Wildlife Watch: The Battenkill's brown trout success story

Published: May. 14, 2019 at 3:31 PM EDT
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The Battenkill River flows just about 60 miles from southern Vermont and into New York. It's a summer hot spot for locals and visitors to float down the river, but its most known for its trout fishing, which at one point was in jeopardy. Our Ike Bendavid found out why the population is back on the rise.

Marty Oakland has lived his whole life in Arlington and knows trout fishing on the Battenkill. "I guess it's been my love of the Battenkill," Oakland said. "I have seen it go from super excellent,down to terrible."

And bad fishing for Oakland means bad business. "We have a BNB, and probably 70 percent of our guests are fishermen. They want to catch fish. If they catch fish, they are coming back," he said.

"The Battenkill is really one of Vermont's preeminent trout streams," said Lee Simard, a Vermont Fish & Wildlife biologist. He says that the Battenkill is known for producing trophy brown trout, making it a tourist spot for anglers, but that reputation almost floated away in the early 1990s. "Anglers started to report a real decrease in catch rates, meaning for the amount of time they spent fishing, they weren't catching nearly as many fish."

The decline in trout was shown in their population data. "After a serious of studies in the early 2000's we discovered that lack of in-stream habitat was really limiting the population," Simard said.

A focus on the habit has led to a resurgence of fish. "This was mostly large trees and root logs that they would place along the banks in certain areas to create that habitat for fish. So, create a difference in depth and flow and velocity of the water that allowed the fish to seek cover, more efficiently feed and have protection from predators and the forces of nature," Simard said. "Once we put it in, the fish recovered. It proved that's what the river and the Battenkill needed."

The evidence is as clear as water. "This is the type of habitat we are looking for. This isn't a tree we put into the river. It fell on its own. If we came back and sampled in the fall, we would see brown trout of all sized coming out of that structure. This is what is going to keep the Battenkill fishery alive and well and prolific in the future," Simard said.

But this area is also popular with people who don't fish. "It's finding that balance of allowing trees to fall in and create that habitat while also not impacting the uses of other user groups," Simard said.

For anglers like Oakland, the proof of the population being back is in the catch. "It's definitely much better then it was 15 yeas ago," he said.