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Tyler Legg
Charlotte, NC, United States
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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A wild speck displaying a myriad of colors.
When you think of western North Carolina, you probably think of quaint, antiquated towns, rich in history and diversity. You think of small towns nestled in valleys surrounded by the oldest mountain range in North America, the Appalachians. High up in the mountains, you'll find another one of Appalachia's jewels. The native southern Appalachian brook trout. Mountain folks refer to them as the "native trout" or the "speckled trout". Contrary to popular belief, the brook trout, is not a trout at all. It's a char, related to the dolly varden, bull trout, and arctic char. The southern Appalachian brookie is indigenous to western North Carolina, the high mountains of east Tennessee, the highest mountains of northeast Georgia, and northwest South Carolina. With that being said, non-native rainbow trout and brown trout, introduced years ago, have driven the brookies upstream to the tiny headwaters. Back then it was much different. One did not have to hike and search intently for them. They were the only salmonid in the southeastern United States. Biologists say that the rainbows and the browns outcompete the brook trout for food and habitat. To top it all off, logging, road construction, stream degradation, silt issues, acid rain, amongst many other environmental issues have quickly decreased the once flourishing population of these colorful and lively fish. If you are catching wild brook trout, you are fishing a pristine, clean, and possibly untouched stream. Specs are considered a biological indicator, as they can only live in clean streams that have low acidity and high concentrations of dissolved oxygen and nutrients.

Where do I find Brookies?

Wild brook trout are found in the headwaters of many river systems in NC. Most of the time, these streams are extremely small, concealed by a canopy of rhododendron and mountain laurel. Brook trout prefer high gradient streams that contain numerous plunge pools and small waterfalls, usually situated at an elevation of 3,000 ft or higher. To find these streams, you'll need a Delorme Gazetteer map and a sturdy pair of hiking boots.
You're not going to find many wild brook trout streams around here that meander along the road. A hike to the stream is usually involved. If you're catching all rainbow trout or all brown trout, hike upstream until you find the specs. Make sure you know the area and have a map, as bluelining can get quite dangerous if you get lost. It's really a trial and error kind of thing when attempting to locate brook trout streams. Sometimes a stream will be teeming with specks and sometimes the brookies won't be present. Once you do find that native brookie stream, keep it secret! 





Fishing for Brookies

Wild brook trout usually don't see a lot of angling pressure (some haven't even laid eyes on a fly), due to the fact that they thrive in remote locations. Stealth must be brought into the equation to get close enough to these naturally spooky fish. With that being said, stealth isn't as hard as finding brook trout. In most cases, locating a wild brook trout stream is far more arduous than actually sneaking up on and catching them. Brookies will eat anything they can get into their mouths. Their enthusiastic reaction to a fly hitting the water is priceless. Dries seem to be the most effective and the most enjoyable method to catch them. I've had fish launch completely out of the their pool to grab a helpless looking fly on the surface. It's those moments that push me to sometimes leave the nymph box behind and take only a handful of smallish dry flies. Dry flies can be anything from realistic looking to cartoonish. These guys don't ever seem to mind. Attractors work extremely well. Trudes, Wulffs, Stimulators, Humpies, Turk's Turantulas, Madam X's, and just about anything else that is highly visible and floats well will draw these jewels to the surface. They seldom are very picky, as the streams they live in are fast and quick decisions must be made. Usually, their decisions involve attacking the fly like there's no tomorrow. I've found that setting the hook is not recommended, as these fish are so small, you'll fling them over your head. Keep your hooks sharp and barbless and they'll hook themselves. Immediately return these fish when you catch them. Keep them in the water and make sure they swim away healthy.

 Click the on the map for a larger view 



Some of you might be raising your brow with ambiguity, while the thought, "why must an angler hike miles upon miles, or study a map for hours upon hours, just to catch a bunch of small, 6 inch trout" runs through your brain. Anyone who has ever fished a native brookie stream, knows that there's a sense of accomplishment when you bring a wild southern Appalachian brook trout to you're hand. The image of that wild speck squirming in your hand is instilled into your mind. The colors you see will leave you dumbfounded. Brook trout that were and are facing trouble on the horizon. If we continue to abuse the environment surrounding these fragile little streams, we may face total extinction of the southern Appalachian brook trout. Though several organizations such as Trout Unlimited, are in the process of bringing back Appalachia's only native salmonid, we have to do our part. Just like oil, natural gas, coal, and rainforests, they are a natural resource. Once they are gone, they can't be brought back. Remember the Passenger Pigeon? It's a pigeon right? There's tons of pigeons around isn't there? We all thought they were everywhere. We also thought they wouldn't be wiped from the face of the earth. The chilling fact of the matter is, they did.

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