Why do we need research, data collection and programs to manage the Brook Trout population?

" ...They were collected in pools and were so numerous as to ruin the sport” may have been true 150 years ago, but it didn't take man very long to change the balance of nature. By the late 1800's, the 'Nepigon' was popularized by magazine articles touting its wonders and prized possession, the Brook Trout. Reports of gentlemen anglers catching "barrels of fish a day" were common and with its popularity, the need for transportation and industry to support the expanding human population. The river was used to transport not only its human cargo, but the logging industry used it to shuttle timber as well. The death blow came with the "need for power" as numerous dams were built that severely changed the river causing flooding of key habitat and inconsistent flow rates. By the early 1900's, the river was but a shadow if its former self.

While initial studies and data was collected as far back as the 30's, and some fishing regulation changes tried to remedy the problem, the brook trout population has remained significantly reduced from the glory days. Fast forward to the efforts of the past 20 years. The dams are still active but the flow rates are now maintained during peak spawning periods, logging on the river has disappeared yet the biomas of the log booms still exist. Efforts to improve habitat and water quality have been a welcome addition and the fishing public is more in tune to conservation practices. Yet the brook trout population still remains significantly below the targeted levels.


The best decisions, are informed decisions made in consultation with the interested parties. That means fishemen, biologists and other special interest groups of the public must work together to affect positive change. The need for accurate data gathered over time, is a critical factor to the long term survival of the brook trout popuation. Research attempts to answer questions like: "What is the life history of the brook trout?", "What are the environmental conditions that facilitate survival?" and "What regulation changes are needed to ensure sustainability?"

Rather than just complain about the poor fishing, I chose to be a part of the solution, by actively volunteering to contribute to the tagging program. The data collected, along with the efforts of other programs has the potential to make a significant impact on the environment and the brook trout population. Let the legacy continue.


For the biologists and research nuts that study the science of migratory Brook Trout of Lake Superior.

Here is a doctoral thesis to keep you awake at night, waiting to go fishing.


Historic Data (1923-2003)


Brook trout populations have declined from historic highs due to a number of anthropogenic factors including construction of roads and railways, log driving, land clearing, introduction of exotic species, and overfishing... (read more)

Catch Charts (2004-2014)


For the past 11 years, a select few individuals have been tagging brook trout and recording data on a volunteer basis for the Ministry of Natural Resources. The charts represent the 1258 fish that we have tagged from 2004 to 2014... (read more)

Rehabilitation of the Population


Habitat protection and creation were important efforts to rehabilitate the Nipigon River. Yet the status of brook trout stocks and their associated fisheries continued to cause concern among anglers and fisheries managers prompting... (read more)



"A fish is too valuable to only be caught once."
Lee Wulff



Tag...You're It...

(A.K.A. The Co-Operative Angler Program)

As a young boy, I remember playing this game all summer long in the school yard and neighbourhood. I didn't think much about it at the time, other than it was a game. It was exciting to chase down your quarry and "tag" them. There was no deep psychological implications inferring man's return to the predator - prey relationship. After all, we were not that smart. Just dumb, innocent kids playing a game. Well, life goes on and some things never change. I don't know if I'm any smarter, maybe a littler wiser, but the chase continues. Under the auspicious of  MNR biologist, Rob Swainson, a select number of avid anglers are continuing the "tagging game", but this time with a purpose in mind.

As we all know, the best decisions are informed decisions. Management of the Nipigon Brook Trout is no exception. It is a well known fact that the historical populations of brook trout have declined over the past 100 years for a variety of reasons. When Rob became the biologist for the Nipigon area, he quickly saw the plight of the brook trout and made it a passion. Initiatives around hydro water flow, catch/size limits, and managing ecological factors are a direct result of his efforts. One way to gather data about size, catch limits and influencing factors is to tag brook trout in the Nipigon system.

    A select number of anglers have been trained and equipped with tagging guns (looks like a glue gun) to implant a small, numbered tag behind the dorsal fin in any brook trout that  they catch and can safely return. Upon release, the number is recorded, fish measured for length and girth, with weight if possible without stressing the fish. Additional information such as location, date, and fish health is also recorded. Other anglers subsequently catching a tagged fish are asked to record the tag number and length of the fish for either released or kept fish and forward the information (MNR phone # and address below). The MNR compiles this data to assist with Brook Trout management.

Nipigon - District Office 5 Wadsworth Dr PO Box 970 Nipigon ON P0T 2J0 Tel: 807-887-5000




If you catch a Nipigon Brook Trout with a tag implanted along the side of the dorsal fin, please report the information to the Ministry of Natural Resources biologist. The information is used to better manage the brook trout population.



Catch and Release works, so consider returning all Nipigon Brook Trout. If you catch a fish you want to have mounted, remember it must be over 22". Consider a fiberglass replica so you can release the trophy. Remember to take several photos!


