The Brook Trout – Video

by Fly Fisherman

The Brook Trout
(Salvelinus fontinalis)
ORIGINAL HABITAT.—The native habitat of this crafty fish includes the territory from Labrador westward to the Saskatchewan and southeast to Georgia.

PRESENT RANGE.—Through fish culture and introduction it now graces the fresh waters from coast to coast in all but nine states, where it is not reported. These states include Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Texas, and Oklahoma. Some of these states report that brook trout have been planted or reported caught, but nothing authentic is on record of their present existence.

FAMILY.—It belongs to the salmon family of fishes of which there are many species, such as the rainbow trout, dolly vardcn, brown, golden, lake, yellowstone or black-spotted, piute, steelhead, and cutthroat; yet the brook trout is not a true trout, but a charr.

GENERAL LINES, COLOR, ETC.—The brook trout is a distinct species and one of the beauties of the fresh waters. Nature spared no effort when coloring this fish. The general color is quite uniform although it varies according to the waters it inhabits. If in open water, where plenty of light is able to penetrate, it is much lighter in color than if found where there is abundance of shade, cover, and protection. One characteristic of this fish that most other trout do not have is the white fringe on the edge of the lower fins. This is a positive means of identification. The dark gray overmarkings on the dark or medium olive-green background form a mottled effect. The dark background color merges into a lighter color in the lower portions of the body, where a brilliant orange line extends across the body.

This part, like the lower fins, is intermingled with a black streak. On the sides are numerous red and pale yellow spots with each of the red spots surrounded by a faint bluish circle. The dorsal fin carries the same general color and effect as the upper part of the body but does not have any colored spots. The other fins are the adipose, pectoral, ventral, anal, and caudal or tail fin. All are of the soft ray type except the adipose, which is a small fleshy fin. The general lines of this fish give notice that it is built for action. It is often termed the aristocrat of the fresh waters because of its beauty, popularity among fishermen and sportsmen, and its delicate and tasty flesh. The scales
are microscopic in size, which may lead one to believe that
it has no scales.

Sizes.—It sometimes attains a weight of ten pounds or more; however, the food conditions must be excellent to produce fish of this size. The official world’s record caught with rod and line is fourteen and a half pounds and was caught in Canada in 1936. The average size is about seven to nine inches. If it were not for the intensive fishing and
other conditions brought on by man it would no doubt have
a better chance to grow somewhat larger.

USUAL WATERS INHABITED AND HABITS.-It prefers the cool, spring-fed mountain and meadow streams where there is plenty of cover. Overhanging banks, logs, or treetops entirely or partly submerged in the water, rocks, or any other object furnish good protective cover. During the early spring it is usually found in the deeper pools, where it lies near the bed of the stream. As the air and water temperatures increase it moves to shallower and swifter water, where it lies above the bed of the stream to await any food that may drift down with the current. Many of our fine brook-trout streams have been rendered unfit for this fish by the cutting of the forests and the pollution of streams. Where streams have not been polluted, the brown and rainbow trout have to a great extent supplanted the brook trout.

In some mountain streams, where there is still some forest protection, the brook trout continues to exist. Many streams, however, have become so badly affected by the drought and loss of food supply that it is fast disappearing in these areas. The average size is very small and runty because of inbreeding and lack of sufficient food.
In many sections of the country it thrives in lakes where it attains a much larger size. No doubt the inland lakes of Canada produce the largest brook trout. Trout from these confined areas are much heavier of body than the trout that have to battle the swift currents of the streams.

Another factor which has helped to  deplete the brook trout is the indiscriminate planting of brown trout and other carnivorous fish in brook-trout waters by inexperienced fishermen who were not aware of the destructive habits of the introduced species.

FOOD AND FEEDING HABITS.—The chief food of brook trout consists of aquatic insect life of the larval and mature stage, terrestrial insect life such as the grasshoppers, etc., that find their way into the water, and the crustacean creatures, plant life, worms, and some small fish. Since it is both a day- and night-feeder there is little space of time that it does not eat food of some kind, although there are many fishermen who believe that it feeds only when they are not fishing.
It secures its food from any area in the water or on the bed of the stream. It may rise very cautiously to take an insect from the surface of the water, but the rise is usually with a sudden burst of speed.

SPAWNING.—Like all fish of the salmon family, the brook trout migrates upstream to spawn—usually in October or November. It seeks the headwaters, where the nest is prepared by the female on the sand or gravel while the male fish stands by to drive away any other intruding males. The male fish fight viciously during the spawning period. All sediment is cleared away from the selected spot for the nest. The size and depth of the nest may vary according to the size of the fish and the speed of the current, but it averages about three to five inches in depth. Usually a spot near the foot of the pool is selected, although some nests are made in the current.

