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The last native brook trout of the Adirondacks

These heritage strains have managed to survive despite water quality issues and the widespread introduction of hatchery-reared domestic, brook trout varieties. They have existed only within waters where genes from outside the original population have never been introduced into their particular lake or pond. These are the only true native brook trout, survivors from a time when the glaciers receded.

In 1979, researchers identified 10 heritage strains of wild New York brook trout still existing in the Adirondacks. These brookies inhabited Basalm Lake, Dix Pond, Honnedaga Lake, Horn Lake, Little Tupper Lake, Nate Pond, Stink Lake, Tamarack Pond, Tunis Lake, and Windfall Pond. None of these ponds had a record of being stocked with domestic trout, leaving the original gene pool intact.

Unfortunately, the Tamarack Pond variety was lost in the early 1990s, and the Honnedaga Lake population declined dramatically during the 1970s. For several years, it too was believed to be extinct.

In recent years, however, the Honnedaga Lake population began to show signs of recovery. Researchers believe that although the water quality in the main lake became too acidic to support brook trout, remnants of the original population sought refuge in the extreme headwaters of the lake's tributaries; which were not affected by the adverse water quality issues of the main lake. Eventually, as water quality improved in the main lake, survivors of the original strain returned from sanctuary in the tributaries and began to repopulate the lake. Today, the brook trout population continues to improve.

Currently, offspring of Horn Lake, Little Tupper Lake and Windfall Pond heritage strains are raised in state hatcheries to be stocked in a majority of Adirondack ponds, both the roadside and more remote waters.

These brook trout are proven survivors. They have lasted through years of man-made intrusions including commercial fishing, the introduction of non-native species, acid rain and mercury deposition. They have endured drought, extreme water temperatures, fires, floods and the ravages of winter's wrath. Yet they survive, speckled beauties with fin's outlined in white. Is it any wonder that they remain the most sought after species in the state? Next week, preparations for the trout season.

Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at brookside18@adelphia.net

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