There’s a stretch of Sugar Notch Run that can be a trout angler’s paradise, and Robert Hughes has the data to back it up.
Nestled beneath a thick forest canopy below Interstate 81, the small creek meanders State Game Lands 207 basically forgotten. But in the shaded pools that are separated by stretches of fast-flowing water, native brook trout abound.
Hughes, who is the executive director of the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation, found them - quite a few to be exact. Last September, Hughes and members of the Pennsylvania Chapter of Trout Unlimited electro-shocked 12 locations along four streams in the Solomon Creek watershed. Brook trout were found at seven of the survey sites, indicating that although portions of the watershed are severely impacted by mine drainage, there are still places where the water is clean enough to hold native trout.
“We are well aware of the mining impacts to this watershed, but I had an inkling that the headwater areas may hold native brook trout,” Hughes said. “There are still areas of this watershed that are still pristine.”
To study the entire watershed, Hughes received a $6,000 grant from the Coldwater Heritage Partnership. He chose the Solomon Creek watershed because it encompasses the EPCAMR office in Ashley and it’s an area where Hughes grew up. There have been previous studies by Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission as far back as 1977 that revealed brook trout in the watershed, but because of the mining impacts many of the streams are listed by the state as impaired.
Hughes believes that should be changed, at least in the case of Sugar Notch Run.
“From the Hanover Area Recreation Fields and above, you’ll find trout in Sugar Notch Run,” he said, adding his intent is to see the stream listed as a wild trout waterway.
“Brook trout were abundant in Sugar Notch Run both upstream and downstream of Interstate 81, and we also found young-of-the-year trout which indicates they’re reproducing.”
Even in Solomon Creek itself - which flows orange when it reaches Wilkes-Barre thanks to acid mine drainage, is home to surprising numbers of brook trout.
“Natural trout production can be found throughout Pine Creek and the main stem of Solomon Creek from its headwaters in Mountain Top down to Division Street in South Wilkes-Barre,” Hughes said. “Brook trout reproduce naturally in many headwater streams throughout the Solomon Creek watershed.”
Stocked trout were found in one section of Solomon Creek by the Liberty Estates development in Hanover. Hughes beleives they made their way downstream after being released for a children’s trout derby in Ashley.
Still, things could be better.
Acid mine drainage along with debris dams of trees and litter block many of the streams, prohibiting trout movement and force the water to warm to undesirable levels in the lower reaches of the watershed.
While studying the watershed last year, Hughes and other EPCAMR staff electro-shocked areas, assessed habitat and water chemistry and recorded macro-invertebrate abundance through the use of kicknets. The results of all four methods were combined to create a clearer picture of stream health and the potential to restore native brook trout in some areas.
Of the 46 sites surveyed for macro-invertabrates - a key food source for trout, 30 had suitable numbers.
“There’s not a lot of problems with acidity in this watershed, but things can be done to improve habitat for trout in the lower reaches,” Hughes said. “Some streams in this watershed are basically thriving with native brook trout, while the potential for improvement certainly exists in other sections.”