The Appalachian chain is blessed with beauty. The Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) or brookies
and the environment where they live must surely be the Appalachian's crowning jewel. This fish
is not really a trout at all by rather a char and the only "trout" which is native to the Eastern US.
In my home state of West Virginia they're termed-natives. The famous quote "Trout don't live in
ugly places" holds true to the rugged mountains of the east. After a long winter, it's always
refreshing to wander these mountains in search of native brook trout.
Searching for natives is always an adventure. It means up at daylight and returning after
dark. You see, natives aren't found near the road. Many years of exploring and studying
topographic maps pays dividends of success. Word in these mountains spreads like wildfire, but
not a word is spoken as to locations of mushroom patches, ginseng slopes or brook trout
waters. These special places are passed from generation to generation or by accompaning a
very close friend who has discovered nature's secrets. Most of the cold water streams at the
turn of the century once held natives in huge numbers. Today only the most remote and
rugged locations hide the most beautiful fish on earth.
The highest mountain in West Virginia is Spruce Knob - elevation 4,860 feet. From its summit
flows small streams in every direction. Its snowy slopes provide ample cold water for brook
trout. Spruce Knob and all the mountains in the region are some of West Virginia's most
rugged and beautiful. These mountains are covered with American Beech, Hemlock, Black and
Yellow Birch, Sugar Maple, Cherry, Poplar, and many species of Oak. Red Spruce crowns the
higher elevations above 3,500 feet. To the untrained eye, this expansive forest may look as if it
had never been touched, but it is almost all second growth. This entire area was completely
harvested between 1890 and 1920. As you walk the mountain streams there is evidence of the
past logging boom. There was no machinery used to cut and remove the logs from the
mountains. The sweat of rugged people and
hand crosscut saws brought the timber down.
As shown in the picture to the left, the stumps
of those huge American Chestnut still stand
today. Many of these areas still bear the names
of those logging camps. This is Horse Camp
Run. Logging trails were cleared and large
rocks moved by hand in order to facilitate the
skidding of logs down the steep mountain
slopes.These trails are still evident today.
Horses were the power to move the logs to a
staging area then most often logs were loaded
onto a small train that was pulled by a narrow
gauge Shay engine. The Shay then transported
the logs down narrow valleys to the sawmills.
Many of the broad valleys had sawmills and
the remnants are still there today. They can
be found miles from any road and hidden by
the forest growing up around them. This old
wooden wheel which ran the mill was powered
by steam. As I search for natives, my eyes
see and my mind dreams of what those days
must have been like.
There are also many interesting plants
"where natives live". One of the most
interesting and part of mountain culture is
the ramp. Now this plant gets plenty of
attention during early spring.
Mountain people visit their favorite ramp patch during the months of March and April. The prize
of the day may be a bushel of ramps. Ramps are a member of the leek family. They grow on the
most fertile soils of the North and East facing slopes. They have a reputation of leaving their
garlic like smell to ooze from the body of those that partake. Years ago school kids would be sent
home form school due to their rampy odor; however, if cooked the effect is diminished.
Once located, ramps are dug and kept cool with ice
found around huge rock ledges. These deep woods
haunts keep their ice until mid April. Many people eat
only the onion like bulb of the ramp, but most eat the
entire plant. Ramps are very tasty and some people,
including myself, feel that they keep you healthy. All
the mountain communities have ramp festivals.
Served mixed with potatoes, eggs, in salads, pickled
and plain raw; ramps are truly a mountain tradition.
Digging ramps is always part of the day while fishing
Of course native brook trout are the common
thread that leads one to the mountains and all their hidden secrets. Outsmarting the beautiful
natives only adds to the mountains visit. Stalking natives is what the journey is all about. I mean
stalking! Many times on hands and knees. Fully dressed in camoflauge for those that take native
fishing seriously. If mountain brookies sense the heavy footsteps or shadows of an approaching
angler-they're gone. Light rods and 6x tippet are a must. Early season (February-March) requires
nymphs. Some of the best are Gold Bead Hares Ear, Pheasant Tail Nymph, Soft Hackles and the
Little Black Stonefly. After the hatch begins ( April- Late Summer) dry flies are the preferred fly.
Humpies, Stimulators, CDC/ Elk Hair Caddis, Royal Wulff, The Usual and Blue Winged Olives are
some of the favorites. Natives should be fished from a downstrean location and with a soft touch.
One needs time on the water and
some practice making a cast in tight
quarters to truly be consistently
successful. Perfecting the roll cast
really helps. Getting to the natives is
perhaps the biggest challenge. The
trip I took to get these pictures
found me in great pain and
somewhat foolish. I had bone spurs
on both heels of my feet and after
four miles of hiking, I was in bad
shape. Being physically fit really
does add to the enjoyment of fully
soaking in the territory "where
natives live". The reward for your
effort is truly breath taking These
wild native brook trout can get in your blood. I don't know if it's the fish or where they live that
excites me most, but I surely do look forward to spring and venturing after these little critters.
They range in size from three inches and up. The average size is about eight inches, but I have
caught a few that would measure
twelve to thirteen inches.
The largest that I recall being
caught was by Roy Rexrode of
Franklin. The person responsible
for my love of the fly rod. He
caught a brookie that measured
eighteen inches. They don't get
much larger than that.
I invite you to become familiar with
fishing for natives. I know that the
rewards will be tremendous and will
become a part of your life. It's not
only the fish that you will come to
appreciate, but also the adventure
of discovering the beauty in which they live. And when you go on your native stalk, don't
forget to take your camera, because you will never visit more beautiful and inspiring country
than "Where Natives Live" !
|Photographs By: Carl D. DeFazio