Cherry Popping Mega fontinalis
Chris Reygaert on capturing one of the world's most beautiful trout. The world record for a brook trout is just over 10 pounds and anything from the wild at three pound or more is a real trophy. So maybe you should take a trip and try for one of these fabulous fish.
The smile on Tim's face said it all. I reeled my line in hastily and headed in his direction. All I could hear through the howling wind and rain was Tim sniggling to himself, then I caught the added saying "Oh my god, look at the size of this thing". Knowing Tim, I knew he was onto something big. By the time I'd scrambled over the steep rocky shoreline, Tim was well and truly locked in. Boils of dark stained tannin water and the bend in the 10ft 7wt revealed the relentless battle. I was now muttering similar words "Jeezuz, look at the shoulders on it" as I caught my first glimpse of the fish. The pan sized net was dwarfed, head and tail hanging out either side. The beautiful deep colors and markings were in full display, it was the biggest brook trout we'd ever laid eye's on.
Brook Trout History
Originally native to North America the brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) was introduced to Tasmania around 1880s. They acclimatized and were liberated around the state in a number of streams and lakes right through to the early 1900s, however wild populations were not recorded until the mid 1900s. The first wild population was recorded in Lake Leake. It is said that the Canadian ova supplied back in 1962 proved to be the most resilient to Tasmanian conditions and to this day a brood stock strain has been managed at the Salmon Ponds hatchery. Hatcheries in the north of Tasmania and in Victoria also keep brook trout brood stock in the event of a disaster at Salmon Ponds. It is documented that brook trout survival rates are extremely slim when placed in waters that contain other salmonid species i.e. rainbow and brown trout and is unlikely that wild populations would exist in such Tasmanian environments. It is interesting to note that native North American brook trout have been known to hybridize. The tiger trout being the hybridization of the brown and brook trout and the splake a cross between the lake trout and brook trout. Natural hybrid spawns have been recorded but are extremely rare and propagation of hatchery reared fish is relied on to support hybrid stocks.
Biology and habitat
Brook trout are a member of the trout and salmon (Salmonid) family and Char (Salvenilus) genus. They require cold well oxygenated water and generally spawn over gravel in river and streams or on groundwater springs. Largely affected by changes in water quality they are a good indicator as to water conditions which drain into their ecosystem. Any major changes to water temperature and quality can be disastrous to brook trout populations. They can inhabit most water courses such as lakes, rivers, brooks/streams, tributaries, ponds and estuaries. Sea-run brook trout known a "salters" exist in the Northern Hemisphere; there are no such reports of ocean going brook trout in Tasmania.
Where and When
Today's current population of brook trout in Tasmania seems to be focused more on the West Coast Range. Here you'll find the more popular waters of Lakes Plimsoll, Rolleston and Lake Selina. These three lakes, although remotely located, make a great adventure for the brook trout enthusiast. The scenery surrounding the lakes is breath-taking and one that has to be seen. Clarence Lagoon is also noted for its magnificent fishing and can be accessed by 4WD or on foot. These waters have been reported to contain wild populations but also receive hatchery reared fish through stocking programs to maintain the validity of the fisheries. Other waters statewide have periodically been stocked with hatchery reared fish and catches are reported from time to time.
We chose to fish Lake Plimsoll situated approximately half way along the Anthony road located between Queenstown and Tullah. There are a number of bays and pockets which offer protection from prevailing conditions. The majority of the shoreline is quiet steep however the South East and East shores seem to offer the best option for the fly angler.
The season is similar to that of other trout fishing waters, commencing 1st Saturday in August and ending last Sunday in April. A freshwater angling license needs to be obtained to catch brook trout. Please check IFS regulation charts for a more accurate description of your selected water, as regulations do change from time to time. Due to the fact that wild populations are hard to maintain, catch and release policy, although not regulatory, is considered good practice.
Reported as being relatively easy to catch, they can be awkward feeders at certain times. When temperatures warm fish tend to seek colder deeper waters and may go "off the bite". Cooler times of the year, early spring and late autumn will increase the chance of fish feeding in shallower water. Overcast and rough weather can also bring them in looking for a feed.
Flies and Techniques
A brook trout will virtually eat anything its mouth can accommodate. In general a brook trout's diet includes a range of aquatic insects and fish life. Tim and I opted to use large heavy sinking streamers with a bit of bulk, a good profile and a bit of movement. Trolls, tungsten bead head Wooly Buggers, cone head Buggers, Matukas are some good examples. Brook trout are known to take dry flies off the surface occasionally and fishing a nymph can also be a worthy prospect.
Fly rods 9ft and longer, weights 5 and above will cover most of the fishable water. We used standard 10ft + mono leaders, breaking strain 4lbs +.
We worked the shoreline thoroughly, covering as much water as we could. The fish were caught in about 6 to 10 ft of water and not much more than a few meters offshore. Sinking leaders could be of an advantage but may be of hindrance on the back cast when fishing the steeper banks. For the boat or flotation device angler fishing deep would certainly be rewarding.
Popping the Cherry
It was Tim's first brook trout adventure and he'd scoured himself a fish of a lifetime. As he lifted the scale and net we watched the marker bounce then settle bang on the 6lb mark. It seemed surreal. We couldn't stop remarking on the shape, size and color of the fish. The typical pale yellow spots surrounded by more discrete reddish spots haloed in a spectacular pale blue. The deep orangey/brown throughout the body suggesting it may have been close to breeding time. Only minutes before we'd contemplated whether we would see anything at all. With the hook safely removed from the kype jaw, the dark prehistoric shape cruised off into the tannin stained depths. It was like the fishing gods had shone on us in the last hours of the day. Wet, cold and tired our persistence had been rewarded. A day etched in the memory, one that won't be forgotten.
So the next time the sky turns grey, the cold wind blows and the rain falls, don't make any excuses. Get out there and do it. You too could be popping your cherry with salvelinus fontinalis.