We are always on the lookout for talented folks that can bring a different voice and perspective to Southern Culture On The Fly. When I found Owl Jones blog a while ago I was thoroughly convinced that he had a voice and perspective that defines the word different…and a few others depending on who you talk to…the phrase bat shit crazy comes to mind. We are honored that he has decided to harness his powers of hilarity for the benefit of all of SCOF’s readers. Here’s a little preview of what to expect. Welcome Owl, feel free to take your pants off at the door.
I’m sure you think we’re crazy. Sure of it. Absolutely sure. After all, what kind of half-baked nuts would actually spend time and money to go after a little six-inch fish? They can’t possibly be fun to catch and you’d need about six hundred of them to have a fish fry, right? There has to be something to it, because so many people choose to spend their weekends and vacations up in the mountains doing it – but what could it possibly be? The obvious (yet dead wrong) solution is that those folks are, without a doubt, totally insane.
If you fish saltwater (or even for bass and catfish) you’ve probably run into someone, somewhere who tells you that they’re all pumped up about their upcoming fly fishing trip to the mountains. “Whatdaya catch up there!?” you might have asked them. And their answer? BROOK TROUT! You scratch your head and wonder how anyone could get that excited about a 6-inch fish. Also at this time, the excited guy probably has a huge smile on his face, his chin tilted upward slightly and a long, soft, shallow sigh slipping out of his mouth. You think, “This guy is NUTS for sure.” But not so fast….let’s talk about this insanity – this stalking and capture (and usually release) of a 6 inch fish that will take just about anything you’d like to throw at it. And, since that sounds as good a place as any – let’s start there…
The brook trout. Salvelinus fontinalis. He’s actually a char and is a very small fish, especially where I fish for them in the Southern Appalachians. Although usually small in size, the “Brookie” is a glutton. Well, maybe not a “glutton” as much as an indiscriminate muncher. Like a fat kid without a date on a Friday night, he sits in one spot and shovels down just about anything he can get his lips around. He’s not picky and is usually willing to munch down on anything from crickets to worms to that fly you tied that most fish laugh at…that’s reason #1 to love this little guy.
Reason #2 is because although he’s a bit of a push-over as far as technique and offerings go, he’s just about the prettiest little fish on this planet. That’s right, I said it…. on the planet. An emerald green back with “wormy” markings, red spots with little blue halos around them. And in the fall his already orange fins turn an almost “day-glo orange” and the black and white on the fins get more pronounced. The fish is almost impossible to see in the water unless he’s moving sufficiently in a still pool (which they love, btw), but when you bring one to hand and get to see him up close….well, they’ll nearly take your breath away if you love pretty fish. Have you seen one up close? What say you then? …The Smallmouth bass? Merely adequately adorned! The Walleye? A travesty! The Rainbow Trout? A gaudy tramp! The Common Carp? Don’t get me started! The brook trout tops them all! All right, hey now… who said snakeheads? Get outta here! The beauty of the brook trout alone is reason enough to make a long hike.
The third reason people fish for them is because they’re not easy to reach. “What? Now that’s nuts! Who wants fishing to be hard?” I hear you, I hear you! But the thing is…if it were easy to get to these fish, we probably wouldn’t even have them around anymore. The brook trout’s range was reduced greatly in the Smokies and other places by (what else?) the introduction of non-native species. In the Brookie’s case it was the rainbow and brown trout, which thrived in our freestone streams and have now taken over much of the water that was the brook trout’s native range. That said, I’m not so sure that the unfortunate pushing of the brook trout up into the headwaters of our creeks and streams isn’t something that worked in their favor in the long run. They’re so pretty and they bite so readily that I believe had they continued to be “roadside” well into modern times, they might very well have been a much-too-easy target and might have ended up as another poster-fish for over fishing.
Sorry about that – we kind of jumped tracks a bit. Anyway, as I was saying, the third reason people love chasing these little guys is because of the places they live. Someone once said they loved trout because they didn’t live in “ugly places.” How much more that idea applies to the tiny brook trout! There’s no better way to see the really pristine creeks and forests we have left in America than to hike high up into the hills to a secluded Brookie stream. There you may find old growth trees larger than any you’ve ever seen. You could run into wildlife seldom seen around our roads like bobcats and bears. You might even be lucky enough to find a creek where the brook trout are twice the size of that six-inch average…. but that will take some luck and a lot of hiking. But the reward for that kind of dedication to a 6 inch fish…immeasurable. You see, for those of us who spend our weekends catching 6-inch brookies, a 12 or 14-inch fish would be the equivalent of a 25-pound largemouth! While the “state records” for brook trout in the south are set higher than any wild brookie can ever match (due to the stocking and feeding of fish), trout bums that chase these little fish know that a 14 incher in the Southern Highlands would be the fish of a lifetime! And as far as the “experience” and adventure of it all goes, what better experience or more exciting adventure than catching the (nearly) impossible and elusive 12 + inch trophy brook trout!
Sure, they’re no salt-water Striper or Tarpon. They’re not as powerful as a largemouth bass or as picky as a brown trout…but they’re worth the effort if you value the total experience of pristine wilderness and the idea that a fish that’s as pretty as a picture always makes up its short-comings. And besides, isn’t the adventure of fishing a big part of why everyone fishes? I think so, and for me if that adventure involves God’s little masterpiece the brook trout…I’m always ready to head for the hills.
– Owl Jones