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July 10, 2014
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‘Crown Jewel’ of the Delaware: Rainbow trout

Contributed photo

By Lee Hartman

Rainbow trout are sometimes regarded as the aquatic Johnny-come-latelies of the fish-rich Upper Delaware River. But they’ve got a century’s worth of residency there.

It may be a fish story, but by one often-repeated account, the rainbows descended from fish that were released as a result of a railroad train breakdown in the late 1800s. Canisters of fingerling trout—McCloud River rainbows from California, they say—were aboard a train that chugged to an unexpected stop near Callicoon, NY. Dan Cahill, a brakeman, happened to be an avid fisherman. Fearing the fish would go belly-up before reaching their destination, Cahill grabbed a few canisters and released the fingerlings into the Delaware. This happenstance stocking is believed to be the first introduction of the rainbow into the Delaware River.

The official version of the rainbow’s introduction to the river is not quite as romantic. Ed Van Put, a NYS Department of Environmental Conservation staffer, says the state’s Fish Commission was experimenting with stocking rainbows roughly 140 years ago.

Those trout came from the San Francisco Bay area and were called mountain or California trout. Records show that on March 31, 1875, a man named Seth Green received at the NYS Fish Hatchery at Caledonia 1,800 mountain trout eggs, sent by the Acclimation Society of the Golden State. Of these, approximately 300 fry were hatched.

Three years later, when the fish reached spawning age, Green collected some 40,000 eggs and later released nearly 25,000 fry in the Delaware system. The trout adapted well to their new eco-system, and the river’s many cold -water tributaries became their spawning grounds and hidden nurseries.

Rainbows of the McCloud strain arrived in 1878 at the Caledonia hatchery. Over time, these two strains became one in Green’s records. He called them all California mountain trout. As a West Coast species, the first rainbows had the instincts of steelhead ancestry. The July 4, 1885 issue of American Angler wrote the following:

“I am told that there was a batch put into the Beaverkill, one of the branches of the Delaware River, and that there have never been any caught near the locality where they were put in, but about 75 or 80 miles below, where they found very deep water and large eddies, that they were quite plentiful.”