| Every so often reading my own words moves me to take action. Talking recently about spring trout fishing gave me the urge to get out there and give it a try, and as always, I wasn’t disappointed. I was actually cleaning up some leaves and branches left over from the long, long winter and discovered fistfuls of garden worms at the bottom of every pile of detritus I picked up. Because fishing always takes precedence over yard work I filled an empty tomato sauce can with worms, ditched the rake and headed for a nearby brook. No sense in wasting a perfect spring day getting blisters and sunburn!
The brook I chose to fish is an interesting one. Most of it is slow, shallow deadwater and totally devoid of fish. There are a few frogs, salamanders and water spiders in the “dead” sections but my target for the day was a short stretch of water that ran between two steep slopes. The stream bed is littered with rock-bound pools, tiny waterfalls and fast-running water that are cool and dark perfect habitat for native brook trout. The entire stretch is about 100 yards long, pinched between long stretches of empty deadwater. The trout find all the food and cover they require in that little stretch of prime habitat, and most years no one bothers to ply them with hook and line.
It’s a beautiful piece of trout water but difficult to fish. Rocks, logs and overhanging branches make it tough to get a hook into the water, and the swift current quickly drags the bait away from the deep, dark recesses where the trout lay in wait for insects and crustaceans washed downstream by the relentless flow.
I have been fishing pockets of trout water like this for more than 50 years so I know what to expect: Plenty of frustration, a few lost hooks and wet feet to boot. Early on I learned not to care about such things; the trout are there, they are hard to reach and one must suffer losses to succeed. It’s no different now than it was when I was in elementary school. At least I can say I did learn something way back then!
I like to approach small streams from the downstream side and fish up, the theory being that the fish above me aren’t as likely to see me because they are facing upstream as well. There are times when a downstream drift is the only practical way to reach a particular pool, and when this is the case I move in slowly from above and make as little commotion as possible in presenting my bait to the fish. Brook trout are eager and aggressive when a bait, fly or lure is properly presented, but if you go storming in, splashing and flailing at every step, they disappear in an instant. You can come back in an hour and try again but you’ll learn to use a little more stealth!
The first pool I fished was perfect long, deep and surrounded by large, moss-covered rocks. It took three tries to reach the head of the pool with my baited hook but I finally got it right. I watched the worm drift along in the current for about three feet, and then a shadowy figure appeared behind it and my bait disappeared. I counted to three and then set the hook in a sparkling 10-inch brook trout, my first of the year. Two more casts produced two more fish just like the first, and then the pool was empty.
I moved along the brook and caught several small fish (brook trout must be 6 inches long to be “legal”), but I wasn’t disappointed. I already had enough trout for a shore dinner; as far as I was concerned the day was a raging success.
In fact, the final upstream pool, formed by a huge hemlock that had fallen across the brook, was going to be my last stop for the day. All my years of small stream fishing told me a big trout had to be lurking under that log, and if I could make the right approach he’d be having breakfast with me the next morning.
I took a break well away from the pool, brewed a cup of tea and considered my options. The log was festooned with branches that dipped into the water, making it all but impossible to reach the trout’s lair. There was one spot on the far side of the stream where the flow was deep and steady, with just room enough to slip a baited hook below the fallen tree. I expected to lose a hook or two in the process but I was sure the trout lying in wait would be worth the effort.
Finishing my tea, I worked my way into the brook just downstream from the tree to a point where I could easily flip my bait into the dark water under the trunk. My first try failed, as did the second, and on the third try my hook tangled in the lower limbs and had to be broken off. I tied on a new hook, re-baited it and flipped it toward my target. This time the bait dropped into the water just below the tree, about six inches upstream and dead center in the current flow.
Almost instantly I felt the tap-tap-tap of a trout hitting the bait. I counted to three and set the hook, and the little pool erupted with a mighty splash. I had to reel line in quickly to keep the fish from becoming entangled in the submerged limbs of the tree. With one quick yank I freed him from his hideout. We battled each other in the wide-open pool below the sunken hemlock, and soon he tired of the effort.
I brought him up to shore for a closer look and was thrilled to see that he was a solid 12 inches long, thick and deep, as colorful a brook trout as I’ve ever seen and, happily, only lightly hooked. I took a few pictures, admired the rainbow of spots and whorls and haloes and then turned him loose. I knew he’d be there next time, and maybe another fishermen will have the pleasure of fooling him. Who knows, it might even be you!