Bespeckled jewels that love wild places and clean waters, brook trout hold a special place in the hearts and minds of anglers. There are many reasons for this. Brook trout (called "specks" or "speckled trout" over portions of their range in the Southeast) are the only true native trout in the eastern United States. Brown trout and rainbows may be more numerous and widespread, but they rank as newcomers introduced from Europe and the American West. Also, brookies are sort of stream bellwethers. Intolerant of pollution, siltation, warming waters, and the human presence, they are primarily found in pure streams and "back of beyond" locations. All of these considerations endear them to fishermen who cherish solitude, wildness, and sparkling streams. They are an integral part of what might be described as the brook trout mystique.
Similarly, over much of their range in the eastern United States, brookies evoke nostalgic memories. Old-timers talk of times when "speckled trout were so plentiful we caught flour sacks full of 'em," and in more remote parts of the Appalachian high country the fish formed an important part of the diet of those eking out a hardscrabble living from the land.
Today, thanks to a variety of interacting factors, brook trout are in trouble over much of their former range in the East and South. Ironically, in many areas in the West, just the
Brook trout were once plentiful in the Southeast; now, due to a variety of interacting factors, their numbers are threatened.
opposite is true—there the fish tends to overpopulate and become stunted. One key source of trouble for brook trout is loss of habitat. Removal of overhead canopy, even if it results in stream temperatures warming just a few degrees, can be devastating. This happened after extensive logging operations of the early 20th century in the mountains of the South. It was made worse by extensive siltation and the widespread use of the practice sometimes called "splash dams" to move the logs downstream. This technique, which held logs in a small lake created by blocking the stream, saw the dam dynamited to send the logs downstream atop a wall of water. It wiped out fish in devastating fashion. Then there is acid rain, encroaching development, and a dramatic increase in angling numbers. All work against brookies even as they contribute to the fish's mystique.
One index to the present plight of brook trout is the fact that they are now an officially protected species in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (no fishing for them is allowed in waters where they are still present). Elsewhere, all up and down the spine of the Appalachians, brookies are in retreat or in trouble.
Yet for those who have the gumption to get to them, they are a source of pure delight. This usually requires hikes to remote headwaters in the Carolinas and Virginia, or finding one's way to distant beaver ponds or secluded rivulets further north, or numerous small streams and mountain lakes in the West. With their white-edged fins, bright red spots encircled by an almost phosphorescent halo of slate blue, and distinctively marked backs, brook trout are arguably the most beautiful of all trout (technically they are a char, but invariably brookies are known as trout). This is most certainly in the fall, when they sport vivid spawning colors of gold, orange, and red that are more vivid than any October display of turning leaves.
Always Ready And Willing
The cooperative nature of brook trout—once you manage to get to where they still swim—also makes them appealing. They readily strike a variety of flies and small spinners, and colorful lures seem particularly effective. Indeed, they are so easily caught, at least in comparison with other trout, as to be their own worst enemy. A stealthy and
Brookies were never known for their size, but their willingness to take a fly or lure--and the beauty of the water they inhabit--make them a favorite among many anglers.
skilled poacher bent on catching lots of brookies can do so, and the fact that they are usually found so far from civilization minimizes the likelihood of such lawbreakers being caught. Since the species, and especially small ones, make wonderful table fare, the temptation they present to ne'r-do-wells is obvious.
As someone who has fished for speckled trout (that's what they were invariably called in my boyhood home in the Great Smokies of North Carolina) more than 50 of my 60 years, I can readily say that no other type of trout fishing has quite the same appeal for me. Even though my angling travels have taken me from Alaska to South Africa, from New Brunswick to New Zealand, I nonetheless harken to the allure of the brook trout. It means backpacking trips into regions which lie "back of beyond," days of fishing without seeing another soul other than the person who accompanies me on these camping trips, crawling into a sleeping bag at night deliciously tired, or occasionally frying a mess of "speckled trout" at streamside for lunch. Such trips can produce 100-fish days, and usually all of the feisty little jewels are carefully returned to the stream, and it doesn't matter that their average size may be six inches and anything 10 inches or larger is a trophy.
It's the precious hours spent in the quest for a fish that exudes wildness, the escape from a hurried and harried world that the brook trout provides, which produce its magic. That's why, given the choice, I'll leave others to streams filled with browns and 'bows where anglers are so plentiful you sometimes need to tote your own rock to stand on. You can have your hatchery-raised frauds if the alternative is the wild, wonderful, and almost mystical brook trout.