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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.)