Monday, January 10, 2011

Way Back When.....

Yesterday I went for a walk near my house and it took me through a nearby gravel pit. Looking at the strata that were prominently displayed along the clean cut edges of that pit got me thinking quite a bit about the geologic history of Vermont and in particular the Champlain Sea. It was very interesting seeing the different layers that were exposed in this area. The house where I live in Vermont (West Berlin) is at about 636 ft (194 m for you metric oriented folks) above sea level. It was probably above the level of the Champlain Sea but not by too much.

A lot of you are probably wondering just what the Champlain Sea is or, more properly, was. The Champlain Sea existed from about 13,000 to about 10,000 years ago just prior to the last glaciation event that North America went through. More will be coming, you just wait! You might wait a really long time, but take my word, it will happen. Being in the midst of winter in Vermont it is not hard to believe. Anyway the weight of the glaciers actually caused the land mass to depress which allowed salt water to enter the region. Lake Champlain at that point was an arm of the Atlantic Ocean. It was quite a bit deeper too. 

There is quite a bit of fossil evidence to prove the existence of the Champlain Sea. The Vermont State Fossil is the Charlotte Whale. This is the skeleton of a beluga whale found in Charlotte, VT in 1849 while making a railroad cut.  Where it was found it about 10 or so miles inland from Lake Champlain. Barring the unsupported existence of Champ (the Lake Champlain monster which some speculate is a zueglodon- a primitive whale) no whales are currently found in Lake Champlain.  Although, on an interesting side note, a seal was actually found on the ice in Burlington Harbor in the late 1800's. The residents of the city quickly clubbed it to death and took bits of its body as souveniers. Not quite the hippy ending to that one huh?

The Charlotte Whale and a number of other skeletal finds (including a musk ox and seal found by Dave Franzi one of my college professors) show that this area was indeed glaciated and had a salt water intrusion. Very cool stuff. 

Used to be here way back when and still here now!
Since this is a blog about fly fishing and fish, what does this all this Champlain Sea stuff have to do with fish or fishing?  Well while I walked I was thinking about what it must have been like in the area I lived back then. I know that in my area there are freshwater deposits which may indicate a lake could have been there. I started thinking about what kind of fish might have been found.  I did a bit of research and found that a few extant species would have been here. The lake trout, rainbow smelt, cisco, longnose sucker, three-spine stickleback and a couple of sculpins have been found in the fossil record from this time. Very cool. I would speculate, but obviously with no evidence to back it up, that there might have also been northern pike, Atlantic salmon and brook trout. These fishes all are found together as you head further north on this continent.

In Vermont? Not now... but 10K ago, perhaps!
Other fish that have been found in association with the Champlain Sea which are no longer here are arctic char and the Atlantic cod.  I don't find it all that unusual that the char was here considering that there are a few remnant populations of blueback char in Maine (the Sunnappe char was also a blueback but was extirpated from New Hampshire well over a century ago). What I do think is really cool is that these fish would have been the large sea run Arctic char that so many anglers dream of catching- myself included.How awesome would that be to catch a 20 lb sea run Arctic char in what is now the Dog River back about 10000 years ago? It doesn't get too much better... if only we had a time machine.... 

It is always fun to think about what kind of changes the Earth has gone through. I think it is a great thing for anglers to be aware of the alterations that the landscape has undergone. Glaciation has had a profound impact on the nature of the Champlain Valley and the Champlain Sea undoubtedly allowed some of the species that we are now familiar with to become established.  Do some digging into the geologic past of the region that you live in. You might just find out some reasons for the fish that you have there today. You might find out that you once had a shallow warm tropical sea with some of the first coral reefs ever found... oh wait... that is the Champlain Valley again....

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