Brook Trout Alternative

Photo by Joseph Stine

Photo by Joseph Stine

Guest Blogger: Chuck Holmes

I am sure after this article I will be accused of blasphemy, but, I am amazed at how some fly fishers rave over catching a six inch brook trout. I know they get much bigger, but a lot of the photos I see on Facebook and other sites are of very small fish. I live in Ohio and there are not a lot of opportunities to catch brookies. West Virginia has a great trout stocking program for rainbows and browns, but brook trout are native to some of their smaller streams. Shortly after I got into fly fishing, one of our club members organized a trip to West Virginia. He said we were going to a small stream where we could catch native brook trout. Since I had never caught any trout on a fly, I was looking forward to the adventure. We drove six hours to get to the stream that was part of the Elk River system. We checked into the lodge where we were staying and settled in for a good night’s sleep, my dreams filled with visions of 20 inch brook trout we would catch the next day.

The next morning we headed for Mill Creek, a stream that on my feeblest day I could leap across with ease. A typical West Virginia brook trout stream, it had a steep gradient and pools about the size of large bathtubs. The fish corresponded to the pools. The biggest we caught were about six inches. It was a little disappointing for my first trout outing. I should have done some research.

“The brook trout is the only trout species native to West Virginia streams. Native brook trout live and reproduce in only the coldest and purest of our mountain streams. These streams are generally less than 15 feet wide, well shaded, and have numerous pools. Although these streams often support large numbers of brook trout, the trout tend to be small fish that average five to six inches in length and seldom exceed 10 inches.” (West Virginia Department of Natural Resources website)

Shiner 1Now that I have matured, I realize that size isn’t everything. Smaller fish can also be fun to catch. But since brook trout fishing opportunities in Ohio are few, I chase a native fish that I don’t have to drive six hours to catch. I fish for striped shiners. The striped shiner can be found throughout Ohio in small to medium streams that have clean gravel and sand bottoms. This little fish can be found in much of the eastern United States, from the southern Great Lakes region to the Gulf Coast, between the Appalachians and the Great Plains. Few fly fishers target these little treasures, but they are as much fun for me to catch as those little brook trout. Like the West Virginia brookies, they grow to a maximum of 10 inches, although most of the ones you will catch are in the 6-8 inch range. They have large scales with a black stripe on their back and some dark blotches on their sides. The breeding males have a pinkish tint to their sides, and also have pink tinges on the edges of their fins and tail. During the breeding season, which runs from March through July, these males grow pointy tubercles on their head that they use to defend their territory against rival males.

Shiner 2The striped shiners are aggressive feeders, eating aquatic and terrestrial insects, larvae, and other aquatic invertebrates. I suspect the larger ones also eat minnows, although none of the literature I read confirmed this. I suspect this because I have caught them on streamers. They will also take nymphs and dry flies. Usually but not always, the size of the fish caught is proportional to the size of the fly. Sometimes the little ones have visions of grandeur. I have caught 5 inch fish on a 3 inch streamer. Most of the larger ones I have caught were taken on some woolly bugger variation. Cone head wooly buggerMy favorite is a gold cone head with olive ice dubbing, grizzly hackle, and brown marabou tied on a size 4 Aberdeen hook. The fish can be found in various locations in the stream. Drifting a nymph or swinging a streamer through a riffle into a pool is a good way to catch the bigger ones. They often tend to stay right at the base of the riffle where it enters the slower water of the pool, but they can also be found in the deeper parts of the pools. Floating a caddis or mayfly imitation out of the riffle into the smooth water of the pool will frequently get a rise.

Shiner 3The next time the smallmouth bite is sluggish, grab your 2 weight and hit your local stream for some action with these little powerhouses.

2 thoughts on “Brook Trout Alternative

  1. Bob Miller

    To each his own. Lesson here is to do research before a new fishing experience. Any fish on a rod sized for them is fun and good sport. I think my zero weight would be a splendid choice for those striped shiners.

    Reply
  2. Michael Vorhis

    I laughed out loud when I saw your brook trout photo Chuck; we’ve all been there. (I submitted a similar photo recently for a not-yet-posted article.)

    Last Saturday I took my wife and 10-year-old daughter down to the seaside, to the wharf, on the rumor of mackerel schools so thick you could catch them on a bare paper clip. “They’re jumping out of the water saying, ‘Take me, take me!'” was the advice to which my wife had been treated.

    True to form, reality didn’t resemble that picture in the least. We did manage to catch 21 fish, though, most of them rock cod. The problem was that not a single one of them was bigger than my little daughter’s thumb.

    Felt like fishing a tiny trout stream! 🙂

    I too originally hail from Ohio. Southern. I knew of only a single stream where trout were said to exist.

    – Mike

    Reply

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