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Fishy Global Warming Story

Posted in Climate

When I was an irresponsible teenager, a couple of friends and I went fishing for native brook trout in the Smoky Mountains National Park. We put bicycles in the back of my dad’s 1953 Ford station wagon and drove to one of the gated “ranger roads” at Tremont. We then loaded our fishing gear on the bikes and rode some distance up the gravel ranger road before hiding the bikes in the woods and traveling further along a small stream on foot. We began fly fishing when the stream was probably less than six feet wide and caught a few of the small brook trout believed to be native to the Southern Appalachians. I believe the size limit at the time was six inches, but it could have been seven.

One of my friends, who was much better versed in outdoor survival and mountaineering skills than I, opened his pack and produced a small gas stove, a bag of cornmeal, and some tomatoes and onions and began to prepare a sumptuous meal of fresh native trout and cornbread. I’m not sure what laws we were violating, if any, but the thrill and enjoyment of the moment were enhanced by our belief that if a ranger had come along during that time, everything we had with us up to and including my dad’s station wagon would probably have been confiscated. I hope the statute of limitations on any possible violations has run out.

What recalled that memory is a report in The State Newspaper  this morning that, according to a Trout Unlimited biologist, within the state of South Carolina, only four miles of streams in the higher elevations are cold enough to support that particular strain of brook trout my friends and I were after a little more than a half century ago. According to the article, if air temperatures rise by 7 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit (which could happen in another century or so under the more exaggerated global warming scenarios), suitable habitat for that particular species of trout will be limited to the higher elevations of Tennessee and North Carolina. I guess if that happens, the remaining few South Carolinians who like to fish for these very small native trout will be forced to adapt by moving or buying non-resident North Carolina and Tennessee fishing licenses. For anyone worried about that opportunity for their great grandchildren, I have marked the map below showing where at least one East Tennessee stream likely to still be cold enough to hold such trout even in a hundred years is located. You can find the whole map here.

(I do love this part of the world.  I spent a lot of time in my youth in these mountains.  Our Boy Scout troop camped often in Cades Cove without comfort station or campground store or paved RV parking spots.  And there were and still are punishing hiking trails to beautiful spots in the mountains and crystal clear shiveringly cold swimming holes in the streams.  If you haven’t visited Cades Cove, check it out.  Still, I have come to prefer the warmer climate of South Carolina.)


  1. Dave Cornell
    Dave Cornell

    Fear not. The southern mountains are very old (Roan is one billion plus) and have survived lots of changes. It was warmer during the Roman Era (wine grapes were grown in England) and during the Medieval Optimum.

    You spoke of the brook trout. The brown trout in the mountain streams are stocked immigrants from Europe. More interesting is the rainbow trout. When the forests were cut 120 years ago or so, the mountain streams became warm streams and the brook trout did not do well. The laborers doing the cutting often came from the Rockies and told the lumber companies that there were warm water trout in the Rockies that could be stocked in the cut over forest streams. Guys actually carried milk cans full of rainbow fingerlings up the stream beds for stocking purposes. The brookies are the native trout.

    The point is, nature adjusts. And, the “CO2 from burning fossil fuel will overheat the planet” meme is more of a belief of a semi-organized cult than a falsifiable scientific theory. The climate models based on CO2 changes have been shown to not predict climate with any accuracy that is worth noticing. But that is all another story. Remember, CO2 is plant food.

    November 28, 2017
  2. Janet Perrigo
    Janet Perrigo

    You write so well, sir. I could picture your wonderful, illicit fishing adventure…

    November 28, 2017
  3. Dave Cornell
    Dave Cornell

    There is a bit more to the story of Abrams Creek. About 1857 someone decided to make Abrams Creek a ‘trout stream’. So they poisoned the creek to kill off any fish in it (don’t know if they killed off the may flies and critters the trout eat). The Abrams Creek extirpation was thought to have killed off the Smoky Mad Tom, a 2 inch catfish. Seems, like the snail darter, there were other populations. Still, Abrams Creek has a bit of a sordid past.

    November 28, 2017

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