Over the years that I have been writing about my fishing experiences, our esteemed native charr has appeared regularly. From the first trout I remember – the little brookie inadvertently crushed to death as the La Rocca brothers (ages 5 through 7) built a “stream improvement dam” on Tiorati Brook in Bear Mountain Park…through the big “squaretail” that a French Canadian party proudly showed the then older La Rocca brothers near Horseshoe Pond in southern Ontario…to the pair of wild little brookies that reside in the cold trickle that runs through brother Steve’s backyard in Westchester County…and finally to Nick Karas’ authoritative book, the Brook Trout seems always to be there. This tale goes back a few years; I was working full time then.
SIX INCH TROPHY
Just yesterday my friend Dutch stopped by the office and caught me at my desk…which surprised him since I am often on the road. He is retired, and as always started the conversation with, “You still here?” Translation: “When are you going to retire?” Dutch had another topic in mind when he arrived (a question about his mother’s 90th birthday party), but soon the talk got around to fishing. “Hang on,” I said, and turned to my computer to bring up and share a photo of my latest catch and release trophy. “What a beauty!” he said as we jointly admired the six inch male brook trout that barely covered the spread of my fingers, but whose radiance just about jumped out of the computer screen. I caught the little fish in early October after a long time thinking and planning the excursion that would put me in a position to do so. It was not that the logistics were at all difficult, it was trying to squeeze in the couple of hours required that was the hard part. (“Ahhh…retirement…” I say to myself, but many of my retired friends and associates don’t fish as often as either they or I thought they would!)
Our discussion took us to Dutch’s observation that “many of the little streams” in our area on the edge of the Catskill Mountains have resident brook trout, and he proceeded to list some of the ones he knew about…or thought he did. Two were little trickles in which I’d either caught brook trout or seen them caught, but our mutual reflections on the subject arrived at the conclusion that our memories were at least 20 years old. And in one of those trickles I had to report that my explorations just last spring revealed that there were no more brook trout there. My buddy Tom and I had fished this rill together; if I had been the only angler I would be less sure of my findings. We could both be wrong of course; too much sun, not enough water, clumsy approach, off their feed…whatever. The only way to be sure is to go back. Dutch and I put it on the agenda for the spring, but we have done that before, and of late have not been able to pull it off.
After a few more thoughts on the subject the question of exactly where the little trout was caught was asked…and answered, mostly because I was pretty sure Dutch was not planning to share the information widely and because the person who had shared it with me had no problem doing so. This was in contrast to the last beautiful little spawning male brook trout story I heard. A friend told me the true name of the creek he caught the fish from but also told me that some of his fishing pals always referred to it in code. Code or no code, the water that held the fish I caught is about as pretty and perfect as wild eastern brook trout water gets. And that reminded me of exactly how much of “a canary in the coal mine” the brook trout is. It is not so much that they have to have wilderness (they survive – rather, appear to thrive – in my brother’s backyard) but they do need to have good, clean, cold water. Trout Unlimited’s initiative to Bring Back the Brookie has solid rationale if the TU mission is to “preserve and protect cold water fisheries.” And there is a great deal of cold water to be preserved in the Catskills whose “front range” I see from my deck.
“Headwater stream” are the first words that came to mind when I saw the little creek toward the end of the unpaved road which at that point was still going gently uphill. After hearing about the creek and its fish more than a couple of years ago I finally got around to it in early October. I placed a call to fellow TU chapter member who happily supplied explicit directions and added three – no four – additional bits of advice and information:
- Park in the lot and fish upstream as far as you want…there have been fish as far up as I’ve ever gone.
- They were hitting dry flies last week.
- Yellow Humpy.
- File off the barbs…don’t just pinch them down. Some of the trout you’ll catch will be three inches long and even a pinched barb will do damage.
All the info proved accurate and useful!
Sunday morning end-of-gardening-season chores made the time go quickly, and about midday in warm sunshine and foliage color at 110% peak (if that is possible) I climbed in the truck and headed out. It was a beautiful drive and I found the parking lot with no problem. It was full of empty cars whose occupants were out for weekend or day hikes. There was also one 60’s era Volkswagen “vanagon” whose bib overall and bandana clad owner stood near the open tailgate strumming self-composed folk tunes on an acoustic guitar. With mutual nods of acknowledgement of our individual – and in some ways similar – approaches to having fun (neither of us appeared to be experts or artists), I pulled on hip boots – no need for waders here – and headed for the water which bubbled just inside the woods.
Headwater stream it was: a crystal clear flow coming off the mountain in a series – one after another after another – of little cataracts and plunge pools and water-filled nooks and crannies, nearly all of them no bigger than a hot tub.
My first “cast” with a little nymph – what was I thinking? – got caught in an overhanging hemlock and I had to break it off. I tied on a little yellow hair fly of the caddis persuasion and fished up a couple of pools – too carelessly – without a hit. With a slightly lower profile and more careful walking/wading, the next pool produced a vicious swirl, and try as I might to be gentle with the set, a three inch brookie came rocketing back toward my face. It was just luck that the little creature did not hit me or land squarely on a boulder behind me. Somehow it lighted rather gently in a quiet side pool and I was able to release it, I think, unharmed.
From that point on it was fish after fish after fish, none smaller than three inches, and none bigger than the six incher that my pal Dutch and I admired in the digital image on my computer. Any water deeper than a foot or so seemed to hold a trout especially if the water fell over a ledge and churned and bubbled a bit before it smoothed and ran. The little yellow fly was soon soaked and I found I’d left my floatant in the truck. With no room in the foliage tunnel to false cast it dry, I resorted to blowing and dabbing on my shirt sleeve. When the fly reached the point that it could not be revived with any amount of blowing and dabbing, I quit. It was not yet dusk, but in the heavy woods that surround the little creek, evening was coming quickly. I scrambled up the bank and fell in behind a trio of hikers walking back down the mountain after their day of adventure.
“How did you do?” was their query. “I had a great day!” was my response.
John La Rocca lives, works (just a little now) and writes stories in New York’s Capital District. He fishes for trout (mostly) wherever and whenever he can. Some of his best fishing buddies call him the Adirondack Elf, a handle earned leading expeditions a couple of decades ago to the brook trout ponds of the North Woods. This and many of his stories first appeared electronically and in print in The Current, the newsletter of the Columbia-Greene Rip Van Winkle Chapter #569 of Trout Unlimited. Thanks to those folks.