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The Plight of Brook Trout in Wood River Basin

One species of fish that is popular to fish for in the US and Canada is called the brook trout (or speckled trout in Canada.) This led to yet another example of people meddling without thought when they should have left things alone.

Brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) are so popular that this is the official state fish in 9 northern states and it is the Provencial fish of Nova Scotia in Canada. The fish is colorful and hard-hitting, and personally, I feel that it is the best tasting trout. It also has very small scales, which makes it easy to clean since only the larger specimens need to be scaled. 

This is a fish that thrives in cold, freshwater, in streams, rivers, and even lakes. Brook trout can grow to over two feet long, with a weight in excess of 15 pounds. They can get this large in as little as 7 years, which is really a short amount of time.

Because of its rapid growth, popularity, and hardiness, it is often planted in lakes, rivers, and streams where it isn’t native. That is the problem that occurred in the Wood River Basin in Southern Oregon. Wood River is more of a large steam than it is a river. It flows south of Crater Lake National Park, through a very beautiful valley and is joined by many other mountain streams, eventually meandering through the valley and emptying into Klamath Lake. “Wood River Basin” refers to the entire drainage system of Wood River, including all of Wood River Valley.

All the streams in the drainage have long been popular for fishing, mostly for rainbow trout, brown trout, and Dolly Varden trout (also called Bull trout, which is now a protected species.) Since Klamath Lake also had a few brook trout, an occasional brook was caught in the Wood River Basin. A number of decades ago, someone got the idea that they could increase the popularity of the fishery if they planted more brook trout. To that end, many thousand brook trout fingerlings were released into Wood River and several of its tributaries, which includes Seven Mile Creek. I mention Seven Mile for a reason.

Seven Mile is a mountain stream and a favorite fishing stream for me when I was growing up. In one area just south of the national park boundary, there were at one time many beavers, which created a number of dams, resulting in a small marsh with deep pools. 

The problem with brook trout is that they are highly prolific. Like all trout, they are predatory, but they are more voracious and aggressive than many kinds of trout and seemingly have a never-ending hunger for food. In a matter of only a few years, they replaced the other trout species that were present and over-populated. To this day, in an effort to contain brook trout, there is totally open fishing for brooks in the Wood River basin; no minimum size and no catch limits.

In one fishing hole in Seven Mile Creek, I caught 48 brook trout in about an hour and a half. My kids, young at the time, caught even more. That isn’t the surprising part. I mentioned how large brooks can get, but the largest brook that we caught was about five inches long. Many of those small brooks were totally full of eggs, too, so they were breeding, despite their small size. There simply wasn’t enough food available for them to get larger and this was the main reason they displaced the rainbow trout and brown trout. 

The problem exists because people acted without thought. The problem isn’t getting better, but there isn’t much that can be done. The cork was removed from the bottle, letting the genie out. The only other alternative besides open fishing would be to poison the system, which would cause more harm.

  • Do you agree that they should have thought it through before introducing thousands of brook trout to that drainage system?

    • Yes
    • No
    • Who cares, it’s just a fish
    • I’ve fished for/eaten brook trout

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Written by Rex Trulove

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