Brook Trout Quest

Joshua Hutchins seeks brook trout in beautiful places

Beyond the excitement of catching fish and having a garage filled with gear, some of the best perks in fly fishing relate to the beautiful places it takes us. Whether a high-country stream or a clear saltwater flat, the best fish on fly seem to live in the world’s most scenic locations. And the brook trout is no exception. Brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) don’t get much attention in Australia and New Zealand. Native to North America, they have struggled to adapt to our conditions compared to their more resilient brown and rainbow trout cousins. Brookies do best in very clear and cold waters, particularly in lakes and streams at higher elevations. (Refer to Glen Power’s article ‘Blessed be the Brookie’ on the history and distribution of brook trout in Aus and NZ — FL#29) Last season I set out to find brook trout on my travels near and far, and to enjoy the beautiful surroundings in which they live. BROOK TROUT & BRUMBIES My first experience with Australian brook trout was in a small creek north of Tamworth, with local angler Ben Hohnke. This creek, reduced to nothing more than a small trickle, produced more than a dozen hand-sized brookies. Being my first homeland brook trout, I’ve never forgotten that day. This past season the Snowy Mountains region was chosen as the closest option for my next brook trout fix. Despite the Thredbo River and Lake Jindabyne boasting large brook trout from Gaden Hatchery stockings, we wanted to catch a brookie from one of the few mainland wild brook trout fisheries. In early November, Pier Nissotti and I headed to Three Mile Dam, a small alpine lake in Kosciuszko National Park that I knew held brook trout. When we arrived it was a beautiful, windless afternoon with wild flowers in bloom, and brumbies roaming the surrounds. But, as is typical for this lake, all the fish were rising well beyond casting distance from the bank. I stuck it out and was rewarded with my first Snowy Mountains brook trout, right on dusk. It was hardly bigger than my hand, but I was ecstatic. Pier and I couldn’t be bothered to set up a decent camp so he spent a cool night sleeping in the car while I swagged it close-by. We rose early in the morning to catch up with fellow FlyLife contributor David Anderson at Ogilvies Creek. Ogilvies is quite small, and in general, so are the fish. It was two and three-weight territory. Snaking through tussock-filled alpine plains, it continually curves back on itself and small trout appeared to lurk in every corner. I can’t remember a day on the water I’ve enjoyed so much. Between colourful rainbow trout, the odd snake, and Dave’s tireless banter with us ‘Young Punks’, the brook trout eventually showed up. Seven handsomely decorated brook trout on the dry, none bigger than a pound. It was a day I will never forget. THE PHANTOM KIWI BROOKIE I have to admit that I had never seen or heard a single report of brook trout in New Zealand, but after a few Google searches, some local advice and home grown research, we eventually uncovered some not-so-secret brook trout haunts. The main one that caught our attention was Lake Emily, a high-country tarn in the Canterbury region of the South Island. Surrounded by beautiful mountainscapes and grassy golden flats, Emily once had a reputation for brook trout of up to seven and eight pounds, but with the last successful report being more than seven years old, its current status was unknown. Lake Emily opens on the first of November, and Matt Jones and I put aside a day to visit in mid November. Brook trout are known to be moody, and the South Island locals had told us that Emily fishes best on a cold and windy day. Which was a shame, because we turned up when it was warm, bright and sunny. And if not for the small fingerlings Matt spotted in the shallows, we would have assumed the lake was empty. With no brook trout in sight, we left disappointed. If it weren’t for some late season updates from a few locals, I would have assumed the brookies were no longer there. But it was still a beautiful place to visit, and one on the return-list for next season. ARGENTINIAN BROOKIES I first visited the Patagonia region on a holiday with a mate in 2010. It wasn’t long into the trip when I realised I’d made a terrible mistake – leaving my fly rod at home. To ease the pain I booked two days guiding in Bariloche. It was here that I was introduced to my first Argentinian brook trout, and to Lago Fonck, which has now become my favourite lake to fish in the world. Nestled close to the border, and crystal clear, Fonck boasts distant views of Chile when cruising across the lake. In summer, two to five pound brookies willingly eat dragonfly imitations danced along the reedy edges. A rough dirt track from the main trail leads to a dead end at the lake, where you’ll find Carlos, year round, living in the simple ranger’s hut that is always open to visitors. To best fish the lake, you need to hire a boat from Carlos. USD$100 is the going rate, having first shared a maté with the host. Drinking maté, the local tea-style brew, is practically a sacred ritual in these areas. Needless to say, when I visited Carlos in March for the fourth time, I knew the routine very well. Joined by my friend Emanuel Medina (who runs a local guiding company, Trout Fish Bariloche) and his father Hugo, we managed to keep the conversation rolling. My Spanish is limited, Carlos’s English non-existent, but somehow over maté, we communicate. Although we would normally fish dry flies, late March is considered end-of-season for Argentinian brookies. The water was cold and fish had started to gather around the river mouths, so we focused on these areas with nymphs and streamers. “Emanuel, I really don’t mind if we just catch one brook trout, it’s so great to be back at Fonck,” I yelled over the noise of the outboard motor as we cut across the lake. In the weeks leading up to Lago Fonck, I had landed king salmon on fly, fished the famous Jurassic Lake and drifted some beautiful Patagonian rivers, but for some reason I just couldn’t wait to return to this lake. Fonck lived up to its reputation and we landed eight good-sized brookies, as well as several rainbows. This is considered slow fishing on Lago Fonck, but I didn’t care. With each catch, I marvelled at the brook trout’s masterpiece of colour and revelled in the pure mountain air, snow-capped peaks, and the silence of nature. I am convinced that fly fishing heaven will have a good supply of brook trout. Although our local supply may not be overflowing, nor will they ever compete with the size of our rainbows or browns, brook trout are a unique species to explore. And there is no denying; brookies do live in beautiful places.

Current FlyLife Subscribers can login to read the full article.
To access this article, back issues & more Subscribe to FlyLife today.