Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Take Me To Your Brooder!

March early season trout fishing in the Driftless had been slow for most of us. Since fishermen are actually admitting this much, things were indeed terrible. Clear, low, cold water and bright skies have been mostly to blame.

Personally, I've been in exploratory mode on my last few outings in March. If anything it gives me a legitimate excuse for not bringing many fish to my chilly grippers.

This turned out as bad as it looks

My goal on these recent exploratory missions is to find that sleeper creek that has been within an hour's drive of my house all this time, had I only made the effort to find its hidden secrets. Its a dream I refuse to let go, even though the vast majority of these creeks are unknown for very good reasons.

A beautiful and mysterious creek deep in the Baraboo bluffs...completely devoid of trout

A central sands creek within a half hour from home produced a few stocked brookies
The month of March did produce some highlights though. A close to home creek, known for its treacherous banks and a silty bottom, barely produced a half dozen fish within a 3 1/2 hour session. But one of those fish happened to be the first upper teens fish of the season. I found him right where he should have been, hugging the limited shaded area on an otherwise brilliantly illuminated stream.

See his home?
Look no further than the abject scorn on my face - the sun must die
One of my "fat head" squirrels. Pink squirrels have been in the dropper position behind streamers for much of my fishing as of late. Dig the reflection.

March wasn't all about scouting. On a windy day, a fellow Dan and I found an area near our backyards that shielded us from the hostile air. And we knew full well that it would be full of some of the most beautiful looking little brook trout in the state.

But for all of March's issues, I will now remember it most for my first brooders.

Brooders or broodstock are mature fish used by hatcheries to propagate a given species of fish for use in aquaculture or the stocking of streams and lakes. There comes a time when these individuals are no longer able to do the deed. But instead of turning these trout into fertilizer, someone at the DNR decided why not just release them into the wild to surprise the hell out of unsuspecting fishermen who might happen upon them?

Its a surprise because these fish are abnormally large compared to the typical small stream trout. Over 20 inches in many cases. But there's a catch...

These are not pretty fish. They're not smart either. The fins are usually warn down to grotesque nubs and the fight in these fish can be a bit lacking considering their size.

Finally there's the knowledge that these fish did not grow naturally in the stream for years and years becoming wiser and wiser until the day they finally met their match running into an expert angler such as yourself.

Get over it.

My run in with a few brooders started on a close-to-home creek that I understood to have problems. I expected to have a slow afternoon and I had one. Two hours of fishing brought me to 1 small brown and a few fleeting nibbles.

I hiked back to my Jeep happy to had been out in this strikingly handsome valley, surround by wildlife and quiet.

The upper reaches of this stream features a box culvert at the head of a plunging waterfall that meets a deep round pool. Someone told me that this creek receives an occasional dose of geriatric brooders. I've fished this pool several times and have always caught a few normal looking fish, nothing big.

It was getting dark but I decided drive up stream with my waders still on to toss a few last casts into this mystery stew. On a second or third cast, I jerked the streamer and dropper back down towards the bottom of the pool and the line jerked back but went loose. I offered my fly once more and this time it stuck.

Whomp-whomp-whomp. The pulse of a large fish on the line is unmistakable. At first I thought it would be a short fight as it didn't seem to want to argue, but then it ripped back up stream, eliminating the slack in my line and spinning my reel as I palmed the spindle to account for an inadequate drag setting. I knew it must be a brooder but this didn't keep a maniacal laugh from escaping my belly.

The fish completed this one quick run, but then revealed its twilight position in life. Though not immediately, the fish gave into my reeling and turned his head to the surface to reveal a hook jaw, huge head and... a tiny deformed body. It was like a PAC-MAN trout.

He took some reviving after sending him back to the maze. With luck, he's chasing ghosts and eating power pills as I type this.

Only a few casts later I hooked into another one. This time a female that had more fish left on her. This one took a little more effort to get in the net after some splashing around. A car drove up the drive way that crossed the culvert as I was struggling with the fish, 3wt rod bent over like a horseshoe. I saw a smile from the passenger seat. I bothered to measure this fish. Twenty inches.

The fish had frizzled gills and gnarly fins, but it swam with some authority back into the pit.

After a brief hook up with a fish I caught goofing around on the surface, and one last small, healthy brown I called it quits. It was dark now and the wind had produced a sophisticated work of art with my tippet.

So I'm now left to contemplate. Did I catch my first 20+ inch trout in a driftless stream that evening?


  1. A fish is a fish, congrats on the 20+ inch trout!

  2. I shamelessly accept your congrats Ryan!

  3. I like the part where you say, "If anything it gives me a legitimate excuse for not bringing many fish to my chilly grippers." Hahahhahahahhaha. I enjoyed the write up and photos Dan!