Banner image courtesy of Matt Peterson of Stone Ridge Art Studios. Click to see full image.
Lake Sunapee, Dublin Pond, and Christine Lake Trout
Or, NH, the Land that Time Forgot
Geological ancestors of the brook trout and recent saibling…John Duncan Quackenbos
In my armchair travels, I occasionally run across a number of special volumes written in that High Victorian era around the turn of the century. Specifically, these focus on the brook trout, the authors being North Easterners. The language in these is poetic. The knowledge arcane. As they are out of copyright, and by default I own a small press, I have been toying with republishing some of these books with some modern art to bring them to a larger audience (300 copies in the original printing). Other people have scanned and reprinted them and they are available on Google, but books like this should be held and cherished. Passed down for another century. A man who reads a book like this on Kindle does not understand the spirit in which it was written. And the straight-scanned-to-text copies that are selling on Amazon are criminally poor.
That said, all images in this blog are either by permission of the owner or under fair use guidelines. (This little foray into the past has made me a big fan of the Gutenberg Project.)
Every great fishing story encompasses both the adventure of the sport, and the very real issues of conservation we face. This book, written 100 years ago discusses both. How incredible to have three separate species evolve within a day’s drive from each other. And yet none of them survived long past their discovery, at least not in their home waters. This tale evokes both the mystery that is part of our every day world, that such rarities exist near to us, and the caution of how fragile such miracles are.
A Saibling, by the way, is the German name for “Charr” meaning bull, brook, and lake trout, separate from the salmonid species of salmon, rainbow, steelhead, and cutthroat trout.
The author catches a little of this in verse:
Come, float your lure o’er dusky pool,
Heart-clutched by surging hopes,
Where melt in one a hundred springs
Sped from high-blooming slopes.
A rise! a fish! How Sit your looks
‘Twixt certainty and doubt’
Tis mine to watch your rod respond
To rush of steel-struck trout.
And now among the fern he lies,
A roseate blaze in green;
What brush may paint, what pen describe
That symmetry and sheen.
Even the table of contents is poetic:
And here is the dedication, the “Hallowword” which is as best as I can tell, an invention of the author based on this etymology:
honor as holy.“the Ganges is hallowed as a sacred, cleansing river”
greatly revered or respected.“in keeping with a hallowed family tradition”
a saint or holy person.
And then, it becomes a mystery.
Lake Sunapee, “Golden,” or “White” Trout
(By the way, check out the artist’s www.fishmatrix.net site. Super cool fish identifier, and pretty cool technology.)
THE TALE OF THE FISHES
In the summer of 1882, while casting for black bass at Lake Sunapee, N.H., I was asked by a gentleman fishing from a boat nearby to weigh a large trout that he had just caught. The trout had been taken in comparatively deep water, was silvery in coloration, and had a practically square tail. (EDITORS NOTE: Observe that this does not match the image above…) It weighed just 4 pounds. “What is it?” the captor asked. After a moment’s thought, I said, “Why, it is a brook trout” for it was evidently neither a blue-back ( Salvelinus oquassa) nor a Laker with mackerel tail ( Salvelinus namaycush), and Agassiz had said there were only three trouts in New England. So by exclusion it must be fontinalis I did not know for three years that I had discovered on that July day a new species of Salvelinus not known at that time to exist on the American continent. But such proved to be the fact. In October, 1885, a boy of the neighborhood accidentally came upon a midlake spawning-bed, an acre or two in area, covered with hundreds of the new fish ranging from one to ten pounds in weight, and reported his discovery to the Fish Commissioner. Specimens were at once sent to Washington and Cambridge for identification, and there followed an animated discussion of six years duration in regard to the origin of the form, some contending that it was descended from German saibling imported from Europe (none of which, however, found their way into Lake Sunapee), others that is was an overgrown blueback (this species having been introduced from Maine a number of years before), some few that it was a hybrid, and others again that it was an aboriginal variety. Owing to its silvery appearance in summer, it came to be known as the “White Trout.”
