Speckled Trout: More Views From the Hill

“The streams were full of speckled trout until they built the saw mills.”– Dennis McGraw, Pioneer Life in Greenwood, 1888

The term “speckled trout,” in this report, does not refer to the saltwater species of that name, but refers to Salvelinus fontinalis,  the eastern char commonly known as brook trout. Speckled trout, like “squaretail” or “hemlock trout,” is an older name for the brookie, the dweller of springs.

I’m using the term “speckled trout” for a reason. On my home ground of Dryden Hill, the native fontinalis can no longer be found, nor have I ever heard the older name in everyday usage. Thus, “speckled trout” is  for a trout no longer seen in this location, for a name I’ve never heard spoken. I guess two negatives make a positive here. Johnson Creek is the drainage for Dryden Hill and flows about one hundred feet in front of my home. Its best view is probably at the waterfall a short distance away.  I suspect that the plunge-pool at the falls hasn’t seen a native trout in forty years.

On a windy, late-winter afternoon, I made another climb of Dryden Hill. Views from the summit of a 2300-foot hill should give you a full perspective of the valley below (theoretical speaking). Despite their obvious appeal, the views you get are only superficial. They remind me of looking at an anthill while believing you can see the life of ants within their sandy chambers.  Vision grazes over the surfaces of life. Whereas the views do not allow you to see beneath the surfaces, imagination, properly employed, works to compensate for the handicap.

It’s been said that brook trout, the speckled native, have inhabited nearly every local stream for thousands of years until the advent of industrial growth in America. With the boom of towns and sawmills, of agriculture and farms, and of roads and resource extraction, streams with native trout have taken a major hit. Dennis McGraw, an early settler of the Dryden area, wrote the earliest known history of Greenwood, New York. In his work called Pioneer Life in Greenwood (1888), McGraw stated that “The streams were full of speckled trout until they built the saw mills.” In retrospect, the brookie might be viewed as an indicator species for regional water quality. The fish requires the cleanest, coldest water to be found. With the loss of forest cover and a gain in sediment and stream temperature, good trout habitat has been seriously compromised.

When agriculture and industry changed in recent years, becoming more favorable to trout, other stressors came to the fore. The specters of global warming and of hydrofracking the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and New York loom more ominously day by day. It seems that for every step forward with technology, we slide two steps backward as a consequence. From the cold summit of Dryden Hill I imagined I could see the old anthill out behind my barn. It was there in 1981 and has flourished with ant life ever since. I could only make inferences about its ant survival, and I could only make inferences about the future of native trout near Greenwood.

Back home, I stopped at the waterfall on Johnson Creek. There the water dropped powerfully, open for an insight to the life-blood of the slopes and valley. I could wish for the presence of speckled trout in the biotic community, but all I saw were minnows in the cold green water.

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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6 Responses to Speckled Trout: More Views From the Hill

  1. Ken G says:

    What a beautiful spot. Always amazes me when others only see dollar signs.

  2. What a shame we have lost most of these bright gems of cold clean water. They are a joy to catch, and we are a little poorer for not having them. I remember a few year back the Randolph Hatchery lost their stock of trout to Whirling Disease. Instead of stocking rainbows, they stocked brookies in the Genny, albeit, the stocked strain. Fishermen were complaining. They wanted the rainbows. Funny how quickly we forget our roots and what the brook trout signifies to our environment.

  3. Should say “cold, clean water”.

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