Five A.M. on a mid-June morning, and we arrive on
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Brook Trout in B.C.By Bill Luscombe ,
I had been working my dragonfly nymph back and forth along the bottom of the lake for about twenty minutes with nary a tug and I was becoming a bit suspect of the fishing prospects for the rest of the day. Just when I was about to give up I felt the familiar slow but solid thud of life at the other end of my line. I set the hook hard and tightened up, only to have the fish force me into relinquishing fly line at several feet per second.
Luckily, the run was short and we settled into a tug of war for the next five minutes: me trying to gain line, it trying to break free of the insect that now held it hostage. After the first run, the fish did a series of rolls followed by a number of bangs against the leader with its tail. The hook held and I gained some line. It then used its sheer weight and power to take more line from the reel and followed this with more violent twists and rolls. As time wore on she became tired (as did my arm), finally allowing me to raise her head out of the water, and I skated her towards my bellyboat and into the open net. My partner Ian had been watching nearby, and after taking a few photos we estimated her size at about three pounds and then released her.
No, it wasn´t a rainbow, it was a brook trout, and we weren´t fishing in the Laurentians, northern Manitoba, or the Nipigon area of Ontario. We were fishing in Black Lake near Kamloops, British Columbia. Surprised? . . . you shouldn´t be. British Columbia now has some of the finest brook trout fishing to be found anywhere in the world.
The brook trout, also known as the speckled trout or squaretail, is one of God's most beautiful contributions to this earth. Its lovely red spots and blue halos, combined with orange fins edged in black and white take my breath away every time I see one. It doesn't put up the fight that the rainbow does, but it makes up for it in tenacity, endurance, and bulk.
The square tail (which is actually a char and, therefore, a relative of the lake trout and Dolly Varden) fights like a chinook salmon, preferring to stay deep, rolling and making short, strong runs, whereas the rainbow likes long exhausting runs followed by aerial acrobatics. Inch for inch, the brook trout will also outweigh a rainbow by as much as one and a half times. Besides being a great sport fish, I also believe that they are the best tasting freshwater game fish an angler can come by.
Ontario and Quebec have long been noted for their trophy brook trout fishing and have many records to prove it. What many anglers do not realize is that this great game fish has moved out west, with surprising success. I did some research into the stocking of square tails in B.C., and with help of a number of fisheries biologists in the B.C. Ministry of Environment, I dug up all the records dating back to the first recorded stockings of these fish. The records indicate introductions of brookies in a number of streams as early as 1908 (mostly on Vancouver Island) and discussions with the biologists revealed that there were earlier introductions, but no one is left alive to tell where they were placed or when. It was all incredibly interesting.
Over the years brook trout have been introduced to more and more lakes and streams throughout British Columbia. I asked why the provincial government had decided to officially continue the stocking program after the first unauthorized introductions when we have such a large stocking program for rainbows, especially the world renowned Kamloops strain. The answer was simple: brook trout are a hardier species and can withstand greater extremes in temperature as well as lower levels of oxygen than can the rainbow or cutthroat trout. This allows the Ministry of Environment to stock brook trout in waters that are prone to winterkill. These fish are, in many cases, able to survive where the native species would not. Lakes and streams that are being considered for brook trout stocking are carefully checked to ensure that the char cannot escape into other waterways. Should this happen, they could threaten the native fish populations; brook trout have the same feeding habits as native trout.
Records show that introductions of speckled trout in B.C. have escalated from a few hundred fish in a half dozen or so lakes and streams in 1908 (the precise numbers are not known) to well over 1,000,000 fry and yearlings spread throughout the province. In the 1930's, Spectacle Lake on Vancouver Island was utilized as the main egg rearing facility for the province. It has since been closed down and replaced by Aylmer Lake, near Kamloops, which has a year round angling closure. Aylmer now produces the majority of brook trout for the province. Over these many years, this program has produced some excellent freshwater sport fishing where none was available before.
