Our Man In Canada
May 24th, 1999
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BROOK TROUT, OUT in the STICKS
By Kevin Fancy

During mid-morning the crystal clear sunlight filters down through a glistening canopy of multi-coloured leaves. A soft breeze stirs the branches, which in turn casts an ever-changing pattern of light and dark that dance wildly on the forest floor. The crisp cool air smells clean, almost new, tasting pure as if no other creature had ever breathed it before. The sky is as bright and as blue as any cornflower, broken only by billowing towers of snow white clouds. When the Canadian north looks and feels like this, it is a sure sign the long hot days of summer are almost here and the brisk inconsistent days of spring are upon us.

It is on such beautiful days as these that the avid angler scratches his or her first itch to fish in fine weather. It is time to pack up the gear and head out for the first kick at the cat. One quarry (other than the cat) that is ready to bite in this "early season" is the brook trout. Speckled trout to some. The brookie as I fondly call them can be a tad finicky when waters are still cold. Not so much because the cooler water slows down their metabolism, as some believe, but more so because spring is slow to arrive in the cold Canadian depths and bug hatches and other food sources are slow in coming. Catching a spring Brookie takes a little planning and you should have at least a little advanced knowledge of the waters you intend on fishing. At this time of year location is a crucial factor.

Ross Stephen and Lac Taggart Brook Trout

If you think structure is important in the spring and summer, I am here to tell you that it is the only thing that counts, period! Forget thermoclines, they are almost non-existent in the mid to late spring. Drop off areas and mid lake humps? As far as the brookie is concerned they mean nothing unless accompanied by feeder streams. Weed lines? The still growing vegetation provides little cover and less oxygen. So what is left? One of the most prime areas to fish for spring brookies is in the pools of a fast to moderately flowing streams. The fish found here are however waiting only for opportunity to knock at the door. Often when these fish strike it is out of anger or reflex, always they are interested in food.

There are also many lakes and ponds stocked by the government that offer tremendous fishing in the spring. Since most of these streamless waters are stocked and the fish will never successfully spawn, you can feel good about bringing a few of these multi-coloured marvels home for the fry pan any time of year. So leave the running water behind and head instead to a still water where, in my opinion, you may find one of the best places to fish spring brookies. Where should you start when faced with a huge expanse of leaf littered lake or pond? If you promise to keep it to yourself I will let you in on a secret. Are you ready for this? Shh, are we alone? OK, remember you promised. The best place to look for fall brookies in a lake or large slow moving river is in and among shallow shoreline structure.

RIP RAP, CRIP CRAP and TREE SAP

So, having discounted traditional drop off areas (except near stream mouths) and weed beds, you may ask yourself what's left? There are in fact two key areas of structure left to fish that we have yet to mention. One is the dead or windfall trees that lie at the waters edge, while the other is beaver or muskrat lodges.

The fallen tree is an ideal place to find brookies at any time of year. On some lakes however there is so much fallen timber that it is hard to pick the ones that offer the best fishing. In places where the deadfalls are abundant, look for one that is adjacent to deep water and is more or less alone. In the spring don't ignore the back bay falls and sticks and keep one eye open for lone falls on points. These spots offer the best chance for catching fish.

As far as animal made structure goes, I say, avoid muskrat lodges. The Muskrat's lodge is easy to distinguish from the beaver's because they occur in shallower water and look like an old fashioned hay stack of grass with a few sticks where as a beaver lodge contains very little grass and appears to be mostly sticks and mud. Why should you stay away from muskrat houses? Muskrats predate on brookies. Beaver on the other hand are vegetarian and don't mind the company of fish at their front (under water) porch. Brook trout and other fish are not terribly afraid of beaver and quite enjoy the security their dams and lodges offer. Now you might wonder what kind of structure a beaver lodge has that would appeal to a fish. The truth is, underwater where the angler doesn't see, is a forest of branches shoved into the bottom by the busy beaver each fall. These pieces of green wood will be the rodent's winter food source. This stand of submersed deadwood may extend for dozens of yards around the lodge offering an ideal hiding spot for a wary fish. In pools below dams is also a great place to find spring brookies. Besides the branches that have broken away from the main structure and remain submerged, there is running water which is oxygenated as it falls and all sorts of insect larvae, leaches and minnows that take advantage of the current breaks a beaver dam creates as the water begins to warm.

TEASING UP A LUNKER

5lb 4 oz Brookie

There are many ways to work a dam, lodge or deadfall and none are exclusive to spring angling. Live bait such as worms, leaches or small (underline small) minnows are you best bets for spring brookies. If the water is cold still, avoid leaches. Even if they are available at your local tackle shop. They literally won't work in cold water. Leaches roll themselves up in a ball when it's cold and offer little attraction. Worms are good, but stay away from the big fat dew variety and look instead for smaller manure or red wiggles as they are called. Thanks to recycling, wigglers are now available year-round from shops that sell worm composters. When you see how well they work you may want to raise them yourself at home, but that is a whole other story. Keep your minnows small. Any time of year brookies prefer small minnows over big. I don't know why, I have just come to accept it as an unproven fact.

Your options don't stop with live bait either. Trolling with streamer flies on a sinking line works the best of all if the fish aren't buried in structure. Small plugs and spinners cast into the shallows work well too. Try a Creek Creature or a Tad Polly or any one of the blossoming varieties of micro baits now available on the market. Mepps also makes a number of spinners in the O size that when tipped with a worm is deadly. Cast them towards the deadfall or dam and work them slowly back to you. The same goes for any fly you might choose. The main problem I have found with using any non-fly baits when fishing dams and lodges is how much you find yourself hung up. That is why I personally avoid the use (and loss) of costly plugs or spinners. Despite what some folks think we writers do pay for ninety percent of our gear. This is why I have perfected the art of fly-fishing. My favorite bait choice.

WORM DUNKING 101

Aw, stop turning up your nose. You know they work and it's more embarrassing to come home with an empty creel than admitting to having resorted to worm fishing.

The best way to fish a worm for spring brookies is on a small hook, or better, two small hooks. One hook in the nose (so to speak) of the worm and the other about two-thirds the way down. Hooking a worm this way accomplishes two things. First, if a hungry brookie tries to inhale the entire bait on its first attack you have the advantage of possibly setting two hooks. Secondly, if the fish are in a pecking mood, which is seventy-five percent of the time, the first few attacks will only whittle away at the tail. When the fish reaches the lower hook it will feel less spooked and you may get a good hook-set. If you miss on the lower hook at least you can still leave your bait in the water and hope you get a second shot with the top hook.

Once your line is rigged with a tandem hook and your wiggler is in place you need to use sinking fly line or a sinking tip to get it down. Some folks prefer to allow the worm to sink at its own speed so the presentation is a bit more natural. I agree with this approach. If you can roll cast the worm combo without throwing the bait you have got it made. Cast right up to the edge of the structure and slowly strip the line back to the dam or boat, stopping the retrieve several times to allow the bait to hang. If you are fishing from the dam do the same thing in reverse. Cast out to deep water and retrieve to the structure. If after a few casts you have not gotten a slow down or speed up your retrieve and try again. At this time of year the fish could be suspended at any level. Fan cast the entire area you are fishing at each level until you hit the right combination of speed and distance. From a boat or from on top of a lodge; give this dam approach a try. ~ Kevin Fancy

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