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Hunter Dan 10-18-2015 10:32 AM

Re-wilding a river
FINALLY got the new issue of Backcountry Journal. Can't get it on the newstand but you can get it here (shameless plug):

I gotta say it's the best issue yet - not just 'cuz my article's in it either.

I'm going to be trying to have a New Hampshire "meet and greet" for the BHA New England chapter this winter or spring. Hoping to recruit some more Granite State members. If it comes together I will definitely be advertising it here - I guess in the "off-topic" or "conservation issues" section.

flyfish_tfo 10-18-2015 04:28 PM

Very cool, man! I'm on board if you do! I gotta check BHA out, never heard of it!

natefish 10-20-2015 08:47 AM

Well done my friend. This fall we surveyed the river with Fish and Game. The data closely matches what was found back in 1958....over 40lbs a hectar of trout. What was most impressive to me was the number of wild trout in the lower stretches. While not as high as in the upper river the fact that they exist in the lower river shows that there is much potential. It was also found that the pH was at 7, macro invertebrate density and diversity was high and water temps were low 65 degrees on the lower river on a hot early September day. Waiting to hear back on the temperature data logger and on final trout density. But long story short...the river far exceeds the criteria necessary for WTM designation.

Redneck_Flashaboo 10-21-2015 07:43 AM

Congrats on the article Dan!

I'd love to check it out, and I'm sure others would too. But it looks our only option is to pay for a membership for 25 bucks. A bit steep by my rate…any chance you can post just the text from a word file?

bobo 10-21-2015 03:59 PM

Congrats Dan on getting your article published. Well done.

Hunter Dan 10-24-2015 01:51 PM

Here's the text of the article:

To Re-Wild a River
(BHA members discover hidden gems – and valuable habitat – in the backcountry of the White Mountains)
Dan Williams

Trout fishing in many parts of New England is a zero-sum game. High water temperatures and low dissolved oxygen levels often leave streams barren of salmonids – until the stocking trucks show up each spring. When they do, an army of anglers, using every conceivable form of tackle, descend on these waters and proceed to pull out chunky triploid rainbows, browns and brookies, most destined for the freezer. The “lucky ones” that get away face an increasingly difficult battle for survival as waters warm into the summer. Most will not survive. None will reproduce, leaving rivers empty by fall foliage season. The process repeats itself year after year.

Contrast that with the mid-July day I had on the water recently with two friends and fellow BHA members. Corey Ellis, Tovar Cerulli and I spent the better part of a day in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest fly fishing for native brook trout on the Wildcat River. The experience was a far cry from the put-and-take scenario I described above. After driving several miles of Forest Service road, we parked at a trailhead and hiked in further, crossing two minor brooks, before the surging waters of the Wildcat beckoned us to her banks. What we found was a picture postcard scene of the New Hampshire backcountry. Nestled among a thick tangle of birch-beech-maple forest, dotted with spruce and fir of all ages, the Wildcat’s gin-clear water is studded with large granite boulders and riddled with fallen timber, making for prime trout holding water over virtually every yard of stream bed. Its relatively steep gradient and high elevation ensure a year-round, cold water environment for the fish – and made it quite easy to regulate our body temperatures as we wet-waded through the warm, humid, July day.

“First fish buys the beer afterwards,” yelled Corey above the din of the raging waters as I headed off downstream after rigging up my “minnow pole” – a 6’6”, 2-weight with a leader that proved a bit too long to work with. My first cast yielded a violent strike and hearty fight from a 6-inch brookie already beginning to show signs of the vibrant colors these fish exhibit come September spawning season. I imagined how breathtaking a trip to the Wildcat in the fall would be when both the trees and the fish would be dressed in their fall palette of oranges, reds and yellows.

As we continued downstream every boulder, every logjam, every plunge pool presented us with new opportunities. And virtually every pool and run teemed with trout, all more than eager to smack our dry flies without much regard to pattern, size or color. There were no empty worm containers, tangles of monofilament on tree branches, or cigarette butts. There weren’t even any footprints save for those of moose and other wildlife. In this pristine setting, with the trout happy to indulge us, it became clear to me how fragile such a fishery is. It would be far too easy for a few anglers to fish out this small stream if they were to start keeping their catch, even with New Hampshire’s rather conservative five fish per day limit.

As we sat on giant granite boulders to eat our lunch, Corey, Tovar and I discussed what the future holds for the Wildcat, and perhaps other streams in this region. Recently, BHA-New England partnered with a local Trout Unlimited chapter and other groups to draft a proposal to designate the Wildcat River as a water “Managed for Wild Trout” (MWT). This would include regulations limiting angling to catch-and-release, fly-fishing only with single, barbless hooks. There is no better candidate for “re-wilding” than the Wildcat. NH Fish and Game has recorded a biomass of 44 pounds per acre of wild trout – far exceeding the 13 pounds per acre minimum for MWT designation. Jackson Falls, on the lower reaches of the Wildcat, provides a convenient barrier to keep stocked trout in its lower stretch from mixing with wild fish. Currently, hatchery trout are stocked above the falls and are only prevented from reaching the upper Wildcat by the area’s relative remoteness. Situated in the heart of the White Mountains, the Wildcat benefits from the longest-lasting snowpack anywhere east of the Mississippi, and already claims the designation “Wild and Scenic River” from the federal government.

It is somewhat puzzling that although the White Mountain region provides the highest quality wild trout habitat in New Hampshire, none of its rivers and streams are managed for wild trout. This fact seems to contradict a recent angler survey that showed a majority favor more wild trout waters in the state. And there is already precedent for managing certain streams for wild trout, as NH F&G has had success doing so elsewhere in New Hampshire. Also, since managing for wild trout is more cost-effective than put-and-take, and given its location in the heart of the largest mountain tourist area in the northeast, the economic benefits for an MWT designation on the Wildcat seem like a no-brainer.
After lunch, we explored a little further upstream on “The ‘Cat.” Then Corey suggested we hike out and drive back downstream to check out its lower reaches. What we found there was more akin to put-and-take. The water was still gin-clear, but quite a bit warmer. The streambed was a bit more flat, with fewer quality holding areas for fish. Footprints and the detritus from previous anglers were easy to spot, and trout were hard to find. We did manage a few strikes and one 10-inch brook trout which, from its appearance, was clearly raised in a hatchery.

New Hampshire has both a robust put-and-take fishery and an effective wild trout program. It makes sense to include the Wildcat – and perhaps other White Mountain streams – in the latter group. One could spend an entire summer in the White Mountain region exploring the many mountain streams and have new water to fish every day. And all this on National Forest land fully open to the public. Other wild trout waters from New England to Georgia are proof that you can re-wild a river. If NH F&G were to shift its focus toward re-wilding and away from put-and-take in the White Mountain region, rivers like the Wildcat – and anglers who fish there – would reap the benefits for generations to come.

(Dan Williams is a BHA member, educator and musician hailing from Concord, NH. In his free time he likes to explore the backcountry of northern New England and is an avid hunter and angler. He served for two years on the Board of Contributors of the Concord Monitor, where he wrote about topics related to hunting, fishing and the environment.)

natefish 12-03-2015 10:39 AM

Thanks again Dan. Update: We surveyed the river with Dianne Timmons (NH Fish and Game)and Mark Prout (USFS) this fall. While we have not received final numbers they were looking very good at time of collection. We found anywhere from 180-495 trout per 100yard survey section. Higher numbers were found in the upper reaches, but solid numbers of wild trout were present even below the falls. This gives us confidence that with Wild Trout designation the river could sustain a healthy recreational wild brook trout fishery from top to bottom. To learn more and help visit

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