Written by: Matteo Moretti
As a young fisherman, conservationist, and aspiring media content creator, I am constantly amazed and grateful for the wonderful opportunities that are available to kids like me who are passionate about the environment and sharing its story. The perfect example of such an opportunity was the Trout Unlimited Pennsylvania Brook Trout Odyssey organized by Pennsylvania TU President Charlie Charlesworth—a three-week fishing-research trip focused on learning about and forming a deep connection with the native brook trout that call Pennsylvania’s waters home.
Beside Charlie, our crew consisted of four passionate fly fishermen and one doctoral student: Hunter Klobucar and Tyler Waltenbaugh (Edinboro College), Christopher Piccione (Colorado State), coctoral student Sara Mueller (Penn State) and me (Middlebury College).
The trip afforded us the opportunity to interact with and learn from many different people and places. This ranged from visiting an environmentally friendly freshwater-withdrawal system for hydrofracking; to going off on our own and hiking deep into the mountains to fish a new stream; to doing research that will help scientists, fishermen and conservationists alike understand more about native brook trout.
Prior to the trip, most of us had caught brook trout, but never really thought about whether they were native, wild, or stocked; and we definitely didn’t know the true environmental implications of those three defining characteristics of a trout.
Soon, however, we learned about the deep history that accompanies the vermicular pattern of the brook trout’s marbled back, and to be brutally honest, it is scary. The presence or absence of brook trout in a specific ecosystem details history—ranging from the effects of secondary growth forests due to logging, to acid drainage from mining operations, to the current impacts of global climate change.
Our research consisted of two main parts: the assessment of previously unassessed waters for unknown brook trout populations for the PA Fish & Boat Commission, and fin clippings for Sara’s work on genetics.
Through our research of previously unassessed waters, we learned about the unlikely places that brook trout populations exist. And, by discovering these new populations, we are helping protect our waters for these native fish. Additionally, by collecting fin clippings, Sara hopes that we can discover information about brook trout that is currently unknown.
Fishing for brookies is as much about the fish themselves and their magnificent displays of aggression towards a dry fly, as it is about the places it can bring you and the people it can help you meet. It is amazing how one fish could bring together such a dynamic and passionate group of individuals. We aren’t just kids with fly rods, scientific equipment, and cameras making a backyard video about our journey. We are dedicated to giving a voice for our native fish and our clean waters—we are swimming across rivers to fish a hole, hiking miles into a forest to assess and protect a previously unknown population, and we’re running around taking pictures and videos of everything that flops, crawls, and flies.
As I sit and reflect on the main questions of this trip—why do native brook trout matter and why should people care?—I think back to our crew’s talks around the fire under the canopy of stars, our long silences filled with the crackling of glowing embers in between bursts of passionate epiphanies. I think about all the reasons humans should care, and how those all have to satisfy an anthropocentric need for everything in our lives to have some benefit or purpose to us.
But what I think we realized through our adventure is that people should care about native brook trout simply because they are the way nature intended them to be. Our earth is alive, and we are not individuals or separate entities. If we hurt our earth, we are hurting ourselves for there is a piece of Mother Earth inside of us all and the environment is not just an object.
This trip taught us that brook trout are in danger and although we are to blame, we also have the power to start repairing the damage. Based on our adventure, we will release a 20-minute documentary that we hope will shed light on the problems brook trout face, bringing our community into conversation, and showcase the rest of our odyssey.
We’re all grateful that we were able to create a long-lasting relationship not only with each other, but also with Pennsylvania’s state fish.
It’s time to get the story about native brook trout right and let its voice be heard.
Matteo Moretti is from New Jersey and is a student at Middlebury College in Vermont.