Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Tracing the brook trout family tree

Volunteers with Trout Power fishing for brook trout near Sagamore Lake in early June. Photo by Zachary Matson.

No fish tells the story of the Adirondacks like brook trout. This native fish is a prime indicator of water quality and have suffered from habitat, degradation, overfishing and acid rain.

Despite their declines, there is little that’s more Adirondack than wading into a stream flanked by towering spruce and pine trees, casting a fly rod in the area of downed logs. It takes a quick response to hook a brookie as it stabs at a fly on the surface of the water.

The Adirondack brook trout story often recounts how a dozen or so heritage strains have persisted in isolated stretches of the park since the days after glaciers receded from the region. A handful of those strains have survived all that has come since. But that story is incomplete, and some researchers and science-minded anglers are hoping to expand our understanding of the park’s brook trout by analyzing fish genetics. And they think they have found more genetically-unique trout strains than the state has officially recognized.

Earlier this month I joined a team of volunteer anglers on a mission to collect trout DNA samples from the streams surrounding Sagamore Lake. We hiked and bushwhacked along a winding stream corridor; as they waded the shallow waters, I jotted notes and snapped pictures from the stream banks.

Collecting a DNA sample from a brook trout near Sagamore Lake. Photo by Zachary Matson.

Collecting a DNA sample from a brook trout near Sagamore Lake. Photo by Zachary Matson.

Trout Power, a nonprofit dedicated to studying native brook trout strains and connecting anglers to science, hosted a weekend of fishing Sagamore Lake and the streams that feed and drain it. The organization is confident it has identified a native brook trout strain in the area, calling it the Sagamore strain. Their research is focused on identifying the strain’s range and genetic influences.

I’m working on a deeper story on brook trout and the emerging genetics that suggest there may be more strains than previously known. Let me know if you have any insight to share on the subject.

Editor’s note: This first appeared in Zach’s weekly “Water Line” newsletter. Click here to sign up.

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Zachary Matson has been an environmental reporter for the Explorer since October 2021. He is focused on the many issues impacting water and the people, plants and wildlife that rely on it in the Adirondack Park. Zach worked at daily newspapers in Missouri, Arizona and New York for nearly a decade, most recently working as the education reporter for six years at the Daily Gazette in Schenectady.

5 Responses

  1. Gary N Lee says:

    Think about Stink Lake there are some pretty trout there and there is a falls on the outlet that I don’t think trout can get over between the lake and the Moose river.

  2. Boreas says:

    Great work! I hope research will eventually get DEC to eliminate or at least minimize stocking non-native trout within the Park.

  3. Amy Hudnut says:

    Thank you! Thank you!

  4. Nice piece Zach. I am working on a book project ( I am at Great Camp Sagamore right now, as a Scholar in Residence) dealing with this subject matter and would be happy to compare notes.

  5. Bibi Wein says:

    I live on Trout Brook in Olmstedville. Wondering about the health of the trout there. We don’t fish, but as far as we could tell there were no fish in the stream in summer of 2021. This year it seems they’ve come back.

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