NATURE NOTE – Number 66 April 14, 2023
Thank you for returning to NATURE NOTES. Whenever we think about fish in Virginia, trout is near the top of the list. There are 2900 miles of wild trout streams and 600 miles of stocked streams in the western part of the state. While anglers are probably well versed in the different trout, where to find them, and what to use for bait, those of us who are not fishermen may need a little lesson about the trout in our state. All of these species below (members of the salmon family) are managed and stocked by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) and they represent a major part of the inland fishing experiences of many citizens. So let’s look at…
Our Current topic: Virginia’s Three Species of Trout
Brook trout, also called the brookies, mountain or speckled trout, is the only native trout of Virginia, and is our official state fish. It is also the most colorful. With an olive green background there are several colors along the sides, such as yellow and red spots inside a blue halo. The belly is white, and the fins are orange. Size is 6-10” and up to two pounds. Many streams in Virginia contain brook trout, including those in the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest and the Shenandoah National Park. They prefer higher, colder, cleaner waters and smaller creeks with sand and gravel bottoms and little sedimentation. They do best in water temperatures of 68°F or less and become stressed in warmer water. The two species below can out-compete the brookies due to their greater tolerance for warmer water. Some scientists are concerned that Brook trout may suffer if climate change increases their habitat temperature, so several long-term studies are on-going to learn more about their streams and assess the impact of bank erosion on sedimentation. DWR has successfully reintroduced this fish to several streams and established reproducing populations. Mostly daytime feeders, they feed mainly on insect larvae, including caddis and mayfly nymphs, but also on small fish and crayfish. Spawning occurs in small headwater steams in October and November, usually at the tail of a pool.
Brown trout, also called European trout, are a larger (8-22’), introduced species. Colors vary widely. Natural wild browns are olive brown on the back, lighter on the sides, brilliant yellow-gold on their underside, with yellowish-green, unspotted fins. They have numerous black or dark brown spots on their sides, along with a sprinkling of red spots. Hatchery reared browns tend to be more silvery with dark brownish above with light yellow undersides and spots of a lighter shade. Food is mainly aquatic and terrestrial insects when young, but small fish (minnows, darters), crayfish, salamanders, and frogs are the main diet of larger browns. Brown trout are usually found in larger waters with plenty of rock structure, submerged logs and overhanging banks. They spawn naturally in the fall in a wide array of tributary streams or shallow shoal waters on either side of the Blue Ridge and in Southwestern Virginia.
Rainbow trout have a wide distribution throughout much of the world. Introduced from the Rocky Mountains into many parts of the U.S. in the late 1800’s, they are now well established in many Virginia fast-flowing streams and rivers on both sides of the Blue Ridge, including: the Smith, Dan, Roanoke, Jackson Rivers, Potts and Cripple Creek, and many others. The majority of rainbows in Virginia are stocked, but there are wild fish in Mount Rogers area streams. They prefer gravel-like stream beds. In their natural state they spawn in the spring in lower pools and riffles. Rainbow trout eat a variety of aquatic life, but their main diet is invertebrates. Large rainbows (normal size is 8-12”) will eat small fish. The variety of rainbows has resulted in several colors, hues and markings. Normally the back is olive-green with a silvery cast on its sides fading to a silvery-white belly. A pinkish or light rosy red band extends from its cheek to near its tail. Normally, they have black spots, but vary from large spots to tiny specks to no markings at all.
Getting your troop or pack involved in a fishing opportunity is probably much easier than going out looking for bear or elk. And if the fishing bug bites a young scout, it will be much easier for him or her to pursue this part of nature than some others. See what you can do to give your scouts some exposure. Here are some ideas:
The Blue Ridge Mountains Council sponsors the Trout-O-Ree at Camp Powhatan each spring. This year it is April 21-22. Registration is open until April 19. Details can be found on the council web page. This is an excellent opportunity to introduce your scouts or cubs to fishing – and nature – so plan to attend this event.
Also, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) operates a major trout stocking program in the western part of the state from five hatcheries in the BRMC area; in Bath, Craig, Nelson, Smyth and Wythe Counties. These facilities stock 1.2 million trout in 180 waters between October and June of each year. You might consider a visit by your troop or pack to one of these sites to learn more about trout and fish management. Locations and contact phone numbers are available on the DWR website: dwr.virginia.gov.
Then there is this: go fishing! In Virginia, trout season is open year-round with some limitations for certain areas, so check the DWR website for specific details about your target area. The limit is usually six fish per day with a minimum of 7 inches. Licenses may be required, and in some cases, a National Forest stamp may be necessary. Read the rules.
So give some thought as to how you might expose your scouts to nature and trout fishing. I suspect they will enjoy it, and they will learn something. That’s what scouting is all about, isn’t it?