April 21, 2012

Allen Afield: Flies, forage key to brown trout success


Recently, a friend told me that he has problems catching brown trout consistently, so he preferred targeting brookies, rainbows and landlocks. This fellow said those three species may occasionally offer fishless days, but on most outings, he found them much easier to fool.

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One of the earliest attempts to establish brown trout as a species in this country occurred in Maine in 1885. Many states didn’t have browns until the 20th century.

John Ewing/Telegram File

His comment about browns surprised me, too. He specializes in fly fishing, ultralight spin-fishing, and trolling lead-core or fast-sinking fly lines, which has earned him a well-deserved reputation as a superb angler.

My advice to this guy began with a comment that sounded conceited, but I was just making a point. Three secrets help me catch browns with exciting regularity, and they have worked throughout my adult life:

Figure out what forage interests the browns on each outing.

Find a fly or lure that imitates the food of choice.

Present the offering in a lifelike manner that duplicates how the natural moves in the water.

Of course, those three secrets work with all salmonid species, but they're crucial to brown-trout success.

On the other hand, I've seen weird things occur with the other three that defy match-the-hatch logic. Even when I catch fish on those wacky days, it feels like luck.

One example of many with brook trout happened on Frost Pond near Ripogenus Dam on a day in late spring, when they had keyed on a mayfly species imitated by a Quill Gordon dry fly, tied with dark-dun hackle instead of medium dun and black thread instead of olive under the quill body.

The hatch struck me as perfect for success, too. The bugs were emerging just sporadically enough so they didn't carpet the surface. Because of that, brookies could easily see my fly among the naturals.

One of my fly boxes contained a half-dozen of those superb imitations for this mayfly, so I tied one onto a 2-pound tippet. However, even with light mono and the right imitation, the brookies ignored my offerings and continued sipping naturals right beside my fly.

After trying several different patterns and styles of gray dry flies, luck intervened. On a whim, I tied on a Slaymaker's Little Brook Trout, which resembled a tiny brookie, not an insect. However, this nonsensical choice produced an exciting afternoon. Trout continued rising to natural duns but also climbed all over my Slaymaker's creation.

Stuff like this has happened to me several times while fishing for brookies, but landlocks have also behaved in similar fashion.

A perfect example, one of a myriad, occurred on a North Woods lake just after ice-out. The current from a tributary spilling into a lake cove drew spawning rainbow smelts near to the stream mouth.

They frequently dimpled the meniscus, and pursuing salmon made big swirls, evidence that they were feeding on these baitfish. However, landlocks ignored my smelt patterns.

On a whim, I tied on a Barne's Special, a juvenile yellow-perch imitation, and began slamming salmon. Even more bizarre, the stomach of a salmon killed for dinner was sausage-tight with smelts. Go figure.

On the other hand, when I match an imitation to a natural in a realistic manner, brown trout often respond predictably, making me love the species.

Maine's first successful brown-trout introduction occurred in 1885, one of the earlier attempts in this country to establish the species. New York and Michigan beat us by two years, but we were an early state, for sure.

Many states didn't have browns until the 20th century, and Virginia waited until 1960 to introduce them.

Even though browns came to our state 127 years ago, lots of Mainers still dislike them -- despite having had more than a century to live with them. One complaint about this German import -- "Browns are just too hard to catch" -- surprises me little, but ample experience has taught me to doubt that claim.

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