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Fall Run Brookies by Mike Elling

Fall is an excellent time of the year for brook trout fishing in the Superior National Forest. It can provide solitude and not to mention some of the best fishing you've had all year. Fall is such a delightful time of year regardless, the leaves are turning, birds are active and preparing to head south, the weather is cool and brisk, and it always gives me a feeling of great content over the passing summer. I start remembering time spent camping and hiking with friends, our annual trip to the Boundary Waters, and time spent on the rivers and creeks fishing for brook trout, and with that I always feel anticipation to get out there and catch some fine "Fall Run" brook trout.

As the leaves start to turn and the air smells of fall, those of you who live out of town a bit know the smell and those of you that don't, well that's unfortunate, because you don't know what your missing, that's when the anticipation sets in. I'm ready to go! I start getting antsy and can't wait to get to out there and experience the great fishing that is fall run brook trout fishing. I'll start pouring over my maps, and looking over notes I've taken this past spring and summer. I am attempting to figure out where I'm going to go, weighing in on what I think are the pros and cons of each prospect. Is their adequate spawning habitat? Can I fish that section of stream without spooking the fish? What does the river look like above and below the spawning grounds? In my mind I'll go back to all the streams I've been too, and start trying to remember what each one looked like and I'll attempt to figure out where I think I can catch some big brook trout.

I know of places that I've fished in past years and have been successful at, but I try to go to a different stream or stream section every year. The exploring/hunting for brook trout is half the fun, seeing what the next bend, pool, or riffle holds is almost as exciting as actually catching the fish...almost as exciting. A great place to start your search is a good topographic map or Superior National Forest map. Also contact the DNR and obtain a listing of designated trout streams. Brook trout are found in many of the streams and creeks in the Superior National Forest. They need cool and clear water to exist, which partly explains why they do so well up here in the National Forest, being so far north helps keep the water cool. They need their river or creek to be deep enough to winter over in and have plenty of overhead cover so the warm summer sun doesn't raise the water temps too much. Brook trout seem to live in "rustic" areas and I think that adds to the mystery that seems to surround them.

Catching a brook trout can be a magical experience, there is no fish as beautiful as a brook trout, they look like they belong out there in the depths of the wilderness. Fishing for them however, isn't some magical or mystical thing that takes years to master you can do it and be successful at it. It's easy, if you fly fish for panfish, northerns or bass, simply take what you know about those fish and apply it to the stream. Trout are not that different from other species of fish, they need cover, food and good water. If you fish rivers for warm water fish species, brook trout will be in pretty much all of the same spots as the warm water species. If you don't fly fish, I recommend spinners, small inline spinners. Some people use small Rapalas, or small spoons. Right now is probably a good time to say this - I can't stress enough how important catch and release is on these small streams, especially this time of year. Fall is spawning time for brook trout. A small trout stream is a delicate ecosystem, which must not be abused. There are a limited number of trout in these streams and we want to give them the best chance to grow to their full capacity and reproduce. With that said, try to stick to fishing artificials and stay away from bait. You really can't practice catch and release while bait fishing for trout. Bait caught trout are much more likely to swallow your offering and have higher mortality rates after release. Another thing that can be done to help preserve this great fishery is to use barbless hooks. Without the barb, the hook can be removed from the fish with minimal damage. The gentler and quicker your release of these beautiful fish the better their chance of survival.

So what are fall run brook trout? Up here on the north shore of Minnesota when the word "run" is mentioned people think of two things; Grandma's Marathon, and the spawning run the steelhead and salmon make out of Lake Superior and into the stream mouths every spring and fall. Steelhead spawn in the spring and the salmon spawn in the fall. These fish grow quite large and draw hoards of anglers, which fish shoulder to shoulder. I often refer to that as "combat" fishing and generally try to avoid it all together. We do have some brook trout starting to swim out of the big lake and into the tributaries to spawn too. This is occurring on certain streams up around Grand Marais. The DNR along with others are taking steps to allow these fish to reestablish themselves and once again flourish in our big lake and its tributaries. Brook trout are one of two native species of trout to the area, with the other being lake trout. On a side not, neither are actually a member of the trout family, they are char. These lake dwelling brook trout are more appropriately called coasters and it's been a long time since they've made any significant runs into any of our streams. They were greatly depleted by over fishing and the introduction of non-native species into Lake Superior. They are making a comeback though and that's fantastic. However these coasters, are not the fall run brook trout I am talking about. Brook trout spawn in almost every stream they inhabit. In some streams there is adequate spawning ground throughout and the brook trout will be spawning throughout the entire stream. In other streams the fish make significant runs upstream to spawning grounds. These areas concentrate the fish in the fall, and make for great fishing. Those are the fall run brook trout I'm talking about. This is also probably the best time of the year to catch a trophy brook trout too. Those large fish that you couldn't find the rest of the year, are now in a very predictable location. Getting them to bite, might be another story. They didn't get big by biting every lure or fly that floated by, but at least now you know where they are. In order for brook trout to spawn successfully, at the very least, they need cool moving water and a bed of smaller sized rocks. Pea to marble sized rock is ideal for spawning. The fish create redds in these small rocks, they clear a small little area where they will deposit their eggs.

