We’ve been on a brook trout kick lately. The Minnesota DNR measures the average length of a brook trout at only 8-10 inches. Anything much bigger than that is considered a hefty fish. They’re not the biggest species in the Driftless region that we fish, but they are the only trout that are native to the area, which makes them a special fish to target.
The streams in the Driftless that we fish–especially those that hold large populations of brook trout–are very small. They have narrow casting lanes, with overgrown weeds, fallen trees, often averaging only a few feet in width. These streams are very different than the wide open rivers you often see out west and are more often compared to the streams in the eastern mountains.
Here are a few tips for navigating and fishing these smaller brook trout streams:
1. Don’t judge a stream by its bridge
In other words, when you pull up to the bridge that crosses over the stream and it looks like an absolute dump, don’t move on just quite yet! Often you will need to walk farther down or upstream to be rewarded with slightly more open water. Plus, other people have likely overlooked the stream once they have seen it from the bridge, which means it is likely not heavily fished.
2. Consider purchasing a small-stream rod
Fly rods are most often built and sold at 9 ft., but we fish small streams with our Walton Rod’s Native-7 foot rod. The missing two feet of rod make a significant impact on our ability to cast in tight places. While this rod is great for dry, light flies, we also throw small streamers on to target feisty brook trout. Another perk of a small rod is the fact that a 12 inch fish will still take you for a ride and give you rod a good bend.
3. Work on strip setting
Brook trout streams can be very tight and overgrown. This can make traditional trout setting tough because if you miss the fish, your fly will end up stuck in one of the various trees or bushes surrounding you. Strip setting will alleviate a lot of these headaches and will be good practice for you if you ever decide to target big game species, like muskie.
4. Head upstream, if possible
If you don’t have the luxury of public easement on the stream you’re fishing, then ideally you need to head upstream. As you move through the stream, naturally you will stir up dirt and mud that moves down stream with the current. Trout sense danger and movement when debris moves through their area, and become easily spooked.
5. Stealthy approach and first cast are critical
You’ve spotted a good-looking hole up ahead and you’re ready to attack–but you can’t just go traipsing up there hoping for the best. It is important to quietly approach each hole, using weeds to soften your footsteps and rocks or trees to hide behind. This can be challenging when you are fishing a stream where the land is not public, but do your best to approach as stealthily as possible.
You’re not done there! Your first cast on that juicy-looking hole is important–brook trout often hit immediately. Make your first cast count, and get your line tight and ready to set the second it hits the water.
6. Casting accuracy > the right fly
Brook trout are typically much more willing to take a fly than brown trout. We haven’t noticed that one fly works much better than any other. The size of fly can sometimes be important, but even more important is casting accuracy. Small streams and small pockets require an accurate cast. If you can successfully place your fly in these areas, you will likely be rewarded.
7. Roll cast, roll cast, roll cast
Roll casting is not my strength, but I will say, fishing these little streams has forced me to at least get the hang of it. You will often find a great hole that is nearly impossible to hit with any other kind of cast, other than a roll cast.
8. Cover up!
Deer ticks, horse flies and mosquitos, oh my. As the weather warms up, so do the bugs. Spiders grow massively big, mosquitos hatch in swarms and horse flies eat you alive. Wear your long sleeves, hats and even your trusty buff to keep as much of your skin covered as possible. I usually wear a light-weight windbreaker, despite the heat, because horse flies will still bite through cotton.