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New York Brook Trout

New York Brook Trout

by Matt Chapple

History in New York

The Brook Trout having the scientific name, Salvelinus Fontinalis, is actually not a trout but one of the two species of char that are native to New York State. The other being the Lake Trout. The numbers of Brook Trout have declined greatly in their native range in New York, but populations still exist. There are many miles of small streams in New York that still support populations of Brook Trout, mostly in the Adirondack Mountains, the Tug Hill Plateau, and the Catskill Mountain regions. Due to stocking programs active since the 1800s, the actual genetic lineage of the Brook Trout in many of these waters is vague.

Brookie

Caught this gorgeous little Brook Trout on an October 2, 2010 trip to the Adirondack foothills

The famous Beaverkill in the Catskills is a prime example of the decline of the brook trout. They were once abundant in the Beaverkill, but due to the river’s close proximity to New York City and increased industry, especially tanning mills, brook trout populations began to decline. Over fishing by tourists and declining water quality almost completely eliminated the brook trout from the Beaverkill by the end of the 1800s. In much of the native range the brook trout was replaced with non-native brown trout, imported from Germany, or the rainbow trout, which is native to the pacific northwest of north america. Today there are still populations of brook trout in the Catskills and brook trout are also stocked in the region by New York State hatcheries. The Beaverkill is now primarily a brown trout fishery.

At present in New York, the Department of Environmental Conservation, manages many lakes and ponds specifically as Brook Trout waters, many of these are known to support natural reproduction. Each year fish of four pounds are landed. Although, the populations of naturally reproducing Brook Trout is low compared to those that existed in history, a handful of “heritage” strains are said to exist in New York and these strains are being protected.

 

Biology

Brook Trout prefer cold water and will not survive in water with a sustained temperature above 65 degrees Fahrenheit. They typically spawn in streams October through November, but may also successfully spawn on the bottom of a lake or pond. They will spawn at the young age of 2 years old. They are a beautiful species of fish, characterized by wavy yellow markings, called vermiculations, on the back and dorsal fin. Along the sides are red dots surrounded by blue halos scattered amongst yellow spots. The underside can range from crimson, on a spawning male, to yellow or pink and the fins display a range of colors with black and white borders. In small streams brook trout will not grow to very large sizes rarely reaching 12 inches long. They mostly feed on aquatic insect nymphs and larvae.

 

Fly-fishing for Brook Trout

Fly-fishing for Brook Trout in small streams is a truly fun endeavor. A 6-7 foot 3wt rod is perfect for casting small wet flies and dries. Brook Trout are opportunistic feeders and will feed when food becomes present and will often take a swinging fly. The streams in New York that harbor Brook Trout don’t usually have sustained insect hatches, so Brook Trout are typically eager to attack a fly. Small hare’s ears or an adams are a good start when choosing a fly. One of my favorite flies that I used to fish for Brookies as a kid was a red ant pattern. Have fun with these little guys, if you find them you will most likely have the stream to yourself.

Remember the general trout season closes on October 15th. Check regulations guide for streams with extended fishing seasons.

 

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Articles Biology Tips & Technique

An Early Hatch

An Early Hatch

Stonefly

The winter season is typically long, cold and gray in central New York.  Through this long cold winter season, fly-fishing is without any major insect hatches.  The other three seasons are graced with some beautiful hatches possibly starting with the Hendrickson’s in the spring and ending in late fall with caddis flies and olive mayflies.  Through the winter, just the sight of an insect can give the bright optimism of spring and create a vision of the season to come.

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Black Stonefly from Finger Lakes Region

When the majority of fly-fishers think of hatches, the first type of insects that come to mind are the delicate mayflies, which are synonymous with the sport. In central New York mayflies are not the first insects to hatch.  Every year, when there is a wintertime thaw or on a sunny day in late winter or early  spring, little black or brown stoneflies begin to emerge from central New York streams and rivers .  These insects can be seen on various streams throughout the region including Finger Lakes tributaries, Lake Ontario tributaries and various other inland streams.  The best and easiest place to see them is on a snow bank.  If there is still snow along the stream banks when they hatch, they are easily observed.  Their black/dark brown bodies against the white snow make them stick right out.  If the snow is not there, looking at some bushes, trees, boulders or any other structure along the stream banks on a warm day is the next approach to spotting them.  Some days they can be seen flying after they have dried their wings and then you know the hatch is happening.

