Secret Pools (and Some Good News about our Native Trout)

 In my last fishing essay, I described solitary fishing in winter on small streams.  In that article I referenced a book published in 1938 that my mother gave last year me titled Upstream and Down by Howard T. Walden II.  Mr. Walden’s book descriptions are as appropriate today as they were in the 1930s.  His commentary shows an amazing prescience about many matters related to the outdoors in general and fly fishing in particular.  

One of the themes of Mr. Walden is that in the 1920s and 1930s the small streams of the East were becoming more accessible, and that there were fewer and fewer secret streams left anymore. 

Some trout streams are important for their trout, almost all for their beauty, a few for their associations and memories.  In the last category are the secret streams of the past.  Every angler who has been at his sport a score of years or more can remember whispered directions, the pledges of secrecy, the long and tortuous journeys to those segments of Paradise hidden in the back country.  Such prospecting and discovery once constituted the most glamorous aspect of trout fishing.  But that is gone in the world, now, except in the remote semi-wilderness counties.  Most young anglers, casting over their first pools in the nineteen forties [1940s], will not know the high adventure of finding a secret stream.  The automobile has accomplished this special destruction along with general spoliation of virgin countrysides.  The motoring hordes have found all the streams there are. . . .  The State has charted all the likely water, filled it with foreign trout and invited the public to come and get ’em.

       And the public comes.  Paths have been beaten by many booted feet along both banks of the farm boy’s secret brook and the wild shy native beauties of that little watercourse are disappearing, dying in the hostile company of rainbows and browns.

Upstream and Down, at 170-171 (1938).  Mr. Walden was generally speaking about streams in the Northeast, in New Jersey and Connecticut.  Many of his prognostications, however, are equally applicable in Virginia and throughout the Southeast. 

If you read modern fishing magazines and browse outdoor websites, the Twenty-First Century equivalent of the automobile is the advent of the information age:  the Internet and GPS technology have amplified the problem (from the perspective of the solitude-seeking angler) of the “motoring hordes.”  One man armed with a GPS can post all the location information about a “honey hole” on a web forum page, and you can be sure that within a month or two dozens of anglers will have found the “secret pool.”  

And yet, even now, such places do exist in our region:

A Secret Pool in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area

Lovely native trout continue to exist in Southwest Virginia, too.  Here is a young brook trout from the Mount Rogers area I caught in June 2012:

A little brook trout, the official state fish of Virginia (and of West Virginia), caught in June 2012. Note the parr marks (vertical stripes) on this fish.

In the most rural sections of  Southwest Virginia, there are still secret pools (if not completely secret streams) holding the same native brookies that have lived here for a thousand years. 

While our brook trout are no doubt still under pressure, as the map below (and this even more detailed Virginia map) shows, there is good news lately about brookies in Virginia. In the Summer 2012 issue of Trout, Trout Unlimited’s “Journal of Coldwater Fisheries Conservation,” there is an article indicating that Virginia brook trout streams are healthier than they have been in decades.  One of the main fisheries referenced is St. Mary’s River in Augusta County (which I visited and wrote about last year, here).   According to the article, acid rain deposits, which negatively affect stream quality, have decreased 18 percent between 1987 and 2010, and “acid neutralizing capacity” of the Virginia streams studied have increased 82 percent during this same period.

My own anecdotal experience is consistent with Mr. Walden’s observations 80 years ago:  Much of the pressure that can be expected to continue on our native trout streams will still come from the “motoring hordes,” especially those individuals who trample on these treasured resources,  leaving their garbage behind while taking their full bag limit (or more) of trout, which can quickly eviscerate these sensitive fisheries.

On one point, however, I must disagree with the esteemed Mr. Walden.  While we may no longer be able to readily find entire secret streams unknown to most of mankind, there is still much “high adventure” to be had in our mountain streams (and beyond).  We just may have to search a little harder these days for a secret pool and be willing to enjoy the more modest adventure of rediscovery of off-the-beaten-track places that are still, after all these years, quite beautiful.  In the future we will continue to know streams most important for their associations and memories, recalling those days of yore when we found that secret pool, or caught that lunker fish, or shared that special trip with a relative or friend, as glamorous in our recollection as were those memories of the fishermen of the past.  Because those nostalgic fishing memories—just like the proverbial fish story itself—always seem to grow, and never diminish, with time.

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