Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.
– Cormac McCarthy, The Road
I was once loathe to go fishing for brook trout. Why would I – why would anyone – want to hike to a tiny stream, toss tiny flies, and catch tiny fish? Not to mention the overhang and virtual absence of casting. It seemed pointless to fish water you knew held no fish larger than eight inches.
But then I actually went brook trout fishing.
Brookies could be the most beautiful of freshwater fish – even the stockers burst with color. They are also the most delicate. The only trout native to the Blue Ridge is threatened by everything from global warming and industrialization, to acid rain and its beefy cousin the brown trout. An amazing amount of conservation efforts are ongoing in the east to bring the brook trout back, but the number of healthy populations continues to decline. Brook trout need the coldest, cleanest water to survive and as that disappears so do they.
In the far north they can grow to enormous size (the record was caught in Ontario: 31 inches and brook trout of South America will blow your mind), but here in the South, a 12 incher is a hog. When wetting a line for wild brookies, however, it is not the size of the fish that matters; nor is it how many fish you catch. If it was, no one would do it. It is hard to explain the appeal, and I resisted for a long time. Maybe its the beauty of a small, clear mountain stream. Maybe its the precision needed to trick a spooky wild trout in its native habitat. It is probably a combination of all these things, but when you bring a brookie to hand you know it is something special. Even if it only fits in the palm of your hand.