 Brown Stone Finger Lakes

Little Brown Stonefly seen in Finger Lakes Region in 2013

The fishing can be productive with stonefly imitations during these early stonefly hatches if there is a heavy enough hatch and the fish key in on the insects.  Imagine that the immature forms will become dislodged from the underwater rocks from which they emerge and will attempt to swim and become available to trout.  Stoneflies do not emerge like most mayflies and caddis, but on the contrary will swim and  crawl along the bottom of the stream until they reach the edge and then they will crawl along the rock  bank to dry their wings and prepare for flight . Often times the water temperature is warm enough for them to hatch but air temperature is still cold so the wings will not fully develop, which is interesting to see as they crawl across the snow with the wings still in the wing case. Since stoneflies are crawlers and are not available on the ascent from the water like many aquatic insects associated with trout fly fishing, it can be easy to miss a small hatch.   My success with little black /dark brown patterns through the winter into the spring is enough to convince me that the trout are focusing on these insects.  If your lucky and adults emerge but fall back to the waters surface, trout may feed on the surface.  This can be the first dry fly action of the season in central New York.

 

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small stonefly seen on the snow during winter 2014

A semi-deep slow presentation will be essential during these early hatches due to cold water temperatures and to mimic the crawling behavior of these little stoneflies. Don’t neglect letting the fly swing at the end of the dead drift as fish are sometimes triggered into the bite by the movement of the fly across their field of vision.  This is always the best way to hook a fish!!

 Here are some flies to try during the stonefly hatch:

Pheasant Tail Wet (Darker the better)

Hook: Nymph hook size 12-16

Thread: Olive 8/0

Tail: Pheasant Tail fibers

Abdomen: Pheasant Tail Fibers

Rib: Fine Copper Wire

Thorax: Peacock Herl

Legs: Hungarian Partridge(two turns at the head)

Black Stonefly

This one has been deadly on the West Canada in the winter.

Hook: nymph hook 6-14

Thread: Black 8/0

Tail: Brown goose biots (split

Abdomen: Angora goat Fur

Rib: V inyl rib

Thorax: Angora goat Fur

Wing Case: Turkey Tail

Collar: Black Hackle

Stubble Bugger

I have used this pattern to take browns, steelhead and landlocked salmon.

Hook: Scud Hook 10-14

Thread: Black 8/0

Tail: Black Marabou

Body: Black Micro Chenille

Hackle: Black Palmered and Clipped

Micro Stone

This is a good winter steelhead fly.

Hook: Scud hook 10-16

Thread: Black 8/0

Tail: Black hackle fibers (4-5)

Body: Black Rabbit mixed with green and red Flashabou

Rib: Fine copper wire

Thorax: Angora goat fur (Teased out)

 

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Finger Lakes Rainbow caught on a #14 Pheasant Tail Wet Fly spring 2014

 

 

 

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Articles Biology Conservation Fish HIstory Tips & Technique

New York Atlantic Salmon

Landlocked Atlantic Salmon caught and released in the fall of 2003

History in New York

Of all the salmon species that exist in New York’s waters today, including Chinook, Coho, Pink and Sockeye,  only the Atlantic Salmon is native to the state.  Lake Ontario once supported a population of wild Atlantic Salmon.  This population may have originated from the anadromous form which is one that lives a large part of its life in the ocean and spawns in freshwater.  The anadromous form may have migrated up the St. Lawrence River to Lake Ontario and into its tributaries and never returned to the Atlantic Ocean but used Lake Ontario or the Finger Lakes as a substitute for the ocean.  This form of Atlantic Salmon is referred to as “Landlocked”, and this population of Landlocked Atlantic Salmon was once quite large and there were major spawning runs that existed in the Salmon River system, Oswego River system, and the Genesee River system as well as others.  The loss of suitable spawning habitat caused the decline and subsequent extinction of New York’s Atlantic Salmon population. Some of the major contributors towards the loss of spawning habitat were, dams which blocked access to prime spawning areas, agricultural run off which covered spawning areas with silt, and the removal of stream-side trees which caused increased water temperatures, over harvesting, and water pollution.  By the late 1800’s the native Lake Ontario salmon were gone.

New York at Present

At present there are many lake and tributary systems across New York State that have populations of Landlocked Atlantic Salmon.  Unfortunately these populations are maintained by annual stocking programs.  There is very little if any natural reproduction due to the presence of a small  fish commonly called an alewife, which is not native to Lake Ontario or the Finger Lakes. The Alewife invaded the Great Lakes and reached a peak in the 1950’s.  Two examples are Lake Ontario and Cayuga Lake which both harbor populations of Alewives.  The skin of the Alewife contains an enzyme (thiaminase) not found in the natural forage base of the Atlantic Salmon.  This enzyme causes the breakdown vitamin B-1 (thiamine) which is essential to successful growth of the alevin stage of the atlantic salmon. With this vitamin deficiency the alevin usually die.  Although natural reproduction does not occur, many stocked Atlantic Salmon return to the streams were they were stocked  and can be viewed as they spawn from mid October to mid November during the peak of spawning activity. Unlike pacific salmon such as Chinook and Coho which have also been introduced into some New York’s waters, some Atlantic Salmon may return to their home lake after spawning and may return to spawn again. So they can sometimes become quite large, which is a good reason to practice catch and release.  There is research being conducted in a combined effort between Universities, state and government agencies to determine the feasibility of Atlantic Salmon restoration to New York. At present through stocking programs Atlantic Salmon can be found in Lake Ontario, the Finger Lakes, some Adirondack lakes and Lake Champlain.  Recently programs to re-introduce the native forage fish of Atlantic Salmon are being investigated.

