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It’s not very often that conditions are perfect for something you want to do outdoors. Too often it’s raining, snowing, too hot, too cold, too windy or too far away to do today, and too often the job goes undone.
Well, conditions are perfect for brook fishing right now; so don’t waste any more time procrastinating. Put on your raggedy jeans, some old sneakers, a faded T-shirt and get out there where the native brookies reside.
With patience and enough garden worms in your pocket you can expect to catch your limit of five fish (over 6 inches) on pretty much every outing. I say this because our area of Maine is replete with small trout brooks that are rarely fished. Sure, a lot of people stop at road crossing culverts and bridges and catch a few trout, but if you start walking upstream or down you’ll soon see an end to the cups, papers, plastic bottles and other debris left by earlier anglers. Suddenly you’ll see long stretches of water with no signs of human encroachment, not even a footprint. That’s where you need to start fishing!
I got back into small stream trouting a few years ago when I found an old Orvis fiberglass custom rod I’d made back in the late 60s that was, I thought, perfect for brook trout fishing. It is 5 feet long, noodly as can be and very sensitive. I fitted it with a Mitchell 308 reel (the smallest available in those days) filled with 2-pound-test line. With a small, gold spinner and a No. 6 snelled hook attached, and I’m ready to go.
Be forewarned, brook fishing is not usually stand-up fishing. You’ll be hunching and creeping around all day, testing small holes and pools where the stream’s biggest fish will be found. This is not “hurry to the next pool” fishing, either. I enter the woods (alders, mostly!), rod in hand, and the first thing I do is look over the stream and decide where the best fish are likely to be. Chances are you will encounter four or five brookies that are less than 6 inches for every one over the limit, and I don’t like to bother with those small fish because the trauma of being hooked, played and landed stresses them. In fact, I purposely use the largest, fattest garden worms I can find (not night crawlers, which are way too big for this kind of fishing) so I can just raise the small fish out of the water and let them jiggle themselves off the worm. They’re not always hooked, but their teeth are locked into the piece of worm, so with a little wiggle they can easily let go and go hide somewhere.
You don’t just stumble up to a pool and start slapping the water with bait. That will get you nothing but a sunburned neck! Keep in mind that many of our small brooks meander through boggy ground, and every step you take is telegraphed though the moss to the fish below. You can stamp your foot and literally see the ripples go across the water. The trout can feel those vibrations, too, and won’t wait around to find out what made them!
I like to get ready (rod in hand, bait in a tobacco tin in my pocket) and then pause a few minutes before making the first cast. I let my mind slow down, focus on the job at hand and shed all my earthly troubles before I start fishing. Thus in tune with the woods, I move slowly, fish carefully and pay attention to the clues the brook gives me as I move along.
It makes no difference if you fish up or down stream as long as you do it carefully. Sneak up to a pool, ease your bait into the water and be read for an instant strike. The best places to find fish are usually the worst places to get a bait into, but therein lies the challenge of brook fishing. A patient angler with a touch of finesse can lower a bait between limbs and logs, past a spider’s web and down to the water’s surface without a ripple, and those who can do it are rewarded with a “monster” trout that may go 10 inches or better! Catching five such fish may take you all morning on some waters, or you can be home by 9 a.m. with the makings of a great breakfast – it all depends on your ability to move quietly, fish slowly and react to that first aggressive strike.
I try to fish a different stream (or at least a different stretch) each time I go because these small streams are never stocked, and natural reproduction generally means fewer fish but better quality fish. No stocked trout can match the beauty of a native brook trout. A 5-inch native brookie is one of the most beautiful creatures on earth, so bright and colorful . . . Handle and release them with care and go after them again next year.
If I had to do only one kind of fishing each year, it would be for native Maine brook trout in a stream I can easily jump across (which isn’t so easy nowadays!). For me, a perfect day on the water consists of a morning or afternoon spent catching three or four fat brook trout, which I immediately guy and slide into a small cooler pack that is filled with crushed ice. When the last fish takes the bait, I clean him and toss him into the cooler, and then I get ready for a streamside feast!
First I’ll get my pocket stove out and boil some water for tea. With cup in hand, I’ll get the rest of my meal ready. I may bring along some bacon or salt pork, which I’ll get sizzling in the pan while I prepare some canned potatoes, home fries or fiddleheads. Next, I’ll dip the trout in a plastic bag filled with flour, salt and pepper, and fry them quickly in the bacon or pork drippings. All of this can be done in about 15 minutes. I’ll find a convenient mossy log to sit on, fire up another cup of tea and enjoy a meal that simply can’t be beat.
Talk about perfect conditions. Now’s the time to go, and any small brook in central Maine will provide a nice “shore lunch” for you, too!
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