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Those Big Nipigon Brookies

“Salvelinus” is another name for "Char" and “Fontinalis” means “living in springs”.

The brook trout was first scientifically described as Salmo fontinalis. The species was later moved to the char genus Salvelinus.The specific epithet "fontinalis" comes from the Latin for "of a spring or fountain", in reference to the clear, cold streams and ponds in its native habitat.

 

So why are the Nipigon Brook Trout so big, challenging to catch and allureing for the past century? Their distinctive body markings, fast water habitat and powerful square tails make them a highly prized challenge for anglers. The Nipigon strain of brook trout often called "Coasters" is famous for its size and has developed unique genetics that is actually an ecological variant of the species rather than a distinct sub group.

The Brook Trout (Salvelinus Fontinalis) or the speckled trout is a distinctive looking fish with its unique colouration and body patterns. Its anatomy has adapted to the challenges of the Nipigon river system. Size, body shape and eating characteristics are several examples of how this fish has evolved. Scale samples reveal that the Nipigon Brook Trout can live longer (if left alone) than their smaller river siblings.The Nipigon Brook Trout get big by eating big food items like Sculpins and bait fish. They are notorious for not rising easily to the fly but would rather smash a streamer swing deep in the current.

The Nipigon system has had its ups and downs. The "Nepigon" as it was once called has a rich history of exploration an where the "gentlemen anglers' of the day and even royalty enjoyed its rich fishing history. The world record Brook Trout was caught in these waters in 1915 and is the holy grail of fishing. The current world record brook trout was caught by Dr. W.J. Cook in 1915 on the famous Nipigon river. While this monster weighted an impressive 14 lbs. 8 oz, brook trout are more typically known for their small stream size, yet remain one of the most popular fish species throughout the world.

Today, the Nipigon is a changed river from that time and the population has been reduced to a remnant of its former self, but efforts are inderway to restory it to the glory of the past. Numerous research programs are gathering data and implementing changes to stabilize the resource for all to enjoy well into the future.

 

Brook Trout Anatomy

Palm

The Brook Trout is a distinctive looking fish with its unique colouration and body patterns. The back is usually drab olive green, fading to a lighter shade on the sides... (read more)

Reproduction and Spawning

Kuzikredbelly

Brook trout spawn in the fall over areas of groundwater upwelling on the Nipigon River. They require high quality cold water environments for survival and reproduction... (read more)

 

Understanding "Coasters" and "Splake"

"Coasters," are a Great Lakes strain of Salvelinus fontinalis. They are a potadromous form of brook trout which migrate into Lake Superior where they spend a portion of their life span before returning to spawn (Becker 1983).

"Splake", on the other hand are a man-created hybrid between our two native trout species resulting from the fertilization of lake trout eggs with brook trout sperm.

doublespot

Note the double red spots on this chunkey female Brook Trout. She measured 21.5 inches, with a girth of 15.5 inches.

What are "Coasters"?

Coaster brook trout are part of the natural heritage of the upper Great Lakes. This Char species is notable within the Salmoninae for their extensive morphological and ecological variability. Adfluvial brook trout, migrate from lake habitat into tributaries for spawning, while Lacustrine brook trout, complete their life cycle within the lake habitat. Adfluvial brook trout (Nipigon River) have typically been considered analogous to anadromous brook trout, similar to Steelhead. Populations of lacustrine brook trout, ( Lake Superior) reside in lake habitat and spawn on shoals within the lake. A more ecologically relevant definition of coasters would focus on brook trout that have the potential to utilize lake habitats for an ecologically significant portion of their development and resource acquisition. Whether lake spawned or stream spawned, juvenile brook trout may use stream habitat for refuge and development.

A predominant feature in the life history of adfluvial coaster brook trout populations is their migratory behavior. Coasters can be "movers" or stayers" Stream-spawned and shoal-spawned. The Nipigon River coaster population has apparently expanded in recent years after an increase in the minimum size limit and a reduction in the daily catch limit. Angler data and diaries indicated that coaster catch rates in the Nipigon River and Bay have greatly increased and that coasters are being caught and released multiple times. Long-term coaster rehabilitation will be most successful if the process is guided by an understanding of their unique life histories within an ecological and evolutionary context.

Historical accounts suggest that coaster brook trout along the north shore of Lake Superior were larger than those along the south shore. Interactions with exotic species are likely to be particularly important in limiting coaster populations. Angling in the late 1800s and early 1900s most likely led to the initial declines of coaster brook trout in the Lake Superior basin, and mortality from fisheries appears to remain high.

 

for additional reading...
Management Perspectives on Coaster Brook Trout Rehabilitation in the Lake Superior Basin

DONALD R. SCHREINER

 

HistoricCoastermap

Historically, most of the rivers leading into Lake Superior had populations of Coasters. Due to a variety of factors, such as hydro development, fishing pressure, logging, and environmental changes, the Coaster population has significantly declined.

 

CurrentCoastermap

Current Coaster populations are are limited to a few areas. The most significant population is located in the Nipigon basin. Efforts to sustain and revitalize the species is currently underway.

