If you like getting eaten alive by insects, hung up on thick brush, fishing in a body of water the size of a ditch, and desire a challenge, then targeting brook trout is perfect for you. The new generations of fly fishermen must realize that fly fishing is not always about catching large fish, it is about getting out of your comfort zone and landing that “new species.”
The brook trout is the only native trout to Pennsylvania and used to thrive in all of the major streams… Ever since wild browns have taken over an abundant amount streams and are now an apex predator, brookies are found deeper in the mountains. Today, they are like oversized minnows with a color pattern no other species can match in beauty. It is crazy to think that these tiny fish used to average sizes similar to brown trout. That is why “Size does not matter!” The beauty of brook trout definitely overshadows its smaller sizes in length. Targeting brook trout can be easier than catching a pan fish, but can also be more difficult than getting onto a musky at times.
Here are some tips to be successful:
1. Be a ninja... It is simple, these fish are very skittish and will disappear in a blink of an eye. To avoid spooking brooks, walk carefully when scouting water. You will be surprised how much more productive you will be if you avoid walking in the stream. Also, be sure to not cast shadows on any holes. They will be gone in a flash and leave you with empty water.
2. Get out of your comfort zone… Search in overlooked regions and explore deep into the spring fed mountain runs. These areas carry less pressure and we all know cool, fresh, and turbulent water call for a healthy environment. Here in PA you will come across some of the best water that is overrun by our state flower, the mountain laurel. Even with this obstacle you must be sure to hit every pocket you can. Crawl on your stomach or crouch for a good position to bow’n arrow cast in these thick areas.
3. Make your fly dance... Brook trout are one of the most aggressive trout. I know of fishermen catching these fish on a dry fly in every month of the year! These fish are opportunists that will take a meal when they can. They are not picky in the PA region and will eat almost any fly you put in front of them. I have caught countless fish by lightly bouncing my fly up against the current at the end of each drift. I have now turned this into a technique and have had some of the most fun with this dry fly dancing skill.
4. Pack simple… No need to stuff your pack with boxes of flies and leader. I think of targeting brook trout as a “simple” way of fishing. Here is a quick list of things I pack on a trip:
- These fish typically will not spool you out or break your line… 5x or 6x leaders/tippet are the most appropriate. Mono for dries and fluorocarbon for nymphing.
- Bug spray, Bug spray, Bug spray… You will thank me later.
- Due to the high canopied trees, polarized shades will allow you to spot your fly easier in the lowest light.
- As for flies, I recommend starting with a light-colored elk hair caddis or stimulator and going from there. I also find that variations of the Bread n Butter by George Daniel is an awesome nymph that is good all year round. (Crushes browns too)
- As for your weapon of choice; a light rod and reel is best. The Thomas and Thomas Lotic Rod is a nice go-to for its versatility to make the transition to small nymphs or streamers when called for, along with its sensitivity to protect the finest tippets.
5. Treat the fish like it’s the last… Be respectful to not only the environment but the creatures that inhabit it. Do not act as a bulldozer walking through brush. Try to leave it the way you found it so that area can continue producing fish. Now, this brings me to handling these tiny fish. They are very delicate and aren’t hardy like bass (obviously). Go barbless! And leave them in the water as much as possible. Too much pressure when handling brooks can cause fatal outcomes.
These fish are special. From the time you see that outburst on the surface of the water, your heart starts pumping. Even with the limited size, they will be forever one of my favorite species; for their beauty and because they are Pennsylvania’s state fish.