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Once summer’s hot weather and dense foliage takes over a lot of avid trout fishermen give up on small stream fishing. It’s easier to paddle around in a canoe or kayak or troll off shore in a boat than to battle the brush, spider webs and biting bugs that patrol the best of our small trout streams, but there are times when the outcome is worth the price of participation. A limit of sparkling native brook trout is its own reward, even though getting there is not half the battle – it’s the whole battle!
A fisherman geared up for summertime trouting is a sight to behold. Forget the classic Orvis or L. L. Bean look – small stream trouting in June is hardly a fashion show. Thick brush, tangled limbs, mud and muck are the order of the day, and the best-dressed summer fishermen look more like hoboes than “sportsmen.”
Having braved the worst of Maine’s trout brooks for over 50 years, I’ve developed an outfit that produces fish while keeping the bugs away and protecting me from the elements typically encountered during a long day in the alders.
I start with sturdy wading shoes (sneakers will do). I have the best luck with felt-soled boots designed for wading that offer some ankle support. Logs, rocks and other structure covered with silt are slippery at any time of year, but in summer these algae-coated obstacles make walking extremely treacherous. Of course, these places are where the most trout will be found, so proper footwear is important.
I wear lightweight, light-colored khaki pants and shirt mostly to keep the bugs at bay, spritzing on a light coating of insect repellent from the waist up. I wrap my pant legs around my boots and duct tape them in place (or use gaiters). I expect to get wet and muddy and don’t care how bad it gets – I do what I have to do to get to the fish!
I use the smallest fishing rod I own, a 5-foot spinning rod and a tiny reel that holds about 50 yards of 2-pound-test monofilament line. I have never caught a trout over 12 inches from these tiny brooks; it may happen someday but I’ve been mucking around small streams since the early 1960s and have yet to meet a 2-pound trout. A lightweight rig is much easier to handle in tight places, and in summer there are few large, wide-open pools where a long cast would be required. Most of my trout are caught directly underfoot using 5 or 6 feet of line. Presentation is a matter of dropping a worm into a shaded pool with as much finesse as I can muster. If a trout is there he’ll answer quickly – food is scarce in these brooks and a fat garden worm is about as good as it gets for these little brookies.
For this kind of fishing there’s no need to use complicated terminal tackle – spinners, jig heads, heavy leaders and other additions are unnecessary. I tie a light wire No. 6 or 8 hook directly to my line, thread a wiggly garden worm onto the hook and start fishing. Most stream trout subsist on minute insects and larvae. Some anglers use a stomach pump to reveal what the fish have been eating and, truthfully, there’s hardly any artificial lure out there that can compare – in size and color – to what these little gems spend the day gorging on. I’m not sure why they’d even bother with a comparatively gigantic 3-inch worm, but few trout will refuse them. Later in summer I have good luck using small grasshoppers, too.
Most of the trout in small brooks will be found in the deepest holes and undercut banks where the water is coolest. Reaching these places can be an adventure! I often end up shin deep in mud with water up to my armpits as I probe a particularly difficult pool just on the other side of a log jam or rock pile.
It’s important to move in slowly and make that first presentation count. It’s worth the extra effort to be patient and deliberate as you move up or down the stream. Stay out of the water as much as possible but get wet when you need to and move in as close to your target as the cover will allow. A sloppy approach will invariably spook all the trout in the pool, and it may take several hours for them to calm down again.
There are usually several fish in each pool but I try to limit myself to one trout per cast. In most cases the biggest fish in the school will be the first one to attack the bait, leaving the smaller specimens to grow larger over the summer.
I won’t fish a particular stream more than once or twice in a season but that’s no problem because our area is replete with great small streams that, truthfully, almost no one fishes. When I get to the point where a beaver dam, log jam or thick alder cover makes the going a bit rough I usually find few signs of other anglers on the other side. Some fishermen will spend a day or two probing these difficult trout fisheries each year but in most cases the water is virgin territory 100 yards up- or down-stream from the road. Only once in all these years have I met another angler on “my” streams. I was coming out with my limit of trout and, when he saw them (and my mud-caked countenance), he just fished off the bridge for a few minutes and moved on.
You have to like brook trout, fishing and the outdoors more than just a little bit to justify the effort it takes to succeed at small stream fishing, but every time I coax one of those little speckled jewels out of a deep pool it seems worth it to me. And, when my catch is sizzling in the pan with some fiddleheads and red potatoes I find myself looking forward to the next trip.
Maine’s stream fishing season ends Aug. 15, so find your sneakers and faded khakis and get out there before another summer passes you by!
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