Skunked Again: The art of sneaky fishing

15 mins read

Brook fishing has been on my mind the last few weeks, so I decided to get my hands dirty before the season ended. I haven’t fished many streams in Franklin County so I was eager to do some exploring; I set my sights on McLeary Brook in Strong, (DeLorme M19, B-5).

On my way out to Route 149, the road that would take me north to Strong, I stopped at Jack’s Trading Post located just before the junction. After making sure I had enough spinners in stock, I hurried inside and grabbed two dozen worms and a handsome looking slice of pizza that caught my eye. My Civic wasn’t on empty so I knew I had enough gas to make the trip – I was finally on my way.

I grew up brook fishing in the wilderness of Penobscot County and there I developed a love for the adventure associated with finding wild brook trout. Even the small streams that don’t have enough water to allow their trout to grow big, even these trout are fun to fish because of their miniature size and abundance.

Eventually I arrived at my destination, the base of a long slope that I had been driving down for some time, where I knew McLeary Brook crossed the road. I pulled off on to the soft shoulder on the right side of the road and glanced upstream to see a moderate amount of water casually flowing down the rocky stream bed.

While I was still in my car I began rigging up my spin-cast rod with a spinner and worm. To go brook fishing without a pole all-ready is like going hunting without any cartridges in the clip. When you stumble upon a nice pool in the woods you can’t stand around shifting your weight while your worm jukes its way around the barb of your hook; trout spook very easily and you have to be ready when you come across where they’re hiding.

I finished up putting my hook an inch and a half behind a gold spinner by biting off most of a pre-rigged Eagle hook and leader and then tying the remaining inch and a half to the back loop of the spinner with a fisherman’s knot.

Out of my car and pushing through the road-side shrubbery, I began my walk upstream to look for the occasional trout pool that could potentially house a fat brookie.

The areas one should look for while brook fishing are the pockets of water behind bigger obstructions in the stream like boulders, logs, and better yet, beaver dams. Keep an eye out for where quick-water spills out into a reservoir (or build-up of water). Trout usually hang out at the edge of this quick-water in order to munch on the food floating downstream. Casting your worm near this area can often earn you a bite.

Many brooks in Maine struggle during the heat of the summer, so usually searching for deep spots in a stream is necessary to come across any trout. I found this to be the case at McLeary Brook despite the heavy rainfall throughout this summer. McLeary Brook has a lot of shallow quick-water where a trout would be forced to scoot over cocks and pebbles in order to get to your worm. Avoid this shallow water. Trout in shallow parts of the stream are constantly in danger of other woodland predators that could be sniffing around or swooping in for a bite to eat. I don’t blame the trout for hiding under the protective bushes along deeper banks or in the crevices of larger debris.

My first cast into the cold water rewarded me with an unexpected hit from an energetic little trout. I lifted the little guy from the water with my rod and swung him towards my open left hand, as if I was operating a crane to deliver the goods. This first trout looked to be about five inches and I tossed him downstream where he wouldn’t disturb my fishing; I didn’t want him telling his friends who just rolled into town.

I spotted an area upstream that widened out and appeared to have decent depth. I walked at an angle that brought me away from the brook but headed more or less upstream. When I was parallel with the attractive section of the brook, I cut in towards the water, keeping my body low to the ground to avoid casting shadows and causing obvious disturbance among the shrubbery and branches. As I closed in on the bank, I ditched my worms and dropped to my stomach in order to begin a military crawl on my chest towards a stand of two thin white birches. Once I got behind the meager cover, I brought my legs underneath me and lifted my upper body just high enough to manage my pole. With most of my body low and hidden behind the birch trees, I began the brook-fishing maneuver I learned so many years ago from my father.

