The state fish of New York (and 9 other states). Perhaps the most sought after fish in the Adirondacks due to its elusiveness and beauty. If you have ever caught one, they are a thrill and an absolute gem to the eye. In my experience, no other fish that you try to catch feels like you are hunting with a fishing rod and line. They are tricky, and thus a true challenge. It sure is a splendid feeling catching one.
With that said, the majestic Brook Trout is the appropriate species to kick off the first species account in what will become a series for the Adirondack Almanack.
Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), Latin for “spring” is not a trout at all, it is “troutlike” and actually a char. Chars include Dolly Varden, Bull and Lake Trout. These trout are specialized to live in freezing temperatures. Brook trout is a highly sought after game fish especially in the northeast because it lives in pristine water. In the 1800s and early 1900s, people from cities such as New York and Boston would travel by train to the mountains of the Adirondacks to hook one of these beauties.
Range & Life History
The brook trout expands all of the northeast, down through Appalachian and even south to northern Georgia, and west to the Great Lakes. Biologists have identified two unique traits in genetics- a northern and southern strain- the boundary was identified to be in southwest Virginia. The southern strain has much less genetic diversity than our northern trout, leaving it more susceptible to perturbations. Trout typically live to ten or even up to 24 years.
The brook trout inhabit large lakes and tiny mountain streams- but they require cold, clean, high oxygenated water. They prefer temperatures between 34-72F degrees, however, they are more. They are also sensitive to acidity. They prefer a narrow range of pH levels (5.0-7.5) but lower and higher are possible.
Reproduction occurs in the fall when water temperature reaches low 50s. Courtship begins with the males attempting to drive females to a suitable gravel spot, imitating spawning behavior. Receptive female digs a redd. While the female prepares the redd the male darts back and forth rubbing the females’ fins. The male will fend off other males in the process. Once spawning is finished the female will fan her tail covering the eggs.
These fish typically feed on aquatic insects such as caddisflies, stoneflies, and mayflies. They will eat the occasional terrestrial insect if the opportunity is present. They are also known for cannibalistic behavior, eating their eggs and fry.
As a fisherman I can tell you that I have seen them feed on crayfish and leeches. In streams, minnows and creek chub eggs during the spring.
Current status in the Adirondacks is considered good. Many brook trout died off in the Adirondacks due to acid rain. Not until the Clean Air Act of 1970 and intense stocking regimes by the state did the trout bounce back. Although sedimentation, salinization, and habitat destruction is always a threat.
- The largest brookie caught in the Dacks was 5lbs 14oz
- Splake and tiger trout are hybrids of brook trout. Splake is a mix between lake trout and a brook trout. A tiger trout is a Brown trout mixed with a brook trout.
Stay tuned for more Adirondack Species Accounts in the future. I hope to write about new scientific findings from state and federal agencies on current findings and health of species in the Adirondacks.
Photos provided by Ken Johnston