Berkshire Woods and Waters: Summer fisheries research wrapped up

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Each summer, MassWildlife fisheries biologists take to the water to sample the commonwealth's rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds for fish. Biologists gather information on fish species at each location in order to evaluate the quality of recreational fishing opportunities, and to monitor overall ecosystem health. Waterbodies are typically surveyed on a 10-15 year rotation to track changes in fish communities over time.

Large rivers sampled this summer included the Bass, Chicopee, Concord, Coonamessett, Herring, Hoosic, Housatonic, Manhan, Nashua, North Branch of the Nashua, Quaboag, and Swift rivers. Over twenty lakes and ponds were also sampled across the state. One of the many highlights of the summer sampling effort was an encounter with hundreds of healthy trout in the Swift River — including the above pictured 17-pound, 33-inch brown trout!

Fish are collected through electrofishing by boat, barge, or backpack. Electrofishing equipment consists of a small generator and control box used to produce a small, localized electrical field in the water. Fishes within the field are stunned just long enough to be captured with a net and placed into a live well. Biologists then identify, weigh, and measure the fish before returning them back to the water. Temperature, pH, conductivity, and other information about the waterbody are also recorded.

Fisheries biologists use this data to evaluate the health of fish populations. Fish health is assessed by calculating a ratio of weight to length, known as condition factor. Fish that weigh more than average for any given length are considered in good condition. Fish lengths can also be used to approximate age classes. By noting the relative number of individuals in each age class, biologists can determine if species are recruiting younger individuals into the population and assess reproductive success. The health of fish populations within a particular lake or stream can then be compared to other waterbodies in the state.

Massachusetts anglers can use the information collected in these surveys to learn more about fishing opportunities in a particular area. MassWildlife has also been hard at work collecting new bathymetry data in lakes and ponds, which will be released to the public as a paired depth map with pond information like depth, fish summaries, and access and ramp information.

Fall trout stocking

More than 60,000 rainbow trout that are 12 inches or longer will be stocked across Massachusetts this fall. The fall stocking season is in progress, and will be completed by the second week of October depending on water temperatures. Anglers will be able to view daily stocking reports by visiting www.mass.gov/Trout. Anglers can search for a specific waterbody or town using the sortable list, or explore new fishing spots with the map feature.

MassWildlife also stocked 1,900 pike yearlings into Cheshire Reservoir and Quaboag Pond last week. These 13-inch yearlings will take 2-3 years to reach the 28-inch minimum harvest size. The pike were obtained from the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife as part of a cooperative exchange program.

Oh, the unrelenting pressure to go fishing

I turn 75 in a few weeks and that will qualify me for grumpy old man status (although my wife Jan will tell you that I reached that landmark decades ago). With that age comes the realization that there are lots more fishing days in my past, than in my future. It's probably time to sit out on the stoop and recollect those wonderful angling days. It will be a time to reflect on those 7-inch trout caught from little neighborhood streams many years ago, to the culmination of catching 7-plus pound brook trout in Labrador last year amidst some of the most scenic areas in the western hemisphere.

I wouldn't have gone last year on that Labrador fishing trip had it not been for fishing buddy, Attorney Michael Shepard of Dalton. He kept twisting my arm to make one more trip north. To ease the pain from the arm twisting, I relented and went on that last trip north. I'm glad I did, for there were some memorable fish caught there, providing more memories to ponder while sitting on the stoop. Mike once again tried to get me to go on another trip to Labrador this year with many of the same anglers that went last year, but I had fortitude, held back the tears and politely declined. Besides, my arm hasn't fully recovered — nor my pocketbook.

Well, don't you know, recently a couple of other close fishing buddies, Paul Knauth of Hinsdale and Allen Gray of Pittsfield, started twisting my arm also, this time to go fishing with them in Alberta, Canada. Yes, to once again see the breathtaking Canadian Rockies, and to catch the beautiful west slope cutthroat trout that inhabit the foothills. But really, I told them, I'm not sure my legs can take the punishment of wading those large beautiful rivers, and I am not as steady on my feet as I used to be.

But the arm twisted persisted — intensely — on my casting arm, too. Resist as much as I did, there was one logical point that I could not overcome. I am a God-fearing man and they took advantage of that by quoting some passage from somewhere that goes something like this: "God does not deduct from man's allotted time here on earth those hours spent fishing." I don't recall reading that in the Bible, but, if God indeed said that, I should heed His words. I decided that to prolong my life it was probably best if I went fishing with those guys. I didn't want to leave Jan a widow sooner than I had to. I hope she appreciates that.

So, when you are reading these words, I should be home from the 10-day fishing trip. Hopefully the trip was a safe and enjoyable one, the forest fires abated and those grizzly bears up there didn't remember me from the last trip. Hopefully, I wasn't dragged down an airplane aisle bloodied, screaming and kicking. And, hopefully, my arm will make a full recovery. I'll let you know how the trip went, perhaps in next week's column.

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