Well it has been a while since my last post...but this has not been for a lack of time on the water. On the contrary I've been out just about every day this month. I'm finally getting caught up on sending out pictures and letting you all know what we've been up to...so here it goes. This first report will be dedicated to work we have been doing with Wild Brook Trout.
Shortly after I last checked in with you I went out with state and federal biologists to survey the wild brook trout population on the Wildcat River in Jackson NH. This past fall I wrote a proposal for the Wildcat River to be added to the list of NH Waters Managed for Wild Trout. See here . The state requires waterbodies to meet a minimum criteria of 13 lbs a hectare of trout for wild trout designation. So last year I did my own research on the wildcat. I came up with a study published in 1958 on the Saco River watershed. Towards the back of the report I came to the survey of the Wildcat River. The survey found that the Wildcat held a population of 44 lbs a hectare of trout.
After writing my proposal through a new non-profit I have started called NH Trout (see our facebook page here) I garnered support from the local TU chapter, Back Country Hunters and Anglers and North Country Angler. Then the proposal was sent to the state fish and game commissioner. Shortly thereafter we got an email from coldwater fisheries biologist Dianne Timmons asking for volunteers to help survey the Wildcat. The big question was...will the wildcat support the same density of wild trout that the 1958 report purported? Will it at least meet the states requirement for wild trout designation?
Having fished the Wildcat from a young age I was confident that the river would be somewhere near what the 1958 report found.
For those who don't know trout populations are surveyed by state and federal agencies across the country using electric shock probes. With smaller streams like the wildcat packs are worn with a prop and a grounding wire that enter the water. A group of biologists and volunteers slowly walk up the river sending mild electric currents through the water which stun the fish for a few seconds. Participants use nets and buckets to collect the trout as they float to the surface. Often times fish snap back to life before one can get the net around them so it is necessary to make three passes through any stretch of water to get a accurate statistics on the wild trout population.
We met Dianne and other volunteers on a hot September morning. Dianne laid out her plans to shock four locations above Jackson falls. I suggested we start with one location below the falls where stocking and fishing pressure is highest. Dianne agreed that this would provide a good comparison to the more remote stretches upstream. In our first location, depsite heavy stocking and fishing pressure we surveyed over 195 trout in 100 meters of river. Of these fish only one was hatchery bread.
Now for the good stuff...On our second day we headed into the national forest with Federal fisheries biologist Mark Prout. As we walked into the location Mark explained that he had shocked this stretch before, " I couldn't believe how many fish I was finding, I figured they must have been stocked." But Dianne Timmons countered, "There is no way you would find that many stocked trout this far in the woods, we don't stock that many trout and you wouldn't be finding that many smaller ones.
After three passes and over eight hours on the river we had amassed a large collection of brook trout in mesh laundry baskets held in the river with stones. After tediously measuring and weighing each fish we came to our final number. 494 trout out of 430 feet of river. I asked Mark what that number would equate to in terms of pounds per hectare, " Oh about 45 lbs" So with the data we needed now in our hands we look forward to moving towards wild trout designation. This designation would mean the cessation of stocking over wild trout and catch and release barbless single hooks along with no bait. Research has shown that stocking over wild trout populations drastically reduces their density and average size. Our hope is that the Wildcat will have more productive water throughout it's course and will grow more fish over 8" in the future.
If you would like to support wild trout management see our facebook page or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.. Thanks for reading.