This particular passage has personal importance to me as my uncle has a house on Sunapee and I’ve fished it fairly much of late. Alas, long after the last Sunapee Trout has been gone. In fact, they only exist now in some lake in Idaho where in a strange twist of conservationism this planting of a non-native species, against all ethos of modern environmentalism, has now become their last enclave. Sunapee is now a bass lake, so overwhelmed with rock bass that they have tournaments to kill them off and I’ve only pulled one sizeable bass out of the lake in my time on it (I thought I was on the bottom and in trying to snap off my line was pulling the ski boat through the water before he started his run, and yes, it was on a much abused Hornberg.) My dad has caught landlocked salmon there, but there is not a trout to be found. Yet still I fish it, my personal Nessie, hoping beyond hope that in those deep, cold waters these fish exist escaping all clutches of men, as Quakenbos presaged even 100 years ago:
It is known to survive in three New England lakes. Sunapee and Dan Hole Pond in New Hampshire. and Flood’s Pond in the town of Otis, near Mt Desert in Maine-all three very deep and excessively cold, and well stocked with the native food of the saibling. In many other lakes it has presumably been starved out and killed by rising temperature, as has been the case in Europe, charrs having become extinct in some waters. notably Loch Leven. almost within the memory of living men.
Of course, I’ve known of the Sunapee trout my whole life, and I believe they may have still existed when I was young, but in this book another little jewel was revealed.
As the pairing-time approaches, the Sunapee fish becomes resplendent with the flushes of maturing passion. The steel green mantle of the hack and shoulders now seems to dissolve into a dreamy bloom of amethyst through which the daffodil spots of midsummer blaze out in points of flame, while below the lateral line all is dazzling orange. The fins catch the tones of the adjacent parts, and pectoral, ventral, anal, and lower lobe of caudal are striped with a snowy white band. There are conspicuous differences in intensity of general coloration, and the gaudy dyes of the milter are tempered in the spawner to a creamy white or olive chrome, with spots of orient opal. The wedding garment nature has given to this charr is indeed agleam with heavenly alchemy. And its pursuit and capture with a five-ounce sixstrip and delicate tackle baffles description, for the game qualities of the white trout are estimated to be double those of the fontinalis. To land a 4-pound saibling in his prime implies the sublimination of vigilance and dexterity. The fish holds the coign of vantage. When he stands back and with bull-dog pertinacity wrenches savagely at the line-when he doubles in a desperate dash for liberty, the angler is at his mercy. But, brother of the sleave-silk and tinsel, when you gaze upon your captive lying asphyxiated on the surface, his last mad rush for life frustrated, his last wintle over, a synthesis of qualities that make a perfect fish-when you disengage him from the meshes of the landing net, and place his icy figure in your outstretched palms, and watch the tropaeolin glow of his awakening loves soften into cream tints, and the cream tints pale into the pearl of moonstone as the muscles of respiration grow feebler and more irregular in their contraction -you will experience an erethism of internal exaltation
that the capture of no other fish can excite. It is this after-come of pleasure, this delight of contemplation and speculation of which the scientific angler never wearies, that lends a charm absolutely sui generis to the pursuit of this Alpine charr-a fish of which it has been said that one can not study its fascinating past as an autochthon and familiarize himself with its impressive life habits without conviction, as he becomes acquainted with the wonderful evolution implied in its survival, of the existence of a God.
A bit sexual and religious all at once. I am finding that almost no passage that is not worth copying here. I only hope I have convinced you to read this little book, nay, pamphlet.
I’m constantly having to look up words in these old texts. English has become so much sparser! :
Tropaeolin is a name given to several dyes. :
And of course we have evidence that we have been detrimentally toying with fish populations for a long time (and have yet to learn from it):
Under similar conditions, the Alpine and the brook trout have co-existed in Lake Sunapee, the ancestral fish following, like man and the higher mammalia, hut by watery channels, the retreating ice fields, and swanning into the granite basin of this lake excavated anew for its reception by the erosive power of the glacier and filled with melting snows. Here it was all but exterminated, owing to the depredations of its enemies, the yellow perch and the miller’s thumb, when black bass were introduced in 1868 to destroy these enemies in tum and afford it a chance to increase. Fish culture has since added many millions to its ranks.
