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Bald Eagle in Trout Nation

06/02/05 12:00AM By Bill Shutkin
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(HOST) Trout fishing is said to be good for the soul, and commentator Bill Shutkin says that it certainly promotes contemplation.


(SHUTKIN) I recently stocked my pond with a few dozen trout. I got them from Matt Daneher, an energetic man whose hobby is raising thousands of trout of all shapes and sizes in a bunch of holding ponds around his North Shrewsbury property.

This was my first trip to a hatchery. An occasional flyfisherman, and not a very good one at that, I figured my best chance of catch- ing a Vermont trout would be from my own pond. I've been fishing southern Vermont's waters for years, but with little to show for it, save for a few small brook trout and one big brown I caught with a guide on the Black River back in 2002.

A couple of Sundays ago, I headed down to Vermont's signature trout stream, the Battenkill, to try my luck. Though I've fished the Battenkill almost a dozen times, I've yet to catch a single fish.

Like I said, I'm not much of an angler, but it seems I'm not alone in finding Vermont's streams particularly unyielding. An Orvis guide told me that he doesn't even fish the Vermont portion of the Battenkill anymore. Today, he reports, there are less than 100 trout per stream mile, as compared to over 1400 as recently as 1992. On-going studies by the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Depart- ment suggest that one factor might be streambank erosion, which is burying the fish's breeding grounds, resulting in a shrinking wild brown trout population. Another factor appears to be degraded water quality from nutrients and other pollutants entering the stream. Trout are sensitive to even small changes in water quality.

Like the great salmon of the Pacific Northwest, whose dramatic decline has led to a call for the restoration of "Salmon Nation", Vermont's trout are a symbolic species, indicators of not just the health of our rivers and watersheds, but the region's history and culture. Perhaps in Vermont, we should consider promoting the slogan "Trout Nation", at least in the Battenkill watershed.

Last weekend, I headed to a nearby lake with my fly rod. I figured if I can't catch trout, small mouth bass will have to do. While approaching the lake in my pick-up truck, I noticed a large bird perched on a boulder at the water's edge. Given its size, I immed- iately stopped my truck and got out to look more closely.

There, in the glitter of a sunny Saturday morning, was a rare sight: a lone Bald Eagle, his iconic white hood and tail feathers in im- pressive display as he quickly took flight. Not so long ago, you couldn't see a Bald Eagle in these parts. The eagle reminded me of nature's resilience and that, with awareness and care, we can help restore what we've damaged.

Later, as I drove away, still considering the plight of Vermont's native trout, I found myself thinking of an Emily Dickinson poem.
It must have been the eagle, because the poem was the one that begins, "Hope is a thing with feathers."

This is Bill Shutkin of Peru.

Bill Shutkin is president of the Orton Family Foundation and a Research Affiliate at MIT. He spoke from our studio at Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester.
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