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Something Wild: N.H.'s beautiful brook trout

A brook trout swims through a rocky stream.
via Wikimedia Commons
A brook trout swims through a rocky stream.

This archive edition of Something Wild is from June 2019, and was produced by Andrew Parrella. We rebroadcast this segment in July 2022.

The foam formed eddies on the surface of the pool as Stevens Brook rushed down and through this particular crook in the waterway in the shadow of interstate 89 in East Sutton, New Hampshire.

Something Wild paused here to talk fish with author and fish historian, Jack Noon. Noon is unapologetic about naming his favorite fish: the eastern brook trout, colloquially known as "brookies." It’s a family thing. Noon learned to fish at the elbow of his grandfather, who had a clear preference for brook trout.

But it’s the trout’s habitat – cold, clear, unpolluted water that Noon says, “makes them the perfect symbol for New Hampshire past and responsible environmental policies. They’re just an absolutely beautiful fish. And they’re a native fish, too!”

Of course “native” is often a matter of perspective. By one calculation, there are no fish species that are native to the Granite State. The evidence seems to confirm that the mile-thick ice-sheet that encased New England 12,000 years ago prevented any fish from setting up stakes. But as the ice sheet retreated, brookies were among the first to settle the area.

And ever since, brook trout have observed the usual annual rites, including fall spawn, where they lay their eggs in little nests among the gravel of stream beds; the eggs develop over the winter and hatch into “fry” in the spring. 

The survival of the brook trout replies on a handful of factors: water temperature, habitat, food, and protection from overfishing. And the first three can be addressed by ensuring good forest cover. As Noon explains, “that will keep water levels high and water temperatures low throughout the summer.”

He cited the work of a fisheries biologist from more than a century ago, William Kendall. “On 6 August, 1904, he took water temperatures at Perry Stream (Pittsburg, NH),” says Noon. At that time, Kendall found it to be 44 degrees. After the harvest of a red spruce stand near the stream, Noon says, “I made a point of visiting the same Perry Stream, 97 years after that stand that stood by the stream [was removed] and I found that the water temperatures were 20 degrees higher.”

Sixty-four degrees is within the range of water temperatures that brook trout can inhabit, but it is at the upper end of that range. When the water gets too warm, there is not enough dissolved oxygen to sustain the brookies, and it forces them to either move or die.

Nevertheless, Noon is optimistic about the future of these remarkable fish, after conservation efforts by N.H. Fish & Game Department and Trout Unlimited. “The fisheries biologists have made a huge difference. What they have studied, what they know, and they’re more aware now of what is needed.”

Something Wild is a partnership of New Hampshire Audubon, the Forest Society and NHPR, and is produced by the team at Outside/In.

Naturalist Dave Anderson is Senior Director of Education for The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, where he has worked for over 30 years. He is responsible for the design and delivery of conservation-related outreach education programs including field trips, tours and presentations to Forest Society members, conservation partners, and the general public.
Chris Martin has worked for New Hampshire Audubon for over 31 years as a Conservation Biologist, specializing in birds of prey such as Bald Eagles, Ospreys, and Peregrine Falcons.

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