 

 

Splake

The result from the fertilization of lake trout eggs with brook trout sperm

 

Because of their intermediate nature, many anglers many not realize they have caught a hybrid trout unless they know what to look for. The spots are usually pinkish, although many fish have little or no colour, and the tail is generally intermediate between the deeply forked tail of the lake trout and the square tail of the brook trout. The only positive way to tell is to open up the fish and examine the worm-like projections on the front part of the stomach. These are called pyloric caeca and function in digestion. Lake trout have 100 – 190 of them and brook trout have 20 – 50, and splake usually have 70 – 80. A character such as this is much more reliable than external appearance. It is important to identify your catch correctly in lakes  known to contain splake because the catch limit for splake is less than it is for brook trout and you are responsible for knowing which you have.

       Experiments with developing Splake have been around since the late 1800's. Between 1915 – 1917 reference was made to crossing brook trout and lake trout at the Port Arthur federal fish hatchery in Ontario (Scott 1956). As far back as 1946, this cross was undertaken in western Canada and third generation fish have been produced there. It may be interesting to note that the cross can only be made successfully byusing lake trout females and speckled trout males. In the reverse cross, the speckled trout eggs is too small for the developing embryo.

    After the collapse of the lake trout population in the upper Great Lakes, the Department of Lands and Forests embarked on a trout rehabilitation program during the late 1950s. The species chosen for the job was the splake, a cross between the lake trout and the brook trout. What was desired was a fish with the early maturing characteristics of the brook trout and the deep swimming ability of the lake trout.

    Geneticists refer to the progeny of the first cross as the F1 generation. The hybrids are fertile so an F1 male may be crossed to an F1 female to produce the second generation known as F2 splake. This process may be repeated indefinitely giving rise to F3, F4, F5 splake and all possible combinations of crosses such as F2 x F5. It is also possible to breed splake back to either parent species. Progeny of these crosses are called "backcrosses". Geneticists now know that the splake is a stable hybrid which will not revert to the parental species. Selective breeding of splake has been successful in two important respects. First, they mature at age 3 or younger like the speckled trout; this is four to five years earlier than lake trout. Second, they occupy deep water; the latter characteristic is similar to that of lake trout which differ from brook trout in their ability to retain swimbladder gas.

    An intensive study of their life history and habits has been made. Water temperature is an important factor which determines distribution of splake.  Their depth distribution in lakes in the summer months is similar to that of the speckled trout, that is, they live in the layer of water between the warm surface layer and the deep cold layer. In the smaller lakes this is generally in depths of 20 to 35 feet. Their food habits are similar to those of the speckled trout as they feed extensively on invertebrate forms of crayfish and insects, switching to a fish diet after several years of growth. The predatory habits of splake more closely resemble lake trout  than brook trout. Young splake (e.g., yearlings) feed primarily on invertebrates while older splake feed predominantly on fish

    In Ontario, there was interest in splake for two reasons: (i) to provide recreational fishing opportunities in inland waters where plantings of brook trout and lake trout had been relatively unsuccessful, and (ii) to create a deepwater salmonid predator which could be utilized to rehabilitate degraded lake trout stocks in Lake Huron. Although the F1 splake is a fertile hybrid, it is used primarily to provide put-grow-and-take angling opportunities.

The hybrid trout is an excellent game fish, although here too, it reveals its split personality. Some fight much more like speckled trout while others fight deep and doggedly like lake trout. The hybrid has a very marked schooling behavior and this profoundly affects your fishing luck. The splake is an excellent game fish, most frequently fighting like the brook trout, but occasionally diving deep like the lake trout. It appears more vulnerable to fly fishing and other means of angling than either the brook trout or lake trout.

Splake Quick Facts

  • The hybrid has a more rapid growth rate than either parent and a longer life span than the brook trout.

• Preferred temperatures can be influenced by the thermal history of the fish but generally F1 hybrids prefer waters near 12º C while F3 and F4 hybrids favor temperatures in the 15 – 16º C range.

• Growth is generally rapid. Relative growth rates change with age.

• Maturation is intermediate from both parents (i.e., 1 – 2 years later than brook trout and 3 – 4 years earlier than lake trout).

• Splake have a much broader range in seasonal spawning time than either parent.

• Hybrids frequent relatively shallow waters during the spring and fall. In summer they aggregated near the thermocline concentrating within the 8 – 20º C isotherm.

• Splake prefer barren, clear water of medium-sized lakes ranging from 50 – 200 acres in size with maximum depths of 40 – 80 feet.

 

• Splake feed heavily on crustaceans and insects during early life and gradually become more piscivorous as size increases.

• Splake have a strong tendency to school which often gives rise to short periods of intensive angling success.

• Splake are excellent fighters with flesh which is pink through orange in color and is highly regarded for its eating qualities.

• Unlike many hybrids, the splake is able to reproduce and while it prefers the gravel seepage shoals usually used by brook trout for lake spawning, in the absence of these it will use the boulder shoals favoured by lake trout.

• Splake are usually mature in their third year of life and their spawning period falls closer to thatof the brook trout in late October or early November.

  • .The largest splake, currently on record with the National Fishing Hall of Fame, is a fish weighing 20 pounds 11 ounces (9.38 kg) .

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