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Helping out brook trout

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If you enjoy trout fishing, you may know that Georgia is home to three different kinds of trout. Rainbow trout, with that spectacular red stripe along their flanks, may be most familiar. Equally popular are brown trout, which can attain impressive sizes. You’ll find both species in streams around the state, including the Chattahoochee River.

But there’s a third kind of trout – Georgia’s original trout, in fact – that’s now found only in high-elevation streams where the water is its cleanest and coldest. That’s the brook trout, and it’s the only trout species that’s actually native to Georgia.

At one time, brookies (as they’re affectionately known) were widespread. However, they didn’t fare well in the face of such things as rampant logging or acid rain. These kinds of factors degraded their habitat – and it didn’t help that those introduced rainbows and browns tended to displace (that is, eat) brook trout too.

For a while, things looked bad for brookies. They eventually began to disappear altogether from streams where they had been present for ages.

However in recent years, as environmental conditions have improved, Georgia’s brook trout have started to come back. That’s good news! However, they can still use all the help they can get – and on Saturday, July 29, you’ll have a chance to do your part and personally help out Georgia’s brook trout population.

Hands-on habitat enhancement

On that Saturday, from about 9 a.m. until noon, enthusiastic volunteers will gather on a portion of Wilks Creek near Helen. There, working in conjunction with the National Forest Service and the Department of Natural Resources, folks from a wide range of backgrounds will pool their efforts to construct in-stream habitat improvement structures designed to benefit future brook trout populations.

One thing that helps make this happen is the work of members of area chapters of Trout Unlimited. In fact, the Upper Chattahoochee Chapter of Trout Unlimited (which meets just down the road in Roswell) will be leading the effort and coordinating participation by other TU chapters.

UCCTU member Bill Lott has been coordinating these stream improvement projects for the last several years.

“The more volunteers we have, the more we can accomplish,” Bill said. “Last year we had more than 50 volunteers,” he adds, “and that is the goal for 2017 as we start work on this new stream.”

Do you have to be a member of Trout Unlimited to participate? Not at all. Anyone with an interest in Georgia’s outdoors will enjoy becoming a part of it – and even though it’s called a “work” day, it’s actually a great deal of fun.

“In fact, it’s a very good activity for the whole family,” Bill said.

He encourages dads, moms and kids too to think about being a part of it – though he adds that kids should be old enough to be able to do some work in the stream.

If you’re able to participate, what should you bring with you?

“You’ll want to bring some water to drink,” Bill said, “and bring bug repellant. You should also have some work gloves.”

Also important, he adds, is suitable footwear.

“You want to wear something on your feet than can get wet,” he said.

Other gear, including hardhats and safety glasses, will be provided.

What to expect

What can you expect to be doing on the stream? You might be doing any of several things – building stream flow diverters, for example, or maybe stabilizing the creek’s banks.

I recall one stream work day that I participated in several years ago. My job was to help build a rock dam of sorts, placing rocks inside a sort of cage of steel mesh. The idea was that the little dam would create a deeper spot below it, and that began to happen almost immediately. Within just a few minutes of finishing the structure, a pool was already beginning to form – and then, looking down, I saw what every brookie fan hopes to see. A small brook trout of about four inches in length had already taken up residence there.

How’s that for instant gratification!

And barbecue too!

On the Wilks Creek project, work on the creek will continue until about noon. And what then?

“After the work is finished,” Bill said. “The Upper Chattahoochee Chapter of Trout Unlimited provides a barbecue lunch for the participants.”

I’ve had that barbecue before, and it’s good!

After lunch, it’s not unusual for participants to spend a while visiting with one another and talking trout and maybe even planning a fishing trip. Trout fishers are genial folks, and on a stream enhancement project like this one, you’re sure to meet some of the most pleasant anglers you could hope to find.

Note that the stream work day is still a few weeks out, so you’ve got plenty of time to make plans to drive up toward Helen and be a part of it yourself. Sure, you’ll be a little tired at the end of the day. But you’ll be well fed and you’ll have new friends – and you can rest comfortably in the knowledge that the work you did will pay dividends for many years to come.

Since lunch is being provided, it’s important to let Bill know if you plan to attend. To do so, or if you have other questions about the day’s event, you can reach Bill at 404-735-9989 or sue.bill314@gmail.com.

Directions

Wilks Creek is about 20 minutes north of Helen.

“The easiest way to get there is to take Main Street through Helen,” Bill said, “and follow Ga. 17 and 75 signs north.”  Continue till you get to mile marker 15.  About 100 yards past mile marker 15 on the left, an unpaved road turns left into the Chattahoochee National Forest. A Chattahoochee National Forest sign marks the turn.

“Our project work will be approximately 2 miles down that road,” he said.

Parking at the work area may be tight, but just a little farther north past mile marker 15 is a parking area for the Appalachian Trail.

“People can park there and carpool into the work area,” Bill said, adding that you should plan to be there by about 8:30 a.m.

Interested in learning more about the Upper Chattahoochee Chapter of Trout Unlimited? This group, one of a number of Trout Unlimited chapters in the north Georgia area, meets on the fourth Tuesday of every month (except for November and December) at Ippolito’s Italian Restaurant at 2270 Holcomb Bridge Road in Roswell. Social hour and dinner begin at 6 p.m. Meetings start at 7 p.m and usually ends by 9 p.m. Learn more about the group at ucc.tu.org.


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