Fly Fishing for Brook Trout: Colorful Char are Often Overlooked by Long Rodders

Unfortunately, in many of these small, austere streams, brookies multiply beyond the capacity of the habitat, causing them to stunt and create huge populations of really small fish.

In the West, brookies have the opposite impact--they thrive, even to the detriment of native cutthroat trout, the original native to the West's trophy trout waters. In pristine and remote headwater streams throughout the West, the adventurous fly fisher is probably more likely to catch brook trout than native cutthroats.

Ironically, in their home waters on the East Coast, brook trout populations are in real trouble, largely due to invasive fish plantings, acidic pollution and climate change.

Brook trout plantings in the West are now almost completely unheard of, but initial stockings--some dating back well over 100 years--have resulted in thousands of viable brook trout populations in the Rockies, the Cascades and the Sierra-Nevada.

Brookies are native to the streams and rivers of the Eastern Seaboard, the upper Midwest and eastern Canada. A member of the char family that also includes Arctic char, Dolly Varden and bull trout, brookies might be the most prolific transplanted fish in the salmonid family.

For fly fisher's, the fact brook trout are often the ignored, red-headed step children of the angling world shouldn't be viewed negatively. In fact, brook trout, or "brookies," offer great sport on light tackle and, when they're pulled from waters to which they are not native, they offer a guilt-free food source.

While that may not be ideal from a conservation angle, brookies do offer great sport, especially to the fly fisher who can string together a 3-weight rod, tie on a high-floating attactor pattern and walk away from the road just a bit for some backcountry casting.

Because of their genuinely diminutive size, brookies are best pursued with light tackle and light tippets. The good news is, because the waters they inhabit are so sparse when it comes to dependable food sources, brookies aren't very particular when it comes to fly patterns. Just about any dry fly drifted through a likely run will work.

Finding brook trout water--especially if you live in the West--is easy. Many, if not most, headwater streams host fishable populations of brookies. Just don't expect trophy fishing--an eight-inch fish is probably better than average on most small streams, and 12-inch brookies are legitimate trophies in the West.

The beauty of chasing brookies? Because they require cold, clean water to survive, if an angler is catching them, he or she is probably in a pretty special place to begin with. Slow down. Enjoy the scenery.

Half the fun of a day spent chasing brookies is experiencing the destination--anglers could very likely encounter deer, elk or even moose, and chance encounters with black bears (or even grizzlies in the northern Rockies and the Yellowstone region) are not unheard of. Use common sense, make a little noise and enjoy great fishing.

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Donald S. Cochran

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