Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fly Fishing: Bugs n' Brookies

October 21, 2006 while fishing a lake in Manitoba this lucky angler landed what turned out to be the largest brookie ever...29 inches long, 21 inches girth, estimated weight between 15-17 pounds. Because the beast was later released it goes into the record books as World Record Catch and Release and since it was taken while trolling a Rapala on unofficially tested line it stands as the All-tackle record. Anyway you look at it tis one helluva brookie, eh? Photo courtesy Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame
No, that's not me drooling the record brookie. But now that I think on it perhaps the date 10/21, my birthday, really is an omen that someday soon...Nah!
More our speed, no doubt having much ado with our increasing devotion to pitching dries.

Truth is, in a career now spanning 6 decades and counting, despite having chucked first baits, then hardware and, for many years now, flies, to more brookie holes than the law should allow, having hooked literally thousands in the process, I can boast just two might...I repeat might...have gone an honest 18-inches. OK, honest is something of a stretch, since neither was actually taped. But 18-inches or whatever, naturally I recall both historic moments vividly (sort of) even though much water has flowed beneath the proverbial bridge since.

Small streams are just plain fun...and challenging...true story.

A Parmachene Belle, a classic wet fly supposedly first tied to fool the giant brookies once swarmed Maine's Rangeley Lakes region, accounted for the first. The catch could have been classic in every sense but...For starters it wasn't even caught in Maine but at the mouth of small tributary of Ontario's Lady Evelyn River. But what really makes the catch pale in the classic sense...I snagged it.

Beaver dams and fat brook trout go together like apple...well, you know
Sad I know but true. Trolling a big slow pool in the main river past the creek mouth, littered with beaver cuttings, Dick Byrem, in the bow (me in the stern) hung up. Nearing the end of a long trip and dangerously close to running out of flies, breaking off was not an option. Lines trailing, we bent to the paddles, turned the canoe up river, paddled like hell to where Dick reached down and pulled the flies free. As the canoe once again turned down river my line came tight and what turned out to be the trip's biggest brookie splashed the surface. Obviously other than the fly, classic, even bragging rights, hardly apply.

A few years later, again trolling (no idea what) behind a canoe, although this time in a Quebec lake (sorry the name too is long gone), I landed another bigger than we (Billy Eves and me) were accustomed.

Ingenuity helps...

As always no tape so, nothing left, Billy brought forth a dollar bill. For the uninitiated, a U.S. dollar bill measures a hair over 6-inches. Nose to tail he declared "3 bills" so...

I can't say how widespread this dollar bill trick but, in our case, it played a significant role. Early on, actually for many seasons, brookies made up at least 90% of my catch...truth be known really small brookies. Catch and release having not yet found its way into the Pennsylvania hollers, naturally we kept any trout of legal size; the idea of course bragging rights went with catching the daily limit, which I think back then was 8 per. Anyway the minimum legal size being 6-inches, the OM issued a dollar bill at the start of each adventure...As yes, where dollar bills were concerned C&R was well ingrained and indeed not an option as in...boy, make damn sure I get it back, ya hear.

Gale style, up close and personal, obviously pays off...

As any true blue trout nut knows the brook trout is not a true trout but rather a char. It is native in the northeast, down the Appalachians to Georgia, in the upper Midwest and in eastern Canada. But these days brookies swim just about everywhere trout swim; some say they have been transplanted to more places than any other fish species. Here in Montana, trout nirvana to many, " brook trout as natives" is a common refrain. Sorry, not so...

In the literature of fly fishing for brook trout it is de rigueur for the reporter to wax poetically on the beauty and allure of the fish itself.  For example, one breathless scribe painted them, "the aphrodite of the hemlocks." Sounds good, but...Mr.Webster notes, "Aphrodite" as the Greek "goddess" of "love" and "beauty."

Sorry my man, this is one case where in the category "good looks" the male, especially when bedecked in his spawning finery, wins hands down...no contest.

Why brookies, when there are far larger trout out there to be had especially considering in many of our best waters 18-inch browns and rainbows, while probably not dime a dozen easy, catching one certainly won't turn many heads. Well, one thing, we like a little solitude with our fishing, these days a really rare item. But the real reasons: brook trout and good country is a given; most rank high among the last best left on the planet.

Beauty (of the beast) and scenic aside, a typical day fishing the backcountry (wherever) bird and water song fills the clean, sweet-scented air, wildflowers and wildlife at times so abundant it takes real tunnel-vision to maintain focus on the task at hand. Realization on my part there simply was no hope, I no longer consider a missed take as call for despair.

In a typical Montana season Gale and me catch brookies by the dozens (hundreds probably but who's counting). After all we fish often; fish mostly brook trout strongholds; and brookies being notoriously easy pickings...how could we not?

These days the Parachute Adams is often the only fly we bother to tie on...Lazy? Yep. Effective? Usually so...

True most fall into the sub 12-inch category with a handful 13-15-inches and the occasional, maybe one every couple years, 16-17-inches. Still evidence abounds of far larger out there. The state record is slightly over 9 pounds (Lower Two Medicine Lake, 1940). While it seems unlikely the record will be broken anytime soon ( maybe not ever) breaking my personal record seems a definite maybe...more a matter of time than anything. Close to home (Dillon) the upper Big Hole and Georgetown Lake harbor such hefty individuals as do many others...I know of a couple 3-pounders mounted on local living room walls said to have been hauled from Big Hole tributaries. One day last spring my friend, Steve, buggered several 15-17- inches from a single run. So who knows, maybe if I just keep chuckin', eh?

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