I opened the bail to my reel and pinched the line above the spool with my left hand. With my right hand I pushed my pole forward, causing my worm to swingover a portion of the brook like a miniature wrecking-ball. Bringing the pole back and pushing it out again increased the arc of my worm, and on the third swing I let go of the pinched line and the inertia of my sinkers took my bait soaring to a deep spot on the other side of the brook. After three cranks of my reel I witnessed a streak of dark-grey slam in to my worm. I tried to set the hook after the initial force of the strike, but the fish quickly freed itself from the barb. This hit was by a 10 inch brookie. I had begun to expect only miniature sized trout after my first fish, but now I anticipated something bigger. I threw my worm back to the same spot a couple times to see if I could get it to bite again, but knew deep down it was too smart to bite again anytime soon.

I continued upstream, making my way through an old-growth forest consisting mostly of spruce and hemlock with a scattering of various hardwoods. Although I was only a hundred yards from the road, the scene around me was so beautiful Bob Ross would have painted it. McLeary Brook gurgled around several bends off to my right, straightened out, and then proceeded to split through the forest with giant birch trees leaning out over the top, creating a tunnel effect. The large size of most of the trees around me made for good walking and allowed only a little light to shine through the canopy; the entire area was dim-lit and had a pleasantly cool atmosphere.

In my opinion, the best part about brook-fishing is when you are working your way up an unexplored stream and you follow each bend not knowing what is ahead of you. Who knows what you are going to stumble on? This was exactly the situation I found myself in as I followed the stream around a turn and saw two-three fishing hot spots further up. I could see just ahead the stream got unusually deep and just ahead of that a rock shelf gave way to a deep reservoir. To add to the fishiness of the area, a dead tree had come to rest at one side of the deep water. Bingo.

After crawling up the bank bordering the first deep hole I spotted, I tossed (or swung) my worm into the pool. Immediately I got a huge hit that reminded me of the trout I missed before. I was able to retrieve this one, and I found myself holding the nine-inch trout in my hand, counting the red spots on one side. Sixteen. I don’t claim to know any significance to the red dot count, but they certainly made the fish beautiful in contrast to the large number of yellow spots speckling its skin. After I tossed this guy back and re-wormed, I worked my way to the next spot. There is typically one dominant trout for every ideal spot, and I aimed to catch each one if possible.

I spied the felled tree ahead and ventured closer. As if in reconnaissance, I slowly closed in on the bank. Once there, I attempted to send my worm right next to the surfacing tree so my bait could sink down along the cover it provided and hopefully tempt any trout that waited beneath. It would take me three times to make the perfect cast after missing perfect placement the first couple of attempts. I found the alpha trout in no time but he was able to shake himself off before I had him on shore.

Bummer, I thought, but there could be another close-by of equal size. Sure enough, the rock-shelf 15 feet upstream produced a respectable-sized brookie, no longer than 8 inches.

I continued on in similar manner for quite some time, until the stream’s flow became delicate and thin, and the trout could not be found around each bend. Pretty soon I was unable to find the fish at any frequency at all.

I do remember, however, as the brook continued on ahead, a solitary yellow birch leaning out over the stream. I couldn’t guess its age with any proximity, but I could tell by its 14-inch diameter that its leaves and limbs had shed insects into the stream to feed the trout for years upon years. Directly underneath the birch the bank dropped off deep, and some serious water had accumulated directly below. Standing behind the birch on my tip-toes, with one hand propped against the back of the tree, I dropped my worm with four feet of line into the little pool below and lifted it back up with a glittering brook trout swinging its tail back and forth. To my surprise, I repeated the process a second time to pull up another trout very similar in size. Something about lowering a line in to the water for a second and bringing it back up with a hooked fish can put a smile on your face. I certainly grinned with the simplicity of it all.

The further upstream I advanced, the amount of pools dwindled and became sparse; I took this as a sign to head back to my Honda. After catching one last trout, I hooked an eyelid on my pole and started back downstream. My catch for the day consisted of eight nice-sized brookies in all, and that doesn’t count fishing the giant pool on the other side of South Strong Road, just under the culvert (a great place to bring a toddler to catch his first fish).

The next time I fish McLeary Brook I might try downstream from where it crosses Route 149 (South Strong Road). Closer to where the creek joins the Sandy River there are some bigger pools and perhaps some bigger trout. Regardless, one will never know until he or she commits and embarks on a little brook-fishing adventure! Happy Fishin’

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