Every once in a while, something happens that causes you to rethink what you previously understood to be truth. For a long time I’ve believed that finding a true unicorn brook trout in Pennsylvania was going to be limited to a limestone stream or a larger body of water. I honestly felt that it was highly unlikely for a large brook trout to exist in a small freestone stream.
That was until recently when I explored a new stream. This stream required a very long hike down into the lower end of the stream to fish back out. At least that was the plan. I ended up just hiking down and fishing smaller sections where there looked to be good holding water. This is a relatively small freestone stream with extreme gradient drop over it’s course, which created a lot of large plunge pools.
Several of these plunge pools looked like perfect big fish water. I actually think that pools like this are more for quantity than size. In my experience, large pools like this hold a lot of fish, but rarely the biggest in the stream. This held true throughout this small stream. While I caught many, many brook trout through these pools and pocket water, the largest brook trout averaged about 8 inches.
One of the things I’ve been doing to try to increase my chances of catching a unicorn brook trout is using flies that I feel would be of interest to larger fish. Mainly small (or micro) streamers with dumbell eyes or lead wrapped cores in sculpin or darter patterns. I’ve noticed a large increase in the number of bigger fish that take these flies as opposed to insect patterns. You’re also not eliminating smaller fish from your catch either, as I’ve had 3 or 4 inch brookies eat 1 inch streamers.
Something I’ve learned about bigger brookies is that they are almost always hidden. A tip for anyone reading that wants to pursue finding bigger brook trout is to focus on any kind of overhead structure. Whether it be logs across the stream, large rocks that allow the stream to flow under them or undercut banks, rootballs etc. Anything that provides a constant overhead structure is where the biggest fish hide. These spots don’t have to be big deep pools either.
It was in a small run with a large rock that the stream flowed under that I encountered a true unicorn brook trout. I cast the small streamer into the current ahead of the rock and allowed it to sink into the run. When the fly reached just under the rock, I lifted the rod and drew the fly up off the bottom, swinging it up through the current. To my surprise, the largest wild brook trout I’ve ever seen emerged from the depths of the rock hole and swung at my streamer.
At first, I thought it was a muskrat or something else that I disturbed from under the rock, but my mind had seen enough of the fish to know it was a brookie. I was shaking like I’d just witnessed a car accident. Unfortunately for me (and him I guess) he didn’t actually take the fly at all, and I believe was trying to stun the presumed baitfish so he could eat it once it was more vulnerable.
I’d estimate this fish to be well into the 14 to 15 inch range and possibly even slightly larger. I never thought that a fish like that was possible from such a stream. Now I know that they may exist in far more places than I thought possible.