View Full Version : Forney Creek Mystery Brookie

06-08-2009, 07:37 PM
I fish Forney Creek several times each spring, and have for the past six years. It nakes a nice day-trip from my weekend home near Bryson City. This last Saturday, I went for a few hours of fishing in the morning. I walked six-tenths of a mile up from Fontana Lake and began fishing a little below the confluence of Bear Creek at the bridge. There had been a cold snap the evening before, and with the high water I surmised that the fish would be a little sluggish. They were , but a few small rainbows came up and hit my yellow parachute. They were all holding in the slower water at the edges of the runs.


As you may recall, Bear Creek is a feeder stream that was poisoned a few years ago and re-stocked with Brook Trout. I believe that Bear Creek is still closed until a fishable population is re-established. Just as Bear Creek enters Forney, there is a small pool, the left half of which is covered by heavy rhododendron. I threw my dry into the pool, and a good trout darted out and nailed it. After a quick struggle, I landed the fish and realized I had caught a brookie - my first ever on Forney. The trout taped out against my rod at over 11 inches.

Looking at him, though, I noticed several unusual things. First, the trout's colors were mottled and not brilliant. If I had not been where I was, I'd have thought this fish came right out of the hatchery truck. Second, it was plump and well-fed. Most native brooks I have caught, and I have not caught many, are lean. The larger ones often have heads that are out-sized in relation to their bodies, perhaps because of a lack of nutrition. I have also observed that the better native fish often have purple coloring around and in their mouths. This fish displayed none of these characteristics. After the photo, I released the fish back into the pool.


I am doubly suspicious because of the large size of the fish. Most of the trout I have caught on Forney are small -- very small. My average is something around six inches. Of well over a hundred fish that I have caught or observed here, I have never landed a rainbow over 10 inches, and my largest all-time fish was a brown of 13 inches. Forney is a fairly infertile stream that just doesn't grow large fish. This fish has to be a transplant - but from where? My first instinct tell me that is is a hatchery fish that was stocked into another stream that feeds the lake, perhaps the Nantahala. This fish would need to enter the lake (in the case of the Nantahala that would mean surviving Wesser Falls), swim 15 miles to the Forney entrance, then make its way up through multiple 4 foot falls for 2/3's of a mile to have reached its holding place.

A second option is that the trout was stocked in Bear Creek. Getting here from Bear Creek would be easy for this fish -- just tumble down the 15 foot falls at the bottom of Bear. However, I don't believe mature 12 inch Brook trout from the hatchery were placed in Bear. Rather, I believe that the Park Service used small native brook trout taken from another nearby drainage. Therefore, it's hard for me to believe that this fish came down from Bear Creek.

Which leads to my question concerning this mystery. Where did this fish come from? Is it a stocker that made a miracle voyage to arrive in this portion of Forney? Did it come from Bear Creek? Or is it possibly a "real" native? Has anyone else caught a brook trout in the lower section of Forney Creek, or had a similar situation where they caught a fish that seemed out of place in its particular habitat? Thanks for any thoughts.

06-08-2009, 08:49 PM
That is interesting indeed as that definitely does not look like the souther appalachian strain. If you don't mind, i would like to borrow that picture and i will get us a scientific answer hopefully in the next day or two.

I really believe that the elevation is too low right there on forney to support native brook trout, but i guess anything is possible. This is too big of a mystery for me, but i will try and get a biologist's answer.

Thanks for sharing by the way.

06-08-2009, 09:46 PM
I think he came out of the lake. Really there is no sure way of telling just by looking at the fish. It would take protein electrophoresis to be certain. That said, it "looks" like a northern imposter posing as Southern royalty to me.;):biggrin:

06-09-2009, 08:03 AM
it does look like a stocked fish, particularly its fins. I could be wrong, but I believe the Nantahala flows into Fontanta Lake. Perhaps it came downstream into the lake and then ran up Forney. Those stocked brook trout will run quite a distance at times.

Scott H.
06-09-2009, 10:26 PM
If only fish could talk.......:rolleyes:

That is a mystery. I would be curious to know if they stocked some Northern brook trout in bear creek.

That is definitely the northern strain.

