Freshwater: Big Rewards in Small Places - The Fisherman

Freshwater: Big Rewards in Small Places

What a wild brook trout
What a wild brook trout often lacks in size it more than makes up for in beauty and challenge.

Brook trout are the embodiment of wilderness, relics of a time before human development.

Many of you know me as a striped bass surf angler, and for good reason; I spend the vast majority of my angling time these days pursuing stripers in the suds. However, my love of fishing really blossomed when I was a young kid chasing brook trout in small streams of up-state New York. The allure in fishing for these pint-sized beauties comes from the combination of the fast action, the challenge of presenting a fly to them, and the wild places they live. This latter point is what I find the most enchanting about fishing for wild brookies: they are the embodiment of wilderness, relics of a time before human development. Even if the stream is running along the side of a busy road, or directly through a town, they are survivors, mementos if you will, of what things used to be like before humans came to North America.

I most enjoy trying to find them in places no one else fishes. This is difficult to do in my home waters of Southern New England, but in the northern states there are countless little ribbons of water that are filled with brookies that remain virtually unfished. In those states you can simply pull up a map, find a stream, and go wandering off into the woods and are often rewarded with hungry trout. While this is far more difficult south of Vermont and New Hampshire, there are opportunities to find hidden gems just about everywhere. It took me a couple years of searching topographical maps, a lot of driving around, many skunks, and a couple of holes in my waders from thorns, but I did eventually find a hidden stream filled with brook trout that is (as far as I can tell) all mine. It’s nice knowing that I can hop in the car and disappear to my own little paradise if I ever need to escape the daily grind. Just knowing it’s there, filled with gorgeous wild fish, makes me smile.

Fishing these little oases isn’t complicated. I use a fly rod and enjoy fishing a 6-foot 2-weight, but sometimes I reach for my glass 8-foot 4-weight. I typically only use a short 5x leader and 5x tippet, and rarely exceed 8 feet total for both leader and tippet. The waters I fish are all small enough that I can step over them in the vast majority of places, and the banks are often clogged by trees and bushes on both sides. Therefore, bow and arrow casts and crude roll casts are the rule, not the exception, and maximum casting distance is irrelevant. My fly usage varies substantially, but if I had to pick just a couple I’d probably choose a few bead-head nymphs, and then a couple “buggy” dries around size 14. Nothing too small, or too big, but instead somewhere in the middle: Goldilocks flies. These fish are not picky; present them something tasty looking and they will nail it.

The most important, and most difficult component of this kind of fishing is sneaking up on the fish. Sometimes I will crawl up to the edge of the water on my stomach like a commando. I fish crouched or on my knees far more often than standing. While these fish are aggressive, they spook easily. A single, poorly-placed shadow or heavy foot-fall can turn them off completely. Take your time to plan your approach, and don’t be tempted by shortcuts.

A final thought; please consider releasing all your fish, and as quickly and carefully as you can. This includes crimping your barbs and keeping the fish wet. Their populations in these miniscule bodies of water are small, threatened by warming water and pollution, and they are sometimes isolated from large populations. A single determined angler looking to limit-out on each trip could wipe out an entire population in a couple weeks. If you’re in search of dinner, I suggest instead heading to a larger body of water or one that is stocked. Leave these voracious diminutive fish for future generations so they too can enjoy their historic wildness.

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