Georgia Brook Trout Management is a Dirty Shame

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Southern Appalachian Brook Trout Photo by Louis Cahill

Southern Appalachian Brook Trout Photo by Louis Cahill

It’s a southern thing and you got to understand.

They are maligned and loathed, as an invasive species, in many of my friends’ home waters but here in Georgia, the brook trout is our only native trout. They once held dominion over the roughly four thousand miles of North Georgia trout water. That was a long time ago. Before rainbow and brown trout were stocked. Before dams were built and forests cut and endless miles of stream developed. Before acid rain, there were brook trout. Anglers just a generation older than me tell stories of plentiful brookies up to sixteen inches in mountain streams. Today, an eight inch fish is something to brag about and the anglers who love them will hike miles through mountain laurel thickets to catch fish half that size.

Native brook trout here in the southeast, what the old timers call “specks”, are a very special fish. Driven south by glaciers during the ice age, these fish were stranded when the world thawed and took their own evolutionary course, adapting to the southern environment and establishing a unique genetic strain, much like the subspecies of cutthroat trout in the west. Think of them as our Yellowstone Cutthroat.

A beautiful southern strain fish.

A beautiful southern strain fish.

Although their genetic distinction has been verified, visually identifying the subspecies can be tricky, even for a trained biologist. In my experience the southern fish generally have a lighter, sometimes almost white, background color on their flanks than northern fish. Their green backs are warmer, more olive, in color and they are overall more colorful. These indicators however do not hold true for every individual. Northern strain fish are present here, due to stocking, and are often misidentified. The boundaries of each fish’s habitat are well known and understanding the habitat is the best way to be sure.

Holding on to existence only in the tiny mountain headwaters, its numbers in dramatic decline, the Spec is in trouble. There is no doubt that the Southern Appalachian Brook Trout is a unique treasure. A legacy here in the south. A special fish, deserving of special consideration. Unfortunately, conservation is not one of the legacies of the south.

Dan Flynn lands a brookie.

Dan Flynn lands a brookie.

Here in Georgia there are currently no special regulations protecting Southern Appalachian Brook Trout. No catch and release water, no slot limit, no bait or hook restrictions. Brook trout are covered under general trout regulations. Creel limit of seven. And believe it or not, there are plenty of fishermen who peruse these tiny fish for food, and seven is not much of a meal. I have seen bait fisherman competing out of tiny mountain streams with bread bags full of tiny native fish. It takes these streams years to rebound from a single day of this kind of attention. I have seen it.

Take, as an example of the kind of abuse these fish endure, this report from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

On May 26th, Corporal Derek Dillard and USFS Officers Derrick Breedlove and Jeff Angel conducted a road check in the area of Wildcat Creek Road. Three male subjects passed thru the check in a passenger car and they were not wearing their seat belts and they had also been trout fishing on one of the native trout streams in the area. Corporal Dillard asked the subjects to show him their fishing license and creels and all three of them were over the limit. One subject had 10 native brook trout, another had 17 native brook trout, and the other subject had 18 native brook trout. All 45 trout were confiscated and the subjects were cited for possession of over the limit of trout and failing to wear their seatbelts.”

From the GA DNR

From the GA DNR

While I’m happy that these guys were busted, I know all too well how this came about and that does not please me at all. These roadblocks are set up for DUI intervention, not fisheries protection. The last time I spoke to a representative of the GA DNR, the allocation of manpower was this: one agent for every two counties. Do you think these officers are out policing trout streams? I have not had my license checked in GA in almost ten years.

In recent years, millions of dollars have been spent on boat ramps for bass fishing, while trout hatcheries live under constant threat of closure, without the funding for petty projects like shade roofs over hatchery runs to prevent summer fish mortality. Environmental regulation is ignored. Fishing regulation is short sighted and archaic and enforcement is nonexistent. When questioned about possible special regulation for native brook trout streams a Georgia DNR biologist replied, “Those fish only live four or five years anyway.”

When a DNR fisheries biologist doesn’t understand the difference between the lifespan of an individual and the perpetuation of a species, what chance does a fragile species like the Southern Appalachian Brook Trout have?

The state of Georgia should be ashamed. We are woefully behind the times when it comes to protecting the beautiful and delicate environment which has been trusted to us. It is time to put our red neck past behind us and take responsibility for our actions. Our native fish can not wait.

If you would like to help support the Southern Appalachian Brook Trout, here are some places to start.

The Georgia Council of Trout Unlimited- Back the Brookie

The Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture

Brook Trout Happenings
from the Southern Appalachian Brook Trout Foundation

Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project


Come fish with us in the Bahamas!

