Brook Trout Tagging Program

Four years ago, after persistent requests, Three Rivers Lodge agreed to host Provincial biologists on our waters to begin a three-year tagging program to study the movements, growth rate and vitality of our brook trout population. We did agree, but reluctantly. Our concern was simply that catching brookies with signs of human tampering might put off guest anglers who had traveled far to experience a wilderness fishery. But we reasoned that the knowledge that we would learn from such a study would make a significant contribution toward our work to maintain the health of our fishery, and would be worth the risk of ‘tarnishing’ the pristine beauty of the Woods River brook trout. Now we’ve learned from twelve years tending these waters that the brookies were healthy. But we knew little about their habits and movement.

So in the spring of 2009, biologist Amanda arrived in camp with lots of gear and passed out to each guide a tagging gun, tags, digital scales, tape measure and a logbook where they could enter all their data. She accompanied the guides on the water for several days instructing them in the ways of a biologist.  The guides caught fish, Amanda weighed, measured, tagged and logged them.  Then Amanda caught fish and the guides applied their new skills.

Biologist Amanda with Guides Dave and Cliff 

TRL guides weighed, tagged and logged brook trout caught by guests for the first two weeks in each of seasons 2009, 2010 and 2011. And for the remainder of each of those three seasons, they logged in each tagged fish that was caught. At the end of each summer, log books were forwarded to the Provincial Fisheries Department. In total, over 1,100 brook trout were tagged and released ranging from 1.5 lbs to 7 lbs, quite a nice lot of data to be evaluated. The tagging program ended with the 2011 season, but we will continue to gather and report data when tagged fish are caught through the coming years.

Brook Trout with Tag by Dorsal Fin

To date, we have received no report or data synopsis from the Department of Fisheries. Though we are eager to dig into their report, we are very satisfied with Amanda’s on-site comments and other trout behavior deduced by our own laymen’s observations.

1.  The abundance of 1-1/2 – 2 pound brook trout is indicative of a very healthy fishery and bodes well for a future population of large fish.

2.  A 1-1/2 – 2 pound fish is three years old. By age four, it reaches four pounds having enjoyed its greatest growth rate in that fourth year. Thereafter, brookies grow about one pound per year and live up to ten years.

3.  Several studies of cold water fishes suggest that, come spring, brook trout vie for feeding stations and the larger, stronger fish take the prime locations. Furthermore, they tend to stay in these prime spots throughout the feeding season until a larger specimen chases them out. Our observations do not support this theory at all. On dozens of occasions, we have tagged fish in one location and caught them again within a day or two up to 25 miles further up or down-stream. In one instance, we tagged a fish at 5th rapids, caught him again the next day 10 miles up at 2nd rapids, then caught him a third time two days following back down at fourth rapids. What natural events would cause a fish to move that dramatically in such a short time?

Frequent Swimmer

4.  We often observe brookies lying in shallow water under overhanging alders and willows. They show zero interest in a fly. None!  They barely move when prodded with a rod tip. Amanda explained that these fish are recovering from a long journey made most likely the night before. Because of the heavy population of predators in the flat water (northern pike and lake trout, many of which are capable of eating a five-pound trout), brook trout move quickly and ‘wind’ themselves in their flight. Once in the next rapids, they seek the safety of shallow water where they spend a day or two recovering.

Winded Warrior

5.  As the summer moves toward fall and spawning season, most brook trout move upstream through the big rapids and lakes toward the smaller feeder streams. It is here in the headwaters that they will congregate in late August, then pair for their September ritual.

All that we have learned ‘hands-on’ through the years about trout behavior and whatever else the Fisheries reports will eventually teach us will be of great interest and may occasionally even help us more often put our guests over trophy fish. But the grand scheme of nature in this unsullied wilderness is much too old and mature for us short-timers to totally figure out. So each day will continue to be an adventure. Would we have it any other way?

 

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One Response to Brook Trout Tagging Program

  1. Robert Sawicki says:

    Great report Robin….

    Robert J. Sawicki Tamalpais Wine Agency Office: 415-456-0425 Mobile: 415-336-8556 Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes, and prism are all very good words for the lips: especially prunes and prism” Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit. Book ii. Chap. v.

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