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Longstreet Highroad Guide to the North Carolina Mountains

By Lynda McDaniel

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Sherpa Guides > North Carolina Mountains > Sidebars > Brook Trout

Brook Trout

Artists paint them. Scientists study them. And grown men, often taciturn about their feelings, write long, heartfelt essays about them. The brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) is the only trout native to Western North Carolina, living in isolated, high-altitude headwater streams and brooks. Though small in size, averaging 8 to no more than 12 inches, the brook trout holds great allure. To start with, it is beautiful. Its back and upper sides are typically colored olive green with mottled, dark-green wavy markings reaching the dorsal and caudal fins. Its lighter lower sides sport yellow spots and a few red spots surrounded by blue; orange lower fins feature black and white bands. The brook trout's habitat is beautiful, too. Tranquil and remote, pristine streams surrounded by rocks and boulders, hemlocks and rhododendron provide sanctuary from a hectic world. And, of course, the delicate flavor of the brook trout adds to its appeal.

"Brookies" or "speckles," as they are often called, originated in colder northern waters but traveled south with the advancing ice of the glacial age. Once the earth warmed again, they remained in the colder headwaters at elevations above 3,000 feet where the water temperature rarely exceeds 68 degrees Fahrenheit. They cannot survive in temperatures warmer than 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Brook trout prefer clear, stable streams and silt-free gravel for spawning—conditions that have been compromised by human intervention. Late in the nineteenth century, logging operations began the destruction of brook trout habitat when they built poor roads and rail lines that resulted in extensive erosion, siltation, and scouring. In an effort to replace the declining brook trout, Pacific-Coast rainbow and European brown trout were introduced to southern mountain waters early this century. Unfortunately, brook trout compete poorly against these larger, more aggressive fish and are forced to retreat into higher, more remote habitats. Exotic species coupled with acid rain and overfishing have contributed to the decline of the brook trout's range by approximately 75 percent.

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