Study shows brown trout’s wild side in Deerfield River 

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 05-15-2023 2:10 PM

CHARLEMONT — The conclusion of a four-year study on the brown trout population in the Deerfield River has brought welcome news for anglers and river advocates.

More than 80% of the brown trout population in the area of the Deerfield River from the Fife Brook Dam to the Route 2 Bridge in Charlemont are wild trout, not stocked by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife). Additionally, as a result of this discovery, the state will no longer stock this portion of the river.

Eric Halloran, president of the Deerfield River Watershed Chapter of Trout Unlimited, said this is excellent news for both the fish and fishermen. He added this will help Trout Unlimited and MassWildlife use “science to inform decisions around stocking.”

“We’re really happy with what’s happened and we want to see how the fish respond,” Halloran said. “I think this is going to be a great development in the recreational aspect … these fish are challenging to catch and when you do catch them, it’s quite fun.”

The study was conducted by MassWildlife and was supplemented by ongoing support from the local chapter of Trout Unlimited, as well as the Greater Boston chapter. Halloran said they worked with biologists Mike Cole, of Cole Ecological Services, and Erin Rodgers, who leads much of Trout Unlimited’s New England work.

MassWildlife’s study was led by Coldwater Fishery Resource Project Leader Adam Kautza, who echoed Halloran’s thoughts on the positive recreational benefits of wild trout populations.

“Fishing in the Deerfield River is better than ever, and anglers will not notice much of a change from the stocking adjustments,” Kautza said in a statement. “We will continue to stock rainbow trout in this section of the river. Also, the typical allotment of hatchery-raised brown trout usually stocked upstream of the Route 2 bridge will still be stocked further downstream.”

The studied location also has the only two catch-and-release areas on the Deerfield River, where any fish caught must be put back into the river, according to Halloran.

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Halloran said wild brown trout have adapted for thousands of years in the Deerfield River, and while stocked trout are a benefit to bringing tourism to the region and supplementing fish populations, they are not always suited to the wild life.

“It’s the natural system as opposed to the man-made intervention,” Halloran said. “They evolved to survive in this river and be able to reproduce in this river and be successful … if you throw in hatchery trout, now you are watering down those evolutionary changes that have happened.”

Anglers can identify stocked trout by a clipped adipose fin, which MassWidlife said it will continue to do because it helps the population-monitoring process.

“This will enable us to continue monitoring this area and we will know if any hatchery trout make the trip upstream,” Kautza explained. “We will continue to monitor the trout population and reassess as needed.”

As the state continues its work, Halloran said Trout Unlimited is gearing up to launch its water-quality testing program, which was the recipient of a grant in April.

“We’re really happy with what’s happening right now,” Halloran said.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.

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