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New York Brook Trout

New York Brook Trout

by Matt Chapple

A beautiful brook trout stream. Photo by Wendy C.

History in New York

The Brook Trout having the scientific name, Salvelinus Fontinalis, is actually not a trout but one of the two species of char that are native to New York State. The other being the Lake Trout. The numbers of Brook Trout have declined greatly in their native range in New York, but populations still exist. There are many miles of small streams in New York that still support populations of Brook Trout, mostly in the Adirondack Mountains, the Tug Hill Plateau, and the Catskill Mountain regions. Due to stocking programs active since the 1800s, the actual genetic lineage of the Brook Trout in many of these waters is vague.

The famous Beaverkill in the Catskills is a prime example of the decline of the brook trout. They were once abundant in the Beaverkill, but due to the river’s close proximity to New York City and increased industry, especially tanning mills, brook trout populations began to decline. Over-fishing by tourists and declining water quality almost completely eliminated the brook trout from the Beaverkill by the end of the 1800s. In much of the native range the brook trout was replaced with non-native brown trout, imported from Germany, or the rainbow trout, which is native to the pacific northwest of north america. Today there are still populations of brook trout in the Catskills and brook trout are also stocked in the region by New York State hatcheries. The Beaverkill is now primarily a brown trout fishery.

At present in New York, the Department of Environmental Conservation, manages many lakes and ponds specifically as Brook Trout waters, many of these are known to support natural reproduction. Each year fish of four pounds are landed. Although, the populations of naturally reproducing Brook Trout is low compared to those that existed in history, a handful of “heritage” strains are said to exist in New York and these strains are being protected.

Adirondack Native Brook Trout


Brook Trout prefer cold water and will not survive in water with a sustained temperature above 65 degrees Fahrenheit. They typically spawn in streams October through November, but may also successfully spawn on the bottom of a lake or pond. They will spawn at the young age of 2 years old. They are a beautiful species of fish, characterized by wavy yellow markings, called vermiculations, on the back and dorsal fin. Along the sides are red dots surrounded by blue halos scattered amongst yellow spots. The underside can range from crimson, on a spawning male, to yellow or pink and the fins display a range of colors with black and white borders. In small streams brook trout will not grow to very large sizes rarely reaching 12 inches long. They mostly feed on aquatic insect nymphs and larvae.

Fly-fishing for Brook Trout

Fly-fishing for Brook Trout in small streams is a truly fun endeavor. A 6-7 foot 3wt rod is perfect for casting small wet flies and dries and maneuvering the fly rod in tight spots . Brook Trout are opportunistic feeders and will feed when food becomes present and will often take a swinging fly. The streams in New York that harbor Brook Trout don’t usually have sustained insect hatches, so Brook Trout are typically eager to attack a fly. A small Hare’s Ear Nymph or an Adams dry fly are a good start when choosing a fly. One of my favorite flies that I used to fish for Brookies as a kid was a red ant pattern. Have fun with these little guys, if you find them you will most likely have the stream to yourself.

Articles Biology Conservation Fish History Tips & Technique

New York Atlantic Salmon

Landlocked Atlantic Salmon caught and released in the fall of 2003

History in New York

Of all the salmon species that exist in New York’s waters today, including Chinook, Coho, Pink and Sockeye,  only the Atlantic Salmon is native to the state.  Lake Ontario once supported a population of wild Atlantic Salmon.  This population may have originated from the anadromous form which is one that lives a large part of its life in the ocean and spawns in freshwater.  The anadromous form may have migrated up the St. Lawrence River to Lake Ontario and into its tributaries and never returned to the Atlantic Ocean but used Lake Ontario or the Finger Lakes as a substitute for the ocean.  This form of Atlantic Salmon is referred to as “Landlocked”, and this population of Landlocked Atlantic Salmon was once quite large and there were major spawning runs that existed in the Salmon River system, Oswego River system, and the Genesee River system as well as others.  The loss of suitable spawning habitat caused the decline and subsequent extinction of New York’s Atlantic Salmon population. Some of the major contributors towards the loss of spawning habitat were, dams which blocked access to prime spawning areas, agricultural run off which covered spawning areas with silt, and the removal of stream-side trees which caused increased water temperatures, over harvesting, and water pollution.  By the late 1800’s the native Lake Ontario salmon were gone.

