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Change Up for Brook Trout
written by Steve Galea

There's nothing like a small backwoods lake, especially when fishing it for the very first time. You rarely see another angler, and you're rewarded with a sense of adventure, solitude, and discovery that's hard to beat.
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Brook TroutGetting to the backwoods lake was no small chore. After all, it was springtime, just after ice out, and the old mining road was rutted, overgrown, and slick as an otter on a mudslide. Just about two miles of steep hills, treacherous trails, and deep valleys stood between that little body of water and our dreams of brook trout. And to be honest, we weren't sure that the truck, even with its good tires, powerful engine, and four-wheel drive, was up to the task.

To make matters worse, neither my friend nor I had ever actually fished the lake. In fact, the only time I had laid eyes on it was when I had hiked in the week before to see if the trail was passable. Once there, I determined that the lake looked like a fine prospect. But we'd need to haul in a canoe to fish it right.

Personally, I would have used a canoe cart to wheel one in. Since then I have acquired one just for situations such as these. The older I get, the less chances I take with my vehicles -- but my friend was bolder and younger and he wanted to see what his truck could do, so we drove the canoe in. Aside from a few touch-and-go moments, it went well.

About twenty minutes later, we stood on an isolated landing overlooking a lake that was all but forgotten by everyone except a few local, die-hard brook trout anglers. And being as secretive as brook trout anglers are, they never really spoke of it either. Still, rumors and hushed whispers told of trout in the two and three-pound class and I, like most squaretail anglers, have carried canoes that distance for a lot less.

Where to Begin

There's nothing like a small backwoods lake, especially when fishing it for the very first time. The up side is that you rarely see another angler and you're rewarded with a sense of adventure, solitude, and discovery that's hard to beat. The down side is that it's hard to know just where to begin.

This was a classic Canadian Shield brook trout lake. Tall spruce and cedar lined the rocky shore and the long, narrow finger of tea-coloured water plunged deep, like a giant trough cut into the earth's bare bones. Everywhere you looked fallen trees connected water to shore and, at the far end, the lake petered off into terrain more suitable for moose, beaver, and waterfowl. Fishing the shoreline cover seemed like a good place to start.

Sticks and Stones

My buddy began casting small spinners to each and every downed tree and underwater boulder; I did the same thing utilizing a 6-weight fly rod to tease the edges with an olive bead-head woolly bugger, a personal favourite for trout. We both prefer to fish in different ways; the added bonus was that we could determine what the fish wanted by presenting them with a variety of options; in his case lures, in mine a variety of streamer patterns.

Brook TroutThough fishing submerged trees for brook trout is often very effective, the wind moved us along too quickly, and our offerings either got tangled in the wood or did not get down deep enough. I made a mental note to pack in a small anchor for next time.

Even when we had managed to achieve good placement and retrieves --we couldn't raise a fish. We finally conceded that on that day, under those conditions, we simply couldn't fish the shore the way we needed to. So we changed up our tactics.  

Against the Wind

We reasoned that since the current and wind was robbing us of boat control, we could place our lures deeper and more accurately by trolling slowly against the wind. This tactic has worked incredibly well for me on many occasions. It slows your presentation right down and sometimes makes all the difference in the world.

On that day, we traced a route tight to shore coming as close to the downed trees, submerged logs, and big underwater boulders as we could. Our offerings ran deep enough, as evidenced by the fact that we often bumped or snagged cover but, unfortunately, on that day, this proven tactic also did not produce fish.

We then trolled in this way zigzagging against the wind, down the deepest part of the lake, but to no avail.

Once again, it was time to think things through and formulate a new plan.

Shallow Thoughts

My fishing buddy and I took some time out to discuss what to do next. After analyzing the facts, we decided to explore the shallow end of the lake. This made sense since it was the one place we hadn't tried.

Besides, the topographical map said this water body fed an out-flowing creek. So we reasoned -- correctly it turns out -- that a beaver dam might be holding the water back -- and beaver dams and lodges, with their accompanying aquatic life and ample cover, are classic squaretail haunts.

Brook Trout Change UpWe paddled down to the end, across a bottleneck in the lake that was so shallow that our canoe brushed the silt-covered bottom. Impressive moose tracks were imprinted in the mud along shore and a pair of geese took off ahead of us. We had our doubts.

But beyond the bottleneck, the water got a little deeper, eventually to about four to five feet, and swamp willows, old stumps, and floating clumps of bog edged the pool. It soon began to look like a perfect early season brook trout haunt.

And, as if to confirm this, trout began rising all around us.

My buddy took the first fish -- a respectable brookie that slammed into his spinner and put up a classic fight. We just smiled and my pal commenced to tease me about how his spinning gear was about to make my fly rod look silly.

The words had hardly echoed across the bay when I hooked an almost identical fish that stopped my streamer cold as I stripped it through the pool where he had caught his fish. My pal, followed up, and, in a few casts, missed another. I hooked one more and lost a fine fish shortly thereafter. Our last change up had paid off. We had finally found the fish.

It turned out that the shallows were teeming with leeches. These turned out to be a dead ringer for a black wooly bugger pattern I had in my fly box.

As predicted, a beaver lodge and dam was nearby, just around the corner, in fact, from where these trout were stacked up. And, even better, the current and prevailing wind seemed to be pushing all the food and warmer water, down to this end of the lake. All these factors, I think, conspired to activate a memorable bite.

Unfortunately, after those few fish, the sky began to darken with ominous clouds and the trees commenced throwing long shadows. We looked to each other and noted we had a long trek out -- one that was better made in daylight without the additional complication that the impending rains would surely bring.

Luckily, we got out just in the nick of time, before the rutted roads became impassible mud pits, proving, once again, that sometimes you just have to know when a change up is appropriate

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