Return of brook trout signals clean waterways

Nature always seems to be imperilled by man. Sometimes wildlife species threatened or endangered cannot be helped, but other times man can intervene with improvements that will enhance the future.

The eastern brook trout is among the many wildlife species receiving attention by scientists and biologists in Pennsylvania and throughout the Appalachian Mountain regions of the Northeast.

The wild brook trout swims only in the healthiest streams and lakes, making it a symbol of pristine waters. Over the years, poor water quality practices and land use has put the wild brook trout on the decline.

But the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited and its local chapters say the plight of the wild eastern brook trout is reversible. TU has recognized streams throughout the state that are victims of decades of poor land use and development.

Other issues threatening the species include poor agriculture, mining and forestry practices; climate change; dams; over-fishing; invasive species; oil and gas grilling; and runoff from roads and paved areas.

TU efforts point to a number of victories on saving brookies and restoring clean water on the West Branch of the Susquehanna, Kettle Creek and the Chesapeake Bay headwaters in Pennsylvania.

The recent habitat enhancement work on the Conococheague Creek in the vicinity of Caledonia State Park is one of the Chesapeake projects. Bank stabilization devices and in-stream structures have been placed in a one-mile stretch of the creek that runs through the dry bed of the former Birch Run Reservoir in the Michaux State Forest.

Phil Bietsch, watershed management forester at Michaux, found wild brook trout living in the stream section in question. Running out of a forest buffer, the stream’s course is relatively straight and almost devoid of any cover and pools. Work started last year after the Adams County Chapter of TU and the TU chapters of Falling Springs, Chambersburg and Cumberland Valley at Carlisle, were contacted to provide advice and volunteer help.

The second phase of the project was finished last week, and already the results are positive. Bietsch recently sent volunteers underwater photos showing a school of young brook trout swimming under bubbles produced by one of the new in-stream devices designed to oxygenate the water and create a plunge pool.

Of all the trout species in Pennsylvania streams, the wild brook trout is the most beautiful. Its olive green back speckled with spots of red and blue and its yellow-orange belly make it a sight to behold. Despite their size, they have plenty of spunk and are fun to catch. In the wild, the species seldom gets longer than 10 to 12 inches in streams and often will grow longer and heavier in lakes and ponds. Limited availability of food in the cool mountain streams limits their growth.

Once while fishing the Allegheny River near Coudersport in Potter County, a brook was caught that measured 19 1/2 inches, but it was probably a hold-over stocked fish.

The state record brook trout, according to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, is a 22-inch, seven-pound monster caught in Fishing Creek, near Tylersville, Clinton County. Agency biologists determined the big brookie was a brood trout that escaped from the Tylersville hatchery, just upstream.

The enhancements installed in the Conococheague will allow its young brookies a better chance of survival. This section of the creek is worthy of some type of protective designation, such as fly-fishing only and catch and release, or at the very least delayed harvest, fly-fishing only.

I believe in the often repeated statement by a noted angler, the late Lee Wulff: “A trout is too beautiful to be caught only once.”

DOE LICENSES >> On Monday, the county treasurers will be accepting applications in the first-round sale of unsold antlerless deer permits. The second-round sale will begin Aug. 18.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Pennsylvania Game Commission indicated the doe licenses are available in all wildlife management units except 1B, 2G, 2H and 4C, which sold out.

Bob Marchio is outdoors writer for The (Hanover) Evening Sun. He may be reached at .