Releasing a male Landlocked Atlantic Salmon

New York at Present

At present there are many lake and tributary systems across New York State that have populations of Landlocked Atlantic Salmon.  Unfortunately these populations are maintained by annual stocking programs.  There is very little if any natural reproduction due to the presence of a small  fish commonly called an alewife, which is not native to Lake Ontario or the Finger Lakes. The Alewife invaded the Great Lakes and reached a peak in the 1950’s.  Two examples are Lake Ontario and Cayuga Lake which both harbor populations of Alewives.  The skin of the Alewife contains an enzyme (thiaminase) not found in the natural forage base of the Atlantic Salmon.  This enzyme causes the breakdown vitamin B-1 (thiamine) which is essential to successful growth of the alevin stage of the atlantic salmon. With this vitamin deficiency the alevin usually die.  Although natural reproduction does not occur, many stocked Atlantic Salmon return to the streams were they were stocked  and can be viewed as they spawn from mid October to mid November during the peak of spawning activity. Unlike pacific salmon such as Chinook and Coho which have also been introduced into some New York’s waters, some Atlantic Salmon may return to their home lake after spawning and may return to spawn again. So they can sometimes become quite large, which is a good reason to practice catch and release.  There is research being conducted in a combined effort between Universities, state and government agencies to determine the feasibility of Atlantic Salmon restoration to New York. At present through stocking programs Atlantic Salmon can be found in Lake Ontario, the Finger Lakes, some Adirondack lakes and Lake Champlain.  Recently programs to re-introduce the native forage fish of Atlantic Salmon are being investigated.

A bright Landlocked Atlantic Salmon that took a swinging wet fly

Fly-fishing for Atlantic Salmon

The Atlantic Salmon is still regarded as one of the top game fish in New York.  They are known for their hard runs and incredible leaping ability which makes fishing for them an exciting experience.  New York anglers can use a variety of fly-fishing techniques at various times of the year to fish for Atlantic Salmon.  In the spring when off shore water temperatures are still cold salmon can be found along shorelines feeding on bait fish and they also may enter the lower stretches of tributaries to feed on schools of bait fish, such as the rainbow smelt or alewives.  In the Lake Ontario tributary system they may enter a river in the spring and stay in the river until spawning in the fall.  Streamer patterns that mimic  small bait fish are effective at this time.  A 9 to 11 foot 6 weight fly rod or even a longer 12 foot plus rod are good choices for battling the wind and casting streamers in the early spring conditions.  Sink tip or sinking lines work well but at certain times a floating line can be used when salmon are in close to shore chasing bait fish near the surface.  When salmon move into the lower stretches of tributaries following the smelt or other baitfish  they will often feed furiously,  but the action often does not last long  as they move out as quickly as they entered the tributary, which will require being in the right place at the right time.   Swinging the streamer as well as varying the retrieve with quick stripping motions will entice salmon to strike when they are chasing baitfish.

During the spawning season when salmon move upstream in search of a mate, the fly-fishing strategies are somewhat different.  The salmon are not moving into the stream in search of food as they are in the spring, but enter as a result of an instinct to spawn.  Although it is commonly thought that they are not feeding, they will still strike a variety of flies possibly out of aggression and territoriality, including dry flies, as they protect their spawning areas or hold in a pool during their migration.  Post spawn salmon may also resume feeding and can become veracious feeders.  Salmon can be taken using a variety of  techniques and patterns in the fall.  Stripping and swinging streamers is one method as salmon can violently strike a streamer as it moves through the area in which the salmon has taken temporary residence or where the female has prepared a spawning bed.  Swinging small wet flies and nymphs will also produce strikes.  When the water temperatures start to drop in late fall and winter and the salmon in the tributaries become less active and the salmon will be less likely to move aggressively and will be more likely to strike a nymph on the dead drift, but will occasionally grab a well presented streamer pattern.

Atlantic Salmon, the only native salmon to New York, is a prime example of how the pressure of modern human civilization can cause the decline of wildlife.  Although the wild salmon are gone from New York, there is still opportunity to see salmon as they take part in their annual spawning migration.   As they are truly one of the most exciting fish to pursue with a fly rod.

Effective Wet-fly Nymph

  The soft partridge hackle has lifelike action in the water, making the fly appear alive, like a swimming, struggling, or emerging  nymph or small fish.  This fly can be fished using various techniques including the dead drift, the wet-fly swing, and in slow water they can be retrieved using a very slow stripping action.  All of these techniques I have found to be effective at various times and conditions while fishing for New York’s Atlantic Salmon.

Olive Bead-head Wet

Hook: curved nymph hook 4-12

Thread: olive 6/0

Tail: pheasant tail fibers

Abdomen: Olive hare’s mask spun in a brush

Rib: fine gold wire

Thorax: peacock herl

Collar: Hungarian partridge two turns

Head: Two turns peacock herl and gold bead

Releasing a beautiful Landlocked Atlantic Salmon back to the stream

Articles Biology History Tips & Technique

Finger Lakes Rainbows

NICE RAINBOW brings a smile. Matt landed this nice female rainbow using a #8 Reddish Brown Hare’s Ear nymph on April 11th, 2001 at about 1:00pm. It was 27 inches and weighed in at over 7 pounds. He immediately released it saying “She will lay eggs this year and come back next year again to help create more of these beautiful fish.”
-“Herb Chapple”

Before steelhead were established in Lake Ontario and its tributary system in the late 1960’s; rainbow trout were introduced into the Finger Lakes tributary system. Stocking and management established substantial runs by the 1950’s and runs still exist today.

