KINMOUNT— The swish of jumping trout broke the placid water of Kinmount Creek north of Ash Lake late last week. For Julian Brzoznowski, who grew up on the adjacent farm, it brought back memories. …
KINMOUNT— The swish of jumping trout broke the placid water of Kinmount Creek north of Ash Lake late last week. For Julian Brzoznowski, who grew up on the adjacent farm, it brought back memories.
As a boy, and a Catholic, his parents would send him and his siblings to the stream most Fridays to catch a limit of fish for dinner, and they caught their fill, of mostly brook trout, from the stream’s bog-tinted waters.
This time, it was brown trout that were jumping in the evening light. They were new recruits, of sorts, 500 freshly-stocked young fish from a DNR rearing pond near Lanesboro, and they appeared to be hungry as they broke the surface repeatedly, grabbing insects from the surface of the creek.
It’s part of an ongoing effort to restore trout populations to streams in this portion of northwestern St. Louis County, including Kinmount and Fawn creeks. The DNR had previously maintained the rivers for a trout fishery starting as early as the 1940s and running through the 1980s, when the stocking and other management work was discontinued and the rivers became increasingly choked with beaver dams.
“Beaver dams ruined the river,” said Brzoznowski, who helped lobby for grant dollars to help with habitat work associated with the stream restorations.
While beavers themselves don’t harm trout, the dams slow the rushing of the water and leave it more exposed to sunlight, causing the water to warm. Trout like cold, oxygen-rich water and they won’t survive without it. Even without beaver, streams like Kinmount and Fawn creeks can be marginal for trout because they rely mostly on surface runoff, which tends to be warm enough in the summer months to make conditions less-than-ideal for species like brook trout, which are particularly fond of cold water. The best trout streams are typically fed by springs and other underground sources, which help keep the water cool even in hot weather.
International Falls DNR area fisheries manager Kevin Peterson said the brown trout he’s stocking here should do well because they can thrive in somewhat warmer waters than the brook trout he stocked here a few years ago. Along with the stocking, the DNR has provided technical help to the Koochiching and North St. Louis Soil and Water Conservation Districts as they use grant funds to remove beaver and their dams, restore some tree cover around beaver ponds to provide shade on streambanks, and create riffles and deeper pools in the stream channels themselves. It all helps to create better trout habitat and keep the water cooler, increasing the survival of the fish.
So far, the effort has proven successful, according to DNR fisheries specialist Dan Schermerhorn, with the International Falls area office. Schermerhorn said electrofishing surveys conducted in recent years have shown that the stocked trout are carrying over, particularly in the Ash and Lost rivers. There’s now evidence of some natural reproduction in the Lost River, although Schermerhorn said it’s not clear that it would be sufficient to sustain the population with significant fishing pressure. The appearance of trout in the Ash River appears to be related to the stocking in Kinmount Creek, a tributary to the Ash River. While they found little sign of brookies in the creek, they found plenty of their previously-stocked fish in the Ash River, including some as big as 14 inches. It’s possible that the Ash River, with its larger flow, has more deep pools that can provide a refuge for brook trout during warm weather.
Peterson said it’s unclear if the fish will successfully reproduce on their own, but he said the brook trout should be close to the age and size when they’re likely to start trying.
If the brook trout can survive, there’s certainly hope for the brown trout.
“We’re pretty optimistic,” said Schermerhorn, who said the streams are now scheduled for annual stocking given the recent success. “Hopefully we’ll get a pretty decent trout fishery,” he said.
That’s the kind of outcome that Brzoznowski was hoping to see when he started advocating for the trout restoration. “I enjoy watching folks come here to fish again,” he said. “And I fish here again, too,” he added.