This weekend was a momentous occasion. The above image of a healthy fifteen inch brook trout caught by an angler of Canadaway Creek reflects what a DEC biologist feels could be a brookie that has returned from Lake Erie!
The biologist felt that the fish caught in the lower section of the stream, about two miles from Lake Erie, was too healthy and well fed to have been in the stream since October. October was when our SAREP/4H Youth Fly Fishing Program had put in brook trout in the upper sections of the stream around eight miles from where the fish was caught.
History of Brook Trout Reintroduction Efforts
When I first moved into the area in 1989, I had heard old timers mention how their fathers used to catch brookies in Canadaway Creek. Brook trout (actually a char) are the only true native trout to the Northeast and have been in its streams since the ice ages. (The brown trout came from Germany and the rainbow Trout came from the Northwest and both were distributed throughout the United States in the late 1800s.) Brookies are the most fragile of these trout species and are the first to feel the effects of high water temperature, agriculture, riparian condition (erosion/sedimentation), competition from non-native fish species, and urbanization. These factors have greatly reduced or have eliminated the brook trout in nearly half of the watersheds in their native range. The vast majority of historically occupied large rivers no longer support self-reproducing populations of brook trout.
In 2006, The SAREP/4H Youth Fly Fishing Program started reintroducing brook trout into Canadaway Creek after not having brook trout in its waters for over a hundred years. The efforts were first funded by sales of flies tied by the youth from the program and by donations but a few years ago, the Brook Trout Reintroduction Program was funded by Doug Manly and Patagonia’s World Trout Fund. With the support of the DEC’s electroshocking efforts and the Whispering Pines Hatchery, we have been able to refine our stocking practices to match the hatchery’s cold water temperatures by distributing the fish near springs in the headwaters, by introducing the fish after fishing season and by purchasing older brook trout who were ready to spawn as soon as they entered the stream. These changes reflected a more effective use of our funds and energies and dramatically improved the brookies chance to reproduce and prosper. Our hopes has always been to create an opportunity for the fish to survive and reproduce in Canadaway. We hoped that one day they could survive the trek into the lake and then return to spawn.
The image at the top of one of the two brook trout landed is a very small sample of evidence but when it is added to electroshocking fish surveys and other anecdotal evidence over the years from fisherman, the overall picture is encouraging that the SAREP/4H Youth Fly Fishing Program’s efforts have made a positive change in having brook trout survive, prosper and swim again in Canadaway Creek.
This fall, the S.A.R.E.P. Youth Fly Fishing Program again performed its annual brook trout stocking into the Canadaway Creek in Western New York. The efforts of parents, community members and children foster a sense of stewardship that will protect the local stream for present and future generations while they also learn a bit about their home waters.
The brook trout that are put into the stream are ready to spawn and our hopes are to create a newpopulation of the species that will survive long term in the stream. Initial reports are positive andencouraging as local residents have found brook trout moving into smaller tributaries to spawn and electroshocking reports have found large healthy brook trout surviving the hottest months of the year. The stocking is financed through grants and the generous support of a private donor, Doug Manly.
Apart from the recent videos that I have been posting to my blog, A lot has been happening over the past few months so that have been promoted by the good folks at Orvis and by a couple museums. I thought I would provide an overview of those activities on this entry.
On May 12, 2014, we had the pleasure of having James Markham, the Senior Aquatic Biologist of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation – Lake Erie Fisheries Unit, come to our Monday night fly tying class to present a very interesting Powerpoint lecture on Canadaway Creek. Canadaway Creek runs through our town of Fredonia and is where we take the kids from our program and community members fishing for steelhead. The creek is also the stream where we been restoring the brook trout population and where we have our annual stream clean-up and tree planting event.
Jim’s lecture provided a thorough overview of the history and present condition of the fishery as well as the plans for improving the survival rate and the number of steelhead that migrate up into our local streams. The data also presented a clear picture of the stream’s importance to the community and Lake Erie. It was a fascinating presentation.
I have included Jim’s Powerpoint presentation for your review but, if you missed the lecture, some of the graphs might not be accessible. There is enough in the file, however, to reevaluate your perception of the stream.
Here’s a few images and two videos documenting our recent outings into Canadaway Creek this past Spring and Fall. They featured a few children, community members and mentors from S.A.R.E.P. Youth Fly Fishing Program who were able to come help us in our efforts to repopulate Canadaway Creek with brook trout. Our good friend, Mr. Steve Welk from Whispering Pines Hatchery, was on hand to provide a short lesson on the brookies’ distinguishing physical traits. Brook trout populations had been eliminated in the stream but due to the program’s efforts and new initiatives by the DEC, we are now seeing brook trout throughout the stream and in tributaries such as Clinton Brook. Brook trout populations have been eliminated or greatly reduced throughout almost half of their historical habitat in the eastern United States and their populations remain strong in only 5 percent of their original habitat.
In 2006, S.A.R.E.P. Youth Fly Fishing program made a large investment to try to rectify the situation by purchasing equipment to raise brook trout in a Fredonia Middle School science classroom and by doing additional fundraising to supplement the numbers of brook trout we were able to raise by ourselves. We have worked closely with the DEC and have electro-shocked the stream during the warmest months in the summer to find where the brook have survived. Thanks to their efforts, we have been able to find the coolest spring waters with a thick canopy in fairly inaccessible locations that are best suited to support the introduction of the these trout. With the support of the Orvis, Patagonia World Trout Fund, Dreamcatcher Foundation and private donors, we have been able to continue our educational and conservation programming.
I was looking for some images for a proposal and came across some interesting footage and photo of Diego and I out on a walk on Little Canadaway on brisky sunny winter day back in 2008. We found a piece of ice caught perfectly in the current so that it spun continually and a few minutes later, the young man landed a steelhead.
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