Anadromous brook and brown trout can provide patient and persistent Northeast anglers with some of the most rewarding fishing in the region; not to mention it is one of the least understood and targeted fisheries around. Anadromous trout are fish that are born in freshwater, spend a period of their lives at sea, then run back up the river they were born in to spawn. While salter browns are generally stocked fish, sea-run brook trout are an entirely native anadromous species.
Just when you thought big browns or native Brookies were as badass as they come, salties come running upriver screamin’ “hold my beer!”…Beaten, bloody, and bruised these easily preyed-on trout are lucky to be alive. A pack of piranha-like Bluefish could turn a school of salties into ribbon within seconds, not to mention the stripers or seals casually cruising the brackish estuaries. These Atlantic run warriors are equally as admirable as they are elusive.
We sat down with experienced New England “Salter” angler Patrick McEvoy (P-Mack) to talk about what makes the sea run trout of New England special. Patrick (IG: @pmack6) is a Cape Cod native and longtime angler. Picking up fly fishing at a young age put him in the perfect habitat to explore the famed and fabled Cape Cod sea-run brook trout population. We had a chance to chat with him about his love for salters and the future of this fishery.
Flylords: So when did you begin targeting these “salters”?
P-Mack: “I started fishing for Salters, or sea-run brook trout when I met a kid in my 6th-grade science class that mentioned fly fishing. that following weekend he had me on the Mashpee River catching these native Brookies. he explained to me that day that we may encounter members of the local Wampanoag Tribe, the indigenous native Americans who still inhabit Cape Cod today. the first salter I took was on a small dry fly and measured no longer than 4 inches, but the myriad of colors was mesmerizing.”
P-Mack continued by recounting his trip last year, back to the same rivers he fished as a kid.
“The crown jewel of cape cod is the Quashnet River which is not only spring fed, but runs through land protected by the State of Massachusetts. The river has undergone extensive and costly rehabilitation thanks to the work of the local Trout Unlimited Chapter and the Sea-run Brook Trout Coalition. These nonprofits were able to stabilize the fishery, protect the watershed and complete extensive rehab which has led to an exceptional resurgence of the native fish.”
Flylords: Is there hope for this fishery, or will it meet its demise due to death by a thousand cuts? There are a number of organizations in place attempting to stabilize the fishery along the Eastern seaboard but some believe it may be too little too late.
P-Mack: “Yeah, I was lucky enough to get the chance to fish some fabled Atlantic salmon and Sea-run brook trout water in New Brunswick. The Brookies were as plentiful as they were beautiful. The freshest fish, those who had just entered the river from the estuaries, were eager to take small streamers. Luckily for me, a dry fly junky, the trout which had acclimated to the river were keen to take bombers in dramatic fashion. The bomber is a fly that will confound the mind of any fisherman; it looks like nothing natural, it’s humongous, and comes in color patterns such “the smurf”; bright blue and white. A fresh fish is unmistakable to a fish that has remained in the river or been in the river for some time and the pictures do not do justice. Especially to the colored up male Brookies, complete with fire red belly, white tipped fins, and kype jaw.”
Flylords: Any similarities between freshwater Brookies and salters?
P-Mack: “The fisheries are incomparable but the reason for the disparity is glaringly obvious; human beings. The rivers in New Brunswick do not have stream degradation caused by human populations, nor dams like the 3000 that call Massachusetts’ rivers home.”
“The fresh fish, just up from the estuary have an unmistakable silver sheen, not present in the more classically decorated brookies fly fishermen have come to love. Like the Atlantic Salmon with which the salters share the rivers in New Brunswick, the fresh silvery fish are so colored because of their diet while living in the salt water; grass shrimp and minnows are always on the menu, even small crabs. Once the Salters enter the river they are back to a normal trout diet of mayfly nymphs and caddis larvae, as well as small fry, minnows, and sculpin. This diet, coupled with the tannin-stained water will set about an incredible change in colors. The flawless red and white fins are sometimes the only way to spot these fish in the river. Mother Nature surely created a masterpiece when she painted the body of these fish, perhaps the most intricately decorated of any trout or char species we target in North America. It is quite common for friends and family to inquire about pictures of salters, they are simply mesmerizing.”
“ It should also be noted that these salters are actually char and not trout.”
“Salters have a reputation as opportunistic and aggressive, eager to take a streamer imitating small baitfish. The fish in New Brunswick were eerily similar to those of Cape Cod, small cone head streamers with some flash were deadly. we took fish on dries too, mostly bombers fished almost like a bass popper. The Brookies could hardly help themselves. pop…pop…SMASH…needless to say that technique will not work in the small streams of the Cape.”