonders to be found therein.
Chris Hirsch, NepRWA Environmental Scientist — July 2019