Many of the lakes that now support brook trout also support rainbows, but it has been my experience that neither species reaches exceptional proportions when dwelling together. On the other hand, numerous lakes are populated strictly with speckled trout and some have produced exceptionally large fish in excess of six pounds.
An interesting thing that I have noticed as I have pursued this fish across the southern half of the province is that they tend to change their overall shade to suit their environment. That's not to say they change quickly like a chameleon, but over time their colour tones appear to take on the shade best suited to their surroundings. The fish I have caught in Spectacle Lake all exhibit a definite dark shade that blends in with the tea coloured water and mud bottom of the lake. The same applies to the brookies I have caught in little Rose Lake near Kamloops. Other speckles that I have caught in lakes such as Black Lake (very near Rose) have shown much less colour and a lot more silver. Black Lake has a white marl bottom and very clear water. The silver shade would naturally provide better camouflage in these conditions. I don't know if anyone has scientifically investigated this, but if you travel around in pursuit of this fish you will see what I mean.
Fishing for brookies in B.C. is much the same as fishing for them anywhere else. They like small lures such as the Panther Martin and will come to a gang troll as well, but my preferred method of fishing for them is with a fly. When a hatch is on, these fish rise nearly as readily as rainbows and will take a well-presented dry fly with enthusiasm. The best success I have had, however, is fishing a black leech pattern or a dragonfly or damselfly nymph near the bottom. A slow retrieve seems to be most effective, and these char tend to mouth the fly instead of hitting it hard like do rainbows. Combine this soft take with their bony mouths and you will find that you have to be ready to set the hook when you think you have snagged bottom, and you must ensure that your hook is razor sharp or you´ll end up losing a lot more than you catch.
As a member of the char family, brook trout spawn in the fall. Thus, you are best to fish for them in the spring when they are firm and active. Summer however, can be highly productive for squaretails as well, certainly much better than the rainbow fishing. Brook trout tolerate the warmer water better and continue to feed when rainbows turn off of theirs. Winter can also produce some excellent fishing. Ice fishing for brook trout has really caught on in the past decade and the provincial fisheries have been hard pressed to keep stocks up in lakes where ice fishing is popular.
Another point to keep in mind is that speckled trout tend to school, sometimes in very large numbers. If you are prospecting a new lake and luck into a fish take note of where you picked it up and at what depth. If there is a major break in the bottom topography, or downed trees, etc., chances are that the school is holding in and around the break. Work the area over at different depths and you will more than likely pick up more fish from the same spot.
The brook trout is well known as a meat fish. Its value as a game fish is renowned in eastern Canada but has not yet come into its own in B.C. due in part to western anglers' preoccupation with the Kamloops and Gerard rainbows. Slowly but surely it is emerging as a very viable alternative to the more traditional fresh water game fish. It is excellent table fare and, combined with its biological differences from the true trout, I am sure that the future of this fish in the west is bright. So as the old saying goes . . . "if you want good brook trout fishing, go west young fisherman."
Bill Luscombe has been hunting and fishing for most of his 42 years. He has been flyfishing for 20 years. He instructs flyfishing, and has done so for the past 12 years. He also instructs the federal FSET firearms course and the BC CORE hunter training course. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and has been writing freelance since 1987. He has been published in BC Sport Fishing Magazine, Outdoor Edge, BC Outdoors, Western Sportsman, Island Fish Finder, and the BC Hunting Guide.
Bill Luscombe was born an army brat and raised in Ladner (Delta, BC) where he was raised hunting waterfowl and pheasants. He presently resides in North Cowichan on southern Vancouver Island where he has lived and worked full time as a professional forester since 1982.
He presently works in Nanaimo for the BC Forest Service and continue to write the fly-fishing column for BC Sport Fishing Magazine as well as contributing articles freelance to various outdoor magazines in western Canada.
Bill Luscombe is also a BC Director of the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association. "Catching fish is not hard. You simply need to understand what makes them tick. If you think like a fish, you will catch fish. It´s as simple as that."- Bill Luscombe