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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24 thoughts on “Georgia Brook Trout Management is a Dirty Shame

  1. Being from New England I have a close personal fondness of the Brookie. I love that fish. No matter the size. It is hands down my favorite trout. Be it there most amazing coloration, or there eagerness to eat almost anything in unpressured waters, they are pure magic. I live in Texas now which makes fishing for brookies now one of those planned trips of a lifetime sort of things into the North woods of Maine. I hope you can get your people on track and get the support you need. Its a most worthwhile cause. I will visit your top link and add my support for this special fish.

  2. Glad you brought this topic up Louis! Regulation is worthless without enforcement! Read that again! Unfortunetly we live in a world that thinks mostly of itself instead of having the mind set of, what can I give back or what can I do for others. The guys who got busted are an example of this. They have what I call a “buffalo mentality”. People once thought that the Buffalo was an endless resource out ignorance which just about wiped them out. On a state level, having worked for other state wildlife and fisheries in the past, the bottom line is it all comes down to money. You having heard that from a biologist tells me that Brook Trout fishing in GA don’t bring in enough cash for the state to consider going through the legislative processes to help fund projects and more enforcement for that resource. And that is sad brother! All things on earth are temporary. Even a mountain becomes flat ground eventually. But, It is our job given by God to be good stewards of our earth and every resource in it! Enjoy and protect it while you have the opportunity because we don’t own this land, we just barrow it from our children. God bless

    • You use the example of the ‘buffalo mentality’ and state that there view is that this is and endless resource. I would argue its even more nefarious than that. They don’t care if it’s a finite or infinite resource. They want what they want now and damn any consequence with a complete heir of indifference.

  3. Thanks for bringing up this topic Louis. And by “this topic” I mean Ga DNR. The people I have dealt with at the Department are dedicated to their jobs and try to make a difference for conservation. Until recently they were not able to make changes in game and fish regulations, that was left to state legislature. The DNR is now able to make changes in regulations on their own, but, and this is a big but, they must be able to prove their changes with science. The state requires them to do Science, but does not fund science. I think we can call that a “catch 22”.
    My experience with the DNR is centered around Redfish, our state saltwater fish, and now an official gamefish. The limits are too generous and enforcement is nearly nonexistent. I do not think this is the fault of the DNR but rather the State Legislature. You can not do your job with insufficient resources. I give credit to the GA DNR for trying to manage our natural resources with little help from the State.

    • That’s awesome that they make their decisions based on science. A lot of people don’t see the importance of that. One example might be the elk being hunted out west: Hunters don’t realize that the reintroduction of wolves are bringing elk down to healthy levels, they just want to shoot more elk.

      Also, side story on poachers: I worked with a saltwater captain once who thought “bag limit” meant per trip. He tried to convince me that keeping multiple limits was 100% legal, as long as you ran back to shore and left the last limit in the truck. He really believed it, too.

      • I will tie that back into fishing. I saw research that shows Elk eat significant amounts of vegetation along the riparian corridor of streams and rivers. This consumption has negative impacts to the stream and the fish that reside there. The reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone helped control Elk populations and subsequently recover riparian corridors along these streams creating a healthier habitat for the fish. Booya!

    • Thanks for the comment Cap! Always great to see you on here.

      The DNR is like any organization, full of good people and bad. I’m glad you have good folks at work down there. We have some too but we have some bad eggs as well. The DNR can not be let off the hook completely.

      Some folks at the higher levels of the DNR see GA trout fishing as purely a put-and-take affair. No vision of the big picture. No concern for the environment. That was made very clear in the battle over the Toccoa. The DNR’s mindset is just off base on this one.

      That leads me to the issue of “science.” Our culture has fetishizes science of late. Science is a toll. Like a hammer, it can be used to build a house or to kill a coed. The “science” I hear about from the GA DNR is obviously cherry picked to support their narrative. Anyone who fishes the streams where this “data” has been collected can tell you it’s dead wrong. Here in north GA the DNR is in the stocking business and has a stocking agenda.

      This all brings up a sticky question. Unfortunately what we are seeing in GA is democracy killing fish. The majority of people here simple don’t understand the issue and don’t care. Neither does their representative government. By the time they come around the brook trout will be gone.

      At what point do we protect the people from themselves? Or at least the land from the people?

  4. Great post and important topic. Unfortunately the story is the same in other states too. I was shocked to learn that Seneca Creek in West Virgina which is also a good brookie stream is in no way protected.

  5. It is a low down dirty shame. I love my Ga Brookies. I love hiking forever to then climb up waterfalls and hack my way through mtn laurels just to make a bunch of bow and arrow casts. These guys are straight ferocious when presented a fly. Smack a size 10 stimi in front of a brookie and he’ll eat like its his last meal. It’s just plain awesome, and these little guys are some of the most beautiful fish on the planet. Period. Makes me wish I were on my favorite brook trout stream right now!