Dublin Pond or Blueback Trout
I’ve known of the Sunapee trout my whole fishing life, and I believe they may have still existed when I was young, but in this book another little jewel was revealed. Many authors state that the Sunapee and the Blueback are the same, however although I have found this same reference many, many times (verbatim), I’ve never found the root source, nor been able to track down the references:
Quadri (1974) suggested that the Sunapee and blueback, along with the Quebec red (sometimes listed as S. marstoni), are conspecific and should be synonymized as a subspecies of the Arctic char (i.e., S. alpinus oquassa). According to Behnke (personal communication) both the Sunapee and blueback trout should be recognized as S. aureolus oquassa. Kendall (1914b) provided color plates showing both the Sunapee and blueback trout and gave a table to distinguish between the two forms. He also provided detailed descriptions and morphometrics. Scarola (1973) provided a key for the Sunapee trout. Everhart (1976) gave a photo of blueback trout and a key to both Sunapee and blueback trout.
The Kendal reference took a while to track down, and I have found no physical or digital versions of it. Kendall, W.C. 1914. The Fishes of New England. Sometimes the sources are as rare as the fish!
And this: Moreover, Dr. Bean, in a scholarly paper published in The American Angler and the Forest and Stream, February, 1888, called attention to six essential points of difference between the Sunapee trout and the blue-back, thus effectually disposing of the argument.
While I’m amazed at the depth of cataloging, and taxonomy that had already been accomplished when the book was written, by no means did Quackenbos have the last word on the taxonomy of the species, and the debate goes on today. (Much like the endless Dolly Varden/Bull Trout debates that crop up annually on various boards, each year to be solved authoritatively, and each year to be reopened.) Interestingly Matt Patterson, the artist of the prints below and author of Freshwater Fishes of the Northeast, even asked me in email: “I find it very interesting learning about the Sunapee and blueback trout. Have you ever read anything about the silver trout (I have a print of one on my esty page)? They are extinct now but lived in Dublin lake which is not very far from me. ” In my researches, I have heard of these also called both blueback and silver trout in that pond. But in looking at the images, I got confused. Compare his Blueback image below to Tommelleri’s Sunapee image above.
Here is Patterson’s Silver Trout image, with its square tail it looks a lot more like Quackenbros’s Sunapee description to me!:
Likewise, his Blueback sounds like Quackenbros’s Dublin Pond trout.
The Dublin Pond trout has perplexed the most eminent ichthyologists. It has been classed as a lake trout (namaycush), for its tail is somewhat forked and it attains a weight of 3 to 4 lbs.-as a lissome pattern of the brook trout-as a mere color variation of the same fish-and Agassiz decided that it was an independent form allied to the deep water charrs of the Swiss lakes, and predicted that it would be found elsewhere, for he did not believe nature made this beautiful fish for one little pond in New Hampshire. And he was right. The subsequent discovery of Alpine forms justified his assumption. And Dr. W. C. Kendall, of the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, has called my attention to the existence, north of the St. Lawrence, of charrs classified as fontinalis, that are more nearly allied to the ancestral saibling group than to the brook trout true intermediate congenetic forms that strengthen the induction. Some years ago I described in the American Angler one species resembling the Dublin fish in build and coloration, specimens having been sent to me from the Province of Quebec-as pale and opalescent, The charr in question is closely allied to the Sunapee saibling, favoring this fish in its deep-water and lake-spawning habits (on stony shallows, and not in the outlet-there are no inlets) ; in the presence in some specimens of teeth on the root of the tongue; in its deeply notched or lunate tail; and in the absence of mottling on its back of .. solid green with silvery glints.”
