The brook trout is New England’s native trout. They are beautiful, tasty, and tremendous fighters despite their diminutive size.
They are not true trout, but landlocked Atlantic char which got stuck in New England rivers as the glaciers retreated, along with some tiny Arctic char (the almost extinct blueback trout) and Atlantic salmon.
Voracious eaters, brookies are easy to hook – so easy that I don’t like to use live bait, but prefer flies. Once hooked they fight hard and can be tricky to land. Even so, it is better to use barbless hooks or hooks with only one barb since in a struggle a fish you would prefer to release might tear its mouth apart on the barbs.
The main challenge, however, of fishing for brook trout is finding them.
Trout of all species are high metabolism fish. That means they need lots of food and lots of oxygen. Brook trout specifically do not tolerate pollution in the form of fertilizer, run off, or silt: a stream with brook trout is a very healthy stream. They also need a slightly acidic pH between 5.0 and 7.5.
To see if a stream or river has food is as easy as getting up close to the water and poking around. There should be lots of aquatic insects clinging to the bottoms of rocks. Keep eyes open for small minnows and crayfish, both are signs of fertile water. Of course, watch for bigger fish.
As for oxygen: cold water has more oxygen than warm water, and running water more oxygen than still water. If a fertile stream runs cool and steady all year, even in August, it is a good bet for brook trout. A spring fed creek that runs steady under shade trees like hemlock for at least mile or so is ideal.
Brook trout habitat is easily destroyed: logging and beaver dams raise the water temperature and construction introduces runoff and silt. Even a few unusually dry summers can force them out of a stream.
Since they are such aggressive feeders and easy to hook they are also easy to over-fish. While I keep every rainbow trout I catch (in New England they are non-native, stocked fish) I only keep brook trout that I might have foul hooked.
On the other hand, where there is a healthy and stable environment for a few years, the brook trout eventually show up, sometimes in surprising places. Good habitat is recoverable, sometimes with human effort, other times with simple neglect.
I caught the fish pictured above in a roadside culvert, along with five of his friends.
It seemed like such an unlikely spot, but after some exploration it proved to be a great little environment for brook trout: it was the only easily accessible point of a creek that ran through miles of dense forest before crossing under the road, and it was full of bugs, leeches and smaller fish.
Looking for good brook trout habitat, especially finding it in an unexpected place, is one of the delights of summer and a great reason to get outside.