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An Ode To Autumn, And Our Native Fish

Fall has long been my favorite time of year.  Along with many others, I love to see the bright colors on the trees as they begin to go dormant in preparation for winter, and to feel the crisp temperatures on a cool October morning.  But as a pursuer of trout I have another reason to love fall:  Salvelinus Fontinalis….loosely translated that’s trout of the fountain. 
Of course I’m talking about Brook Trout, or square tails, specks, natives, brookies.  Whatever you want to call them, they’re my favorite fish species bar none. There’s a myriad of reasons for this.  Wild Brook Trout (technically a species of Char, but let’s not split hairs) are the only trout that are indigenous to the Southeastern U.S.  According to scientists, they retreated to our area from colder northern climates around the time of the last ice age.  I like the fact that man had nothing to do with them being where you now still find them.  (Although big kudos go out to the TU volunteers and folks from GSMNP and NCWRC who worked many years to restore native Brook Trout to many of their traditional home waters in the Smokies!)  The Southeast has its own distinct sub-species as well, called Southern Appalachian Brook Trout…..so it’s kind of a thing we southern folks can be proud of!  I could go on, but finally I like that brookies generally live only in fairly cold and pristine water in the upper reaches of streams-above some natural barrier where introduced Brown and Rainbow trout cannot get to, and out-compete them for food.  Finding them usually involves some hiking, which luckily gets you away from most of man’s trappings into some beautiful wild places….not to mention the health benefits involved.  Naturally, you can fish for brook trout all year long, but it’s in the fall that brookies don their “Sunday best”, with colors so vivid and bright that they rival most any fish out there in the looks department.  Keith Cockerham and I recently had the good fortune to see some of those “fall colors”, and get some exercise, in pursuit of our native trout.  These images are from that trip.     
People sometimes see photos of brookies and make comments like, “What is that, bait?”  They just don’t get it.  Wild Brook Trout around here generally aren’t very big-a 10 incher in our area is so rare it would constitute a real trophy!  But if you look at their small, nutrient-poor environment you see that they’re as big as they’re supposed to be.  I have also heard other anglers describe Brook Trout as dumb or stupid, saying they’ll hit any fly you throw at them.  It’s true that brookies aren’t usually particular as to fly selection, but we’re not talking about spring creek or tailwater fish here, and those anglers don’t see them for what they are-fierce survivors that must eat anything even resembling food, just to stay alive.  Not that catching them is easy.  They’re exceptionally wary, so bring your A-Game in stalking and presentation skills if you hope to have success. 
Call them small or dumb if you like.  Brook Trout are precious jewels of the high mountain streams in our area of the country, and when it’s autumn they’re never far from my mind.

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