Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Where brookies belong...

Here in the West, where brook trout are something of a scourge, we take their presence for granted. In fact, we often turn up our noses at plying cold, clear streams for these non-native fish that, in many cases, have spawned themselves out of habitat and rarely grow to exceed 10 inches in length.

On the East Coast, however, brookies are revered, and rightly so. Efforts are under way to protect existing populations and to hopefully reintroduce brook trout into waters that can support them. Unfortunately, on the highly industrialized Eastern Seaboard, finding that habitat can be quite the challenge.

Trout Unlimited, along with its partners in the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture, is sending its minions into the hinterlands in search of brook trout strongholds. Hopefully, in addition to finding hidden populations of brook trout, the group and its volunteer army will also be able to idenifty potential reintroduction sites for the East's native fish.

Don Lehman of the Glens Falls Post Star describes the effort to discover these off-the-beaten-path brookie populations and the challenging work finding suitable habitat for reintroduction.

Next time you're cursing the little brookies that have overtaken some backcountry trout stream in the Rockies, remember the fish that hit your fly is the progeny of the once-great brook trout runs that used to course up and down the rivers and streams of Appalachia. Sure, they don't belong here--but where the do belong, they're in dire straights.

Friday, September 25, 2009

When browns and brookies get it on ...

OK, so it's probably a pretty rare feat in the wild, given that the stars would have to line up just right, and a horny little brookie would have to convince a ripe hen brown to drop her eggs for him rather than for a mate of the same species, but the sterile offspring of these two coldwater salmonids is a pretty cool product. Granted, most of the tiger trout found these days are planted by ambitious fisheries managers looking to either, a) remove rough fish, like chubs and suckers, from a fishery, or b) offer a unique angling experience to fishers looking for something different.

One such fishery, of the latter variety, is found high in the Pine Forest Range of northern Nevada. Blue Lake is a great high-elevation destination (and it IS a destination--you'll need a four-wheel drive vehicle, good tires and a bit of nerve) for tiger trout. Given that the lake never held a native trout population, all the fish in the small alpine lake are introduced, so tigers aren't taking a bite out of any indigenous population.

Never caught a tiger? Imagine the surly disposition of a big brown, coupled with the opportunistic nature of a brook trout, and you're pretty much there. And, since the hybrids don't spawn, they're generally interested in only one thing--eating. In fact, the first 10-inch tiger I managed to hook on a recent visit to Blue Lake was actually chased down and torpedoed by a tiger twice its size. By the time I landed the fish, it sported a fresh wound on its tail, where the bigger fish tried to take a bite.

Check with your local fish and game department to see where they're putting aggressive tiger trout, and give them a shot on a fly rod. I think, like me, you'll determine that creating tiger trout in the bowels of a fish hatchery is a pretty beneficial use of brook trout in places where brookies don't really belong.
For a better idea of what you're in for, should you want to visit Blue Lake, check out this video, produced by Trout Unlimited's Sportsmen's Conservation Project.