MIDDLEBURY — The Little Elkhart River flows through pastures, woods, parks and backyards, from southern LaGrange County to the northwest through Middlebury and Bristol, where it drains into the St. Joseph River. Meanwhile, a healthy population of a non-native fish swim its length all year long because of an organization dedicated to the idea of a lasting trout fishery.
The Little Elkhart chapter of Trout Unlimited has managed to turn what was a three-week trout fishery into a permanent habitat for trout.
The chapter oversees and maintains more than 18 miles of fishable river. Members restock brown trout annually, simultaneously with an annual rainbow trout addition provided by the state.
“The neat thing is” chapter president Michael Beachy said, “now we're seeing evidence of reproduction.”
Beachy has managed to catch a trout every month of the year for five years — something that he says wasn't possible when he started lobbying for catch-and-release legislation in 2005.
Beachy estimates he has overseen roughly 330 hours of volunteer labor from approximately 360 chapter members from northern Indiana. Trout Unlimited has 152,000 volunteers nationwide, making up a network of people whose goal is to preserve, protect and restore cold water fisheries across the U.S.
The chapter also provides fly-fishing classes, including one specifically tailored to fishing the Little Elkhart River.
“Fly fishing the Little Elkhart is unlike fly fishing any other (trout) stream I've ever fished,” said Beachy.
They also build “log jams,” which Beachy explained are designed to focus the flow of water through a small channel, creating a habitat for trout. The local chapter also builds small, underwater shelters to shade trout from the summer heat and manmade rapids that are more reminiscent of natural trout streams.
The original vision of a year-round fishery has been realized, but Beachy knows there is more that can be done. “Working for improvement is a never-ending task, but if one is passionate, it can also be a lot of fun.”
The Little Elkhart chapter of Trout Unlimited's meetings are open to the public at 7 p.m. on the second Wednesday of every month at the Middlebury Public Library, 101 E. Winslow St, Middlebury. More information about the chapter and its classes can be found at lectu.org.