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 Appalchians. 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 dolly varden, bull trout, and Arctic Char. The southern Appalachian brookie is indeginous to western North Carolina. With that being said, non-native rainbow trout and brown trout, introduced years ago, have driven the brookies upstream to the tiny headwaters. 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 degredation, silt problems, acid rain, and many other environmental issues have expeditiously decreased the once flourishing population of this colorful and lively fish. If you're catching wild brook trout, you're fishing a pristine, clean, and possibly untouched stream. they're 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 envolved. If you're catching all rainbow trout or all brown trout, hike upstream until you find the specks. 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 fact that they thrive in remote locations. Stealth must be used to get close enough to these naturally spooky fish. Finding brook trout is far more arduous than actually catching them. Brookies will eat anything they can get into their mouths. Dries seem to be the most effective and the most enjoyable method to catch them. I sometimes leave the nymph box behind and take only a handful of smallish dry flies. Attractors work extremely well. Trudes, Wulffs, Stimulators, Humpies, Turk's Turantulas, Madam X's, etc work well. They seldom are very picky, as the streams they live in are fast and quick decisions must be made. Usually, they're decisions envolve attacking the fly like a piranha. 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 themshelves. Immediately return these fish when you catch them. Keep them in the water and make sure they swim away healthy.
Click the picture to visit Trout Unlimited's eastern brook trout website.
Some of you might be raising your brow with ambiguity, while thinking, "why must an angler hike miles upon miles, or study a map for hours upon hours, just to catch a bunch of small, 6" trout". 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. Brook trout that were and are facing trouble on the horizon. If we continue to abuse the environment surrounding these little streams, we may face total extinction of the southern Appalachian brook trout. Trout Unlimited is in the process of bringing back the brook trout in their project widely known as Back the Brookie.
Written By: Tyler Legg