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Langlade County News

A Hidden Place: Tucked Away on the Evergreen River, a Haven for Fishing Trout

July 10, 2018

For anglers of that most elusive fish—the brookie or brown—it’s Christmas in July on the Evergreen River.

This summer, crews from the Department of Natural Resources are using Christmas trees pinched (with permission of course) from the bonfires piles in Merrill and Antigo and using them to improve trout habitat on the Evergreen River just west of White Lake.
 

Taylor Curran, DNR fisheries biologist, on the stretch of the
Evergreen River receiving some special attention this summer.

We want to increase opportunities for anglers, Taylor Curran, tour guide for a very pleasant outing on a recent afternoon, says. Our goal in all these projects is increasing the living space for trout.

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Let’s start out with a really quick lesson in ichthyology.

According to the folks who know these things, a brook trout—or brookie—isn’t an actual trout at all. It’s a member of the char family, related to salmon, and is native to North America.

A brown, on the other hand, is an immigrant from Europe, first coming to America in 1883 from Baron Lucius von Behr, president of the German Fishing Society and originating in Germany’s Black Forest region. It is a true trout.

Of the two, the brookie is the glam girl, with yellow spots over an olive-green back. Along its sides, the brook trout’s color transitions from olive to orange or red, with scattered red spots bordered by pale blue. Its lower fins are orange or red, each with a white streak and a black streak, and its underside is a milky white that can turn orange or deep red when spawning.

The brown, on the other hand is, well, brown, with light-ringed black spots. It is prized more for its size, up to double that of a brookie, and fighting ability.

This is the Cliff Notes version of a topic that a fisherman can expound upon for hours, days...forever really. Want to know more. Stop out at any Langlade area watering hole and talk to a real angler.

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Now a bit of history.

Trout have been a favorite among anglers, shared around a campfure with friends and trusty dogs for upwards of two milleniums.

They were first mentioned in angling literature as "fish with speckled skins" by Roman author AElian in 200 AD in On the Nature of Animals. This work is credited with describing the first instance of fly fishing for trout, the trout being the brown trout found in Macedonia.

The Treatyse of Fysshynge with an Angle, published in 1496, by Dame Juliana Berners, is considered a foundational work in the history of recreational fishing, especially fly fishing. In it, the author speaks of the trout, because he is a right dainty fish and also a right fervent biter, we shall speak of next. He is in season from March until Michaelmas. He is on clean gravel bottom and in a stream.

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Clean gravel and in a steam is exactly what Taylor and his Department of Natural Resources crew are creating in the Evergreen River.

The river has always been a great little stream, with fast cold water that allows the trout to feed, reproduce and slowly grow to their full potential, with DNR shocking efforts finding browns over 18 inches and brooks over 12 inches.

(A very quick aside: When asked, Taylor promises that despite the temptation, the shocking crews always thrown back the stunned fish they capture. These guys are professionals.)

But changes, created naturally by things such as beaver dams and manmade through logging and agriculture, have impaired the waterway over decades, making the river wider and more shallow and reducing that clean gravel and quick flow.

We’re looking to reverse these effects and restore habitat, Taylor explains.

Hence, the Christmas tress.

It’s known as brush bundling, and involves taking bundles of the bailed evergreens and stacking them strategically along sections of the riverbed. The idea is that the trees divert the flow, allowing the running water to scour out the silted river bottom.

The water flushes the sand and other fine sediments, Taylor explains, and leaves behind the gravel, which is desirable for trout.

Meanwhile the shallows behind the trees naturally silt up and gradually grow vegetation with root systems. By the time the trees disintegrate, the shoreline has been naturally remodeled.

It’s a slick, low-tech way to produce high-tech results and it really works, Taylor says.

The sixth-tenths of a mile section of the Evergreen being remodeled is state-owned and was chosen because of its easy public access, just off Townline Road. It’s also a category 1 trout stream, with simple regulations for anglers to follow.

Now in its third year, the project on the Evergreen, which incidentally is funded by anglers through trout stamps, will be completed within the next few weeks. Taylor and other fisheries technicians will monitor the river periodically and, in five years or so, do another fish study to see if the size and number of trout have grown.

That will give us an indication if our work has positive results, he says.

There’s no reason to think it won’t. Basically it’s just using Mother Nature’s own methods of remodeling a stream, except hurrying up the process a bit.

Taylor says its all about protecting and preserving one of the unique, hidden resources of Langlade County, one of several projects that also includes the dredging of several spring ponds—but that’s a story for another day.

It’s water worth working on, Taylor says. We can make it better and see a good return on our investment.

Hidden Places is an occasional Antigo Daily Journal column that explores some of the more unique, unusual, and unknown places, people and history in and around Langlade County and occasionally farther afield. The crew is always looking for new ideas and especially for willing tour guides. Contact us as adjlisa@solarus. net.

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