Brook trout – a fisherman’s favorite
New York’s trout season opened a few weeks ago and there is little doubt many area anglers were out enjoying the opportunity to fish for what arguably might be called New York’s most popular game fish.
Trout are beautiful and colorful critters living in a variety of habitats and therein lies their allure for veteran as well as novice fishermen. Small brooks, some no more than a few feet in width, lakes as large as Lake Ontario, and everything in between offer fishing opportunities for various species of trout.
As a youngster, I remember fishing small tributaries of the Lehigh River in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. The Lehigh was and still is, a great trout stream but, for an adventuresome teenager, I discovered exploring small tributaries winding their way through dark hemlock cover could pay great dividends in the number of trout caught. These small streams held numbers of colorful Brook trout and I fished a number of them. My technique was to sneak and kneel along the stream edge flipping a garden worm impaled on a single hook. By letting it float naturally under the stream bank or, into small pools, I had no trouble catching fish.
The trout were small, and a nine-inch fish was considered a real trophy. Most were released but, I’ll admit a few were taken home for dinner. These were wild fish and today I would never consider harming one. Brook trout will grow quite large in waters where suitable forage prey is available, but they remain small when their subsistence is based on limited quantities of small insects, even smaller fish, or crustaceans.
Brook trout are widespread throughout most of New York State, but they are most associated with wilderness areas such as the Adirondacks and the Catskills. They can even be found in some small streams here in the Southern Tier as well as on Long Island. However, they are not as widespread as they have been in the past. Habitat destruction is responsible for the loss of Brook trout populations throughout New York.
The Brook trout is the state fish of both New York and Pennsylvania and for good reason. It is a beautiful fish with a dark olive-green back with wavy markings. Tan, orange and red spots decorate its flanks. Even its fins are attractive. Brook trout sport red fins with white edging separated with a distinctive black line.
Although they can be found in some lakes or ponds, “brookies” or “natives” generally live in very small or moderately sized streams. They are not as long-lived as are other trout species and a fish reaching six years of age is considered an old-timer by fish biologists. As most fishermen know, other trout species such as rainbows or lake trout can reach considerable size given a large enough forage base. Brook trout on the other hand seldom grow to be more than five pounds although a two-pound fish is still considered a trophy.
I had a friend living in Utica who fished many of the Adirondack lakes for brook trout. He often told me before he died, his ultimate goal was to catch at least one Brook trout five pounds or better. He did better than that. A few years back he caught one that weighed 5-1/4 pounds and it was large enough to break the then existing New York State record.
As I found out when I was a youngster, Brook trout in small streams can be fairly easy to catch. Because of their aggressive nature, they eagerly attack almost any bait presented. Flies, small artificial lures, and worms all are effective Brook trout catchers, but live bait or skillfully presented salted minnows will take Brookies when other baits fail.
Brook trout lay their eggs in October and spawning occurs the following spring. As a result of stocking other trout species in waters inhabited by Brook trout, there are fewer pure strains of Brook trout than there have been in the past. In places where the gene pool has not been altered by cross-breeding with other trout species, the Department of Environmental Conservation is working to preserve them.