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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.