April 7, 2013

Brook-trout fishing an Adirondack tradition

As the 2013 trout and salmon fishing season gets underway, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has already begun stocking more than 300 lakes and ponds and around 3,000 miles of streams across the state with nearly 2.5 million catchable-size brook, brown and rainbow trout.

Ask any northeastern angler about fishing in the Adirondacks and you are certain to hear about brook trout, with their distinctive markings and remarkable fighting ability. To many an avid fisherperson, they epitomize the heart of the sport-fishing experience.

The clear, cold headwaters of Adirondack rivers and streams and the crisp, clean, oxygen-rich water of our lakes and ponds are home to the largest populations of brook trout in the state. They are also home to some of the largest specimens found in the Northeast.

“Brookies” were once common throughout New York, so common that early surveys ignored bodies of water where they lived, designating only lakes and streams where they did not exist. Over time, however, water-quality degradation, siltation, pollution, habitat destruction and the introduction of competing fish species have all contributed to their demise. But thanks to the management, restoration and maintenance efforts of individuals, scientists, sportspersons and environmentalists, brook-trout fisheries, many of which were previously degraded to a point where restoration was considered unattainable, have been restored.

Nonetheless, many heritage species have been lost to these conditions or to interbreeding with hatchery-raised species. Scientists at Cornell have been working with DEC biologists for years to identify and preserve all of New York’s strains of heritage brook trout. Only a few remain. One of these, the Windfall Brook Trout, developed as a result of rare environmental conditions that occurred approximately 12,000 years ago as the last of the glaciers receded. The species is exclusive to our area.

DEC generally releases more than 150,000 brook trout into small- to moderate-sized streams, lakes and ponds every spring. However, due to an outbreak of a fish bacterial disease called furunculosis at the Rome State Fish Hatchery, 131,000 brown and brook trout had to be destroyed. As a result, DEC anticipates stocking only 224 Adirondack lakes and ponds this year, 102 less than planned. A DEC statement notes that “many of the ponds not stocked will still have holdover fish from previous years’ stockings” and will “continue to provide excellent angling.”

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