Northern Tier Brook Trout

I got to spend 3 days in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and thought I’d document the trip. I fished 4 different streams and a few sections of one stream. Things were a little “off” in terms of fish feeding on top. In flat pools where you’d expect to find risers everywhere based on the bugs coming off the water, there were sporadic risers every once in a while.

Day 1: My buddy John and I fished the upper section of a famous northern PA stream. We were well upstream of where most people fish, and far from any stocking points. Even still, I managed to catch a few stocked rainbow trout, and a few wild brown trout. This is a brook trout stream, and this far up in the watershed, it was disheartening to find all the nonnative trout.

Pennsylvania Brook Trout Stream

In the photo above, on the right side of the stream where the stream disappears in the photo you can just make out a small tributary cascading into the stream. John and I caught multiple brook trout in this run.

Northern Tier Pennsylvania Brook Trout

We hiked and fished about 2 miles up into the stream, both catching a good number of wild native brook trout. The fish were mostly in riffles and took a small dropper nymph more than the stimulator I was fishing on top. I had a few fish take the dry fly though.

Day 2: John and I have talked about hiking the middle section of another stream for quite some time now. It’s very inaccessible, which is something I think we both enjoy. We set out later in the day and fished up to camp from a road about 3 miles downstream.

Starting point

The view above is where we started fishing. It’s a beautiful stream, though it has been almost completely taken over by brown trout at this point. There are a few brookies holding on in a few places though. While the fishing was less than remarkable, the hike and the few brook trout were worth it.

Small Waterfall
Humanoid for scale

The closer we got to camp, the more brook trout we found. The water temperature didn’t vary much from higher up in the stream to lower down, so I attribute the lack of brook trout to the increase in brown trout. In the bottom few miles, all we caught were brown trout, and they were a bit sluggish in the cold water.

What should be a brook trout stream

Again, the beautiful scenery made up for the lackluster fishing. It’s a shame this has turned into a brown trout stream. The lower end is heavily stocked at the confluence with a large river with private hatchery brown trout that look wild by all rights.

Old fly fishing sign

The brown trout (along with any remaining brook trout) are protected from harvest in this section. So even if you wanted to remove brown trout to eat, you can’t. I guess we’ve decided to just let “nature run its course” and see which species wins. I think we all know the answer to that one.

Moss

This has been a nice wet spring, and the mountains seem to be saturated with water. I love seeing all the seeps flowing into the streams. I hope the weather trend holds out.

Tools of the trade

My tools of the trade… A 7′-2″ 3wt Scott 5 piece F-Series fiberglass rod, Ross Colorado LT (0-3wt), a Simms Dry Creek backpack, and a Fishpond native net. I really like the Simms dry creek backpack. I do wish it had a better net solution. With the net in the slot, it’s impossible to reach while wearing it. I resorted to stuffing the net sideways between the back of the pack and my back. That worked well, except when you take the pack off you need to remember the net isn’t attached to anything.

Should be full of brook trout

It’s somewhat painful to think that this pool should be full of brook trout. It’s not. There are other trout there now.

Finally

Funny enough, we were within view of camp when I caught the brook trout above. Again, the hike was worth it, and this fish was the icing on the cake.

In the afternoon before dinner, we decided to fish a small trib above camp. John got into a small brookie right off the bat. I missed a brown trout. It’s a beautiful little stream in its own right, but again, a bit depressing to see all the brown trout.

Day 3: We closed out the trip on day 3 on a high note. Due to a sketchy weather report we grabbed at one of the few places in the area with cell service, we decided to fish a known productive stream in the next valley over. The boot tracks were a bit discouraging, but we pressed on.

Beautiful Pennsylvania Brook Trout

I was shocked at the number of brook trout I caught right by the bridge where we accessed the stream. Unfortunately, they were accompanied by multiple stocked rainbow trout, brown trout, and wild brown trout. I just don’t understand at all how anyone justifies stocking brown trout and rainbow trout over a population of brook trout like this. It’s absolutely pointless.

Pale-bellied brook trout
brook trout with missing operculum

These are average size fish in this area. Why on earth are these not adequate to the point that someone feels the need to dump a bunch of hatchery fish on top of them? It makes no sense.

Large Pennsylvania Brook Trout

The above fish is my favorite photo from the trip. Absolutely stunning brook trout. A perfect specimen. I think it’s important to realize that every nonnative trout stocked or living in this stream is taking up a spot that would be occupied by a fish like this. We’re trading the real deal, wild native brook trout, for fantasy yellow trout, West coast species, or worse, invasive self-sustaining brown trout from another continent.

I don’t have much good to say to those who would devalue our state fish, to choose to continue to do things we know are detrimental to the species, who have actively chosen to sacrifice our native brook trout for other species in a place like this when we have so many of the other species all over the state.

view across the ridges and valleys

I wish there was a silver lining here. I wish I could close this on a high note. I wish I could speak of the bright future, of possibility, of optimism. Unfortunately, unless and until those who have the ability to change our course do so, I don’t see much of a bright future for brook trout in Pennsylvania.

If you like fishing for brown trout, that’s fine. Just think for a minute whether you might give up those brown trout in our brook trout strongholds since you have so many of them in the valley floors all over the state. Would one small corner of this vast state be too much to ask for to set aside for brook trout?

pointless

If I needed a better sign to reinforce my pessimistic outlook in this area, I doubt I could find one better than this. The brown trout don’t need saving. Especially not in this place. They’re not under threat. They’re a threat themselves. If a place of business in the area with a lot of traffic advertises and promotes the stocking and “protection” of a species that threatens the true treasures of the north, brook trout, then I don’t have much hope for the future.

They’ve chosen to promote a thing for business, tourism, and profit, rather than protect the thing that needs protecting. Much like the rest of this state.

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