There are many tributaries throughout the Finger Lakes region that receive runs of rainbow trout.   Fish will start to run in the fall and continue to enter the creeks during late winter thawing periods and some will enter as spring progresses.  When water temperatures start to rise, spawning will commence.  During warm winters many of the early run fish will spawn in the late winter and these fish may  return to the lake by the time April arrives.   Anglers can intercept these early spawning fish in the lower stretches of the creeks as they drop back to the lakes and hold in the deeper pools.   Fish returning to the lake after spawning can really turn on and feed ravenously as they need to build energy depleted during the spawning process.   Other years, with a late thaw, there can be fish still arriving in April, and can often be seen moving upstream or darting up a riffle, well into April. With the right timing Finger Lakes tributaries offer excellent opportunities to fly fish for some beautiful Rainbows through April into May.  Most range from 2-5 pounds, but some tributaries will draw an occasional  8-10-pound giants that some old timers refer to as “knot testers.”

Beautiful Spring Rainbow released without being lifted from the water.

Many Finger Lakes tributaries that receive runs of rainbow trout are small and are often lined with trees and bushes. When fly fishing these smaller streams long casts are often not a necessity, making roll casting critical.  An 8 1/2 to 10 foot, five to seven weight rod and a floating fly line is a good outfit for the smaller creeks.  Developing creative casting techniques and being aware of obstructions within your casting area are necessary when fishing smaller creeks. One cast I have used frequently in the smaller waters, is to use the resistance cast or flip.   This is a very simple cast and uses the resistance of the water to load the rod.  This cast starts by resting some fly line in the water downstream of where you are and then perform one hard casting stoke to flick the line upstream a short distance to a target ahead of where you want the fly to drift or swim.  This technique limits false casts and motion, which can spook fish on smaller tributaries and will also avoid back-casts which can hit overhanging branches, trees or bushes.  Leader length and tippet diameter is determined by water clarity.  During high off color water conditions a short leader (7-8 feet) and 3 feet of  six or eight pound tippet can be used because the sight distance of the fish is much shorter and they will not be spooked by the leader. As the creeks clear, I typically lengthen the leader and reduce tippet diameter when dead drifting flies or switch to swinging flies which is a technique that always presents the fly with the leader upstream of the fly. These fish can be leader shy and spooky during clear water situations.  Four-pound test can help with a natural presentation when fishing a nymph pattern during low clear water conditions. A combination of an eight to nine foot leader and a three feet of tippet will give sufficient separation between the fly line and fly . Bead head or weighted nymphs help get the fly down.  A small tin split shot on the leader or attached to the a tag left at the tippet to leader connection can also aid in sinking the fly. I like to avoid the use of heavy split shot, and like to stick with small sizes, especially during low clear water conditions as losing flies to the river bed can be frustrating.   When the rainbows are biting they will rise up to take a drifting nymph or move to take a swinging fly which is much more satisfying than dredging the bottom and potentially hooking a resting fish.

A Gorgeous Rainbow caught in the winter of 2012

Coming from the security of a deep lake, these fish are very wary and easily spooked when they move into a small tributary.  Angler pressure combined with the natural instincts of fish to avoid predators will drive them into cover, so I always use caution when approaching the creek-side keeping an eye out for fish and I always wear a nice pair of polarized sunglasses to aid in sighting fish as well as help to see the stream bottom . Good places to find lake run rainbows are, in deep holes, undercut banks, log -jams, around boulders, in plunge pools, or some heavy riffle water with a little depth.

Small to medium sized nymphs are one effective way to entice Finger Lakes rainbows into biting a fly.   Some good patterns to try are small bead-head nymphs, hare body nymphs, and wet flies.

Pheasant Tail Wet


Hook: Nymph 8-14

Thread: olive 8/0

Tail: Pheasant tail fibers

Abdomen: Pheasant Tail fibers

Rib: Fine copper wire

Thorax: Peacock herl

Legs: Hungarian partridge (one or two turns)

 Squirrel Hair Nymph

Hook: Nymph 8-12

Thread: Olive 8/0

Tail: Gray, dyed olive or Black squirrel fur

Abdomen: Gray squirrel fur

Rib: Peacock Krystal Flash

Thorax: Same as abdomen Squirrel Fur (teased out)

Wing Case: Peacock herl

Bead Head Olive Wet Fly

Hook: Nymph 6-14

Thread: olive 8/0

Tail: Olive Hare’s mask

Abdomen: Olive hare’s mask

Rib: Fine gold wire

Thorax: Peacock herl

Legs: Hungarian partridge (one or two turns)

Head: Gold Bead

Peacock herl has a natural iridescence and seems to increase the effectiveness of any fly pattern.

