By Mark Usyk, ADK Explorer and Writer
It’s a mission statement born out of a love for wild, untouched places and the search for wild fish. Trout Power is fly anglers, men and women, who want to both gauge and protect the health of water systems by the wild trout living in them, and protect those wild fish at the same time.
Trout Power began as a creel study on the West Canada Creek in Central NY. But what’s in a name? The West Canada is no creek. It’s a river over 70 miles long that like most rivers changes more and more as you travel downstream. But what changed as you followed the river downstream is what put it in the sights of Jordan Ross of JP Ross Fly Rods and founder of Trout Power in 2011. In the head waters deep in the ADK wilderness wild brook trout abound, taking care of themselves and proving the quality of the watershed in its beginnings. As the river flows south and nears Hinckley Reservoir and civilization, they mix in with stocked rainbows, browns and more brookies. But below the reservoir, and below the many impoundments from which erratic water flows surge and where the brown trout call it home you’ll find no wild trout, only stocked. Of the 63 tributaries entering the West Canada below the dam, over half are documented as wild brook trout streams, but all you’ll find in the West Canada itself below multiple dams and turbines are stocked browns.
Jordan went about compiling data over three years, using three creel studies. By recording over one-thousand fish and placing temperature sensors to record what the erratic flows did to water temperatures, combined with entomology studies, baselines have been established that will be used in upcoming FERC license changes. There should be wild fish the entire length in what the NYDEC touts as one of the most renowned trout streams in central New York, and with the research compiled and the licenses coming up for renewal, there could be in the coming years. As it should be.
Now the Trout Power sights have been adjusted farther north into the Adirondacks, and on to wild and native brook trout. 2016 saw a Trout Power watershed study two years in the making come to fruition on Father’s Day weekend in June with great success and a strong team of conservation minded anglers in the trenches. They slogged it out in rough country and shared stories and discoveries in the comfort of one of the Adirondack’s Great Camps, Camp Sagamore, in the evenings.
In the late 1890s a doctor from NYC spent time exploring this very watershed and kept journals of his experiences and discoveries. Doctor Arpad Geyza Gerster left us a record in good detail of what the watershed was like from 1895 to 1898, his private journals. Detailing trips up and down the South Inlet, a fishing camp up lost Brook, canoe trips and hikes where fishing wasn’t only recorded by the number of fish caught, but by sizes, specific places, and conditions. They give us a look back in time through the firsthand accounts of someone who held this watershed very close to his heart.
The watershed coursing through the backcountry here was once full of wild brook trout. Because of general history we know this, but because of the Gerster diaries we have specific details of this particular watershed. However, like much of the Adirondacks, acid rain killed off many of the brook trout, in some places most or all. Now the waters once again have a decent population of wild brookies, and researching stocking records shows no one has stocked them since the acid rain took its toll in this particular watershed, yet here they are. So the Trout Power study aimed to take a good look at the fish population and delve deeper into the mystery of the comeback story.
Jordan and his team carefully recorded the physical characteristics of the brook trout by photograph, took DNA samples by discreet and mindful fin clippings approved by their laboratory, and recorded where each sample came from in the watershed on maps. In all, 48 of 50 samples were taken. In cooperation with the NYS Museum and Cornell University the samples are being studied and compared to known heritage strains and stocked strains, which will tell a story of where these fish came from, and in the end help push for special regulations on these waters to protect a wild population of brook trout, that, heritage or not, have fought against the pollution and hardships brought on by humans and came back, because they were also left alone by humans.
Within the park’s over six million acres lies over ten-thousand lakes and more than thirty-thousand miles of rivers and streams. One of the last hold outs of wild and native brook trout is right here in our state, in the vast and remote Adirondacks. It’s the perfect place to scientifically document a true natural comeback story. That’s why it will be the new focus and mission of Trout Power as it moves to become a full Nonprofit organization. There are other national trout conservation nonprofits, this is true. But as organizations grow missions become too broad, focus blurs, and messages are lost. Trout Power’s mission will focus its work on protecting wild and native brook trout in the Adirondacks. This is grassroots conservation.
Because of the success of the event and the support from the conservation community the Trout Power® team is poised to target the Adirondack Park and search out waters and wild fish that need to be identified and protected before it’s too late. The Adirondack brook trout is tough, make no mistake. They’ve been here since the ice age, but they’ve had to fight, flee, or hunker down in the wake of manmade catastrophes such as the logging boom at the turn of the last century, the acid rain from the industrial revolution, over fishing, and now the climate change as water temperatures begin to rise. Jordan’s belief, and the belief of those surrounding him are that there are more wild fish out there in hard to get to places that should never be stocked over, their heritage strain DNA never mixed with weaker and less resilient stocked DNA, and that whose populations are small enough that only a few careless anglers “keeping their limits” could finish them off.
If you’d like to know more or get involved you can visit their website at www.troutpower.org.