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An Angler's Journal: Mind Trout

By King Montgomery

To those who care about them, trout are a state of mind as much as anything else. And, since none of our minds are quite the same, trout mean different things to different people.

To some, trout are noble quarry to be pursued with fly or lure and gently released after capture; to others they are targets for the frying pan, to be caught on cheese balls, night crawlers, or whatever else; and still to others, trout transcend the world of fishing to represent the wild, the beautiful, and the fragile, almost an allegory for life itself.

Trout need cool, clear, well-oxygenated water, relatively free from pollutants. If these conditions are not present, the trout will disappear. This risk is real, since there are many who do not care about clean, clear water, about the fish or about anything else but themselves and their own narrow world. I would feel sorry for them if I didn't feel so threatened by them. Human influence can be catastrophic and the shortsightedness of the few can cost the many.

Nature as well as people affect trout. In the recent past, many of our streams have changed with several severe storms. This is not a serious problem; changes caused by natural forces, unlike the ravages of human influence, are usually not bad in the long term. Nature will heal itself to a point where the landscape, though never quite the same, is just as good or better than it was before.

Christopher Camuto, a respected writer and teacher, tells of his return to a river in our region after severe floods a few years ago. He reports in an issue of Trout Unlimited's Trout magazine that after the landslides, scouring and channelization caused by the inundation, the river held trout and other fish where the forest closed around it. And signs of caddis, mayflies, and stoneflies were everywhere.

Camuto wrote, "Despite the natural disaster. . .the watershed was intact, the landscape whole." He added, "If the same grove of hemlock that shades a pool for trout also harbors Blackburnian warblers, that's a correspondence worth noting, enjoying, and perhaps thinking about."

Our region of the country has many thousands of miles of trout streams. Although affected by nature and threatened by mankind, the streams are fairly healthy, have some fish and are ready to provide quality outdoor experiences to those who feel they need moving water to stir the soul.

In my mind, trout angling is not just about fish, though trout certainly are an integral part of the outdoors experience, and each of the big three trout species in our region have personalities all their own.

Brook trout are our only native species. They comprise the majority of our wild trout populations, many of which are found in Shenandoah National Park, in national forests and in state forests and parks. Brookies prefer cool, shaded mountain streams; fortunately they have a fine selection in our mountains. These beautiful animals are truly jewels of the stream.

Rainbow trout are transplants from Western watersheds and, in addition to being heavily stocked throughout this area, have established some wild presence where conditions are favorable for spawning. They come readily to lure or fly, grow large in fertile streams and do indeed reflect the colors of the rainbow from their silvery skins.

Brown trout, hearty creatures native to Europe and Great Britain, were introduced to our streams around the turn of the century. They continue to form a significant leg of the trout triad. They are both stocked and wild and are known as the wildest of the three species.

The trout are there. The birds and insects are there. The trees will shade you and the flowers and shrubs will delight you. It all waits. Tread softly, look around often and enjoy the beautiful places where trout live. Do everyone a favor and carry a plastic trash bag in your pocket or vest and clean up after some of those who preceded you. Leave nothing but respect and maybe a few footprints.

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Trout Unlimited is a grassroots conservation organization whose mission is to conserve, protect and restore North America's trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds. There are local chapters throughout the country and in some other countries. Contact them at 1-800-834-2419, www.tu.org.

Issue 1.13: July 20, 2006