View Full Version : Hellbender Encounter

05-14-2008, 12:05 PM
In 15 years of wading streams, I've never seen a hellbender or even met anyone who claims to have seen one. It's easy to be incredulous that they even populate our streams. How could a two-foot long lizard escape notice in the crystal clear waters we fish?

Yesterday, I got up close and personal with one when it emerged from under a rock and attempted to devour a ten inch brown I'd just released. I was fishing the North Mills Delayed Harvest water in Pisgah Forest of NC. It's a nice freestone stream, heavily fished, and hardly a remote wilderness. I was fishing one of the larger pools from the upper parking area right beside a stack of metal culvert pipe stacked on the bank. I had just caught a nice ten inch brown on a pheasant tail dropper at the back of the pool.


I photographed the fish in my hand and released him into the pool. I looked down to straighten my gear, and when I looked up I saw my fish sideways and struggling on the bottom at the back of the pool. It was being swallowed by something. I waded out and took this picture.


In the bottom right, you can see that about 7 inches of trout is in the salamander, and just the head is left out. He's almost perfectly camo'ed with the rocks. His head is flat and wide. The hellbender was still on the bottom and obviously working on his meal. I decided to see if I could get the lizard to release the trout. I grasped the salamander by the back of his slippery, keel shaped tail and started to lift him. I'd estimate that he was about two feet long and weighed about two pounds. I got him about half way out of the water.


At that point, he let the fish slip back out of his mouth, and acted like he might want to taste my hand instead. I let him go and he settled back to the bottom. I watched him for a bit until he decided he'd had enough and flicked his tail. In one motion he was gone. The fishing was excellent by the way. It's the first day this year that I've had fish consistently rise to the dry fly. Sorry about my large pic sizes. I'll try to resize.

05-14-2008, 12:28 PM
Those are some amazing pictures. I would have screamed like a little girl if that thing swam out in front of me and ate the fish. Glad you had a great day on the water, too bad the brown trout couldn't say the same.

05-14-2008, 12:52 PM
That is a great story Slipstream, thanks for sharing it. The pics were great. I have never been fortunate (or after seeing those pics unfortunate) enough to see a hellbender while hiking or fishing in our streams.
Stories like this are eventually going to convince me to carry a camera.

05-14-2008, 06:01 PM
Great story. Thanks for sharing it with us. Just wondering if you reported it on the site (http://www.hellbenders.org/) I think they do a bit of research on the creatures.

tn scout
05-14-2008, 07:11 PM
They are around; especially numerous in the Hiwassee (I once met a U. of Arkansas PHD studying them there). Mostly nocturnal, crayfish is about their favorite food. 18" to 2 ft is about the norm when I see 'em. Seems like a Prehistoric kind of species.

05-14-2008, 07:38 PM
Neat encounter you had there. It is awesome that you got to witness something like that in person. Chances are very slim that i will ever get to see a hellbender while fishing, especially one eating my catch.:eek:

milligan trout degree
05-14-2008, 10:34 PM
I'll wet my waders if a two pound salamander ever sneaks up on me from under a rock I'm fishing.

05-15-2008, 08:52 AM
That is really cool. I wish I had been there to have seen that. The picture where it is swallowing the brown is insane. It appears the ground is swallowing the trout and not a creature. Their camo is amazing.

There is no telling how many I have stepped over or have stood beside while fishing the Hiwassee and never new they were there.

Thanks for sharing!


05-16-2008, 10:39 AM
My dad had a little hellbender encounter on the Hiwassee several years back. He was fishing and felt something scratching around on his leg and thought he'd stepped down onto a submerged stick. Dad reached down to pull the protruding end of the "stick" out of his pants leg and ended up instead with the tail of what he later said was about a 16 inch helbender. The thing had been clawing its way up his pant leg, probably thinking it was a safe haven of some sort. I've never seen a 60 year old man move that fast across the water. I was rolling and gave him all kinds of grief over it until he later showed me what one looked like. (They have a mounted one at the Sugarlands visitor center). I immediately understood, and from that point forward I never cracked on him about it again.

05-17-2008, 12:06 PM

05-17-2008, 12:06 PM
here's one from deep creek. I would have guessed him around 3 ft.

05-22-2008, 04:24 PM
Most people will tell you that hey don't eat fish. I guess this settles that. That is awesome. I haven't seen one in a long time. The ones in the river here get really black. I have seen them be brown too. They say they are a good test of water purity. IF you see them, the creek is in good shape.


05-23-2008, 12:00 PM
I would love to see one of those critters. I just hope if I ever get the opportunity that i don't 'scream like a little girl' and scare it & everything else in the water away.

I loved the photos thanks for sharing,

06-24-2008, 08:57 AM
Once when fishing the Hiwassee I looked down and saw a large light brown mass on the bottom. My first thought was... didymo!!! Fortunately it was only a hellbender.


06-24-2008, 10:07 AM
That's the strangest looking brown I've ever seen. I need to work on my fish identification, I came in here and thought it was a rainbow because of how silver he was. Now that I paid attention I see his spots, but where are the orange spots and dark coloring? Humph, learn something new everyday.

But I would definitely scream like a little girl if I saw that. I've only had a handful of encounters with wildlife when I was fishing, all in West Virginia. I was fishing on some large rocks when a lizard jumped and I thought it was a snake, so I tripped and fell down a few rocks luckily unhurt. I've also tried to get off similar rocks going up the slope like I did coming down, except I hear rattling from an unknown direction. But the worst was I was fishing and I saw a beaver swimming downstream with a branch, thought it was cool, and continued fishing. About 5 minutes later I hear the water below the rock I was standing on (about 3 feet from the top of the water) explode and water sprays up. I fell backwards onto the rock spraining my wrist, I look up expecting to see a massive brown swimming in the river, but no, its that beaver glaring at me.

06-25-2008, 01:47 PM
You mentioned the color of the brown trout originally shown. This trout was right out of the hatchery truck, since I caught it in a delayed harvest stream. However, the varied colors of brown trout amaze me and is one of the great pleasures of catching them. The differences in color may lie in whether the trout came from the german strain or scottish strains that were originally brought to this country. Or it may have something to do with habitat and diet. I caught a brown on the NC side of the park two weeks ago that was almost pure silver, with a few vey faint spots. I did a double take on this fish because I first thought it was a rainbow.


Contrast that with the brown I was lucky enough to catch this weekend on the Nantahala.


Treasure every brown, because every one is unique.