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It’s been blistering hot of late and there’s not much a person can do under such stifling conditions – certainly hard work isn’t an option, and who wants to paint or dig or build in such weather? This is where the avid Maine sportsman decides there must be something better out there, and in fact there is!
Hot as it is, there is one sporting pursuit that is actually best in early summer simply because it is so hot everywhere else. Of course, I’m talking about small stream trout fishing, and not those rivers and streams where you can paddle a kayak or canoe all day. I mean those tiny, brush-covered brooks that are shrouded with foliage, deep and dark, always full and rarely fished because they are, admittedly, difficult to drop a hook into.
It takes a certain level of skill to creep up on a moss-bordered brook that’s as still as glass, lower a bait or fly into the depths and give it a little trout-attracting action without spooking every fish in the pool. This is finesse fishing at its finest, and not everyone can do it successfully. Stomping around, hurriedly casting to every bit of open water and slashing the surface to froth won’t get you many trout for the pan. Instead, the July trout fisherman must approach each deep hole as if he were a Master’s Tournament golfer. Move slowly, look here, look there, consider the difficulties, weigh your options and decide which approach would be best long before you ever drop a line.
Big-water fishermen understand the need for studying the water, watching the current and letting the fish settle into a routine before making a cast, and the situation is no different for hop-across stream fishing. Over the years I have found, forded and fished many a backwoods trout stream and have learned how to approach them (with the sun in my face to avoid throwing a shadow over the pool), find the deep spots (by watching where the current suddenly stops near the tail of the pool) and how to slip a baited hook through the leaves so that it falls and drifts naturally downstream to the waiting fish.
There is certainly room for error here (after all, a brook trout is not necessarily a heavy thinker), but the wise fisherman will do everything possible to put the odds in his favor. It takes some persistence, patience and good luck to arrive at the proper spot and make a cast that doesn’t frighten the fish, but it’s not difficult to do if the angler reminds himself that it’s not a race, not a contest. Move slowly, wait for just the right moment to make a cast and present the offering with as little fanfare and commotion as possible.
One good thing about brook trout is that they can rarely ignore a free meal, and if your bait or fly drifts by without drag or excessive splashing, they will come out from beneath the bank and take it with abandon. Worms are, of course, the universal best choice for small trout, but a gaudy Royal Coachman dry fly that sits high on the water will get plenty of attention. Perhaps the most logical lure for small streams is a bead-head nymph, small and dark as you can find. Jig the nymph slowly and methodically from top to bottom for as far as your rod can reach. If there are no hits, move a step or two and try again.
“Big” fish in this kind of environment may measure 8 inches on a good day, and if you can catch a 10-inch native brookie on flies or worms you’ve pretty much fooled the Master. I have fished mini trout streams for 50 years and remember every trout I ever caught that was over 10 inches (both of them) and fondly recall a dozen or so that were over 9 inches. Apparently the “carrying capacity” of a small stream is trout up to 8 inches long, and many will be an inch or two shorter than that. This is fine, of course, because the ultimate goal is to end the trip with some hot coals, an 8-inch cast iron frying pan and enough freshly-caught trout to line the bottom of it. A limit of 8-inch brookies cleaned and trimmed for the pan will fit just like a glove, leaving just enough room for butter or a slice of bacon.
To make my midday meal of trout that much easier to prepare, I often bring a square of aluminum foil loaded with about a dozen match-light charcoal briquettes. When I’m ready to cook I’ll put the charcoal on a flat rock and light them while I clean my fish. When the coals are powdery white, I’ll spread the foil over them, drop in a pat of butter till it sizzles and then add the fish. While the trout are cooking (just five minutes on a side) I’ll whittle a forked beech or birch stem into a crude fork and enjoy my lunch right there beside the brook.
If I feel particularly ambitious I’ll bring my pocket butane stove and brew up a cup of hot tea (or two) and linger a while, wondering what the poor people might be doing that day.
When I’m finished I put out the coals, crumple the foil into my pocket and head for home, nothing left behind but the scent of broiled trout.
Maine’s stream trout season remains open till Aug. 15 but there are exceptions, so check the latest open water fishing regulations pertaining to the county or town you plan to fish. There are enough small waters in every county in the state to keep any angler busy all season and most of them are under-fished or, in fact never visited by an angler.
Any cool, deep stream that is still running in late summer is likely to have a population of trout living in it. The only way to find out is to pack a rod, dig some bait and go exploring. One thing is for certain, small stream trout fishing definitely beats doing yard work on a hot summer day!
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