Brook Trout Basics

News & Tips: Brook Trout Basics

Brook trout are a truly magnificent species of fish. If you're ever lucky enough to get a chance to fish for brookies and catch a few, you will witness a dazzling display of colors that rival Picasso's best works. Brook trout are gunmetal gray, layered with brilliant shades of red, yellow and orange, topped off with cream spots and white tipped fins.

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Extravagant coloration, local availability and spirited fighting make these small trout a popular target.

Brook trout are not true members of the trout genus, but instead belong to the charr family, which includes lake trout, bull trout, blue-backed trout, Dolly Varden and arctic charr. Brookies are widely distributed throughout North America and are generally located in clean, cold, well-oxygenated rivers and streams.

Brook trout are quite a bit smaller than the other trout species with which they cohabitate. On average, brook trout can be caught in the 7 to11 inch range, but for the serious angler, the 20 inch class fish is a realizable goal. Extravagant coloration, local availability and spirited fighting make these small trout a popular target and an absolute treat to catch for the beginner and experienced angler alike. 

Life Cycle

Brook trout spawn in late summer or autumn, depending on the location and temperature of the river or lake they inhabit. River bottoms with loose, clean gravel and a good supply of upwelling, oxygen-rich water is prime area for brook trout spawning.

Mature adults can travel many miles upstream to reach adequate spawning grounds, and brook trout reach spawning maturity around two years of age and spawn every fall. Once the eggs have been deposited and fertilized in the redd (i.e. nest) an incubation process occurs during the winter that results in a hatch of fry in early spring. After the hatch, fry remain in the gravel redd area until the yolk sac is used up, then they move into shallower water to enjoy the protection provided by aquatic vegetation.

As tiny yearlings, the growth rate of brook trout varies widely depending on habitat. Fish that live in relatively rich habitats will grow quickly, and those that live in nutrient poor enviroments will grow slower. As the fish mature, some will venture out into lakes and will eventually return when they are mature enough to spawn. Others will move from their home stream to reach and repopulate other sections of river.

Fishing Techniques

When planning an upcoming brook fishing trip, remember that a wide variety of fishing styles and techniques can be used to catch these spirited trout. However, out of all the different systems available for taking these fish, one of the most fun and productive would have to be fly fishing. Brook trout readily take flies of all sizes and styles making them the perfect target for beginner and experienced fly anglers alike.

Of all the colorful trout species available, brook trout fishing on flies is some of the best action anglers will see during the long summer months. Early season trout gorge themselves on aquatic insects, so imitating these bottom dwelling insects (i.e. nymphs) is key to your success.

When nymph fishing, some sort of indicator system is necessary (or at least helpful) to identify strikes. Other than that, a standard floating fly line coupled with a long leader is all you should need. Cast upstream and across from your target and allow your fly to dead drift along the bottom. Patience is required when nymphing as fish will not always take flies on the first drift, and repeated runs are necessary to make sure you contact all active fish.

Weighted flies are helpful to get down into the deep runs and pools where the bigger fish will be hiding. Imitating mayfly and caddis nymph patterns in the appropriate size of the hatching live bug will consistently put fish on the end of your line. Using larger flies early and progressively getting smaller as summer elapses is a must when fishing heavily pressured or crystal-clean flows on sunny days.

As the dog days of summer progress, the hatches of bugs on the water and on land will seem almost endless. This is prime time for dry-fly fishing for brookies. Large, buoyant, colorful patterns will get the brookies going wild and catching high numbers of fish seems effortless. Casting upstream and across to active fish while allowing the fly to drift downstream naturally should produce a bite, but when things get slow, imparting a bit of movement (or a bounce as some call it) will get even the most lackadaisical fish to bite.

Since opportunities to fly fish for brookies in winter are very limited, the last real good chance to land a trophy brook trout is fall. The bigger fish will definitely become more aggressive as the season goes on, and the use of streamer patterns will help get the fish to bite. Fishing streamer patterns for brook trout is easy for fly anglers. Cast upstream and across from your target and strip the fly quickly back. Timely strips and stops of the fly will get fish to follow and strike repeatedly, so make sure that you gather the stripped in line so that you can set the hook quick and securely. 

Fly Selection

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During the early spring, any large and dark colored stonefly, mayfly or caddis pattern should produce bites.

Out of all the trout species, brook trout are probably the most agreeable to taking flies. Brookies can be caught with almost every type of fly available as long as the angler keeps time of year and water level in mind. During the early spring season when the water is high and cold, any large and dark colored stonefly, mayfly or caddis pattern should produce bites.

When it comes to nymphs, try and match your patterns to the naturals found on the stream bottom. Nymph patterns that incorporate black rubber legs seem to have an advantage over other more traditional nymph flies as the life-like motion seems to get fish to bite and bite hard.

As far as dry flies go, hopper patterns are king. Brook trout have an insatiable appetite for large high-floating hopper flies. If you are going to be fishing early morning hours when the hoppers really haven't started moving about in the fields, searching patterns with contrasting colors should do the trick. Bright yellows, oranges and greens seem to work best.

Deciding what streamer pattern to use is little more difficult than choosing dries or nymphs. Attractor patterns that incorporate both flashy material such as Mylar Tinsel and breathable material such as marabou are good ones to try. Another approach is to choose patterns that incorporate bright colors that contrast each other, such as yellow and red. Yet another tactic is to use patterns that resemble natural stream forage; mid-sized (size 4 to 6 hook) dark colored sculpin, minnow and leech imitations seem to work best, but finding what works for you on your home waters will likely require a little trail and error.

Weather & Sunlight

As always, rain is a very important variable in catching brook trout. As rainfall increases, so will the level of the rivers making it hard to find and target actively feeding fish. Fishing tight to the bank might be your only hope in high, muddy water conditions.

Waiting a few days after a rainfall for the water to lower and clear will bring a great day of fishing if timed properly. Fishing brook trout 1-2 days after a light rain or 3-4 days after a heavy rain seems to be ideal. You want the water to be clear enough to see your fly easily yet hold enough color to keep fish from being easily spooked.

Sunlight, like rain, is another factor that can determine how successful you are going to be on any specific day. However, if you get it in your mind to keep your shadow off the water the sun should not be too much of a bother. Try and place more importance on holes that are not receiving direct sun, but do not sell the rest of the holes short; big brookies can sit and hide in even the most fickle looking structure.