BENSON - Last month, Rick Beauchamp of Mayfield did something that might have been impossible 30 years ago.
On May 16, in a canoe on Silver Lake, in the deep woods of southern Hamilton County, Beauchamp reeled in a record-breaking brook trout. Weighing in at 6.03 pounds and measuring 22.5 inches long, the fish came from a lake that once was considered dead and unable to support fish.
At his lodge in Benson this week, Beauchamp showed a reporter photos from his many fishing trips in areas all around the Adirondack Park, including a photo from Silver Lake, with a string of several fish he caught. Hanging on the wall was the prize fish that earned him his record.
Rick Beauchamp of Mayfield shows the record-breaking 6.03-pound brook trout he caught last month in Silver Lake. (Photo courtesy of Rick Beauchamp)
On his recent trip to Silver Lake, he managed to catch several other fish before landing the whopper.
"I looked at it and said, 'That is a record,'" Beauchamp said.
His catch broke last year's record, which was five pounds, 14 ounces, and 21 inches long, caught in the West Canada Lakes Wilderness in Hamilton County on May 5, 2012.
Beauchamp say he has fished in almost every pond from here to Lake Placid.
He was not very excited, he admitted, when he first pulled in the record fish, but he was convinced to take the fish to the Department of Environmental Conservation in Ray Brook to have it weighed. When told it broke the record, he said, he wasn't surprised.
"I knew it was, anyway," Beauchamp said.
He said Silver Lake was considered dead back in the 1970s, after acid rain had polluted many of the ponds and lakes in the Adirondack Park, rendering them uninhabitable by many fish.
"Back when I was 10, it was bad fishing," Beauchamp said.
John F. Sheehan, spokesman for the Adirondack Council, was more blunt about it.
"It was dead as a doornail," Sheehan said of the lake.
According to Sheehan, it was hard to count the exact number of lakes and ponds that were contaminated by acid rain for decades in the 20th century.
"I can tell you in the park we have a total of 2,800 large lakes," Sheehan said, counting lakes larger than 10 acres. Of those, 25 percent were "critically acidified" by the toxic fallout from industrial pollution.
"Fulton and Hamilton counties took a beating," Sheehan said.
However, with stricter environmental regulation of the last few decades, many lakes have bounced back or started to, Silver Lake among them.
"I think we can say more than half are showing signs of recovery," Sheehan said.
Beauchamp said he had seen signs of it himself, as some lakes have become able to sustain aquatic life.
Some lakes have been stocked with fish, and others have generated new fish populations unassisted by man.
Beauchamp said he was happy to see that Silver Lake had begun to bounce back.
For quality of fish, he said, Silver Lake is a great spot, though it isn't easy to reach. Getting there requires a hike of several miles from either of the nearest trailheads, in Benson and Piseco. (The lake is one of the stops along the Northville-Lake Placid Trail and has a lean-to for camping.)
"You can walk in and come out with nothing," Beauchamp warned.
According to Sheehan, legislation on the national level has helped the recovery of the region's lakes. Sheehan said in the 1970s, the Adirondack Park suffered growing levels of acid rain that poisoned trees and lakes. The rain, according to Sheehan, carried sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide from power plants in the Midwest.
Some of the lakes in the area hit hardest by acid rain included Silver, Big Moose, Brooktrout, Bellows, Stewart, Nine Corner and Jockeybush lakes.
Sheehan said pollution is decreasing because of federal regulations on coal plants and automobiles, including the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990.
"We think that continued movements on the affirmative levels will actually cause acid rain to disappear in the next decade," Sheehan said.
Sheehan said some damage could not be repaired, however.
"We have lost a lot of our heritage-strain brook trout," Sheehan said.
Officials from the state Department of Environmental Conservation did not return calls for comment in time for this article.