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Some people consider back-to-school advertising as a harbinger of summer’s end, but I have always considered the last day of “trout season” (Aug. 15) as the official end of summer. Fans of brook and stream fishing have this week to themselves under the general rule, although it is possible to continue fishing on other waters with restrictions on allowable tackle, size and bag limits. This is when a current copy of the state’s open water fishing regulations becomes the angler’s most valuable tool. Those who want to fish any time with anything for any species have till Friday to do it, at which point things become more complicated.
This week, however, brook fishermen should have an excellent time plying their favorite small waters with flies, lures or bait. Some good, soaking rains of late have kept water levels higher than normal, at least on the brooks I like to fish, and it’s great to end the season with enough trout to go along with the abundance of tomatoes, cucumbers and squash that my garden has produced. I’m a “packet” kind of gardener, only planting a few of my favorite vegetables because I learned long ago that overabundance can be a real problem, especially during a good growing season. When everyone is raising the same types of veggies it’s tough to even give away the surplus, which then seems like a terrible waste. Anyway, I buy my seeds by the packet and find that I get more than enough produce to satisfy my needs.
Which then frees me up to go fishing, which I much prefer to picking weeds in the garden, although fishing an August trout stream is not much different than wading through weeds in the zucchini patch. Foliage, spider webs and various other natural obstacles make it difficult to offer a plump garden worm to a waiting brook trout at this time of year, but anglers with a good eye for deep holes, undercut banks and dark pools should have no problem taking a limit of brookies for supper.
From a practical standpoint, there’s not much sense in trying to fly-fish or cast lures into water you can hardly see because of the dense foliage. Maybe one in 100 pools offers enough room to cast and even then the obstacles are myriad. This is jungle fishing at its best, which means the angler armed with an ultra-light rod and 2-pound-test line will have the most success. The challenge is not so much fooling the fish but reaching them in the first place. Layers upon layers of twigs, branches, leaves and ferns overhang most of the best pools and snaking a hook and line through the maze of wind-whipped vegetation is a lesson in frustration that few people can master. Focus and concentration are the keys to success – skill has little or nothing to do with it. The trout themselves are not terribly fussy about what you offer them, but they do insist that it be in, or at least near, the water.
It takes a keen eye and many years of failure to be able to “read” a small stream and know which pools are viable and which are not. Some tangles of roots and flotsam are next to impossible to fish and even if you do succeed in slipping a worm into the darkest deep hole any fish that takes it will become instantly tangled in its surroundings, hooked but lost and wasted. There have been times when I’ve waded into the middle of a stream to unravel a bird’s nest of line in order to retrieve a tangled trout, but in some cases the fish will end up too deep in too gnarly a spot to allow its recovery. Experienced fishermen avoid those spots and move on to where they know they can make a clean offering and a smooth recovery.
Every stream has its good and bad spots and usually plenty of them, so there’s no need to bother with the questionable holes. The beauty of trout brooks is that a good pool that’s easy to fish is certain to have at least one hungry brookie in it, perhaps more, so bypassing several iffy pools to reach one favorable spot is not as wasteful as it may sound. Fish that are ignored will be there next time, perhaps in another spot, which is what makes brook fishing so dependable throughout the season. Take a good fish out of one spot and another will take its place – it is nature’s way and has worked quite well for thousands of years.
There’s no great mystery to catching trout up close and personal, but it is a good idea to move slowly, take careful steps to avoid alerting the fish and take all the time necessary to ensure a smooth presentation. Brook trout make their living gulping, slurping and sipping their food from the water’s surface and right down to the bottom and they won’t ignore a properly-delivered snack. Simply creep up on the pool as quietly as possible, reach out as far as the rod tip will allow and lower the bait to the water’s surface. If a trout is there he’ll strike within a few seconds. Some fish will leap out of the water and take a bait in mid-air, and some will position themselves beneath the bait and snap it up the instant it hits the water.
Ambitious August anglers use gaudy flies like the Royal Coachman or tiny, bright spinners but the all-around, always productive, never fail bait is a simple garden worm attached to a single No. 8 hook. No other attractants are needed because a three-inch garden worm looks like a python to the average brook trout. Most of what a trout eats is about the size of a grain of salt, so a whole garden worm is equivalent to serving Chateaubriand on a toothpick. There will be a response!
There are only a few days left to “general rule” fishing and, alas, summer. Get out there and make the most of both!
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