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              bright salmon caught and released in the spring using a streamer pattern

Fly-fishing for Atlantic Salmon

The Atlantic Salmon is still regarded as one of the top game fish in New York.  They are known for their hard runs and incredible leaping ability which makes fishing for them an exciting experience.  New York anglers can use a variety of fly-fishing techniques at various times of the year to fish for Atlantic Salmon.  In the spring when off shore water temperatures are still cold salmon can be found along shorelines feeding on bait fish and they also may enter the lower stretches of tributaries to feed on schools of bait fish, such as the rainbow smelt or alewives.  In the Lake Ontario tributary system they may enter a river in the spring and stay in the river until spawning in the fall.  Streamer patterns that mimic  small bait fish are effective at this time.  A 9 to 11 foot 6 weight fly rod or even a longer 12 foot plus rod are good choices for battling the wind and casting streamers in the early spring conditions.  Sink tip or sinking lines work well but at certain times a floating line can be used when salmon are in close to shore chasing bait fish near the surface.  When salmon move into the lower stretches of tributaries following the smelt or other baitfish  they will often feed furiously,  but the action often does not last long  as they move out as quickly as they entered the tributary, which will require being in the right place at the right time.   Swinging the streamer as well as varying the retrieve with quick stripping motions will entice salmon to strike when they are chasing baitfish.

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This salmon took a swinging woolly bugger

During the spawning season when salmon move upstream in search of a mate, the fly-fishing strategies are somewhat different.  The salmon are not moving into the stream in search of food as they are in the spring, but enter as a result of an instinct to spawn.  Although it is commonly thought that they are not feeding, they will still strike a variety of flies possibly out of aggression and territoriality, including dry flies, as they protect their spawning areas or hold in a pool during their migration.  Post spawn salmon may also resume feeding and can become veracious feeders.  Salmon can be taken using a variety of  techniques and patterns in the fall.  Stripping and swinging streamers is one method as salmon can violently strike a streamer as it moves through the area in which the salmon has taken temporary residence or where the female has prepared a spawning bed.  Swinging small wet flies and nymphs will also produce strikes.  When the water temperatures start to drop in late fall and winter and the salmon in the tributaries become less active and the salmon will be less likely to move aggressively and will be more likely to strike a nymph on the dead drift, but will occasionally grab a well presented streamer pattern.

 

Atlantic Salmon, the only native salmon to New York, is a prime example of how the pressure of modern human civilization can cause the decline of wildlife.  Although the wild salmon are gone from New York, there is still opportunity to see salmon as they take part in their annual spawning migration.   As they are truly one of the most exciting fish to pursue with a fly rod.

Effective Wet-fly Nymph

  The soft partridge hackle has lifelike action in the water, making the fly appear alive, like a swimming, struggling, or emerging  nymph or small fish.  This fly can be fished using various techniques including the dead drift, the wet-fly swing, and in slow water they can be retrieved using a very slow stripping action.  All of these techniques I have  found to be effective at various times and conditions while fishing for New York’s Atlantic Salmon.

Olive Bead-head Wet

Hook: curved nymph hook 4-12

Thread: olive 6/0

Tail: pheasant tail fibers

Abdomen: Olive hare’s mask spun in a brush

Rib: fine gold wire

Thorax: peacock herl

Collar: Hungarian partridge two turns

Head: Two turns peacock herl and gold bead

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Releasing a beautiful Landlocked Atlantic Salmon back to the stream

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Articles Biology HIstory Tips & Technique

Finger Lakes Rainbows

NICE RAINBOW brings a smile. Matt landed this nice female rainbow using a #8 Reddish Brown Hare’s Ear nymph on April 11th, 2001 at about 1:00pm. It was 27 inches and weighed in at over 7 pounds. He immediately released it saying “She will lay eggs this year and come back next year again to help create more of these beautiful fish.”
[highlight]-Herb Chapple[/highlight]

 

Before steelhead were introduced into Lake Ontario and its tributary system in the late 1960’s; rainbow trout were introduced into the Finger Lakes tributary system. Stocking and management established substantial runs by the 1950’s and runs still exist today.

