The Native Brookie: A Dying Breed

You may be surprised to hear that, while brook trout are still present in slightly over 400 Adirondack waters (public and private), natural reproduction is occurring in less than 40 of those ponds.

That means 90 percent of trout ponds are dependent on stocking to maintain their fisheries.

I received a letter from Lake Placid resident Bill Kelly who asked if I knew if the big brook trout pictured on our outdoors page each week were stocked trout or native.

It was a good question, one I posed to Senior Aquatic Biologist Rich Preall of the DEC. The answer, he said, is that they most likely were stocked trout.

Sadly, influences like acid rain and the introduction of warm-water predator and competitive species like bass, yellow perch, bluegill and northern pike have nearly wiped out native brookies.

The fisheries sections of several recent unit management plans detail the dramatic decline of brook trout in the Adirondacks. For instance, within the Saranac Lake Wild Forest the water surface area that supports brook trout has dwindled from 97 percent (pre-1900) to less than 1 percent today, Preall said.

Before the influence of Europeans, brook trout flourished in virtually all Adirondack lakes and ponds. Fish in the 6-pound class were common.

By 1960, more than 90 percent of the total water area in the Adirondacks had been infiltrated by warm-water game fish and panfish - all of which were not native species in the Adirondacks. Instead, they were introduced as sport fish by Europeans.

Add pollution to the mix, and brook trout nearly became extinct here a threat that remains a real possibility today, especially without aggressive stocking programs.

There are only seven Adirondack ponds that are believed to still have their original genetic strain of brook trout present and most of those waters are now imperiled, Preall said.

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