By: Gary Buchannan
Posted On: 2009-01-24
To biologists he's the Brook Trout, to Canadians he's the Speckled Trout, and to New Englanders he's the Squaretail, but no matter what he's called, to anglers everywhere he's the aristocrat of game fish. His haunts are the purest waters of picturesque mountain streams and crystal-clear lakes. He takes the angler's dry fly eagerly—when it's the pattern he likes and is presented realistically. And when hooked he fights with a determination few fish his size can surpass. Last but not least, when he's taken fresh from the icy water and cooked over a stream-side fire his flavor is out of this world. Devoted Brook Trout anglers even refuse to fry the fish in butter, claiming it detracts from the flavor. And in respect for their hero they never say they "catch" a Brook Trout —they say they "kill" a Brook Trout because it sounds more honorable, like killing an elephant or tiger.
The original range of the Brook Trout was Northeastern North America from Labrador south to Virginia and west to the Mississippi, but he has been such a favorite that he has been stocked in most popular angling regions in the Western states and Western Canada. Probably no fish is subjected to greater fishing pressure. Most of the thousands of hatcheries in this country and Canada are concerned exclusively with producing Brook Trout and his relatives, the Rainbow and Brown Trout, to replenish the tons anglers take every year. As a result, most of those you "kill" are stocked hatchery fish. Only in wilderness waters can "wild" fish still be found. But both perform equally well on your fly rod and you can't tell the difference until you clean them. White flesh means a hatchery-reared Trout; a "wild" Trout's flesh is pink like Salmon. Recently, however, biologists have discovered that ocean shrimp added to the diet of a pool-reared fish will turn its flesh pink, also, and so soon there'll be no way of telling the difference.
Technically the Brook Trout is a "charr" rather than a true Trout, but this needn't concern the angler because the differences are slight, such as the arrangement of teeth, and a tail that is square instead of forked. He is a pretty fish but not gaudy, a dark olive-green with an overlay of wavy dark markings along his back and a sprinkling of prominent red and white spots on his sides. His belly varies from pink to deep red, and the front edges of his fins are trimmed a pure white.
His size, varying according to the size of the water and the amount of food available to him, ranges from ½ to 5 pounds. His world record is 14½ pounds. His diet depends upon his size. Brook Trout up to one pound feed almost exclusively on flies, and so these fish are the fly fisherman's ideal. Of course they also like earthworms, but the fly fisherman closes his eyes to this fact because he scorns bait-fishing for this aristocratic fish. Over one pound, the Brook Trout will still feed on flies but he doesn't find them very filling. He'd rather have a few plump minnows or crawfish.
In lakes, Brook Trout are found in the deepest holes formed by cold springs because they prefer the coldest water; they rarely survive temperatures over 70 degrees. In streams, when they aren't actively feeding you can find them resting in the swirls behind large submerged rocks, or in the quiet water at the edges of rapids, or in the deep pools. When hungry, they swim into the shallower water of the riffles below the rapids to feed on the late afternoon fly hatch.
A bitter truth to dry-fly fishermen is that spin-casting will take larger Brook Trout than will fly-casting, simply because the "lunker" Brookies prefer minnows, which the spinning lures imitate. Therefore these lures, fished deep over the spring holes, are best for lake fishing. A light rod (4 to 5 ounces) and 6-pound-test monofilament line (because it's 28 practically invisible to the wary Brookie) are recommended. Change lures often until you find the type the Trout prefer. Often a fishing guide can suggest a pattern that is a consistent fish-getter for certain waters.
But no sport can top fly-fishing for the smaller Brook Trout in a tumbling stream. Use a 3- to 4-ounce fly rod, a torpedo-tapered line (for distance in casting), and a 9-foot leader tapering to 4X for dry flies, or a 6-foot leader tapering to 2X for wet flies. Use the wet flies when no Trout are breaking the surface, and use dry flies when the Trout are rising to a fly hatch. In that case use a pattern that matches the hatching flies as exactly as possible. For a choice of wet flies, it's wise to use the pattern that local fishermen tell you is best for the particular stream, and if it doesn't produce, experiment with other patterns.
For fishing wet or dry flies, you'll need boots or waders. Wade and cast upstream as you fish so you'll be out of sight to Trout that are above you, facing the current, and also so that any silt your feet dislodge will be carried downstream away from the Trout, not toward them to alarm them. Cast your fly beyond your target so it will drift submerged, or float, over the likely spot, and retrieve the slack line quickly so you'll be able to strike immediately when the Trout hits. If you delay an instant, he'll spit out the fly. In deep, wide streams cast above and across the current to drift the fly downstream past you. Be ready for a hit when your line tightens and swings the fly around below you.
There are many tricks to fool stream Brook Trout when conventional methods fail. Sometimes they won't take your flies simply because they're resting and are too lazy to move. Then the remedy is to stir them up. Get them excited! The simple way to do this is to take a large handful of pebbles and toss it into the stream, then cast your fly on top of the splash. Crazy? Not very! The sound will attract their attention and frequently they'll think it was caused by other fish feeding, especially if they're hatchery-reared Trout because in their hatchery they were fed in just that manner—by handfuls of food splashed into the water. And not wanting to miss their share, they'll usually swim out to grab your fly just in the spirit of competition, before another Trout gets it. This trick will work only once in the same spot, however.
There's even a trick for the garden-hackle dunker—the worm fisherman. Bait your hook with a lively worm, pinch a light split-shot about 6 feet up your leader, and let your line drift downstream until the sinker catches under a rock and stops the drift. Then sit back on the bank and wait! The worm will swing enticingly back and forth with the current while the sinker holds it. It won't be long before a Trout sees it and finds it too tempting to resist. When you jerk the line to set the hook, the sinker will pull free from the rock.