That late morning along the trout brook, only four sounds caught my ear – songbirds, gurgling water between wooded banks, my soft footsteps in damp leaves and a susurrus breeze in the trees, whispering just strongly enough to drown out the whining noise of distant traffic. But it lacked the muscle to take over the woods.
On windless days in central Maine, it’s difficult to get away from rubber noise on pavement – sad but true – which interrupts fishing solitude on this small brook. That’s life in the 20th and 21st centuries in the state’s bottom third when we fish quiet brooks, hunt game or hike woodlands, often near a road with traffic.
But this day along the brook stretch, no vehicular distractions, no stone walls, a rusted barbed-wire fence and tree stumps created the illusion of unspoiled nature, an image of time not passing. The brook at this spot must have looked like this centuries ago.
Yes, these ranked as deep thoughts for a simple brook-trout expedition near Augusta, but soon an 8-inch brookie smacked my nymph and philosophy musings ceased. I wanted the colorful char in my hand pronto.
I love poking along April brooks just as the spring runoff has subsided enough to make catching brook trout a possibility. The clean freshness of the season smells the same as it did when I was a 5-year-old, walking in April woods behind my parents. Taking two or three trout from a brook that no one but me fishes is a fitting end to a brookie outing.
In my late teens and early 20s, I fished a lot with the late Lawrence French, a bait angler, and I followed him with my fly rod along April and early May brooks.
He often badgered me good-naturedly about not using worms but with the heckling he taught me that with bait or flies, stealth on brooks, streams and rivers equals success.
Fly rodders are less sneaky than bait dunkers, but Lawrence showed me – a diehard fly rodder – the value of approaching a pool or run in small, flowing waters as if I were stalking a trophy buck.
While staying low and using bushes, trunks or boulders for cover, Lawrence often crept or crawled up to a pool or run, moving ever so softly to keep sound and vibration minimal.
Lawrence used another brook-fishing technique, too, quite unusual. While standing well away from the bank, he would bait the hook with a fresh worm. Then he would carefully approach the water, present the bait and tiptoe furtively away.
Lawrence often crouched in the background and watched his rod tip, maybe for 15 or 20 minutes. When a trout made it jiggle, he remained still until the fish hooked itself, then he moved in a flash to grab the rod.
I’ve seen him do this ploy dozens of times, particularly on brooks with soft banks that transmitted sound waves well – a place impossible to make an approach without making ground vibrations that frightened fish.
So what is Lawrence’s theory about walking away from a brook?
Trout in the pool thought he had left, so they would get back to their normal routine before the intrusion, a strategy that worked gangbusters.
In early spring brooks, anglers often find trout where they have spent winter – deep pools, gouged-out runs below undercut banks and springy tributary mouths.
One exception to this rule involves brooks flowing into or from ponds and lakes. Trout spend winters in still water, until brooks and streams warm a little later. When water is frigid, trout stay steadfastly in ponds and lakes.
Spring-fed waters in early season may be warmer than brooks that carry more run-off from snowmelt, and higher temperatures attract brookies.
In short, brook or stream water may be 34 to 39 degrees Fahrenheit, but the predominant spring water in a tiny tributary may be in the 40-degree range.
As waters warm into the mid-40ss and higher, brook trout in brooks no longer concentrate solely in deep or springy spots. They disperse into fast runs, pocket water and pool tails, because the temperature in the waterway is right most everywhere.
On days when trout finally spread out, we feel as if we’re the direct descendent of Izaak Walton, the father of modern angling in the western world. At these times we catch fish from most pools and runs, but in late summer, trout with lockjaw disabuse us of our notion of angling perfection.
As I wrote last month, early- season presentations should be slow and deep to bounce along bottom near trout that are hugging stones, gravel, silt or clay. A bait, fly or lure should pass a fish within inches to draw consistent strikes – consistent anyway for April and into early May.
Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at: [email protected]