5 Controversial Tips for Catching More - And Bigger - Brook Trout
I've been getting a lot of messages recently about chasing brook trout in Maryland, so I figured I'd do a quick post on some tactics I use when fishing brookie streams. Some of these tips may be up for debate (controversy!), but I wanted to keep this post fresh and provide some alternative ways to the traditional thinking. While I fish for brook trout primarily in Maryland, these tips will apply to any brook trout stream in the Mid-Atlantic (and even out west). And if you disagree with me, comment below or message me on Instagram - how fun is a good debate?!
1. Use a Longer Rod: I'm sure you've read other blogs recommending short rods for chasing brookies. Maybe you even own one - I know I do. While short rods have their place, I usually prefer to fish the longest rod I can (up to 9'), even on small and tight brook trout streams. My favorite brook trout rod is an 8'-6" 3wt. This extra length allows me to roll cast and mend line easier, bow and arrow cast more effectively, and use a longer leader (keeping myself away from the prime lies). These longer rods are just more efficient and effective, so give one a try if you've solely been using short rods. However, there are certainly streams that short rods (6-7') are better tools for the job. Plus, short rods are pretty fun to fish with - so don't cross a short rod off your wish-list!
2. Don't Bother with Light Tippets: You don't need light tippets to fool a brook trout. I've tested this countless times, and never see a noticeable reduction in hits with heavier tippets - even in lower and clear water. So, you can leave the 7x, 6x, and, yes, even the 5x at home. I usually carry 4x and sometimes 3x for my brook trout fishing. These tippet sizes are small enough to fit through the eyes of your dry flies, while being strong enough to quickly tie on a streamer for those deep plunge pools you come across. Using one tippet size for dry flies, nymphs, and streamers maximizes your time on the water and also minimizes break-offs. A feisty brookie - who turns downstream just as you set your hook - can snap even a 5x tippet. Those pesky overhanging branches and trees in your backcast can do the same thing. Save yourself some flies, and time, by using 3x and 4x next time out.
3. Take Six Flies, Max: Brook trout are not picky when they are active. If it looks like food, and is presented appropriately, they won't have any issues eating it. So pick a few easy to see dry flies, a couple bead-head nymphs, and a small streamer, or two, and trust that you'll find some willing fish. With the heavier tippet, as I suggest above, you won't lose nearly as many flies. There is no need to match the hatch like on your local spring creek or tailwater, and sometimes matching the hatch will actually decrease your catch rate (just take my word for it).
4. Stop Picking Every Pocket: Every little pocket on a brookie stream could potentially hold a brook trout; so sure, be my guest and hit every little spot. Frankly, this might be your only choice if you're fishing a crowded and popular stream. However, if you're able to cover water without running into another angler, I'd recommend skipping the small spots and focusing on the larger pockets and pools that are almost guaranteed to hold fish. This will maximize your opportunities and give you a shot at those bigger fish.
5. Stop Fishing Dry Flies: Want bigger brookies? Throw streamers. Want more brookies? Fish nymphs. Let's all do this together: Go find your dry fly box, throw it in the paper shredder, and become a streamer junkie! But seriously, if brookies didn't absolutely annihilate dry flies in exhilarating fashion, we probably wouldn't fish dries to them quite as often. So, if you really want more and bigger fish you might want to consider another method, but I won't blame you if all you want to fish are dries - I'm the same way.
6. Take Care of the Fish: OK, here is a tip that I don't think will cause much debate - I hope. Brook trout are rapidly losing their historic range here in the Mid-Atlantic. It is important that we do everything we can to protect them, while also enjoying the resource. Here are the ways I protect brook trout while fishing, and I recommend you do the same: a) use barbless hooks, b) keep the fish in the water as much as you can, c) wet your hands if and when you handle a fish, d) don't fish when water temperatures exceed, or will soon exceed, 68 degrees, and e) always catch and release brook trout.