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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Brook trout are one of four species in Lake Cumberland tailwaters

The brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) is a cold-water species native to the eastern U.S. and Canada.

Populations in the U.S. are mostly confined to higher elevations of the Appalachians. Its preferred habitat is small, clear streams in unspoiled backcountry.

The brook trout is a member of family Salmonidae.

Brook Trout (Photo by Charlie Summers Flickr Commons)

Size and Coloration

The “brookie” is distinctively marked.

Its back and the top of its head are olive green, with pale worm-like markings.

Its upper sides have spots of green and red, with blue borders. Its lower sides are orange, and breeding males may develop bright orange-red bellies, with some black and/or white on their lower fins.

Adults usually range from 10 to 16 inches long and weigh about 1 to 2 pounds.

Distribution in Kentucky

Even though the brook trout is native to the Appalachians, as far south as Tennessee, ichthyologists who have studied regional fish distributions, present and historical, do not consider the brook trout to be part of Kentucky’s native fish fauna. There is no evidence that brook trout occurred here naturally or prior to European settlement.

The National Park Service and U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service stocked brook trout in two remote mountain streams, Shillalah Creek and Martin’s Fork of the Cumberland River, in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

During the early 1970s there was a four-month fishing season, with a 12-inch minimum size limit and 2-fish daily creel limit. Anglers were restricted to artificial lures and flies only.

(Photo by Larry Reis Flickr Commons)

The only viable population of brook trout in Kentucky now is in the Lake Cumberland tailwaters, where fish were first stocked in 2011.

The stocking goal is 40,000 a year, but that goal hasn’t always been met because of hatchery production shortfalls; 2015 was the last year the tailwaters received a full allotment.

Food Habits

The brook trout has diverse diet.

They consume larval, pupal, and adult forms of aquatic insects, typically caddisflies, stoneflies, and mayflies.

Adult forms of terrestrial insects, such as ants, beetles, grasshoppers, and crickets that fall into the water are also eaten, as well as crayfish, small frogs, and small stream fish, such as minnows, darters, shiners, and dace.

Fishing Tips

Since brook trout are generally small, compared to other trout species, anglers need to downsize their tackle, artificial lures and flies.

Small crankbaits such as the Original Rapala or Rebel Teeny Wee Crawfish, and spinners, like the Panther Martin or Mepps, fished on ultralight spinning tackle, are a good choice.

Fly fishermen can catch brook trout on dry flies, small streamers and nymphs.

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

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