The summer sun had been beating down on us our entire trip and the waters of the lakes throughout southern BC were too warm for even the most dedicated of rainbow trout to continue feeding. My wife and I were getting frustrated with the poor fishing, and although we were both getting great tans, we weren’t catching trout, which was the purpose of this annual excursion into BC’s interior. We had visited half a dozen lakes in the past four or five days, moving up and down in elevation, with little to show for our efforts. The story was the same everywhere …warm water and sulking trout.
Day five found us moving south from Little Fort towards Kamloops. I was driving while my wife scanned the maps and recreation atlas for likely lakes in the area.
“Forget the rainbows,” I stated. “The water is just too warm and we are running out of time. Time to change tactics…and species.” Let’s find some brookies, big ones if possible.”
“Okeydokey,” she replied, switching her scanning to the atlas and zeroing in on lakes containing brook trout. After about ten minutes of searching and talking we settled on a couple of likely places and after a short gas stop in Kamloops we headed south to our chosen destination.
When we arrived, we immediately noticed the glass calm water…just like all the other lakes we had visited. I walked down to the water with my thermometer and checked the surface temperature…20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit). Another soup bowl. “Ah well.” I thought “Nothing ventured nothing gained.” and we set out unloading the bellyboats and gear.
Soon we were paddling our way along the drop-off trolling our leech and dragonfly patterns. After 15 minutes of unproductive trolling, I told my wife I was heading for the lillypads to cast for a while. She moved to the little lake’s centre and started working the deeper water assuming, rightly, that the fish would prefer the cooler water of the lake’s depths.
As I paddled my way along, I changed flies to a big #8 Doc Spratley, figuring if the old standards aren’t going to work then I’ll offer up a big bite with a bit of flash. When I reached the lillypads I turned and sent my fly deep into the floating raft of plants, let it sink a bit and then did a slow hand-twist retrieve…the fly never made it back. The strike wasn’t much more than a slow nibble, but the sucking take was a dead give-away that the fish was a brook trout and as I quickly raised the rod and set the hook hard, I thought to myself “Good thing I sharpened the hook.”
At first, I hand stripped the line in and the fish came with it with little resistance.
“Hey!” I yelled. “Got one, just a small one though.” As the fish cleared the lillypads however, it immediately responded as brookies usually do…it turned nose down and bulldogged back for the weeds. My little 5-weight bent over under the strain and I was forced to give line to the char as it scrambled for cover. “Whoa! Maybe it’s not as small as I thought.”
I managed to keep the char from getting too deep into the lillypad stems and it turned for deeper water. Our little tussle lasted about five minutes but the speckled trout finally came to net. I was surprised at its size…almost 46 centimetres (18 inches). My wife, who had paddled over with the camera during my fight with the fish, took a few photos as I revived and released it and then we both returned to working the lillypads.
To make a long story short, we fished the weeds most of that day and hooked and landed over half a dozen more brook trout each. None were as large as the first, but all were feisty fish and by day’s end we had enjoyed the most successful day’s fishing of the whole trip.
Brook trout aren’t native to BC. They were introduced back at the turn of the century and have been stocked by various government ministries as a recognised sport fish since the 1930s. Actually, brook trout (also known as speckled trout or squaretails) aren’t trout at all, they are char. This makes them special and different from trout in several key ways: brook trout spawn in the fall and so they are always in prime condition in the spring and summer. They also tolerate a slightly wider variation in water temperature than trout and will feed in water temperatures that start to turn the trout off; that’s why I changed our tactics and chose to target brookies.
Squaretails in BC range up to three kilograms (six pounds) or more, with the average around 0.5 to 1.5 kilograms (one to three pounds). For their weight they are shorter than trout, however, don’t let this length fool you. Speckled trout are chunky fish. Unlike trout, the squaretails increase in girth disproportionately once they get to about 36 centimetres (14 inches) in length. Their shoulders increase quite a bit too and as a result an average brook trout will push 1.2 kilograms (two pounds) or more where the same length rainbow or cutthroat will be about 0.5 to 0.7 kilograms (one to one and a half pounds).
Gear for pursuing speckled trout doesn’t vary all that much from standard trout tackle. A 4-weight to 6-six weight fly-fishing system is fine for dealing with them. Reels with serious drag systems aren’t really needed, as the brookies don’t make the screaming runs that rainbows often will, but I recommend a reel with an exposed spool rim so that you can palm it to assist in putting drag on the fish when needed. The squaretails love to turn nose down and head for weed, just like bass, so some drag at specific times is essential to keep them from running you into the weeds and breaking off.
Fly patterns are the same as for trout, with the exception that brook trout tend to stick to subsurface food sources more than the rainbows. Even in good hatches like BC’s big traveller sedge hatch, the brook trout will tend to key on the pupae rather than attack the adult dries. In light of this, a good stock of leeches, scuds, caddis pupa and dragonfly nymph patterns is a staple when fishing for these char.
The strike of a speckled trout is almost never violent. They tend to follow the fly and suck it in slowly. They also have very hard mouths. This combination of factors requires that you use very sharp hooks and set the hook quickly and hard. Trollers in boats always have problems missing strikes because they cannot stop rowing and grab the rod fast enough to set the hook before the fish spits the fly…belly-boaters are at a distinct advantage here because they are almost always in contact with their rods.
Lastly, brook trout are excellent table fare. They are a bit fattier than trout, but bake up into an excellent meal when wrapped in tin foil with lemon and onion slices, salt and pepper. About 25 – 30 minutes per pound at 350 degrees Fahrenheit does them up nicely.
When the heat is on and the water is warm, or any time you want a change of venue, try fishing for squaretails. You’ll find a wonderful sport fish just waiting for your fly.
By Bill Luscombe