Scientists find unique trout genes in Tug Hill headwaters

A unique genetic strain of brook trout, like the kind seen above, has been found in local waters.

TUG HILL — Local experts say they’ve discovered a genetically distinct strain of brook trout in the Tug Hill headwaters, a sign that parts of the local ecosystem are healthy.

The news was announced this week by the Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust and non-profit organization Trouts Unlimited. According to the groups, the noteworthy fish were found in “some of the most remote headwaters streams” during a field study conducted in 2019. Genetic analysis at the State University at Albany confirmed what local anglers suspected: they had a special case on their hands.

“The uniqueness of the sampled trout appears to be even more pure or distinct than other strains identified in the Adirondacks,” said Tug Hill Tomorrow board member Paul Miller. “This is significant, and means we should do all we can to avoid jeopardizing this genetically unique strain of brook trout. Protecting their habitat is the most important and effective means of ensuring their survival.”

The discovery was made in the “heart of Tug Hill,” which officials said is composed of roughly 170,000 acres of remote forest including parts of the Oswego County town of Redfield.

“These wild lands give rise to major river systems that provide world-class fishing opportunities and drinking water, including the Salmon River,” said Tug Hill Tomorrow Executive Director Linda Garrett.

According to a recent report from the Nature Conservancy, portions of the Tug Hill interior are considered “last chance ecosystems.” Last chance ecosystems are defined by the conservancy as “places which, if conserved, will help reduce extinction rates and protect the best examples of habitats important to species diversity.”

In addition to the Salmon River, the Tug Hill headwaters feed the Deer River, the Sandy Creeks and the east and west branches of Fish Creek.

Oswego County is currently witnessing the annual salmon run, which draws anglers from all over the world to the shores of Lake Ontario and banks of the Oswego River. From first light until dusk, shoulder-to-shoulder fishermen prowl the deep holes.

New York Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay grew up in Pulaski, where his family was and remains one of the largest private land owners along the Salmon River. The Republican, who has represented Oswego County for 20 years in Albany, speaks often about the beauty of the upstate ecosystem and need to protect it for future generations.

“We have great natural resources in New York and particularly in the North Country and central New York,” Barclay said. “They lend a lot of tourism and outdoor sports — we should work to make sure these resources aren’t squandered.”

The Oswego County Department of Community Development, Tourism and Planning provides a daily fishing report for the region at which details where and how fish are being caught.

“Although the water level is low, the cooler temperatures have helped to spark good salmon action in the river,” said the Sept. 21, 2020, fishing report for the Oswego River according to Larry’s Salmon Tackle. “Anglers found some nice fish especially at the dam and powerhouse over the weekend. Crankbaits and thundersticks were working well. The weekend water flow ran between 650 – 850 cfs. This morning it is flowing at 814 cfs.  We have no rain in the forecast through most of this week.”

Port City anglers take note: there are mandatory personal flotation device (PFD) zones on the Oswego River river. The Oswego Fire Department offers loaner life jackets at no charge through its “Loaner for Life” program. For more information contact the fire station, 35 E. Cayuga St., at 315-343-2161.

(1) comment


Comparing wild, pure trout with the contrived NY salmon fishery is like comparing a well aged French wine to grape juice. The wild trout are there without the expenditure of a single cent and they've been there since the glaciers retreated 10,000 years ago; the salmon are there only with the expenditure of millions of dollars. It can't be sustained and when the alewife population crashes, it will be all over. Indeed, alewives have only been in Lake Ontario for 100 years and salmon stocking numbers are going to be reduced 20% for 2020 due to the reduced numbers of forage fish. Stocking of millions chinook salmon and landlocked and anadromous Atlantic salmon in Lake Ontario and the other Great Lakes in 1873-1947 failed completely, as will this fishery. Remember: only 1 serving per week, and none for pregnant women or kids under 15 due to industrial chemicals, pesticides, and/or mercury.

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