View Full Version : "Large" Brookies
10-12-2010, 03:34 PM
A friend and I were fishing a stream in North Georgia recently, which my biologist buddies at UGA have informed me contains the largest brook trout in that state (at least as far as they can tell with shocking surveys).
I won't name the stream, but it's such a rough hike in (no trail whatsoever) that I'm not exactly worried about these fish. They've been there since the last Ice Age and will be there still when we are dead and gone.
We came to this pool (below), and I, being a bit higher, spotted an "enormous" brook trout of about eight inches holding in the middle of the pool. My friend made a couple of really excellent casts and got a perfect drift on a small Royal Wulff right into the lie. That fish came over and walloped the fly, but unfortunately struck only the tail. I saw this play out in crystal clear fashion; Charlie did nothing wrong, the fish just missed. Incidentally it had taken up a position right under that sole overhanging rhododendron branch in the right of the photograph when I took this picture and Charlie lured it back out.
Here's an "average" trout from that drainage, which I will say is bigger than the average brookies I've caught elsewhere.
For comparison, here's an "average" brookie from another drainage a bit further north which is not known for "big" brook trout:
Now I do not claim to be any great shakes at brookie fishing. Hans here on this board taught me literally everything I use to catch brookies today and that was in just an afternoon. While I've been successful since I had the good fortune to bump into him climbing Road Prong back in 2006, I certainly would not set any brook trout record books on fire.
But my question is, how much bigger do these guys really get any more? I know that in the old days of lower siltation and cooler stream temps (and no rainbows!) there were edible-sized brookies caught up to 14 inches, with trophies going bigger. But now? With acid rain and deforestation and brook trout confined to elevations above 3,000 feet?
What is the biggest brook trout you have caught since the ban was lifted in the Smokies? Anyone have any pics of any over, say, 8"?
PS This is pretty much what I mean by "no trail."
10-12-2010, 05:05 PM
Zach, I once caught a 12 or 13" Brookie in 1996 or 7 I,ve got an old film picture not a digital. If theres some way to get it on here maybe you can help me figure it out.
10-12-2010, 05:31 PM
Biggest one my son and I ever caught went about 7". It was in a stream in the park. I would like to land a nice one though.
10-12-2010, 06:39 PM
Zach--I've probably caught a 100 specks over 10 inches and never one over 11 1/2 inches. I've seen two landed bigger than that--12 1/2 and 12 3/4 inches. I also had one follow a 10 inch mountain trout I hooked one time that had to be at least five inches bigger. It was by far the largest speck I've ever seen, and it was in a stream where they are the only species present.
The main problem, size-wise, in today's world of fishing is that the kind of water where fish grow bigger is not inhabited by mountain trout.
10-12-2010, 06:53 PM
My largest brookie in the Smokies was just over 10" and very healthy. Caught it somehwere on the Greenbrier in 2003. I haven't caught one much over 8" since, although I really don't fish for specs that often anymore.
10-12-2010, 07:04 PM
I caught one 11 1/2 inches on West Prong Little Pigeon in 02 I believe it was. I caught one 9" the same day. Obviously something was right that day. I began my brookie career in 1994 and it took 9 seasons until I got those. Then I have had numerous in the 8" to 9" bracket. I'm like Neal though, I haven't fished much in speck waters in the last five years or so.
10-12-2010, 07:18 PM
That's the problem today, of course. I have no doubt that in the 1890s the Townsend area supported brook trout you could count in the pounds--I've seen fish in Arkansas that were easily 14" and I've caught several over 12", but of course they were stocked.
One thing I think would be worth looking into is harvesting a few native brookies in the headwaters (so as to preserve genetic purity), and then using all this hatchery technology we have to breed them and then rear up their fry and then re-stock them at larger sizes in the lower waters of Little River.