Releasing a Nice Rainbow

The Finger Lakes region has excellent opportunities to challenge the fly-fisherman in search of powerful lake-run rainbow trout.

Articles History

New York Brown Trout

Fly fishing for brook trout and then brown trout in the Catskills spawned the beginning of a whole new generation of fly fishers and fly fishing literature, which is now the basis of fly fishing lore in America.

Hefty Brown Trout Taken on a Dead Drifted Wet Fly on a Small Creek in Central New York


The history of the brown trout in New York and the United States began in the late 1800s. Fred Mather, working for the U. S. Fish Commission, was sent to a fish cultural exposition in Berlin, Germany, there he met Friedrich Felix von Behr. Friedrich von Behr was a wealthy sportsman and the president of the German Fish Culturists Association. The two became friends and von Behr took Mather fishing to some streams in the German Black Forest, where Mather experienced fishing for a different species of trout, the brown trout. This relationship spawned the import of brown trout eggs to America and the first eggs arrived in the U. S. around February 1883. Some of the eggs went to the hatchery at Cold Spring Harbor, NY and some went to Caledonia, NY. Others were shipped to Michigan. These shipments contained both the lake form, Seeforelle, and the brook form, Bachforelle. Later shipments from Germany, Scotland, and England, were also used in streams in the U. S. and the fish quickly established self sustaining populations. One example is New York’s Beaverkill, where brown trout thrived and fish of up to eight pounds were recorded. The brown trout in the Beaverkill developed a reputation as a more wary and difficult fish to catch, which gave rise to a new fly fishing culture and thus was the beginning of a whole new generation of fly fishers and fly fishing literature, which is now the basis of fly fishing lore in America.

Colorful West Canada Brown Taken During March Brown Hatch

Brown trout are now stocked stocked throughout New York state. There are populations in both lakes and streams throughout the state and there is also abundant natural reproduction and there are also streams managed as wild brown trout fisheries.



In New York there are both stream resident and lake run brown trout. There is an immense variety of coloration among brown trout in New York. Brown trout can have both red and black spots. Some forms that spend much of their time in deep lakes may lack red spots and may take on a silvery appearance. Brown trout coloration and spot distribution also varies depending on diet and the stream or lake in which it lives.

Brown trout are fall spawners. Spawning is initiated when water temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit and daylight shortens. The female brown trout will construct a spawning area called a “redd” in a shallow gravelly area by swimming on her side using her tail to clean the gravel. This may take a few days. This activity will attract attention from males. The males will then compete to determine who will fertilize the eggs. The number of eggs deposited depends on the size of the female. Successfully fertilized eggs will develop over winter and hatch in the spring. Brown trout living in lakes and feeding on fish can live up to 15 years. The typical steam brown trout will live for four years and grow to 15 to 20 inches.

Lake Ontario Brown Trout Caught in the Salmon River

The diet of the brown trout consists of aquatic invertebrates and insects as well as crustaceans and small fish and some terrestrial insects. In lakes the brown trout can grow very large, specimens of over 10 pounds are periodically caught in tributaries of Lake Ontario and the Finger Lakes.

Fly-fishing and Brown Trout

Late Summer West Canada Brown Taken on a Dry Fly

Fly fishing for brown trout is both challenging and enjoyable. Due to their selective nature when feeding and their very wary behavior, the pursuit of brown trout can require educated fly selection and careful and precise fly fishing techniques. The eyes of the brown trout are adapted to see in dim light, due to the abundance of rod cells in the retina. This can mean fishing can continue after dark and can be good on dark poor weather days. Brown trout can be taken on a variety of flies. During hatches of aquatic insects brown trout will often feed exclusively on a specific insect and will even feed on a specific stage of the insect which spawned the phrase “match the hatch,” where the angler must closely mimic the exact size, shape and sometimes color of the brown trout’s selected food. Lake run fish in the Finger Lakes will often hit a swinging streamer which mimics a small fish. This is also an exciting way to fish for brown trout in New York. Fishing with subsurface patterns such as stonefly, mayfly, caddis and midge imitations will also produce when fishing for lake run and stream resident forms, when insects are not emerging from the water. Fly-fishing for brown trout is both fun and challenging and the angler with persistence will be rewarded with a beautiful trout.