  6. Louis,

    Good read. Up here in Maine we are fortunate to have 90% of the wild eastern brook trout (in the USA) within our borders. Unfortunately we face many of the same problems on the poaching/enforcement end. Wardens are spread super thin, and though we do have a good share of C&R, FFO, and other protective regulations in prime Brookie waters, regulations are only as good as the “sportsman” that abide by them, and wardens are spread way too thin…

    Add illegal introductions to the mix and we are loosing more and more native trout waters every year.

  7. Thank you Louis for unintentionally putting “Jelly, jelly” in my head the rest of the day. I’ll be singing those brook trout blues – it’s a down right rotten, low down dirty shame…..

  8. Louis,
    This fish is a treasure. We have USFS folks and volunteers from TU and NGTO who spend tremendous effort and time to create and restore brookie habitat. Despite the well-meaning effort, it seems like we are spitting in the wind when protection is not provided on the enforcement end. But this is not just true of brookies. Poaching is rampant on our North Georgia tailwaters, special regulation streams, and put and take fisheries.

    As a former judge from another state, I know that poaching is not a victimless crime. Just ask the landowners and the citizens who depend on enforcement of game and fish laws for healthy eco-tourism. I live in a county with no manufacturing and no business engine: just eco-tourism as a driver of the economy. Over-development would ruin the place even if they could make it happen. We need full-time enforcement of game laws for a thriving fishery, especially with spending cuts in fisheries management and stocking. What we get is an enforcement officer shared with numerous other counties, and when he is here, it is mostly to enforce BWI cases on the lake.

    • I agree. Lack of enforcement efforts due to the lack of officers is a problem. Don’t get me wrong, the officers do a great job but are stretch thin in there efforts. When you got one officer covering one, two maybe three counties its tough to see and catch all. The money making resources are the ones protected first in my opinion. Most of that reflects back to funding or lack of.

    • Ralph, I really appreciate your voice and experience here. Thank you for your thoughtful words. You are spot on and I would like to add one thought here.

      I am sick of hearing that we do not have the money to do the things that need to be done. We are the wealthiest country in the world. We have the money, we choose to spend it elsewhere.

  9. Here in Ontario,Canada we seem to be having the same problem. Any brook trout stream within 100 miles of anywhere has been cleaned out, Except the provincial parks – however you’ll need to portage to get them. Most of the places I fish are in a decline, and enforcement is scarce. Sign of the times, i’m afraid.

  10. It is a shame. My favorite brookie stream gets hiked over everyday and when I fish it I hide my rod until I am way off the trail. Went in there one day to find blue worm cans everywhere and all of my precious 10″ Brooke’s gone. I eat trout. There, I said it. I sometimes keep one or two wild brookies, but there is a difference between wildcat creek and xxbrookistreamxx ga. If you want meat just wait at burton hatchery and follow the truck up.

  11. Louis, this was a great article. A couple of years back I called DNR and talked to the lead (forgot his name). I asked him why not catch and release for brooks. I said too small to eat to valuable to kill. He replied that basically why bother with special regulations when the life span is 3 or 4 years. Anyway why not research who in DNR are the decision makers and share their email on your blog. I’ll wager the DNR will get a lot of action from us purist. Ga DNR needs to wake up and smell the roses. What a loss of such a special species.

  12. New special regulations and lower creel limits will not deter those that already ignore existing regulations. Both should be based in science and not the actions of a few bad actors or emotion. Georgia’s brook trout management has been science based, resulting in five restored brook trout streams and many enhanced populations. Our brook trout fisheries are more numerous, more populated and hold bigger fish than ten years ago. In that regard GA DNR and USFS are doing a fine job. They do need more law enforcement boots in the field to promote and enforce existing regulations.

    Kevin McGrath
    Past Chairman, Georgia Trout Unlimited Back-the-Brookie Program
    Chairman, Georgia Trout Unlimited Advocacy Committee

    • Kevin,

      I appreciate the positive post from you as a person who has done more for brookies than most any volunteer in Georgia, for which we are grateful. I agree with your post, except on one count: In my opinion, Louis’ post and many of the comments in this thread are based on passion as opposed to emotion. You know well that getting things done and applying resources for something as obscure to the general public as the brook trout requires passion among the small minority of folks who are willing to be involved. Your passion includes a scientific as well as a lay perspective, which is a necessary component among the brookie supporters. Louis is an artist and fly fisherman, and others posting here likely share what may be a perspective based more on love than logic. However, all brookie supporters with passion are needed and welcome.

      • Our DNR seems more concerned with normal police violations than fish and game violations. Let the police harass someone for $3 worth of weed and do your job.

  13. Do not forget that the Native Fish Coalition in Georgia is also working to protect and conserve these beautiful fish

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