Ok, now think back to all the streams you've been on and think of these locations...moving water and pea sized rock. Try to think of streams or rivers where you didn't see a lot of water that resembles what I've just described, streams that have really only one or two good spawning areas. Think of the streams where you've caught lots of little brook trout in these sections. Where do you think the little ones came from? That's right, the bigger fish will now be in those sections of stream. They've come out of hiding, and have moved upstream to prepare to spawn. Have you thought of a spot? If you can't think of any or this is going to be your first time trout fishing, don't worry, just start exploring, and start looking for the areas I'm describing. You will find them. It's always a good idea to talk to someone at the DNR, whether this is your first time brook trout fishing or you thousandth, they are more than happy to help point you in the right direction. Often times they'll know where the brook trout spawn. They will be able to tell you which streams are a waste of your time, and which ones you should concentrate your efforts on. Local fly shops and bait and tackles are also great sources of information.

Now back to fishing, as is usually the case early morning and late evening are best. Overcast days seem to be a little better also. Often times you will be able to see these fish scuttling upstream in the shallows. They won't be spawning yet, they are simply doing what I call "staging." They move in and around their spawning grounds, checking things out and getting ready for the job that lies ahead. Brook trout usually start their spawn just about the time the season closes, which is the last day of September. Often times, streams that will have the largest and greatest concentrations of fish are those streams that are considered marginal. Streams that have small sections of water that look good but down stream the creek or river slows, deepens and widens and really doesn't look like brook trout water at all. Those streams often have some big brookies roaming around down there. There usually isn't a lot of them, so they can be tough to find in the spring and summer, but come fall, you'll know where they're at. They're bunched up in and around those spawning grounds.

When fishing for fall run brook trout, stealth is of the utmost importance. The fish will often be in shallow water and are very cautious and spooky. Don't let them see you! Always approach from downstream and stay low. I'll often get there and sit on the ground and watch the water to see if I can see any in the shallows or any that are feeding off of the surface. I try to kind of blend in with the bank brush and trees. Try and be as quite as possible too, don't go clunking around on shore, sound will travel through the ground into the water and to the fish. In just about every section of spawning water, there will be a pool directly below that riffle, start your fishing at the tail end of the pool, then the middle, then the head and finally on to the riffle itself. If you start at the head of the riffle and end up pulling a thrashing fish through the whole pool you will most certainly alarm or spook all the other brook trout in the area, so start with the rear and work upstream. If you think you've spooked the pool and riffle. You have two options - you can move on and try to find another spot or you can rest the pool. The fish will usually return to their normal activities after some time has passed. It can take as short as 10 minutes, or as long as 2 hours. I usually move on upstream and continue to fish, and come back to the pool. If you decide to rest the pool, don't make casts into the spooked water to try and see if the fish have become active again, simply sit there and wait it out. Wait until you see a fish surface or one swimming in the shallows, then start your fishing again.

So with the leaves starting to turn and the close of stream trout season soon to be upon us, you better start planning your adventure. That's right it's an adventure, the best waters are often found deep in the woods. The less a river is fished the better it can be and the better chance you have at catching some nice brook trout. In heavily fished waters the brook trout get smart and become lure shy. It's time to gather up the gear -your fly rod, or spinning outfit, a compass, I usually bring a small pack with various odds and ends, a hatchet, food for lunch, plenty of water or a good water filter, rain gear, matches, my maps, and anything else I deem necessary at the time. Fall is an excellent time of the year to fish for brook trout. You usually only have about a two or three week window before the season closes to get in on this great fishing, so put on your hiking boots and go find some "Fall Run Brook Trout"!

       --article courtesy of BoundaryWatersMagazine


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