Everyone likes big brown trout and hard-charging rainbows, but the wild brook trout is the New York fly-fisher’s sentimental favorite.
We love it for its beauty — some people consider it the prettiest of all fish — and for its status as New York’s only native trout. And while hatchery brookies are stocked in plenty of put-and-take waters, finding wild ones requires trekking into remote wildernesses, like the Adirondacks or the Catskills or Clifton Park.
Clifton Park? It’s true: Smack dab in the middle of one of the region’s most densely populated suburbs swim — and spawn — brook trout.
They prowl the Dwaas Kill, a silty, spring-fed stream guarded by thick brambles, safe from all but the most intrepid anglers. The stream flows through the Dwaas Kill Nature Preserve, 250 acres of shrub swamp, oak forest, sandy bluffs and hemlock groves purchased by the town in 2004 with the eager encouragement of local Trout Unlimited volunteers and a preservation mandate from the citizenry.
The state and Saratoga County have stocked the Dwaas Kill for decades, but the presence of wild trout was confirmed only a few years ago. Innisbrook Court resident Oskar Lenss showed Stan Duncan, a town resident and TU member, what was going on in Bear Brook, a Dwaas Kill tributary at the bottom of a ravine at the edge of Lenss’s back yard.
“I had never actually seen trout spawning,” Duncan said. “Nor had I ever seen so many 12-, 14-, 16-inch brook trout in one place.”
Bear Brook is one of 12 tributaries of the Dwaas Kill. Some are clearly not suitable spawning habitats, but others may be, Duncan said.
Bear Brook itself has retained a natural character. The ravine, however, runs not through a forest but through housing developments whose roofs and driveways drain warm water into the brook with every summer rain.
Bear Brook’s biggest problem is a developed area at its very headwaters, near Route 146.
Stream temperature loggers installed by Trout Unlimited revealed that during a typical summer shower, warm runoff from roofs and pavement at Shopper’s World Plaza and area office buildings raised Bear Brook’s temperature from a trout-friendly 68 degrees to a potentially lethal 80 in an hour.
Nearly a mile of the brook was affected, and it took nearly eight hours to cool back down to 70 degrees.
Shopper’s World and the other developed properties aren’t to be blamed, Duncan said; they were developed in accordance with town codes, at a time when the ecological significance of the creek wasn’t yet known. But the town government and the property owners are discussing ways to reduce the impact of the runoff, he said.
Despite all that, Bear Brook continues to produce wild trout that almost certainly migrate down into the Dwaas Kill Nature Preserve. There, you can fish for them, but it’s not easy. In most of the preserve, the undergrowth is thick. The stream banks are wooded and brushy, with lots of places to snag a fly. The most effective way to fish there is probably with a short, light spinning rod.
I haven’t fished there yet, but I plan to. Apart from the distant drone of the Northway, the Dwaas Kill looks and feels as wild as a boggy Adirondack brookie stream. There is a great deal of woody debris — drowned logs and tree roots that provide the best kind of cover for trout. The wild trout may stay in very tough-to-reach places in the upper Dwaas Kill, but stocked trout are available downstream near the parking area on Pierce Road.
When the town surveyed residents about what to do with the nature preserve, “the results were overwhelming,” said Clifton Park Supervisor Phillip Barrett.
“We need to preserve these types of places for future generations.
“Whenever a volunteer group is willing to step up and have a stake in the game and put in the hard work, that makes a difference,” he added. “Having a group like Trout Unlimited, when we’re working together, partnering together, that’s how you make things happen.”
Morgan Lyle’s commentary appears regularly in The Daily Gazette. Reach him at [email protected]