Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Brookies Where They Belong

I remember my first real brook trout–the first one I caught in the Hughes River after a long downhill hike off the spine of the Appalachians into the innards of Shenandoah National Park. To be clear, I'd hooked hundreds, maybe thousands, of diminutive brookies in the streams and beaver ponds all over the Rockies. But catching a brookie where it actually belonged ... where it was native ... that was new to me.

That first brookie, pulled from the river within sight of Corbin Cabin, an old homestead that was eventually absorbed by the national park, was pure September gold. I remember snapping the photo shown with this post and then sitting by the stream staring into the display screen of what now would be considered a dinosaur of a digital camera. The fish was tiny, as expected. But it was full of life, and having plucked it from behind a rock in a little slick draped by dogwoods, oaks and mountain laurel, it quickly became my favorite brookie of all.

And that's why I was so excited to read this story in Garden and Gun (link provided by my good buddy Tom Sadler at Middle River Dispatch, via his Facebook Page) about President Hoover and his own passion for brook trout in what would eventually become Shenandoah National Park.

Years ago, as a student, I learned quite a bit about Herbert Hoover's presidency, and how it was marred by the Great Depression. He took a lot of heat for the events of the day, and he was vilified greatly for the economic times that saw things like food lines, villages of homeless squatters and the general depression that was ... the Depression. One of my favorite anecdotes from the textbooks was the assignation of Hoover's name to a host of items. For instance, newspapers quickly became Hoover Blankets; Hoovervilles were the tent cities that sprung up in urban centers, particularly on the East Coast. With inflation, the dollar became the Hoover penny.

So you can imagine my surprise at how seemingly progressive Hoover was, at least when it came to brook trout in the nearby Appalachians. Read the article, if you get a minute–you'll learn something new, and gain an appreciation for the lofty status the brookie held when Hoover graced the White House (and the Brown House–his Shenandoah retreat that is now part of the national park, not unlike Corbin Cabin near that little river where I was lucky enough to catch my first native brookie).

The story proves a couple of theories that I've always held to be true. First, national parks were perhaps the greatest idea we, as a nation, have collectively conceived. And, second, anyone, even downtrodden presidents who would kill for a little good news, can appreciate native fish for what they are–indicators of purity and resilience, should we be smart enough to leave their habitat alone. Happy reading...


  1. A beautiful experience, with a beautiful fish.

    The brookie is what many believe, the canary in the coal mine. He is the one thing that tells us of a healthy stream, and the habitat that surrounds it.

    Worth protecting, you betcha.


  2. Chris, Thanks for the hat tip, bro. We will make a pilgrimage to Hoovers Camp, tenkara the Rapidan and drink a little bourbon from a tin cup to homage to Traver.

  3. Great post. I grew up in the Adirondacks in upstate NY chasing brookies. In their native environment, they are absolutely stunning fish and a blast to fish for. Thanks for sharing.


  4. Great post. I know what you mean by natural. I never caught brook trout but have caught a close cousin, the arctic char. It was so much more exciting catching one from their natural environment than from a stocked lake. It gave me a higher sense of achievement.

  5. Very nice. I love the Shenandoah, only though I get to fish it just a few days a year.

    Nice article in Garden & Gun too. It's an outstanding magazine.