Friday, December 6, 2013
By KEN ALLEN
Typical small trout brooks in Maine tend to see little angler traffic, even in spring. But that rule proves doubly true in July and August, when folks turn their attention to striped bass in tidal waters or black bass in lakes and ponds.
I have wandered along Maine brooks all my life, noticing an absence of human tracks, leader packages and beverage or worm containers at most of them. These experiences show the sport attracts few participants, and any exception to that general rule is just that -- an exception.
I've often quoted a hot tip from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife's retired fisheries biologist, William "Bill" Woodward. If water temperature in a brook doesn't rise above 68 degrees in a midsummer hot spell, that water has brook trout in it.
Anglers pursuing wild brook trout in equally wild settings can head to Maine's woodland brooks now and find solitude. People who have never fished these tiny waters should give this wonderful resource a try and discover the excitement firsthand. July is a grand month to do it, too.
This month, spring-fed brooks draw trout from much larger waters, and depending on weather, they require two distinct fishing approaches:
• In a typical July with little rain, brook trout head to deep holes, deeply undercut banks, heavily shaded runs and spring seeps. The springs may ooze from the channel bottom or from a rivulet, running into the brook. Brookies swarm into these spots for the cold, well-oxygenated water.
Anglers can key on these hot spots and expect action each year -- if they don't kill all the fish there. An average brook-trout brook in Maine's bottom one-third has 15 to 45 six-inch or longer brookies per mile -- an ultra-fragile resource. Because of that, anglers should release most of the catch.
• Heavy summer rain raises brook flows and spreads brookies up and down the brook, reminiscent of early season when water temperatures are cool everywhere. Because of that, serious brook anglers keep an eye on weather forecasts and pray for lots of July and August rains that influence salmonids to strap on the feedbag.
If a hard rain raises brook flows too much, the overflow may slow angling action, but within days, dropping water instigates a feeding frenzy. Serious brook anglers live for these rainy periods throughout summer.
Fast runs, heads of deep pools below rapids, or just about any spot with cover and/or oxygenated water draws brookies now -- often the same spots that are popular in late April and early May.
One favorite example of a wonderful, tiny, spring-fed trout brook has two features worth noting, features that help keep it completely secret:
• The brook runs under a busy state highway, but dense shrubs conceal it from passing motorists.
• Brush also hides the brook where it enters the river.
Passing anglers just can't see the water unless they walk around the tangled mess. Between the main highway and river, this tiny, crystal-clear brook runs through thick, mixed-growth forest -- a joy to fish.
Some brooks seldom produce a brook trout longer than 7 to 8 inches, but no one should despair on such a rivulet. In summer heat, brookies migrate up from the river to spend two or more months in gelid water, so 10-inch brookies are common. Occasionally, I catch a 12-incher, but most of them run 7 to 10 inches.
Nothing beats an ultra-light spinning rod with a worm for tiny brooks, because bank brush and trees often make it impossible to work spinning lures or flies.
Tom Seymour of Waldo would argue that claim about worms. Although he has no ethical problems with using bait, he does so well with Trout Magnets (baby bass jigs) that he prefers them, mostly because he doesn't have to deal with keeping bait alive in summer heat.
Whether it's sharks or tiny brookies, I fly-fish, and for brushy brooks, I choose a special fly rod, a 6-foot, 4-weight that can cast a fly 15 feet. Usually, fly rodders have no more room than that to throw a line.
On brooks, fly rodders occasionally have no open space to cast, so they stand upstream of a lie, drop the fly into the current and feed out line so the offering drifts down to a holding area -- the only option.
When fishing a small brook, trout anglers approach each pool and run as if they are sneaking up on a trophy buck. That's how wary brookies are in extremely restricted habitat.
Occasionally, small brooks produce browns and even rainbows, but as a rule, I key on brooks with native brook trout -- those colorful little char with no hatchery genes.
In some forgotten brooks east of Augusta, I'm the fourth generation in my family to catch brook trout that came from common ancestors, and my daughters are the fifth generation of that unbroken chain.
Ken Allen of Belgrade Lakes is a writer, editor and photographer. He can be contacted at: