Wild Brook Trout in Wild Country
Before setting off in pursuit of brook trout, it’s important to know and understand your quarry. They are considered one of the most beautiful of all the freshwater species. Brook trout live in only the coldest and cleanest waters. Healthy populations of wild brook trout provide evidence of a healthy ecosystem.
Fortunately, since the 1970’s the NYSDEC and a host of other agencies have worked closely with Cornell University in an ongoing effort to deal with a variety of continuing threats to wild populations of Adirondack brook trout. The remediation efforts have included the development of acid tolerant trout and pond reclamation efforts including applying lime to the acidic waters.
In addition to making adjustments in the water chemistry, pond reclamation efforts have also included the application of Rotenone, a natural pesticide that is used to eradicate invasive and non-native fish. Obviously, the measures have been successful. The current NYS record brook trout, a handsome 6 pounder taken by Rick Beauchamp in the Silver Lake Wilderness Area, was from waters that had once been considered too acidic to support trout.
Because they are so sensitive to water quality and temperature, brook trout are a classic indicator species for the larger aquatic ecosystem and the watersheds in which they live. They have very specific water chemistry, temperature, and oxygen requirements compared to other fish and even other trout species.
Hunting Wild Brook Trout
Although I’ve earned a reputation for fishing many of the most remote ponds in the Park, I actually prefer to fish the smaller waters where wild brook trout are abundant and fellow anglers are few and far between. I grew up fishing for brookies on the small streams and brooks flowing out of the High Peaks Wilderness. I still consider the Boquet River, which is the highest elevation trout stream in the state, to be my home waters.
While the NYSDEC continues to do an outstanding job stocking the rivers and streams, there are numerous waters that continue to sustain healthy populations of wild brook trout. The majority of those waters are smaller tumbling mountain streams and backwoods flows. However, wild trout can also be found in many of the region’s larger rivers as well. These include the Raquette, Hudson, Saranac, Ausable, Boquet, Indian, and Bog River where they often return to continue to spawn.
There are also many waters that harbor both wild brown trout and native brookies, which occasionally cross breed to produce a unique hybrid known as a tiger trout. Over the years, the Chubb River near Lake Placid has produced several healthy two or three pound tigers.
During the summer months when visiting anglers often line the banks of many Adirondack trout streams, I usually retreat to smaller, less traveled waters. While such waters may not harbor trophy trout, they provide trout that are willing to bite. They also offer something that’s even more valuable--peace, quiet and solitude.
In such surroundings there’s little competition beyond the native mink, otter, kingfisher, osprey and an occasional bald eagle. If you happen to see such critters gathered, it’s a safe bet that fish are nearby. What these waters do not include is angler competition. As a rule, if there’s a vehicle in the parking lot it’s time to seek another location. Hint: The water is always colder upstream and as a rule most anglers don’t like to climb uphill.
Another old standard claims that the farther they are removed from roads and civilization the more productive the waters. Although I’ve discovered a lot of untapped honey holes that were located just off the highway, usually near a culvert, I prefer to fish in locations that are located well beyond the din of civilization. In this regard, I believe lightweight canoes and pack rafts are very useful tools.
They provide comfortable transportation with an ideal casting platform that can put you in the middle of the action. Canoes also allow anglers to escape the highways and access waters that are too deep to wade. Explore, enjoy, innovate, and never turn down an opportunity to listen to the tales of an “old timer.” With any luck you’ll be one someday.
Don’t overlook an opportunity to prospect for wild brookies in the alder beds during the early season. Often the smaller streams are riddled with networks of beaver canals that connect to deeper holding pools. Over the years I’ve enjoyed some truly spectacular days in the brush catching and releasing wild brook trout as fast as I could get my line in the water.
At such times I like to rig up a high floating dry fly such as an Ausable Wulff, Humpy, or Usual, with a Prince or a similar soft hackle nymph as a dropper fly. If they take the dry first, it’s not uncommon to hook up a second brookie or even a third. While they may only be 10 or 12 inches in length, the brookies provide a true battle as they attempt to escape in all directions.
Most beaver dams don’t turn on until the heat of the summer rolls around. Another “not to be missed” hatch arrives in early August when the lightning bugs hatch flickers in the marsh. Fishing blind in the darkness of the cool marsh is an incredible experience. Once you’ve been there, done that, you’ll mark the date on your calendar for next season.
We take to the outdoors in an effort to escape the worries and non-essential concerns of the day. Angling serves to transport us to places where the only focus is on the stalk, the cast, the set, and the fish. In the effort to locate such waters, I’ve provided some of the methods, tools, and knowledge necessary to get you there and back.
Here’s some advice if you plan to venture into wilderness areas: Study the maps and know your route. Watch the weather and don’t be afraid to bail out. There will always be another opportunity.
Leave word of your route, destination and the date you expect to return with a responsible adult. Be sure to sign in at the trailhead register. Prepare yourself physically and bring only the necessary equipment. If lost, admit it and keep calm, dry, and warm; but most of all, stay put. Bring plenty of patches for boots, rafts, canoes, tents as well as cuts and scrapes.
I also adjust my equipment to the expected quarry. This usually involves downsizing the rods, reels, leaders and the size of flies, and lures. When the largest fish is likely to be less than a foot long, there’s no need to carry a 9 foot, 9 weight flyrod. In most situations I prefer to use an ultra-lite rod and reel spooled with 4 - 6 pound mono and a 7 foot, 3 weight flyrod.
A list of suggested flies and lures include: Gold Phoebe, Mepp’s Aglia, Black or Olive size 6 -10 fur jigs, Size 6 -10 streamers, Micky Finn, black and olive leeches, and black fur spotted salamander jigs. A variety of mayfly nymphs, dry flies, dragonfly nymphs and an assortment of locally tied dry flies can round out your arsenal.
Enjoy the summer prospecting small streams for wild brook trout. Remember that the best and most successful angler is the one having the most fun.
Joe Hackett is a licensed guide and owner/operator of Tahawus Ltd, a year-round Adirondack guide service. He specializes in adventures that teach outdoor skills like fishing, camping, and paddling. (518-891-4334) He regularly writes columns in several Adirondack newspapers and freelances for many outdoor publications.
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