Last weekend, I attended the annual Adirondack Sportsmans Dinner in Schroon Lake. The event has become an annual rite of spring as it offers the opportunity to visit with a group of old friends and other like-minded outdoorsmen and women and to share stories of the past year's adventures. As always, it was a wonderful event with a great turnout.
I usually offer a seminar and visit with other presenters to gather information on topics ranging from Flies For The Dog Days of Summer with Paul Tremblay or Hunting With a Primitive Flintlock Rifle with Gary Hodgson.
Other topics of interest included seminars on Deep Woods Deer and Bear Hunting with Bill Kozel, Survival with Marty Simons and A Hunter's Year in the Adirondack by author Dan Ladd from Fort Ann. Nationally recognized whitetail expert, Charles Alsheimer, offered a keynote address on a year in the life of whitetails. The photographs were amazing and the information extraordinary.
My session centered on brook trout, or salvelinus fontinalis, which were designated the official New York state fish in 1975. Known as brookies, speckles and square tails, similar to black bear, whitetail deer and loons, brook trout are considered an iconic species of the Adirondacks. Brook trout inhabit cold, clean waters and they are considered the 'canary of the coal mine' when it comes to water quality.
At one time, brook trout could be found in over 95 percent of the Adirondack lakes, streams, rivers and ponds. Sadly, due to changes in water quality, acid deposition and the introduction of non-native and competitive species, there remain fewer than 10 "heritage" strains of brook trout currently inhabiting traditional Adirondack waters. These are the last remaining remnants of a once widespread native population.
However, the nine remaining heritage strains of brook trout are significant. Heritage populations are wild strains of brook trout that maintain the original genetic characteristics of a specific lake population.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org