Dirks: Vanishing brookies are a warning

A brook trout.

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It's Fathers Day weekend, and I've decided to fish for our local char, salvelinus fontinalis, or brook trout. There's still some water, although now private, that has an exceptionally healthy population of wild brook trout roaming about it. That's where my internal GPS wants me to go.

As I aim my car toward the northwestern Catskill peaks, I'm haunted by the reality that looms on the horizon for the bright and colorful char — near extinction. Yet ask the average angler what the status of this precious fish is and few know or even care. That's an even more haunting prospect.

The potential extinction of the native eastern brook trout is no exaggeration. For decades now, the traditional northeastern range of the brook trout — it's really a char, not a trout — has been dramatically reduced. A few years ago, an intensive study of more than 11,400 eastern watersheds in 17 states found that only 9 percent of those watersheds that held native brook trout still had intact populations.

More on Brook Trout

• For a copy of the "Eastern Brook Trout: Roadmap to Restoration," e-mail [email protected] and I'll send you a copy and an additional report on the status of brook trout in New York.

• Online resources: www.brookie.org; www.easternbrooktrout.org; www.tu.org.

• Suggested reading: Nick Karas, "Brook Trout," (Guilford, Conn.: Lyons Press, 2002). Probably the best and most complete history on North American brook trout.

Delaware River report

• Guide Mike Padua at sweetwaterguide.com reports trout fishing on the Upper East branch and Upper West branch just below the reservoirs has been going well. The best fly patterns are blue wing olives 14, 16, 18; caddis 16-18; isonychia 10-12 and some stoneflies. On the main stem of the Delaware, the smallmouth bass are providing plenty of action with surface poppers, Clouser minnows, woolly buggers and soft plastics, surface plugs and crankbaits.

Many of the remaining watersheds have been either "reduced" (14 percent) or "greatly reduced" (43 percent) as native char habitats. Even more alarming is that most large rivers no longer support reproducing populations, leaving the brookie relegated almost exclusively to small headwater streams.

Despite four angling teenagers in my household, I found no one to join me on this expedition, so I go it alone. Maybe the solitude of fishing these little threads of mountain water, with no other anglers in sight, will do me some good. I guess every father should have his day.

Arriving at my headwater destination, I quickly rig my rod, put on my daypack, and head into the woods. Looking upstream, there are countless little pockets and deep little runs with each having a brookie tucked into it. With my fly box open, the decision of what fly to use comes easily — my eyes are drawn to the reliable Parachute Adams, size 14.

These brookies are not picky and will lunge across a pool to get what they think is a tasty morsel of food. Most all of these Catskill headwaters are naturally poor in both minerals and insects. These little fish are trained to eat whatever they can find, including my fly.

My second cast has a 7-inch brookie tugging on the fly rod. He's not big, as most seem to prefer these days, but what he lacks in size he makes up for in fight and color. That's probably part of his problem. Since he doesn't grow to the large proportions of a brown or rainbow trout, he doesn't seem to get the respect or attention he deserves.

Most folks don't realize that this little brookie is on the frontlines of the battle for pure, clean water. He requires the cleanest and coolest water and will not tolerate anything less.

Whether you fish or not, you need to know about this little fish. You need to realize that when our local native char disappears, so goes our purest and cleanest water.

Despite its small size, the loss of salvelinus fontinalis carries a huge price.

[email protected] or P.O. Box 87, Westtown, NY 10998.

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