Gene Chague | Berkshire Woods and Waters: Wild, native trout still exist in the Berkshires
It was about a year ago when Brian Majewski of Lenox Dale contacted me by email to tell me about the fine local trout fishing that he was experiencing. He sent some pictures and I was impressed, especially after learning that they were caught in a small brook following the hot summer that we had just experienced. I was even more impressed when he told me they were native trout. I knew the brook where he caught them and could hardly believe that fish of that size could be caught out of that little brook. (In this column, the name of the brook, road and state forest have been omitted to protect the innocent trout. We don't need the hordes of the world coming in and fishing them all out). I asked Brian if he caught them at the outlet of the brook into the Housatonic River. "No", he said, "about a mile and a half upstream, in the State Forest".
I thought he was kidding, that brook couldn't possibly sustain wild trout of that size, especially after the summer we had just experienced. Our local streams get pretty low during the summer and trout have a difficult time surviving those low waters, hot temperatures, predators such as herons, otters, etc.
"I'll take you," he said, "You'll see."
Fast forward to last week. Brian contacted me and said "let's go," and off we went. We drove to the end of a paved road and proceeded along a dirt road better suited for off-road vehicles, not regular automobiles. It had once been a town road, but has been closed now for nearly 60 years. I had apprehensions about driving it, but Brian led the way in his truck and I followed in mine. A couple of times I wanted to stop, with my truck leaning to one side or the other, but I figured if Brian could make it with his two-wheel-drive truck, I could surely make it with my four-wheel-drive. We finally found a place to park and started hiking up into the State Forest. It's good that we did park, for just up the trail a little bit, we came upon the first of two brook crossings minus bridges.
Oh, the memories that flashed back as we were hiking up that trail. The last time I had been there was in 1957. I remember it well for my oldest, now deceased, brother Joe took me up there on my first day of deer hunting. We were able to drive up then, but because the brook was constantly washing out the bridges and banks, the town closed it to automobile traffic shortly thereafter.
Brian and I hiked past beautiful looking water, some of it nearly four-feet deep. What a surprise! The brook was actually deeper and wider up there than where it enters the river. That's because of the deep holes and bigger pools which held the water. The brook, which flowed down a ravine, was ice cold, clean and well oxygenated. Brian informed me that because it was a ravine, the sun doesn't normally reach the water until after noontime.
We passed a lot of nice-looking fishing spots, but Brian only wanted to fish about a half-dozen pools further up where he usually catches the bigger fish. I didn't bring a fishing pole, only a walking stick. I just wanted the experience of being in this remote spot again and relishing the memories.
Brian brought a short spinning rod and reel, a net, some small hooks (which he pinched down the barbs and tied directly onto the line), some non-toxic sinkers and a dozen night crawlers which he carried in a worm can attached to his belt. Ooh, the memories of fishing like that as kids many years ago. The only additional items that we carried were cloth measuring tapes because the trout had to be 6 inches to legally keep them.
Brian's first cast into the first hole revealed a trout following the worm. On the second cast, he caught it and then he proceeded to catch and release four or five others out of the same hole, some small and some eight or nine inches long, some native brook trout and some native brown trout. And, so it went for the next four or five holes that he fished. His dozen night crawlers produced over two dozen fish — half of them eight inches or larger. Several times he offered to hand his fishing pole over to me to catch some, but I was perfectly content watching him fish and enjoying the surroundings.
He was done fishing in three hours. He originally intended to keep three larger brown trout (three is the legal limit of trout one can keep at this time of year) but the biggest ones that he caught this day were around 10 or 11 inches, not big enough. And what beauties they were! Golden sides, dark orange and black spots. They were in their fall spawning colors, not stocked trout but wild, in-stream spawned.
Brian keeps only the brown trout because they are not native in the U.S. and he prefers to release the brook trout, which are native. He believes the browns compete with the brookies for food and eventually may force them into extinction. How the brown trout originally got up in this State Forest, is anyone's guess. Years ago, they were stocked in the lower stretches of the brook and maybe they swam upstream to spawn and the offspring opted to stay there. Perhaps they migrated from the Housatonic River.
The native brookies (or speckled trout or squaretails) are, in my opinion, the prettiest of all freshwater fish, especially this time of year when they also are in their fall spawning colors. They are of dark green to brown color, with a distinctive marbled pattern (called vermiculation) of lighter shades across the flanks and back, a distinctive sprinkling of red dots, surrounded by blue halos along the flanks. Their lower sides are a reddish orange and the lower fins are orange with their edges being black and white.
They used to be in all our streams, including the valleys in the old days, but because of road and housing developments along with the filling of wetlands, improperly constructed culverts, etc., they are pretty much gone from there now. Usually, the only ones you catch there now are hatchery reared brookies that the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife stocks. There are still some wild survivors up in the mountains.
To catch a wild, native brook trout of 9 or 10 inches long now days is pretty remarkable around here. I have caught seven-plus-pound wild brook trout in Labrador and the Nunavut area of Canada, but I've got to tell you, I get just as charged seeing or catching an 8-inch native brookie around here.
Thank goodness that we have State Forests and Wildlife Management Areas that protect the watersheds and streams of these remarkable little critters. I suspect that there are lots of little streams in our State Forests which still provide safe haven for them.
And thanks to Brian Majewski for escorting this old timer into this remarkable area and fishery allowing him to resurrect such fond memories.
Whitetails Unlimited Banquet
The Berkshire County Chapter of Whitetails Unlimited is holding a banquet on Nov. 9 at the Stockbridge Sportsmen's Club, Route 102 in Stockbridge. There will be games and raffles. Social hour begins at 5:30 p.m. and the buffet dinner begins at 7. The ticket order deadline is Tuesday, and tickets will not be sold at the door.
As a non-profit, WTU's mission is to raise funds in support of educational programs, wildlife habitat enhancement and acquisition and preservation of the shooting sports and hunting tradition for future generations. During this past year alone, I am aware of two local youth projects which WTU supported totaling more than $1,200.)
For ticket information contact Bill Bailey at 413-244-2304 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., or buy online at www.whitetailsunlimited.com.
Gene Chague can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-637-1818.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.