WV Wildlife: Brook trout

The brook trout is West Virginia's state fish. (WCHS/WVAH)

Our state fish, the brook trout, is simply beautiful.

It's also a fascinating species, being the only member of the salmon family native to West Virginia.

This means they require clean and chilly water, which brings up another fascinating point, how did they get here?

"They certainly have been dispersed by the glaciation, concentrated by the glaciation and moved about during interglacial periods. They have that history of connection and lineage that goes all the way up to Maine and Labrador,” David Thorne, a cold water fisheries biologist for the West Virginia DNR, said.

Pretty cool, and no pun intended.

These brook trout, also frequently called 'brookies' or 'natives' by anglers, apparently liked what our Appalachian Mountains had to offer, and decided to stick around awhile.

This time of the year, their colors, mostly bright orange, really come out. Thorne said there may be a reason why nature gave them this ability.

"The Appalachian Mountains are very colorful in the fall, and brook trout get their most colorful in the fall, they spawn in the fall,” Thorne said. “And one thing that has always been hypothesized is it has something to do with the colors of the leaves. You know, they blend in with their surroundings"

Still to this day, you can find them across our eastern mountain counties, especially at elevations above 2,000 feet, where the water stays colder. Thorne said they are doing well, too.

"What we see now is a tremendous surge in the numbers of brook trout and the quality of our fisheries because our forests are maturing. We feel nothing but good about the state of our brook trout,” Thorne said.

Our West Virginia DNR has played a huge role in helping our state fish continue to thrive. They've combatted too much acid in our streams, something most trout can't tolerate, by dumping large amounts of limestone in them. Thorne also said that natural disturbances, like the 2012 derecho, has placed more trees in our waters, and that's cover that ‘brookies’ love.

Still, though, Thorne and other fisheries biologists are always thinking about protecting these jewels in the future. Research and habitat improvements are only part of that.

"We're looking at some of our regulations for brook trout, hopefully try to change some of that size structure, grow some bigger brook trout in places and help out some of the desires of anglers to catch bigger brook trout. I love them. When they get big enough, they fight hard. Fantastic--there's nothing like seeing those little pink spots and those blue haloes,” Thorne said.

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