It's not that brookies would die necessarily if stocked in Little River; it's just that reproductively rainbows and browns do better in those conditions and so they outcompete the brook trout. We are too late to change that but that doesn't mean we couldn't give native brookies an assist with supplemental stocking at say 8 or 9 inches long. At a bare minimum that would give anglers the ability to potentially catch a brook trout where it once reigned supreme. If we were really lucky we might find a few places below 3,000 feet where the brook trout could actually reproduce and at least assist in recruitment.
I think a healthy crop of 9" brookies would do wonders for the size of all trout down there, too, as they would eat rainbow fry smaller than themselves.
10-12-2010, 07:45 PM
Zach, I don't fish for them very much, but the biggest one I caught this year was just a hair under 9".
I caught it in the park in a deep hole on a nymph. I caught one last year in the same hole that went just under 10". I'll have to try to dig up a picture of it.
The prettiest speck I've ever seen was caught in a local national forest by Parker Smith of Easley, SC. Even has the makings of a kype jaw.
10-12-2010, 07:48 PM
I'm no expert but remember that brookies are now common in several streams way lower than 3000 ft altitude. I have caught them as low as Cambell's Overlook on WPLP. That's 2000 ft elevation if that. I don't doubt that you can catch them as low as 1800 ft. Same thing on Greenbriar, I have caught them as low as half a mile or so above Old Settlers Trail. Should be around 1800 ft or so. It's not a common thing that low but not unheard of either. Especially in the last decade or so.
10-12-2010, 08:10 PM
Zach--I'm not the person to comment on the scientific side of what you suggest, but there are already specks in a lot of Park streams, especially on the N. C. side, well below 3,000 feet. The same is true, probably to a greater degree, in Pisgah National Forest. Examples would include Straight Fork, Bradley Fork, Mingus Creek, lower Beech Flats Prong, etc.
There's no question in my mind, as I've stated on more than one occasion, that specks are at present expanding their range (although they are a long way from the pre-1900 range. Incidentally, at least half of all the "large" specks (10 inches) I have caught were outside the Park but in the southern Appalachians. That's about as much as I'll say about that, and I'm not one who is real big on secrets. One destination, Big Snowbird, isn't anywhere close to what it once was.
10-12-2010, 08:21 PM
Hey guys -
I didn't mean the 3,000 foot figure literally necessarily; it's just a shorthand way of saying 'up high.'
I would agree that brook trout are expanding their range. When you consider that all of the Smokies and most of the other forests in this region were basically clear cut by the 1920s, and then think about how slow trees grow (and really how immature even the trees in the Park are to this day), it stands to reason that as the forest returns so will the trout.
Barring any big political changes I think the Smokies will have returned to a primeval state some time by around 2200. I really hope my great grandchildren get to experience brook trout fishing like there once was. I also really appreciate the NPS for furthering that goal.
10-12-2010, 08:39 PM
Didn't have a tape measure but this brookie, caught in Walker Camp Prong, was about 10". It reached from the end of my cork handle to the rod butt (which actually measures 10 1/2").
10-12-2010, 08:40 PM
deleted post and pictures
10-12-2010, 08:43 PM
Holy Cow, guys!
All of those are some fantastic looking brookies. You just don't see too many like those.
10-12-2010, 09:31 PM
Nice! That's the kind of stuff I thought I might see if I posted this.
I wish I had a better photo, but somehow this little pic is all I have to remember this 2008 fish by....
This guy was not in GA, but NC and at an elevation of around 4500 ft. ( "acid rain" or not)
I didn't measure him at the time, because I wanted to get him back in the creek ASAP. He is somewhere between 12 and 13 inches though, by doing a little "mythbuster" figuring using the hat brim as a gauge and projecting it's length to the fish, compensating for the fish's tail not being pushed together. In the photograph, he doesn't really look that large, but I have "bear paw" hands as my wife says and I'm not a *cough, cough skinny guy.lol She took the picture and we both agreed at the time it was over a foot long.