06-10-2009, 09:29 AM
I highly doubt the park service stocked the northern strain as they are adamant about the fact of restoring the southern appalachian brook trout. Mixing in the northern strain with the southern strain would highly jeopardize the success of the restoration project.

06-10-2009, 10:26 AM
Looks like a natural fish to me and I do no see any signs of a stock fish. These suckers grow very fast and I would say he was around maturity at 1-2 years. That pool was probably his spot and full of salamanders that kept him plump. You should check under rocks next time to see what is feeding that area. I suspect something large like a salamander that helped him grow quicker...

06-10-2009, 10:34 AM
I'm not sure you can make a fair assessment of which strain it is, just by a picture. From what I have been told, there are some unique genetic markers in the southern strain that can only be isolated by a DNA test. The coloration can also be affected and/or muted by the environment the fish grew up in, which leads to some speculation, especially if this one did come from a deep pool with an abundant food source that also affects appearance.

06-10-2009, 11:53 AM
I'd like to thank everyone for their thoughts on the origin of this fish. In keeping with the ideas about unusual coloration, I'd like to share a photo of a good brown I caught in Forney last spring. I hooked this fish in a deep narrow gorge run covered by rhododendron. I doubt the sunlight ever touches the river here.


I don't know if it is the darkness of the run, the fish's diet, spring vs. fall timing, or other factors but this brown trout was silver colored, with only a slight hint of the dark coloring and spots I normally associate with the brown trout. When I brought the fish to hand, I assumed it was a rainbow until I took a closer look. I'm sure it was a native fish because of its broad tail and the awesome tussle it gave me. I suppose the lesson I learned from this is just the tremendous variations we can get in fish colorings, even in native fish.

Scott H.
06-10-2009, 11:50 PM

That is a spectacular, and certainly unusual fish. I have never seen a brown like it.

You certainly bring up a good point about environment, diet, etc.


06-11-2009, 06:23 AM
I agree! Looks like a bow till you look close at the head and the fin colors. Great looking fish either way!


Scott H.
06-11-2009, 10:55 AM
Could that last one be a cross between a rainbow and a brown?

Is that gentetically possible?

Any biologists out there know?


06-11-2009, 02:12 PM
Looks like that brown probably came up from the lake.

06-15-2009, 08:17 PM
I had a similar experience a few years
back in that same location with a 12" brookie. Actually I think
I caught the same fish twice. I caught it in Forney Creek
where the tunnel to nowhere trail connects to Forney Creek trail.
We fished Forney up to the bridge then came back down to
our starting place where I again caught a fish that looked like the one I had caught that morning.

If you're from Bryson City you probably know Lester (proprietor
of the junk/gun/fly store there on the main drag). He says
there is a remnant population of Northern variety Brookies
that were stocked in the 60's-70's in the Park (mainly on
the Carolina side).

I don't think they are Brownies up from the lake but their
colors are different and they get bigger than Southern Appalachian
Variety Brookies.

Jim Casada
06-21-2009, 09:41 AM
I refuse to call mountain trout brookies (to a son of the Smokies specks, speckled trout, natives, or mountain trout are all acceptable), but once past that barrier, here are some thoughts on your mystery fish. First, Forney Creek holds plenty of fish somewhat bigger than those of your experience. Any rainbow over about 11 inches is esceptional (but that's true pretty much everywhere in the Park except Abrams creek), but Foreny holds lots of 'em in the 7-11-inc range, not tomention browns that can run appreciably bigger.
While the coloration on the speck you show might seem a bit iffy, I've seen them with very similar coloration any number of times over my almost 60 years of fishing in the Park. They become much more brilliant as spawning season approaches, and I have no doubt whatsoever that habitat conditions affect color. For example, rainbows in Noland Creek are very vivid indeed, while the browns in Slickrock Creek have the brightest red spots of any I've seen anywhere.
As for the brown, it is almost certainly a lake-run fish which has been in deeper water (a fine example of how habitat affects coloration). As for Lester (and I'm a native of Bryson City), I wouldn't put a lot of faith in his pronouncements. I suspect he has spent very little if any time on trout waters, inside the Park or out, in the last two decades. I don't think any of the northern strain stocked in the Park survived to reproduce on the N. C. side, although there is that possibility in one and possibly two streams on the Tennessee side. Jim Casada