Virginia’s state fish, a holdover from the last ice age, may be the prettiest fish you’ve never seen!

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PEMBROKE, Va. (WFXR) — In the mountains of Virginia, you can find some beautiful, ancient things, but you’ll have to look underwater to see them.

Brook trout are relics of the last ice age, left behind when the glaciers receded. They are Virginia’s state fish, the only salmonid native to the Commonwealth.

Brook trout are brightly colored. Many have olive, orange, and dark green calico patterns; others have bright yellow and red spots.

They are not large fish. Most average four to six inches in length. A fish that measures a foot long is considered large.

Virginia is considered one of the top locations for brook trout in the United States. The high mountain streams of the Commonwealth provide an almost perfect home for them.

“Wild brook trout are found in our higher elevations,” said Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (VDWR) Regional Aquatics Manager Steve Reeser. “You find them where we have a lot of ground water influence, spring water influence, cold water.”

Shawn Hash is a fishing guide and owner of Tangent Outfitters in Pembroke.

“We are blessed in this part of the country, and in southwest Virginia, and in Giles County where we do have quite a few brook trout, especially up high in a lot of our creeks.”

Part of the charm for anglers is that to find these beautiful fish, it usually means trekking into some of the most beautiful, remote regions of Virginia, and then fishing streams that are pristine, cold, and narrow.

“You’re going to spend your time to get to the area, so you have to expend the effort to get to the spot,” Hash said. “They don’t mind small water. They can survive in like a teacup, basically a little bit of water.”

While Virginia has more than 2,000 miles of wild trout streams, some prime brook trout waters were wiped out by human encroachment and development. However, it might be possible to reverse that trend through changing the way land is used, curbing development, and reforesting.

“That’s sort of what we focus on as an agency working with private land owners and other partners on doing things to improve habitat in those watersheds to allow brook trout to recolonize those areas where they used to live,” said Reeser.

The VDWR says Virginia provides the best fishing for brook trout south of New England, and definitely the best opportunity to target them in the southeastern United States.

However, with a resource so valuable and fragile, Hash encourages anglers to be gentle with the fish, and to release them as soon as they can be netted and taken off the hook. That way others can share in the sport, and the species can thrive.

“It’s a really cool fish, arguably it’s one of God’s best creations. It’s absolutely gorgeous.”

The VDWR has more information on brook trout and the wild trout program on its website.

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