As for brook trout in GA, maybe you're friends at UGA should test a few more streams...8 inchers are certainly above average for most streams but far from the biggest natives swimming in GA water. If you're willing to share the info on the "other" creek that's supposedly "known" for big brook trout, please PM me. I've never heard anyone in GA trout circles talking about a stream that was known specifically for big brook trout. There are probably a half-dozen that produce larger than normal brookies, but as far as I know (or have ever heard) there is no "super-stream" for these little guys in GA. ( Maybe I'm just out of the big brookie loop!? ;) )
10-13-2010, 08:22 AM
Sorry man, I won't name the stream.
10-13-2010, 09:31 AM
Let's see some more Brookies pics. This post is just getting good.
10-13-2010, 10:24 AM
In 1995 I caught an 11.5" brookie from a Tellico area stream. That is my largest to date. I did see a legitimate 13" brook on CNF stream in upper East TN that we sampled back in the late 90s.
10-13-2010, 07:19 PM
I caught these two SABT in 2009, from two different streams - both on the TN side of the park. If you want to talk about the northern strain, I've caught 100s larger than these two.
Also, some people on here must have REALLY big hands! :biggrin: My hand is 8" from the tip of my middle finger to my watch band.
10-13-2010, 07:57 PM
Great post, Zach.
Somewhat along this line of discussion, at TroutFest the NPS Fisheries Management, I think, had a poster at its display which suggested / predicted that under certain circumstances regarding acidity, in 15 years there would be no brook trout in the Smokies at over 4,000 ft elevation and in 25 years, none at over 3,000 feet. I tried to find info on this on the web, but struck out. Can someone share some better info?
10-13-2010, 09:18 PM
Also, some people on here must have really big hands!:biggrin:
That's why I don't carry a tape measure:biggrin: One kinda caught my attention:biggrin:
Years ago all the headwater streams in the Cataloochee watershed were closed to fishing for years. Right after they opened them back up several people I knew were catching 11-12" fish, and if I'm not mistaken I saw a fish Benny Craig caught that was 13 1/2", maybe bigger, that's been a long time ago.
The largest ones I catch now come from the Shining Rock and Middle Prong Wilderness areas. I use to catch some nice ones in the Yellowstone Prong until it became so popular. It is about the only one that isn't halfway a death march to get into and out of.
10-14-2010, 02:48 PM
flyman, your posts are a hoot. I even enjoy your reasons for edits. But I gotta ask, what is reason 42?
10-14-2010, 02:58 PM
Flyman--Most of the larger specks I have caught come from the same area as yours. They have, however, become fewer in recent years, and not just in Yellowstone Prong.
10-14-2010, 10:12 PM
Last fall I was fishing the Elk River near Elk Springs Resort and caught the largest brookie that I've ever seen. It was probably about 16 or 17 inches. I have a picture, but don't know how to post it. Any suggestions? Also, I'm unsure if this brookie is technically a wild brookie...
10-14-2010, 10:25 PM
10-14-2010, 10:26 PM
Figured it out...let me know what you think. I was absolutely SHOCKED when this guy hit my fly. Do they stock brookies? Could this guy just be an ancient WV native?
10-15-2010, 12:11 PM
bias5246--The coloration strongly suggests this is not a wild speck. Given the time of year you caught it, I would expect far more vibrant colors. The only thing which even gives me pause is that there's no sign of rubbed fins. As for specks being stocked, the answer is yes--in many places, including N. C. trout streams, they are. You don't say which Elk River--there are many of them--and I'm unfamiliar with Elk Springs Resort. The Park has not stocked any type of trout, unless you call transfer of specks stocking, in decades.
10-16-2010, 12:40 PM
This is the Elk River near Monterville, WV (close to Snowshoe Mtn resort). The main stream is constantly stocked with Bows and Browns, and I've caught natives in the tributaries. But, this big Brookie was caught in the main part of the stream, and I didn't know if it was native or not. In general, do they still stock brook trout? Are the natives that I catch in the Smokies or small streams in W.Va. native, or were they once stocked?
