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Event Article

Get Away and Fish for Beautiful River Brook Trout

Date: 10/26/08
Event Period: Fall
Location: Yosemite and Eastern Sierras, California
Reviewer: Zander


Introduction: There are bigger trout, and there certainly are harder fighting fish but there are few that are as beautiful as the elusive Brook Trout. Also known as the speckled trout Brookies inhabit some of the smallest cold water streams, mountain lakes, and spring ponds in North America. We get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and head to Yosemite high country and Eastern Sierras to pursue this gorgeous fish.  



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With the fall foliage transitioning and the cooler temperatures incoming we decided to take a break from our usual bass fishing routine and head to the Yosemite high country. This would be one of our last chances this season to cross over to the Eastern Sierras as snowfall starts early at the high elevation and road closures make it impossible to reach prime fishing areas. 

With the water cooling down we head to the Yosemite high country and the Eastern Sierras to search for Brook Trout

Over the last year we have had little rain, and the snow levels have also been minimal, resulting in slow river flows and many creeks completely drying up. In years past there were times when we could catch over a hundred trout a day, and while most were Rainbows and Browns we did find a few honey holes full of Brookies that we had marked on GPS. Those glory days seem to have passed and on this trip we found ourselves hiking further away from marked roads to get into truly exceptional fishing.

The further you get away from civilization the higher the catch rates. Fish near marked roads are noticeably more wary

I've always had a fondness for Brookies, and while they are usually the smallest trout we catch they are arguably the most beautiful. (Salvelinus Fontinalis) Brooks are easily distinguished by their red spots with blue aureoles on their sides, a wavy pattern on their back, and pink or reddish lower fins edged with a striking white leading edge. Before the Brown Trout was introduced into California the Brook Trout was the primary fly-fishing quarry in the High Country.

Zander picks from different lures to target fish in just inches of water

This U.S. native spawns late in the year from September to December. Brook trout demand very specific water conditions and prefer very cold spring fed water and we often catch the majority of these fish in just a few inches of water. While most of the Brooks we typically hook in Yosemite are in the 7-10 inch range it is possible to catch larger fish. Because the lethal limit of Brook Trout is a mere 77 degrees they are really only abundant in high elevations, and their cold water habitat cannot exceed 68 degrees for any extended period.

My top choice for targeting Brook Trout on conventional spinning gear... spinners

In bigger bodies of water these fish can grow over two feet in length, and while the average fish is under a pound the record is a whopping 14lbs. 8oz. caught nearly a century ago on the Nipigon River in Ontario. In Yosemite and the Eastern Sierras we have observed dwindling numbers in our catches is partly due to loss of habitat to other more dominant species like Brown Trout, a species not native to North America. Brook Trout can also hybridize with other species, but here in the high country we most often observe Rainbow hybrids. We find the majority of Brookies in the clearest coldest streams, some of which have  even partially iced over, as it often drops below freezing at these higher elevations during the fall.

JIP sneaks up to a small creek and casts beyond the riffle

Brook Trout across the country survive off a diverse range of prey including insects, smaller fish, tiny amphibians, and crustaceans. In California most of the Brook Trout in both the streams and lakes feed off insects, making them a good fish to target with flies. Fly fishing for these small fish is fun, but the small pools that we often find these fish in can sometimes make it difficult for proper casts and quality presentations. For this reason my preferred setup for targeting these fish is an ultralight spinning outfit.

JIP stays on the edge of a deep pool and casts towards the cascade to draw strikes from fish waiting to ambush insects that come over the rocks

A two or three piece ultralight rod makes it easier to pack for an extended hike, and you want to make sure you can be as mobile as possible to get through low hanging trees and around rocky surfaces. A 1000 size reel has more than enough line capacity, and you don't need a robust drag as you will want to set the drag relatively loose to protect light line. I prefer 2lb line for most situations as this allows me to cast lighter lures accurately over longer distances, even in windy conditions. Since the fish are found in ultra clear water I also prefer to use fluorocarbon based lines. There have been many times when I started fishing with 4lb line and had to switch to 2lb mid-trip because the fish were so line shy, and an extra spool is always a good idea.      

Dress in colors that match the surroundings to camouflage yourself, do not make sudden movements when approaching target areas

On this trip we started at Tuolumne Meadows and hiked to the surrounding streams that intersect into the Tuolumne river. In years past we would get into Brown Trout right off the main road, and would start hooking Brookies just half mile in from civilization. This simply wasn't the case this time as we had to return to the car and prep enough gear to pack in for a few miles before we even observed a single Brookie, let alone land one.

A young Brookie already exhibits brilliant colors

Part of what makes fishing for Brookies so enjoyable is the incredible scenery you are likely to find yourself in. Unlike the man made reservoirs that rainbows are often stocked in these fish inhabit wild and often untamed wilderness. It is easy to be distracted by the sheer beauty of the surroundings as you target these fish in high elevation mountain streams or secluded alpine lakes.

When fishing deep pools Kastmaster and tubes are effective

Next Section: How to target these gorgeous fish









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