After the eggs are deposited—and they are single as they are extruded, and non-adhesive—the nest is deserted for nature to take its course. The eggs are somewhat covered with gravel as the incubation period progresses. This period is usually from fifty to one hundred days and sometimes much longer if the weather is extremely cold. The eggs hatch somewhat quicker if in a limestone stream. The number of eggs may range from 400 to ,000, according to the size of the female.
During the present time there arc many difficult problems for nature to overcome. Fall freshets may destroy the nest and the eggs. A hard winter may delay the hatching until the baby fish are caught in the spring floods where they are
almost helpless. The percentage of eggs that hatch is so small that it would never supply the demands of our army of fishermen today. For this reason artificial propagation must furnish the bulk of brook trout to stock the streams.

ARTIFICIAL PROPAGATION.—The artificial propagation of brook trout has been in progress almost one hundred years. Fish for market as well as for stocking public and private waters are hatched in private, government, and state hatcheries. Brown and rainbow trout also are extensively propagated at the various hatcheries. Constant experiment and research have been under way to determine means and methods of greater production at less cost. In very recent years it has been discovered that line breeding not only produces a greater fertility of eggs but produces a faster growth and more sturdy fish. The cost of production is somewhat less and the fish stocked in the streams will be larger.

When the spawning period arrives the female fish are carefully examined by trained hatchery attendants. If they are ripe for spawning, the eggs are stripped from them into a suitable container, where the milt from the male fish is immediately placed to fertilize the eggs. The eggs are then placed in long, shallow troughs where a constant flow of fresh water is maintained. Here the eggs are given very careful attention until they are hatched some forty-five to ninety days later. After this the baby fish are cared for until large enough to be placed in rearing pools, where they remain until of proper size for distribution. These fish may be secured for planting in the fry, fingerling, yearling, and adult stage. These sizes range from an inch in the fry stage, two or three inches in the fingerling stage, five to seven inches in the yearling stage, up to twelve or more inches in the adult stage. Many states plant nothing but large fish—that is, from six inches upward. Most of these are planted just prior to the opening of the season in the spring. Many are planted during the open season. Many states continue to plant them in the fry stage; however, it is very doubtful just how successful this is because of present conditions of the streams.

Much criticism has been involved by this early and mid-season stocking program. The fishermen object to the so-called tame or liver-fed trout. They desire the planting to be done in the fall of the year after the season has closed. Their claim is that the fish will become acclimated to the water and be in a wild state for the following season; also, having become soft because of living on liver while in the hatcheries, they will be hardened during this period. As a matter of fact, there are very few trout in any state or other hatcheries today that are reared on liver, for the price is so high that the hatcheries would soon become bankrupt.

The principal food is the lungs and hearts of sheep and cattle, and ground fish.
The greatest objection to fall stocking by those in charge of the program is the fact that there is sometimes a lack of water in the streams because of a prolonged summer drought which often extends into winter. In this case the fish are forced to congregate in the larger pools where the food supply soon becomes exhausted. The larger fish then prey upon the smaller ones. If the streams continue to be low during the fall and winter the fish are subjected to possible death by fish-eating animals and other predators. Even the poacher will not hesitate to take what he can to appease his appetite, or to make a sale to some so-called good citizen in the city who pays the price and encourages the poacher to bring another supply at a later date. Long, hard winters have a disastrous effect on fall-planted trout, but the damaging pay-off comes when winter freshets cause ice jams to gouge their way downstream through the narrow channels to take everything in their pathway. What chance has any fish under this grinding and crushing mass of ice ?

FISHING.—The brook trout ranks very high as a fish to furnish sport. It readily strikes either a wet or dry fly and is a great favorite of all fly fishermen. It no doubt was the first fish to be sought with the artificial flies.
While there are hundreds of different patterns of trout flies and various sizes, types, and colors, a few standard patterns and sizes are all that is necessary for any fisherman to possess. However, if the fisherman desires a large collection of patterns there is nothing against it insofar as sportsmanship is concerned, but it will not insure catching any more fish than the fisherman with a few patterns. The Wickham’s Fancy, dark and light Cahill, Royal Coachman, Quill Gordon, various hackles and nymphs are all that may be required to catch trout under almost any ordinary conditions.
The live-bait fishermen find the lowly angleworm and small minnow very good bait for their type of fishing which is usually confined to the early part of the season while the trout are remaining in the deeper pools, but there are many minnow fishermen who prefer live bait during the entire season. The bait fishermen usually fish downstream while the fly fishermen prefer to fish upstream, making their casts so that the fly will float naturally with the current. However, the wet-fly fisherman will have excellent results by fishing downstream.

LOCAL NAMES.—Numerous local names are applied to the brook trout. Sometimes it is called native trout, speckled trout, square tail, eastern trout, charr, coaster, mountain trout, and American trout.

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