10-16-2010, 08:33 PM
bias5246--I suspected this was the stream in question, and I've fished it. The natives in the Smokies and in some WV streams are true natives. One of my fondest memories of WV is interrupting a spring turkey hunting trip there to catch a nice mess of specks and feasting on them along with a big bait of ramps.
However, I have the strongest possible belief that the fish you pictured is a stocker. Again, color tells the tale. A wild speck, or at least every one I've ever caught in the Appalachians, has red spots and the bluish halo around them which are far more vivid than the situation with your photograph. Also, in the season it was caught, there should have been color aplenty along the lower flank and belly.
10-17-2010, 10:27 PM
Thanks for the input! That's what I figured. He looked nothing like any other spec that I've caught. But, he was still a thrilling catch!
10-18-2010, 10:07 AM
Coloration is a pretty tough thing to judge any fish by in any event.
Here's a large brookie which was unquestionably stocked, as my cousin caught it in the Norfork River in Arkansas:
As you can see it was quite colored up; those fish make a spawning run in the winter time and tend to cluster in certain places around the Dam. I once caught three brookies over 12" in three casts (on an olive Matuka) right at Norfork Dam.
Supposedly your brighter fish with better coloration are that way because of better nutrition. I have heard that fish showing both orange/pink flesh and orange outside colors are eating foods high in beta carotene, especially crustaceans. One reason the browns in Arkansas are always so colorful is the high scud/sowbug content over there.
But I've definitely seen examples of unquestionably wild fish from our eastern forests which were dark and murky looking, despite having good nutrition and size. I think this is natural selection at work: your brighter fish don't last as long.
One more thing: I have been told by qualified biologists, including from the NPS, that the only way to tell Southern Appalachian (native) brookies from their northern brothers is via a complex genetic study. Evidently both fish are so closely related that the individual range of variation for a given fish's "look" overlaps to the point that you can't tell them apart by looking, even if you do things like gill raker counts. This is why it's been very difficult to isolate Southern from Northern fish pretty much across the Southeast (where northern strains were stocked in many places). Thus I'm a little skeptical about calling the fish I catch either "northern" or "southern" strains, no matter where I catch them.
10-18-2010, 10:21 AM
Hey guys -
Just for comparison's sake, it might be fun to look at the coloration of different brookies from around the country.
Norfork River, Arkansas
Smokies (Road Prong)
Battenkill tributary, Vermont
Smokies (Deep Creek)
Also North Carolina
As you can see, there's a ton of overlap. The Vermont brookies I caught were the palest but that may have more to do with the particular stream ecology than with the actual strain. Most Western brook trout were stocked from Northern strain brood stock.
10-18-2010, 12:39 PM
kkZach--I think your photos actually confirm what I was saying. Look at the red spots on the fish from the Norfork (stocked) and compare them with those on the remainder of thefish, all of which are almost certainly wild. There's a marked difference.
10-18-2010, 01:02 PM
I was posting those more with an eye toward the overlap between northern/southern strains than with respect to that West Virginia fish being wild or not. I agree with you on that, especially in that it had such a dark gray underbelly. As you can see from the Norfork fish, even a stocked brookie should be colored up if it's had time to go wild.
The relevant question is probably not whether or not the fish was stocked but rather whether it was *recently* stocked. West Virginia has wild fish that should be colored by the time they are that size if they were born in the river. Likewise, a stocked fish that was stocked small and grew up in the river will also be colored. I think a fish of that size and that generally dark color most probably was a recent stocker (but I'd leave a 10% chance that it was just an unusually dark wild fish).
10-19-2010, 04:13 PM
the way to tell the northern strain from the southern is to play Dixie. If is a southern strain the it will try to stand :biggrin:
10-22-2010, 02:27 PM
the way to tell the northern strain from the southern is to play Dixie. If is a southern strain the it will try to stand :biggrin:
So, that's the trick. Thanks! :-)
10-22-2010, 03:07 PM
Great thread, nice pictures...and now minus a few unnecessary posts. Thanks for contributing, all of you!
10-22-2010, 08:20 PM
Thanks, Madam Administrator. Keepin' it clean.
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