Monday, March 10, 2008

Brook Trout in Silver Creek

Back east, brook trout bring to mind specific scenes: clear, cold running streams, hemlock forests, mountain laurel, Appalachian breezes.

But brook trout haven't had an easy time of it in their native habitat. Water pollution, acid rain and the loss of hemlock forests have all proved devastating to this colorful fish. So too have introduced species: brown and rainbow trout introduced by anglers have nearly always out-competed the native fish.

So perhaps the Western U.S. is the brook trout's revenge. Here the brookie is the invader, introduced to mountain streams to provide new fishing opportunities. The trout multiplied and multiplied, outbreeding native fish. They were so prolific that, in many waters, they exist in huge numbers of small, stunted fish. (The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has even placed sterile hybrid tiger muskies--large, voracious fish--in alpine lakes to gobble up all the stunted brook trout).

Brook trout still compete poorly with brown trout. But in Silver Creek fish species lists, one will ocassionally see brook trout as one of the species found here.

Are there brook trout in Silver Creek?

Formal fish surveys ocassionally find very small numbers of brook trout, but usually find none. I have caught two brookies on Silver Creek Preserve--both no larger than 4 inches.

What is the story of these fish? How do they survive? With so many fish-eating brown trout, brook trout will luckily never overtake the preserve. Anglers need not fear schools of stunted, non-native fish. They will likely cling to the most precarious of existences there. But in other Rocky Mountain streams, the brook trout serves as an important reminder that fish are best kept in their native waters. --Matt Miller

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