Wednesday, June 8, 2016


I left home on a Tuesday. Little Blue didn’t seem as full as perhaps she should be with the intent of spending a month on the road in New England on a tight budget. But I wasn’t lacking in flies, food, or camera gear. So what more do I need? The jury is still out on that ever-standing question, though it’s only Day 1.

    When I found Cape Cod for the first time in two years, she was covered in darkness. Traffic held me up in the bold points of Megalopolis, and I didn’t make camp before sunset, as was the intention. Oh well. It’s all part of it.

    I regrouped in the morning. Day 1, officially, and pointed Little Blue towards Buttermilk Bay of Buzzards Bay, on the eastern edge of the Cape.

    Buttermilk is an uncelebrated fishery, itself, but it drains the 4.5-mile spring creek, Red Brook, which flows south from White Island Pond through classic Massachusetts pine barrens. Every year, around the middle of May and early June, Red Brook is the seasonal host of alewives and blueback herring, both herring species that run up the river to spawn, and the water is thick with them.

    But herring is not why people come to Red Brook. Hidden beneath undercut banks, and nestled up tight to woody cover and watercress edges, fin the speckled beneficiaries of a great conservation success story.

Photo by Matt Reilly.
    I connected with one on the end of a delicate, tricky cast that floated through a tangle of trees and landed on the upstream edge of a watercress patch. In a flash of gold he darted out from cover and ate my Edison Tiger, fashioned in a vise weeks prior.

    A familiar face in a strange place, the small brook trout that came to quiver in my hand looked no different than any I had tricked from their mountain lairs back home. However, this fish’s life story is a bit different.

    He started his life as an egg in the slow, meandering Red Brook, but his childhood years were spent along the weedy banks of buttermilk bay, filtering saltwater, and feeding on small fish and crustaceans. In the creek, as a grown individual, he sits in wait for the chance to snack on a herring fry, as they, like their spawning parents, are thick in the river.

    Indeed, until recently, the “salters,” as they are called, of Red Brook were one of the last known populations of sea-run brook trout remaining, and like their Appalachian cousins, they too face adversity.

    Near the headwaters of Red Brook and White Island Pond is the town of Cranberry, aptly named, as the hub of a great deal of historical (and ongoing) cranberry farming. As a tool perceived to be ecologically harmless, Red Brook was dammed to flood acres of cranberry bogs.

    The dam spelled low and warming water on the downstream side, which made it impossible for coldwater species to thrive where they once had unhindered. Once the plight of the salters was discovered, a collaborative effort between Trout Unlimited, the Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife, and the Trustees of Reservations got the dam removed, woody cover added to the streambed, and a regular stream monitoring protocol instated.

    Today, that stretch of river is managed under special regulations, and enjoyed by fishermen, birdwatchers, hikers, and photographers.

    There are other rivers like Red Brook, and all have fishable populations of salters that love to chew on streamers. If for some reason you needed to find me sometime in the next few days, you can be sure it’s somewhere under the branches, and within 40 feet of a watercress patch sliding flies to familiar faces.

*Originally published in the Rural Virginian

1 comment :

Mike p said...

Great writing and very much full of information that I never knew. Keep up the great work Matthew. Photo friend from the mountains of va