|A brook trout from a tiny creek in Colorado. Chris Hunt photo|
God surely smiled when He put the finishing touches on the brook trout, for the brook trout is clearly His piscine masterpiece.
In it, He created not only the gorgeous shell of a char that can swim lean and shimmering in cold, clear water in May, and by September be bold and rich and brilliant as it prepares to do a little creating of its own. He also created a life force so strong, so resilient that, even after centuries of effort, man has yet to fully figure out a way to wipe brookies off the face of the earth.
In their native range, we’ve trashed their coldwater streams and introduced “bigger and better” fish on top of them—interlopers from abroad and from the other side of the country that, for some unknown reason, were deemed more desirable. We’ve logged the mountainsides—in some cases, we’ve simply removed the mountains—where brookies used to swim. We’ve altered water chemistry so the rains that fall atop their ancestral waters work against them. We’ve dammed their migration to the sea and back. We’ve trashed their home waters.
But they persist in isolated little pockets, where our equipment can’t reach—or our conscience won’t let it go. These diminutive fish hang on, perhaps just long enough for us to come the collective realization that losing them altogether is simply not an option.
Over the decades, while brookies were apparently reviled in their native waters, we shipped thousands out west, where they took hold and now threaten the native fish of the Rockies. In truth, they’re a pestulance in their own right—a scourge. But having them here means, worst-case scenario, we have them. I suppose that’s not much solace to the die-hard creek angler in Appalachia who’d rather catch a “speck” than a burly smallmouth, but it’s something. It’s hope.
Perhaps, if you’re a religious angler, you can see divine intervention in the life history of the brook trout. You can see divine inspiration in the lives of the men who stocked rail cars full of fertilized eggs and shipped them west where they hatched in cold, clear waters not unlike those in which their parents matured.
But the brook trout’s future lies in the effort to save it where it belongs. A truly religious experience for a Western angler who cut his fly fishing teeth on brook trout in black-bottomed beaver ponds at 8,000 feet is catching brookies where brookies belong on the slopes of the Appalachians or the Adirondacks. Coaxing a 10-inch char to a size 12 Royal Coachman in a tiny Shenandoah stream is a church-like experience that will, whether you recognize it or not, reawaken a part of your angling soul.
And that’s where we need the most help—with our angling souls. You may not be religious, but if you fly fish for brookies, you believe in God, and you can find power and grace in a very small package.
The next time you catch a brookie, admire the life resting in your hands. Then look to the heavens and offer a little thanks. I think He’d appreciate it.