I have to say, many of my fishing trips for Brookies turn out to be adventures. I often find myself searching for that out of the way lake that requires a hike in and possibly the aid of a GPS. I’m trying to find the Holy Grail of fishing, a lake stuffed full of football sized Brook Trout. It seems that a good number of our Brookie lakes have that potential, and many are backcountry affairs; little ponds nestled in the boreal or hiding in the shadows of the Rockies. Some are smaller than a football field, yet have this amazing ability to grow tremendously large fish.
I have been fortunate enough to find a few. Not many, but I’ve found three fantastic lakes that are forever in my back pocket. Each has produced whopping big trout, each is tiny and not well known. In fact, there isn’t a single roadside sign directing you to any of them. You either know they exist, or you don’t. The only way you find them is to check stocking reports, become good friends with someone who knows something about brook trout lakes, or consult the Alberta Fishing Guide. A chat with the local fisheries biologist also might get you pointed in the right direction. After that, the rest is up to you and it’ll then be time to wear out some shoe leather proving out your research.
I remember my first ever wild Brookie chase, and it wasn’t even on a lake that I would remotely call backcountry. I was fishing Edith Lake, near Swan Hills. It’s just a few klicks down a gravel road and you can drive right up to the boat launch. The road can get sketchy when it rains, but the great thing about Brookies is that they are a fish of the winter. Ice fishing is just about as productive as open water fishing, and the dead of winter was exactly when I first visited the lake.
My plan was to chop a hole in the ice and drown some worms, but it turned out the ice was deeper than I could reasonably chop. Fortunately, a kind hearted man came by with ice auger in hand and drilled several holes for me. I thanked him for his generosity and got about the job of fishing. Rather than get rigged up with the maggots or worms I had on hand, I pulled out a small plastic, sorry looking excuse for an ice fishing rod. It had a plastic circular reel with one, or perhaps two eyes on the end and a supply of fishing line of unknown breaking strength. It had a big quarter ounce yellow jig with a matching yellow curl tail and somehow it called out to me.
As foolish as it sounds, I dropped that big jig and curly tail to the bottom, lifted once, and then just about got the rod ripped from my hands. The line was being violently taken from the reel and I just held on. I remember being completely stunned and in total disbelief. The thrill lasted perhaps 5 to 10 seconds and the very, very big fish was gone and that was that. I’d hooked one of the Edith Lake monsters I had heard about, but that was as close as I got. For the rest of the day I switched to bait and did myself proud, catching dozens of colorful Brookies. Nothing too big, but a lot of fun and the action was steady. This one day, however, was all it took and I’ve been chasing Brookies ever since.
These trout are both wonderful and at the same time capable of creating lasting heartache. You need to know this going in, or you simply won’t be prepared when your favourite lake that produced whopping big Brookies the winter before, is now a total bust. The fickle nature of Brookie lakes is that most are small and many are susceptible to winter kill. Practically every single ‘gem’ I’ve ever found goes through this cycle of bounty and bust. I’ve come to look at these backcountry fishing excursions as an adventure, where catching is truly a bonus. I always bring along hot dogs, a thermos of hot chocolate, other snacks, and a camera. That way it’s a great day outdoors regardless of the fishing success.
If the water is clear I’ll look down the hole watching while I jig, but if its stain coloured, I’ll be the first to put on some bait and prop a rod up in a mound of snow and just let the rig sit there. Many, many a Brookie has fallen to the old set line. Generally I find that they are not too fussy about bait. Typically if I have worms and maggots, they will bite on one or the other, or both. That being said, I’ve also seen them eat chunks of cheese slices, pieces of pineapple, and the odd marshmallow of all things.
One interesting observation I’ve made over the years has been the location of winter Brookies. I rarely find them deep. I’ve fished the deep holes, but for the most part I’d have to say at least 90 percent or more of the ones I’ve caught, have been in water under 12 feet deep. While this is not conclusive evidence that these are a shallow water fish once the ice appears, I can tell you without doubt, that they do a lot of their feeding in shallow water at this time of year.
One thing that I’ve come to realize is that Brookies in lakes with little pressure are very aggressive and on many days I can get away with bouncing a jig off bottom. I can tip it with bait or fish it as is, but the cool thing is that in these circumstances they are very quick to strike. So the jig is an excellent searching tool for Brookies and I hop from hole to hole jigging as I go. If I get a strike I’ll settle in, given that they often travel in schools and I often end up getting into some great fishing.
I’d love to tell you the names of all these cool Brookie lakes I visit, but it wouldn’t be fair to only highlight the half dozen or so backcountry lakes I happened to discover. There’s a bunch more of them out there, and it’s up to each of us to find these great fishin’ holes. In fact, I’ve heard many rumours about chunky speckles the size of footballs swimming around freely without any significant fishing pressure. Let the games begin!