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In Search of a Record Book Brookie

Brook trout, an indigenous species of New York, have an historic range stretching from the Great Lakes to the Hudson River and include the small, freshwater streams of Long Island. They are the official state fish as designated by the legislation in 1975. Prior to the establishment of a freshwater record book by the Conservation Department in the 1940s, New Yorks unofficial record brook trout as attributed to Daniel Webster, who took a 14-pound, 8-ounce brook trout from Carman's River in Suffolk County, Long Island in 1823. The official state record brook trout was eventually established with an 8-pound 8-ounce reportedly caught in 1908 by William Keener in Punchbowl Pond in Sullivan County. Keelers fish, entered as the state record in 1946 retained the top spot until it was retired by the DEC in 1991. At the time, the Department of Environmental Conservation made a decision to retire the long, established state record brook trout to historical standing based on several issues, the main item being that no official record or evidence existed to verify the catch. The record had been based on anecdotal evidence and the first mention of the fish didnt appear in any publication until 27 years after the catch. Additionally, the DEC could find no evidence of any Punchbowl Pond ever existing in Sullivan County. When first accepted into the record book in 1946, Keeners catch replaced a 6-pound, 12-ounce brookie which had been the first officially recognized state record when it was established by the old Conservation Department in September of 1941. After the old records were expunged, all of the subsequent brook trout entered for record book consideration proved controversial. Following the controversies, the DECs Bureau of Fisheries adjusted the Rules for Entry for New York State Record brook trout to avoid further problems. The current rules state that brook trout must be either a wild-spawned or a long term, at large fish harvested from waters with no history of splake stocking. Additionally, no fish will be considered from a river that has a hatchery, which excludes the Connetquot River on Long Island. Consideration for entry requires documentation including witness statements, photographic evidence and submission to a DEC fisheries biologist for dissection to determine species identification. It is difficult to differentiate a brook trout from a splake without an examination requiring dissection. After the long, established brook trout record was placed into historical standing, in 1991, the record remained vacant until Oct. 4, 2004 when I brought in a 4-pound, 2-ounce fish for consideration. I didnt expect the record would hold up for long and I was right. Less than two weeks into the 2005 trout season, the record was eclipsed by a Saranac Lake angler who brought in 4-pound, 4-ounce. brookie. Several fish were entered and quickly the record was bumped from 4-pound, 5-ounce to 4-pound, 8-ounce to 4-pound, 11 ounce. Finally, the current record was established when Jesse Yousey landed a 4-pound, 15-ounce on May 25, 2006 in the Five Ponds Wilderness of Herkimer County. It was Youseys second record fish entered in two years. According to the report, Eastern Brook Trout: Status and Threats, the first comprehensive assessment of the status of brook trout in the Eastern United States, brook trout populations remain strong in only 5 percent of their historical habitat in the Eastern United States. Brook trout are the canary in the coal mine when it comes to water quality, explained Gary Berti, Trout Unlimiteds Eastern Brook Trout Campaign Coordinator. The presence of brook trout in a watershed indicates that water quality is excellent. Declining brook trout populations can provide an early warning that the health of an entire stream, lake or river is at risk. Recently, two potential record book, brook trout were taken in NY state; yet neither was even considered for record status since the anglers ate their fish before DEC could verify the species. One was a 23-inch, brook trout taken in the St. Regis Canoe Area by Matt John, a Westport based angler. Although the fish was measured; he failed to weigh the specimen. Believing the fish to be a splake, he filleted it and put it on the grill. The other potential record brookie was taken when East Moriches angler Mickey Russo pulled a giant, 9.60 pounder from an Eastern Long Island tidal creek on April 4. Although the Long Island salter was measured and weighed on certified scales; the lucky angler failed to have it examined by DEC biologists, a requirement necessary to prove that it wasnt a splake. Again, the angler ate the fish so it cant be considered for inclusion in the state record books. However, since the catch was photographed, weighed and measured; it will still be considered eligible for a line class World Record. It will easily eclipse the current International Game Fish Associations Line Class records for 4 pound, 6 pound and 8 pound test line. If you think you may have landed a state record freshwater fish, check out the syllabus that comes with your freshwater license or call DEC at 518-897 1300. They will also put you in touch with a DEC rep who can verify your catch. You can also visit www.dec.state.ny.us to view current state records. Catch and release fish are also eligible to earn a DEC Anglers Achievement Award; please visit the DECs website for further information on this popular statewide program. Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at brookside18@ adelphia.net

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