But in its habit of rising to the surface in search of insect food during May and early June, when it readily takes a fly, worm, or minnow; in its assumption of occasional vermilion spots aureoled with blue or lilac halo; and in the characteristic marbling on the dorsal fin and upper lobe of the caudal. it resembles the brook trout. Whereas this latter fish can change his shades in twenty minutes to adjust himself to a color environment, he can not at will marble his fins and back with venniculations and punctulate his ocellated skin with spots of fire in lilac frame, to engage the eye and rivet the affections of his paramour. ·No Michael Angelo was He who fashioned the temple of this exquisite fish form made perfect through millennia of differentiation with furcate tail (EDITORS NOTE: vs. the “lunate” tail described above) and hardly visible lemon spots, that in the evolutionary process–for the pleasure of man. And the lacustrian charr that has for thousands of years affected the mysterious depths of Dublin Pond represents a lingering “relic.” Dr. Kendall suggests to me. “of a southward distribution of the intermediate race” with many representatives still surviving in Canadian waters–the present-day derivative having become specialized in the common brook trout we all know and love so well. The very mention of that name fills each of us with eagerness. Another month or two and he will be awaiting our deftly offered temptations in the nearby streams–and is he not associated with all that makes our Northern spring the very proxy of Heaven.
Once these fish were so numerous farmers used them for fertilizer. Think about that on your next fishless day.
And here is a bit I found on a diving forum (you thought I was going to say “diving board” didn’t you?):
Interestingly, the NH state depth map (c. 1976?) did not show the 110′ depth, a narrow crease I noticed on sonar while fishing. I subsequently dove that hole from my boat, anchored at 50′ and dropped down in 70′ of water and followed the slope down. At 102′, I entered a suspended, smoky layer that made my light disappear at arm’s length! I went a few more yards before turning around at 106′ when the vis went to less than a foot! For some reason, I no longer felt the pressing need to get to the deepest point. http://www.scubaboard.com/forums/new-england/314466-dive-report-need-help-id-rudder-found-dublin-lake-dublin-nh-sept-19-2009-a.html
Who knows what lurks in those last four feet, patiently awaiting the passage of man?
Lake Christine Trout
And it closes with yet another mystery
Since this paper was written, Dr. Kendall has discovered in Christine Lake, in the township of Stark. Coos Co., N. H., a beautiful fish form intermediate between the Dublin Pond trout and the brook trout, thus undeniably confirming the author’s theory of evolution. The Kendall fish represents a more advanced degree of the differential step toward the fontinalis, nearer to it than any other divergent form. The Dublin Pond charr is a late divergent, but the new species is still more recent. It is small, rarely attaining a weight of half a pound, but game. Its mackerel shape is more graceful in outline than that of the brook trout. The tail is decidedly forked. The colors emulate those of the Sunapee saibling, the sides being profusely dappled with carmine spots surrounded by bluish aureoles. The dorsal fin is barred as in the case of the brook trout.
Dr. Kendall is preparing a monograph on this species, illustrated with colored plates. Specimens of the Lake Christine trout, received by the author on February 21st, 1916, through the courtesy of Hon. Frank J. Beal, Commissioner of Fisheries and Game in the State of New Hampshire, closely resemble the brook trout, but differ from that fish principally in the shape of the tail, the absence of mottling on the dark back, and the peculiar sea-green cast The red spots are numerous and haloed in blue. The fish might well be described as almost an ontinalis.
I have not been able to find much more on this trout. No promised monograph and no images. Although Benke, says this and the Dublin Pond trout are both “silver trout.” If you have any information on this please let me know and I can do an update.
