Clear spring creeks again are healthy, productive, regenerating life
It had been a long, hot and dry summer, and the freshwater streams across Pennsylvania were in a sad state of affairs.
The small, wild native brook trout were stressed, and many fell prey towarm water with low oxygen levels, avian predators and raccoons that look upon a small stream as their restaurant.
Summer finally yielded to fall, cooler temperatures, a kaleidoscope of fall leaf colors and most importantly, much-needed rain.
I recently was walking along a trail that led into the depths of a Potter County hollow on a half-serious squirrel hunt. My Remington shotgun was casually held across my chest with no strong desire to shoulder it and fire at anything.
Just being there, enjoying the autumn woodlands was the more powerful driving force behind the walk —and even more important than gray squirrels were the brightly-colored brook trout I was watching. I was half-watching the trail as I looked down the embankment at as the small, wild native brook trout darted about in the spring-fed creek about 25 feet below the age-old path.
Native brook trout spawn in the autumn months, and their coloration is far brighter in October than it is during the springtime months when most anglers cast to the wary fish.
Few trout or any other fish have the bright colors of a brook trout. The fall spawn, however, has even brighter colors gracing the trout —and the brilliance is even visible at a distance through the clear cold waters.
As in most cases, nature has a way of healing itself, and the renewed cold water flowing freely down the gradual slope of the valley was a reassuring sight to anyone who appreciates the freshwater resource and the wild trout it supports.
I noticed a few redds —- spawning beds — dished out of the smooth gravel stream bottom. It was the time in nature for brook trout to replenish their numbers — albeit with very low survival rates through the reproductive phase of their aquatic lives.
I noticed active trout movement in one small pool, so I paused to sit and watch the action.
One trout — obviously a female was holding tightly over a spawning bed, while other trout — males, of course, seemed to fight to swim closely, beside her.
I was not sure how many eggs would be laid and fertilized by the trout, or how many of the fish to hatch were destined to survive the cannibalistic habits of the stream trout.
One thing was certain, however; the cycle of life for the resident brook trout in this particular small stream had and will continue to survive.
I wondered how many hunters would take this trail this fall and winter season — and how many of the ones traveling the path would notice the high-running cold water that churned through the hollow. I also wondered how many would realize and appreciate the clean, clear waters that harbor the somewhat captive trout that have existed for centuries in the whitewater flow.
This was nature, and the freshwater and trout resource continuing at its finest —- despite the low, warmwater burdens the creek faced only a few short months ago.
The small stream and the trout are the true winners again.
Karl Power is a sports writer for the Valley News Dispatch.