Monday, July 1, 2013

Looking For Brookies

A few days ago, I decided to go fish a stream that I hadn't been to in a couple of years. This particular stream is managed under the NC Wildlife Resources Commission's Catch and Release Artificial Lures Only regulations, and as of the last time I fished it contained almost exclusively wild brook trout. Although it had been a while since I had fished this creek, I had fished the stream that this creek is a tributary of several times since I was last here. The main stream is mainly a wild rainbow trout fishery, with an occasional wild brown trout. This tributary had always been a brook trout stream, and I was in the mood to go try to find some of North Carolina's only native trout species.
NCWRC Regulations Sign

Brook Trout From the Last Trip Here
The last time I fished this stream, I didn't catch very many trout, but I did manage to catch my largest (and most colorful) wild brook trout to date. I had high hopes of trying to repeat that performance, but to be honest my biggest reason for fishing for brook trout is the sheer beauty of these fish and the places they live. I knew that this particular stream wouldn't disappoint in that regard, and fish or no fish, I was looking forward to exploring some pretty country.

The Start of the Journey
The journey began where the Forest Service road ended, and it was a short hike up the old roadbed to a little one lane bridge where I knew there was access down to the stream. The road up the mountain parallels the creek, although at times it is fairly high on the ridge above it. This road has been closed off for as long as I have been coming up here to fish, but the old roadbed serves as a handy trail to hike back to the truck after a day's fishing. I appreciated this open road hiking even more after a day spend climbing boulders and bushwhacking through rhododendron thickets in search of trout. I don't know if Forest Service personnel use the road, but it does seem fairly well maintained. I've never been all the way to the end or fished this stream up into the headwaters, but I would like to hike and fish my way further up the mountain one day just to see what's there.

First Trout of the Day
Once I reached the old bridge and entered the stream, it was like I was in an entirely different world. There was no cell phone signal, no noise from the highway, no TVs or radios. All I could hear was the sound of the stream and the noises of the mountains. I worked upstream, fishing a Thunderhead dry fly, and missed a few trout before I hooked up with the first one of the day. Imagine my surprise when a wild rainbow trout came to hand, instead of the brook trout I was expecting. This was a little bit of a shock, because there is a fish barrier well downstream from where I was fishing that was put in place to help preserve the brook trout population in this stream. I don't know if the rain and high water we have had this past winter and spring allowed the rainbows to migrate upstream, or if someone thought it would be a good idea to do some stocking of their own. This had me a little concerned, because I began to wonder if the rainbows had replaced the brook trout in the years since I had last visited this stream.

One of the many plunge pools on this creek
After catching that first rainbow, I decided to continue on upstream to see what other surprises this little creek might hold. It has some excellent looking trout habitat, with plunge pools that were surprising in their depth on a creek this size. It took some careful wading, and many times climbing out on the bank, to navigate my way upstream without getting in too deep. It was a little disappointing to fish so many good looking pools without seeing a fish, but I was fishing a dry fly the majority of the time. I wondered briefly if a dry and dropper or nymph pattern would have served me better in these deeper holes, but I decided to stick with the dry fly.

Wild Rainbow

After fishing several pools without a strike, and spooking one or two trout along the way, I hooked up with another wild rainbow trout in a large pool. This trout ate a Rio Grande Trude, another one of my favorite summer dry fly patterns for these small creeks. I had made the switch to this fly after donating the Thunderhead to the rhododendron. At this point, I was starting to wonder if my search for brook trout was becoming like looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I was having a great time, and enjoying the challenge of fishing this small stream, but in the back of my mind I kept wondering what had happened to the brook trout that I remembered catching here. Had the rainbows displaced or out competed them? Were there any left in the creek at all? I knew the only way to answer these questions was to keep fishing.

Wild Brook Trout
Finally, after donating the Rio Grande to the rhododendron and switching back to another Thunderhead, I hooked what I had been searching for in the last pool of the day. It was a young brook trout, but I took it as a good sign for the future of these fish in this particular stream. I figured that where there are small trout, there must be bigger ones somewhere. I do think that at least a couple of the trout I missed were brook trout, because I thought I caught a flash of orange belly when the trout took a swipe at my fly. I can't say for certain that's what they were, but I'd like to think that there is still a thriving population in this creek.

One of the many millipedes
The hike back out was a lot easier than the trip upstream had been, once I found a place to climb back up onto the old road. I did see signs of some insect life along the creek, with a few Yellow Sallies and small mayflies flying around. I didn't see any rising fish, so I'm thinking that these must have been the remnants of an earlier hatch or the hatch was very sparse. Another thing that surprised me was the number of millipedes that I saw hiking into and out of the creek. There seemed to be a thriving population of them in the area along the creek.

I do know that this little creek holds some bigger secrets than the ones I was lucky enough to discover on this trip, due to some hints that the creek gave up from missed strikes. Now whether these secrets are brooks, browns, or rainbows, I'm not going to try to guess. I do know that I will be back to do some more exploring on this creek, and to enjoy the solitude that comes with small streams and wild fish. This little creek is a challenge, but one that is a lot of fun to try to figure out.

Thanks for stopping by!

- Joseph


  1. What a great post. I don't get to do that much anymore due to some bad knees and I really appreciate the pics and great descriptions! There's nothing like wading a nice, cool mountain creek in early summer! :) Thanks man!

    1. Thanks Owl! It had been a while for me too, most of my fishing has been in places a little closer to the road and a little less rugged. Hopefully you'll be able to get out there some this summer!

  2. My kind of stream, Joseph, way to go. Keep an eye on the brookie numbers there. Seems odd that a little rainbow found a place in the stream.

    1. Thanks Walt! I'm going to try to fish this stream a little more often, both for the scenery and also to try to get an idea of how the brook trout are doing. I was surprised to catch those two rainbows, I had caught a brown trout up there several years ago but until the other day that was the only trout I had ever caught there that wasn't a brook. Hopefully the rainbows won't impact the brookie population, but I guess time will tell.


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