View Full Version : Hundreds of Years Ago

03-24-2010, 07:02 PM
Before our streams were stocked with browns and rainbows, what kind of fish were in the middle elevation streams? Would it have just been chubs, dace, etc?

Was it just brook trout up high, and small mouth and sunfish lower, and not much in between? Were brook trout living much lower then since there were no trout species to compete with?

Just curious, I wonder about these kinds of things.

03-24-2010, 07:23 PM
I have also wondered just how far down river specs came "back in the day" before even white man. I would guess going back that far that the water was probably favorable (temp wise) to sustain specs much farther down stream. There was most likely lots more tree cover creating more shade on the river and the earth temp was probably cooler as well. Heck I don't know but, I've often thought the same things and that's my personal conclusion. I have also wondered just exactly how did fish get above these natural fish barriers? In some cases they would have had to have been there before the water falls were created.

Jim Casada
03-25-2010, 09:32 AM
FishNHunt--Obviously there are no provable answers to your questions, but I will venture forth with some theories.
First of all, there's no doubt specks were once found in the Smokies at much lower elevations than is the case today. There are plenty of examples of that fact in print. In the pre-logging years (most logging took place in the period 1900-1930) they were plentiful far downstream from where found today.
As for getting above falls, natural transplantation could come in forms such as a kingfisher or hero dropping a live fish above a natural barrier, eggs getting moved by birds, or in some cases, bad flooding offering a way to get above a waterfall. Of course, if you go back to the period when all the glacial activity connected with the Laurentian Shield reached far to the south, you have lots of other forces in action.
Jim Casada
www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com (http://www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com)

03-25-2010, 05:13 PM
For some reason Jim I thought I remember learning that the glaciers did not travel much below central Pa.

Jim Casada
03-25-2010, 06:37 PM
Canerod--You may well be right, but even if that was the case the changes they would have wrought to areas a few hundred miles south would have been immense. I'm sure there's detailed information on how far they went somewhere (perhaps even in a book entitle The Geology of I-40 in a series I edited) but I'm not sure beyond that.
Just checked and the Park Service's website says the glaciers affected the Park without reaching it.
Jim Casada

03-26-2010, 11:45 AM
If I remember my geology from my days at UT correctly, the most recent glaciation terminated right around what is now Cincinnati, Ohio around 20,000 years ago. That puts it 300+ miles north of the Smokies. However, as Jim noted, the position of that thousand ft thick ice sheet "just" to the north and the generally cooler global climate that caused the ice sheets to spread south would have had a dramatic effect on the biology and geomorphology in the smokies. For example, the "boulder fields" that you see in high elevation areas in the smokies are thought to be the result of frost heaving of the rocks during a period of time when the Smokies had a high elevation "tree line". The image I think of is the New Hampshire mountains today that are "bald" at high elevations. The vegetation beneath the tree line would have been boreal (think Canadian shield).

03-26-2010, 03:51 PM
I agree with Jim. I would venture to say that brookies or specs were found at lower elevations due to the heavy forestation keeping the water temearatures down and influence of the glaciers. I get sick when I read about the destruction of the area that is now the park. In some ways, "Oh, for the good ol' days" like about 300 years ago.

03-30-2010, 08:33 PM
It's all about the timeline.

10,000 to 20,000 years ago North America would have been closer in climate and general flora/fauna to northern Europe (Scandinavia) or Siberia. In the modern era, say since 6,000 years ago or so, there's been slow long-term warming that has slowly been pushing arctic species further north.

Then the white man came. :) Indians weren't the forest stewards they are often depicted as, since they primarily managed by fire. There are accounts from early in the colonization of New England of forests with enough space to "drive a coach between tree trunks." What forest do you know of that has that kind of absence of undergrowth?

Before logging, though, there's no question the Smokies would have had cooler stream temperatures much lower down, even without factoring in longterm warming. I would estimate that brook trout probably reached the Townsend area even as late as the 1850s, especially in winter. With logging came siltation (a big deal) and exposure to more sunlight (also a big deal), and thus warming. Roads along the streams even today, in a period of reforestation, prevent the canopy from cooling the water as much as it might (but we have it much better than they did 75 years ago, thus the reintroduction success of brookies in lower elevations like Lynn Camp Prong. That would not have been possible without a mature tree canopy.

So to answer your question, I suspect brook trout would have terminated in the flat bottoms around Townsend and given way first to species like horny headed creek chub and then further down to redhorse sucker, smallmouth bass, and eventually longnose gar. I'm not sure if largemouth bass would have been native to that water or not (though Indians certainly might have done some stocking).

Just an interesting historical note: in the Toccoa River in North Georgia, the Catoosa Indians built large fish weirs, big V-shaped things that were then maintained by the Cherokee. Today you can still see the foundations, and driftboat guides have cut holes in them to get through at low water. Those Indians were fishing primarily for redhorse suckers, I'm told. If you've never had redhorse, you're missing out; they are actually delicious (but they have a lot of weird floating bones).


03-31-2010, 06:03 AM
As far as glaciation; I thought it was glacial movement along what is now the New river, in Va. blocking the river up causing spill over that moved the brookies to the southern part of their range. Hence the differnce in Southern Strain versus Northern Strain.

Now as to elevation not sure of the Smokies, but do know in my little areas of Va. that the were the primary "game" fish in the Shenandoah during the colonial period and up till the Shenandoah Valley became the Bread Basket of the nation in the late 1820ies-the Civil War when the yankees destroyed the area to starve out the southern states. On the east slope (in the little area I used to familiar with) they made it down to the Junction of the Rappahannock and Rapidan Rivers.

Natural barriers are mainly circumvented during high water events. This is one of the biggest threats to brookies now in the SNP. Changing the course of the streams to prevent flooding, deforestation at low elevation, and huge silt loads at low to mid elevation from logging, and devlopement cut the brookies off from migrating into new or previously inhabited streams. It also seals off populations and causes bottlenecking of the gene pool.

There was a huge article on this subject in a rescent fly fishing mag. Glad to see someone interested in this subject. Out west where the Army has moved me they are refered to as Colorado bluegill. I guess the name is justified though, their population here is astranomical and they are an invasive speacies that out competes the native cutties.

Have a Good 'Urn,