Spring is when it all comes to fruition in the brook trout waters of this Country, a period when brook trout enthusiasts are chomping at the bit to find that special lake with trophy-size trout. The problem with this idyllic scenario is that social and environmental forces often conspire to make fishing difficult, especially when it comes to trophy fish.
For the ‘Spec hunter’ in search of scalestraining catches, competition from other anglers and copious other factors, can make for tough angling indeed. Finding, and maintaining a brook trout lake that holds potential for trophy fish can seem like an insurmountable feat; the dodo bird of the trout world, but a proven management strategy I have used with success over the years, you too can groom your own trophy lake to produce sizeable catches of Salvelinus fontinalis for many years to come.
In my home trout waters, located just south of the Canadian Shield in Southwestern Quebec, many of the smaller lakes boast natural brook trout, some of which have never seen human presence. Many other untapped resource lakes like this are found across Canada, but how to locate such a hidden gem? A topographic map or handheld GPS is essential when researching potential trout water suitable for grooming. Begin exploring lakes you find not connected by trail, or road, and eventually you will hit upon a winner. One trick I use for locating out of the way honey holes is by following tributaries from known trout lakes. Oftentimes, one or even a series of small kettle-lakes may be linked by a small meandering stream system. Some lakes might be devoid of activity while others are literally teeming with populations of spunky specs.
Let The Grooming Begin
I have discovered several hidden trout lakes, over the years; I know have never fished by anyone but me. Researching and locating that special off-the-beaten path lake is your first step to success. Once you have found a small quiet, off the beaten path trout lake with even a few natural trout in it, it can be groomed into a trophy lake. One lake in particular I call Lac Perdu, is a prime example of how a run-of-the-mill trout lake, can be transformed into a mega trout fishery with proper management. Over 20 years ago when I first discovered it, Lac Perdu had a naturally reproducing trout population albeit with very low numbers. I caught and kept a small handful of trout each year, before embarking on a long-term catch and release effort.
The key to grooming your own trout water is the preservation of brood stock, over the course of several years. What this essentially means is allowing breedingsize trout to live, and flourish, by any means possible. Catch and release of the large specimens was key! Any older fish of approximately 3 pounds or more were carefully and safely live-released. Barbless hooks became the standard; I stopped using a landed net, and most brood stock fish unhooked at canoe-side. It is a highly gratifying to gently send a 5-pound+ brook trout back to whence it came, a effort that pays in dividends, trust me. Sure, I kept a small number of eating size trout less than 12” in length, but anything big is safely released.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle facing any trout grooming effort is competition from other anglers, who usually do not share your long-term conservation goal. The surest way to beat the competition is by surreptitiously approaching your out-of-the-way grooming lake, so that no one sees you. Lac Perdu, for example, has no trails into it and I have done my utmost to keep it that way. I never approach the lake the same way twice! Do not park a vehicle or leave tracks near the access point to any lake you plan to groom. Portaging to a Groom Lake is always the best approach, so long as no one spots your travel route. Nothing spreads like wildfire as news of a trophy-producing trout lake so do your utmost to keep its location under wraps.
Approaching The Lake
It is certainly difficult to approach your Groom Lake differently each time, and may included such activities as jumping beaver dams, wading small feeder streams or sliding your canoe through a ‘backdoor’ marshland entrance. It may be an extraneous effort, but if you truly wish to develop and maintain your own private trophy trout fishery, it is well worth the effort! It is best to approach your Groom Lake as a team – one person to walk ahead as a ‘spotter’ with the map and/or GPS unit, and the second to carry the canoe. The spotter is in charge of identifying the best direction to walk as his partner “Mr. Canoe Head” has limited visibility.
When carried out properly, anyone can successfully groom an average trout lake into a trophy fishery over the course of time. You will need great patience and discipline as this activity is not for the faint of heart. My passion to find fresh trout waters in which to groom, has brought me through some of the roughest and most scenic wilderness our country has to offer. It has also led me to truly worldclass trout waters, I have since managed and groomed into some of the best natural trout lakes around. Tight lines and happy grooming!
Jeff Morrison is an award-winning member of the Outdoor Writers of Canada, book author and former magazine Editor-in-Chief. His nationally syndicated outdoors column; ‘The Outdoors Guy’ appears in over 40 newspapers across Canada.
By Jeff Morrison