Scarlett the Blind Brook Trout

Spawning & Blind

So sure, I can get a little sappy about the fish I photograph and video. And this girl really pulled at my heartstrings. Here’s how it all went down.

Every autumn, I head out to photograph and video brook trout spawning in a high mountain lake. Usually, I am accompanied by a pack of wild women so when I’m not in the water, we hit the streets in search of thrift shops and saloons. But this year, I had Covid. So it was just me, my lawn chair, and a lake full of brook trout jockeying to position and pass on their genes.

While these November days are cold, the sun at 6500′ elevation warmed me completely. So, with a lawn chair, coffee, and my hand-held entertainment device (my iPhone), I set the cameras (9) and waited for that moment when the sun rose enough to penetrate the dark waters and reveal what lies beneath.

Eagles regularly patrol the shallows in search of easy prey. Although the osprey have left, the bald eagles and a few goldens keep the aerial fishing pressure on. With trout in the shallows, the eagles are never far.

Brook Trout

Brook trout are an invasive species in Montana, so there are no fishing protections during their spawn. Angling fish for the big, beautiful trout with any method. Power bait, treble hooks, and I’ve even seen snaggers. 

I’ve claimed my piece of shoreline long before the first anglers arrive. Being sick with Covid, my grumpy demeanor was sure to keep everyone back, and my shoreline protected from snaggers and power-baiters.

Looking out over the glassy surface, the sun is beginning to illuminate the bottom. And that’s when I see her. She is so dark, moving slowly in the shallows. Occasionally, she nearly beaches herself. 

“Oh, just another love-sick trout,” I thought. I notice her on and off during the day and suspect I’ve caught her on camera. 

The wind had come up by noon, so I gathered the cameras and headed out to film and photograph in my afternoon spots. 

I repeat the process the following day. As I am setting cameras, I notice her in the shallows. I am surprised she did not flee on my approach. I follow her with the camera underwater. I could easily reach in and pick her up. She is hitting rocks, so I try to be respectful and back off. Instead, she swims right at me, bumping off my boots. 

I watched the footage that night to see what was happening with that brook trout. And that’s when I saw it – she was completely blind.

The Questions

I returned for a final day only to find her lost in the shallows. I hope my presence kept her predators away until she could finish her spawning tasks and return to the depths. A winter storm was rolling in, so at noon I packed up my rig by noon and headed back home. 

So, how does she eat? She’s a plump and healthy girl other than her eyes. Does she feed by picking through the gravel for nymphs and larvae?

It’s a miracle she wasn’t captured by an overhead predator, given her color!

We’ll never know. Thanks for reading and watching, you rock!