There are many tributaries throughout the Finger Lakes region that receive runs of rainbow trout.  Grout Brook, Owasco Inlet, Cayuga Inlet, the famed Catherine Creek, Keuka Inlet, also known as Cold Brook, Naples Creek, and Springwater Creek all receive runs.  There are also many other tributaries, which receive runs at varying intensities and times.   Fish will start to run in the fall and continue to enter the creeks during late winter thawing periods. When water temperatures start to rise, spawning will commence.  During warm winters spawning occurs early and some fish are returning to the lake by the time April arrives.   Anglers can intercept these early spawning fish in the lower stretches of the creeks as they drop back to the lakes and hold in the deeper pools.   Fish returning to the lake after spawning can really turn on and feed ravenously as they need to build energy depleted during the spawn.   Other years, with a late thaw, they are still arriving on opening day, April 1st for Finger Lakes tributaries, and can often be seen moving upstream or darting up a riffle, long after opening day. With the right timing Finger Lakes tributaries offer excellent opportunities to fly fish for some beautiful Rainbows through April into May.  Most range from 2-5 pounds, but some tributaries will draw a few powerful 8-10-pound giants.

Hefty Male Rainbow caught in the winter of 2012.
Hefty Male Rainbow caught in the winter of 2012.

Many Finger Lakes tributaries are small and are often lined with trees and bushes and long casts are often not a necessity, making roll casting critical.  An 8 1/2 to 10 foot, five to seven weight rod and a floating fly line is a good start, combined with some creative casting techniques. One cast used is to use the resistance of the line as it rests straight out on the water downstream. Then, use one hard casting stoke to flick the line upstream a short distance to a target, when nymphing a pool.  This technique limits false casts and motion, which can spook fish on smaller tributaries and will also prevent back-casts from snagging in the trees or bushes when not roll casting.  Leader length and tippet is determined by water clarity. During high off color water conditions a short leader (7-8 feet) and six-pound tippet is adequate. As the creeks clear, lengthen the leader and reduce tippet diameter. These fish can be leader shy during clear water situations.  Four-pound test can help with a natural presentation when fishing a nymph pattern during low clear water conditions. A combination of an eight to 9 foot leader and a three feet of tippet will give sufficient separation between the fly line and fly . Bead head or weighted nymphs help get the fly down.  A small split shot on the leader or tag at the tippet can also aid in sinking the fly. I avoid the use of heavy split shot, and like to stick with small sizes, especially during low clear water conditions as losing flies to the river bed can be frustrating.   When the rainbows are biting they will rise up to take a drifting nymph or move to take a swinging fly.

Coming from the security of a deep lake, these fish are very wary and easily spooked when they move into a small tributary.  Angler pressure combined with the natural instincts of fish to avoid predators will drive them into cover, so I always use caution when approaching the creekside keeping an eye out for fish. Good places to find lake run rainbows are, in deep holes, undercut banks, log -jams, around boulders, in plunge pools, or some heavy riffle water with a little depth.

Small to medium sized nymphs are one effective way to entice Finger Lakes rainbows into biting.   Some good patterns to try are small bead-head nymphs, hare body nymphs, and wet flies.

Pheasant Tail Wet

 

Hook: Nymph 8-16

Thread: olive 6/0

Tail: Pheasant tail fibers

Abdomen: Pheasant Tail fibers

Rib: Fine copper wire

Thorax: Peacock herl

Legs: Hungarian partridge (one or two turns)

Gray Squirrel Nymph

Hook: Nymph 8-12

Thread: Olive 6/0

Tail: Gray squirrel fur

Abdomen: Gray squirrel fur

Rib: Peacock Krystal Flash

Thorax: Gray Squirrel Fur (teased out)

Wing Case: Peacock herl

 

Bead Head Olive Wet Fly

Hook: Nymph 10-14

Thread: olive 6/0

Tail: Olive Hare’s mask

Abdomen: Olive hare’s mask

Rib: Fine gold wire

Thorax: Peacock herl

Legs: Hungarian partridge (one or two turns)

Head: Gold Bead

 

Peacock herl has a natural iridescence and seems to increase the effectiveness of any fly pattern.

The Finger Lakes region has excellent opportunities to challenge the fly-fisherman in search of powerful lake-run rainbow trout.

My daughter Quinci Caught this nice rainbow on a bead head wet fly in the spring of 2013.
My daughter Quinci Caught this nice rainbow on a bead head wet fly in the spring of 2013 using a #12 bead head wet fly.