When searching for trout in these southern mountains, the ability to navigate your way through laurel slicks and over slippery boulders the size of Volkswagens is just as important as your angling skills. The farther you find yourself from a paved road, the more aware you become of potential danger: a broken leg, head trauma, a nasty cut across your forearm, with massive blood loss, or God forbid, the bite from a timber rattler. Somehow, though, the desire to find and catch just one more fish is far greater than any sense of self-preservation.
Maybe it's the eerie silence surrounding you each time you stop to get your bearings that causes you to keep pushing on. The white noise of fast flowing water over the backs of moss-covered rocks is calming, yet unnerving at the same time. The idea that you're not the only living creature in this deep cove keeps you looking back over your shoulder as the mountains close in all around.
The cold headwaters of the Middle Saluda, rising up from deep underground, pushing up through layer upon layer of ancient rock, the foundation of these southern mountains, is the source of life in this valley. Over time, the water has etched a vein through the land that carries the lifeblood of this mountain cove, and along its course, up sprang towering hemlocks, rhododendrons, mountain laurel, and the imperilled American chestnut. In exchange for the pure source of water the stream provides, the trees and vegetation shade the fast runs and deep pools where the salamander and brook trout thrive.
Salvelinus fontinalis, the brook trout or speckled trout, requires clean, oxygen rich water to survive. Translated loosely from the latin, " char of a spring or a fountain," the speckled trout is the only native trout in the Appalacians. Here in the 13,000 acre Mountain Bridge Wilderness Area, the Middle Saluda and its tributary, Coldsprings Branch, are home to both stocked and wild rainbow and brown trout, as well as hatchery raised brook trout. Some would say that above the falls, beyond the reach of the wild rainbows and voracious brown trout, the true natives have survived in small numbers.
This land, emcompassing both Jones Gap and Caesars Head state parks was set aside to protect the diverse flora and fauna that thrives so well in these rugged mountains. Streams with names like Julian, Matthew's and Oil Camp Creek hold trout if you know where to find them. This watershed, and the southern mountain habitat that surrounds it, is worth protecting.
The trout tucked away in these hills are as much a part of the landscape as the towering hemlocks and ancient metamorphic rock that juts toward the sky. The Mountain Bridge Wilderness is one of the last stands against the steady encroachment and development that has ravaged these mountains for centuries. And without these last great places, species such as the speckled trout would go the way of American Chestnut, and the Carolina parakeet.
The project I am working on right now has me exploring more of these mountains and streams that course their way through the Mountain Bridge Wilderness. I began this journey seeking trout, but what I have found is something much more.