But I digress from the realm of explorer to that of ichthyology. By no means am I trying to have the last word on which species was where. Even the same authors couldn’t keep their minds straight:
Identification: There has been considerable confusion and disagreement among taxonomists concerning the status of the Sunapee and blueback. For instance, some authors have treated each as distinct species, the blueback as Salvelinus oquassa and the Sunapee as S. aureolus. Quadri (1974) suggested that the Sunapee and blueback, along with the Quebec red (sometimes listed as S. marstoni), are conspecific and should be synonymized as a subspecies of the Arctic char (i.e., S. alpinus oquassa). According to Behnke (personal communication) both the Sunapee and blueback trout should be recognized as S. aureolus oquassa. Behnke later decided on a different name for this species. In his 2002 book, The Trout and Salmon of North America, Behnke listed Sunapee trout as Salvelinus alpinus oquassa, stating that it likely arrived in New England by crossing the North Atlantic during preglacial times and is probably more closely related to European subspecies of S. alpinus than it is to other North American subspecies. Kendall (1914) provided color plates showing both the Sunapee and blueback trout and gave a table to distinguish between the two forms. He also provided detailed descriptions and morphometrics. Scarola (1973) provided a key for the Sunapee trout. Everhart (1976) gave a photo of blueback trout and a key to both Sunapee and blueback trout.
Size: blueback – 36 cm; Sunapee – 58 cm (Kircheis 1976).
Personally, I like to believe that each body of water evolved it’s own little subspecies, and it looks like you could find arguments to support that scientifically they are 3 distinct species, but the common names have been applied to more than one species which is where the confusion lies. That’s good enough for me.
I’m far more interested in knowing if any of these fish exist anywhere. If you spend a little time haunting flyfishing boards or Google, as I did, you soon find that these trout were planted in other lakes, regions, and states. Sure it was a long time ago, and most of them have probably been fished out or bred out, but some may not.
Native Range: Sunapee trout were native to Sunapee Lake, New Hampshire; Averill Pond, Vermont; Big Dan Pond, New Hampshire; and Floods Pond, Maine (Behnke, personal communication). Three of the four populations have become extinct and the Sunapee exists only in Floods Pond, Maine, near Bangor (Behnke, personal communication). The Sunapee populations have suffered due to hybridization with introduced lake trout S. namaycush (Behnke, personal communication). The blueback trout is native to northwestern Maine in the headwaters of the St. John and Penobscot rivers, specifically in Black Lake, Deboullie Lake, Gardner Lake, Purshineer pond in Arrostook County; Big Reed Pond, Rainbow Lake and Wadleigh Pond in Piscataquis County; Penobscot Lake in Somerset County (erroneously reported as in Piscataquis County); and in Bald Mountain Pond, also in Somerset County (Everhart and Waters 1965). Formerly existed in the Rangeley Lakes but extirpated from there circa 1904 (Kendall 1914; Everhart and Waters 1965).
Nonindigenous Occurences: This species was introduced into several lakes at the headwaters of the Salmon River in Idaho, including Alice, Vernon, Big Redfish, and Sawtooth lakes (Linder 1963; Deacon et al. 1979; Idaho Fish and Game 1990). It was also stocked in four areas in Maine: Upper and Lower South Branch Pond in Piscataquis County, Echo Lake in Hancock County and Coffee Pond in Cumberland County (Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Game 1974; Kircheis 1976). Each location received 5,000 fish annually from 1969 until at least 1974, except for Echo Lake which began stocking in 1974. This stocking was conducted as part of a management plan to increase the range of the Sunapee trout which has become restricted to one lake (Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Game 1974). The Sunapee trout was introduced into unspecified area(s) of Massachusetts (Fowler 1907). The species was stocked in several lakes New Hampshire, including Tewskburry Pond in Grafton and Connor Pond in Ossippee (Scarola 1973; Kircheis 1976). Lake George (Warren County) in New York was stocked with trout from Sunapee Lake prior to 1903 (Bean 1903).