Look what I caught? Is he a "keeper"?
The next time you see him, look for the floy tag behind his right ear.


Tagging of Brook Trout Proves that "Catch & Release" Works!

I have to admit that 'Beamer" has caught and tagged the majority of Brook Trout recorded here. Apparently, he is a better fisherman than me... just gives me something to shoot for. Over the past 11 years of tagging, we have recaptured 21% of the 1258 fish multiple times. Thats 265 recaptures. With proper handling and release techniques, these fish can be resiliant to recapture and return to reward future anglers.The MNR uses this data to monitor the sustainability of the population, its growth rate and establish regulations to ensure a healthy population.

As an example a Brook Trout with tag number "xxxx" has quite a reputation. Beamer tagged it on May27/05 and was 17.125x10" and weighed 2.6lbs. He recaptured it again on June 3/05 it was the same length but had a girth increase of .25" and weighed 2.8lbs.It was recaptured again on June1/06 with its measurements increased to 20.5"x12" and it weighed 4.4lbs. I recaptured it on June26/06 at 20.75x13.5" 




The DNA Project

The genetic status of coaster brook trout has puzzled fisheries managers for decades. In 1999 a research program was initiated by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources to determine if coaster brook trout are a unique stock, subspecies and an evolutionary significant unit (ESU), or if they are a variant within a population that adopts a different strategy (e.g. migratory instead resident). These questions and others were addressed using microsatellite DNA which permits the identification of individuals and their relatedness.

The genetic results showed that coasters are produced by river brook trout populations,
and are an ecological variant rather than a distinct group.

This means that healthy brook trout populations within Lake Superior tributaries produce both coaster and typical brook trout and that coasters do not compose a cohesive group (population, stock or ESU) unto themselves. Some riverine populations of brook trout were shown to be closely related, indicating significant movement by coasters between river systems. Based on the number of coasters associated with river populations and the degree of relatedness among tributaries, coaster production varies considerably among Nipigon Bay tributaries. Comparison of hatchery brook trout stock with assessed river populations in these sites indicated that past stocking initiatives did not contribute to brook trout production in the study sites. This work was done at Trent University with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.

Here is a link to a retro episode of the New Fly Fisher that goes into detail about Brook Trout, including an explanation of their genetics by Sylvia D'Amelio. Note: This video was produced prior to the 2005 Brook Trout regulation change.

For more information contact:
Silvia D’Amelio
Trout Unlimited Canada  
(519) 824-4120 ext. 53608


The P.I.T. Tagging Program


Fisheries biologists have long wondered why brook trout living in some of Lake Superior’s tributaries routinely leave their native streams at an early age to wander the lake shore and grow to adults of trophy-sized proportions. Coaster brook trout, as these wandering brookies are called, were once widely dispersed across Lake Superior but now exist in significant numbers only in the Nipigon Bay area of the lake.

With Ontario government funding in support of the Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem (COA), fisheries biologists may finally unravel at least a portion of the mystery of the coasting behaviour of Lake Superior’s brook trout.

Brook trout movement between Lake Superior and Nipigon Bay tributary streams was studied using Passive Integrated Transponders (PIT tags) from 2004 to 2009.   “The aim is to learn at what stage some young brook trout leave their native streams and what environmental conditions might trigger their emigration. A Lake Superior tributary of Nipigon Bay was chosen as the study location because of the potential for movement by large numbers of brook trout in and out of the stream.”

Biologists will collect data about the coaster brook trout by surgically implanting small, electronic tags into the body cavity of juvenile fish living in the study stream. Using a system similar to the bar code readers used in supermarkets, a reader located at the mouth of the study stream will record the data imprinted on a fish’s electronic tag enabling biologists to determine which fish pass through, and in what direction they are traveling.

Implanting the P.I.T. tag


The electronic tags, called PIT tags (Passive Integrated Transponder), are about the size of a pellet one feeds guinea pigs.

The information collected by the reader will also enable biologists to determine what percentage of electronically tagged fish leave and/or re-enter the study stream and at what time of year, or under what conditions, they migrate. The tags will continue to provide biologists with information about the fishes’ in-and-out migration for many years to come.

While the information collected from the coaster brook trout study is not likely to resolve all of the questions surrounding why some streams continue to produce wandering brook trout, it will add an important piece to what has continued to be a complex puzzle. The information collected also will contribute to a larger comprehensive plan for Nipigon Bay and Lake Superior’s coaster brook trout populations to protect and enhance these fish over the long term.


  • Brook trout which moved between streams and Lake Superior varied in size from 4.3 in to 15 in.
  • There was no significant difference between the size of brook trout which moved between stream and lake environments, and those fish that did not move.
  • The vast majority of recorded movement occurred at dawn, dusk or night
  • Movement was greatest during the months of August and September