The Blueback trout was introduced into the Snake River drainage below Shoshone Falls, Idaho (Idaho Fish and Game 1990); unspecified areas of Maine shortly after the species discovery in 1874 (Kendall 1914; Kircheis 1975). Although presumed native, the population at Wadleigh Pond, Maine, might have resulted from these early introductions. An experimental translocation from Wadleigh Pond to Basin Pond in Kennebec County, Fayette Township, Maine, was carried out in 1969 (Kircheis 1975). The blueback trout was also stocked in Newfound, Squam, Connor, and Sunapee lakes, New Hampshire, in 1879, and in unknown locations the previous year (Kendall 1914; Hoover 1936; Kircheis 1975). Stocking in Sunapee Lake took place several years before the Sunapee trout was identified (Kendall 1914).
Means of Introduction: Most of these introductions took place a hundred years ago and were intended to enhance sportfishing. Blueback stockings in Maine and New Hampshire were mainly as forage for landlocked salmon (Kircheis 1975). Beginning in the late 1960s, fish originating from Floods Pond were transplanted to several other ponds and lakes for conservation (Frost 2001)
Status: Established in Idaho (in Sawtooth Lake) (Behnke, personal communication); failed in New Hampshire, New York, and Massachusetts. Early blueback stockings in Maine and New Hampshire failed (with the possible exception of Wadleigh Pond (Kircheis 1975). Experimental stockings of bluebacks in Basin Pond failed (Kircheis 1975).
Finally, from http://www.in-fisherman.com/trout-salmon/trout/rare-and-exotic-trout/
Sunapee Trout—The Sunapee trout (Salvelinus alpinus) is generally considered a race of landlocked Arctic char. It originally occurred in a few lakes in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. The world record, from Sunapee Lake, New Hampshire, weighed 11 pounds 8 ounces. Some Sunapees were transplanted into two Idaho lakes (Alice and Sawtooth), where they continue to survive. Few true Sunapees remain, as lake trout and brook trout readily hybridize with them.
When you finally find yourself on that hallowed empty water, dark and cold as it was before Europeans walked the land, in that back of your heart you can always believe that that strike you missed was the last of a long-gone breed come to test your mettle and find you wanting. Isn’t that part of what keeps us going?
These Internet searches lead me down many and interesting by-ways. There are at least 6 other rare books I touched upon to explore, and also the artists that gave permission to use their images here have books worth talking about. Potentially next up as it just came in the mail: Brook Trout Fishing: An Account of a Trip of the Oquossoc Angling Association. Somewhere along the way, I stumbled across three more rare trout – from Washington. What did I do with that link?
P.S. Who Are You and Where are You From?
WordPress gives me these awesome reports and I can see how people find me, where they live, how they found the blog, what pages they visited. I see people from Europe, Asia, South America, and I always wonder who they are. I would love to get comments from you!
A scanned PDF of the Quackenbos book: Geological Ancestors of the Brook Trout and Recent Saibling Forms.
USGS’s take on the matter:
One man’s search for these trout.
A list of places in Maine with bluebacks
The Banner Image.
About Trout: The Best of Robert J. Behnke from Trout Magazine
Deacon, J.E., G. Kobetich, J. D. Williams, S. Contreras, and other members of the Endangered Species Committee of the American Fisheries Society. 1979. Fishes of North America Endangered, Threatened, or of Special Concern: 1979. Fisheries 4(2):29-44.
Everhart, W.H., and C.A. Waters. 1965. Life history of the blueback trout (Arctic char, Salvelinus (Linnaeus)) in Maine. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 94(4):393397.
Frost, F.O. 2001. Arctic char management plan. Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Ashland, ME.
Kendall, W.C. 1914. The fishes of New England. The salmon family. Part I – the trout or charrs. Memoirs of the Boston Society of Natural History 8(1): 1-103.
Kircheis, F.W. 1975. Draft blueback trout management plan. Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Game, Division of Fisheries and Planning.
Linder, A.D. 1963. Idaho’s alien fishes. Tebiwa 6(2):12-15.
Quadri, S.U. 1974. Taxonomic status of the Salvelinus alpinus complex. Journal of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada 31(8):1355-1361.
Scarola, J.F. 1973. Freshwater fishes of New Hampshire. New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, Division of Inland and Marine Fisheries.