Before the Fall

Brook trout fishing in Pennsylvania is becoming a pursuit limited to windows of time throughout the year. Those windows seem to be getting smaller and smaller as time goes on. The windows coincide with the changing seasons, which seem ever-shifting and unpredictable. By mid-October, when I’m writing this, the species is either actively spawning or preparing to spawn. Mid-October marks a self-imposed end of the season for me and a time to reflect on the fishing before the fall.

Colorful Pennsylvania Brook Trout
A colorful pre-spawn Pennsylvania Brook Trout

My fishing grounds seem ever shrinking as well. Having traipsed many miles of Penn’s woods in search of these gems of the fountains, I’ve settled on a few spots that seem to be the best holds for the best specimens. Even within these hallowed grounds, the pools and reaches of streams have constricted to the habitat I know holds the best fish. These waters are almost all beaver impoundments.

Pennsylvania Brook Trout from a Beaver Pond
Pennsylvania Brook Trout against a beaver pond backdrop

There is much controversy surrounding beavers and brook trout. I’ve seen how these large rodents have created habitats that likely negatively impact brook trout. This seems to be the case in low elevation flowages where rising water temperatures are borderline for the survival of brook trout to begin with. Their ponds create Stillwater pools that trap heat and expose large volumes of water to the mid-day sun. Conversely, in high elevations where the temperature is less of an issue, and where there are groundwater inputs (springs), the beavers seem to have the opposite effect on the brookies.

Spruce Trout
Spruce Trout – Pennsylvania Brook Trout

These habitats are limited in occurrence throughout Pennsylvania these days. The perfect recipe of elevation, beavers, forest cover, and, most importantly, public access seems to be as rare as the large brook trout that inhabit them. Combining the limited places with the limited time to find them and safely target them reinforces how special these fish and these places truly are.

Colorful Pennsylvania Brook Trout
Pre-spawn Pennsylvania Brook Trout

With the end of brook trout season only a few days behind me, I am already thinking of my plans for the spring. I’ve never had great success fishing for brook trout in winter. I have had some great days in late December, but the weather and the fickleness of the fish in the cold make success less than guaranteed. With a busy schedule, I have to prioritize my time to be most effective when afield. That means my brook trout season(s) are from the end of February once the days start to get longer, to about the beginning of July when the temperatures get too warm, then again from late August (depending on rainfall) to mid-October before the fish spawn.

Big Pennsylvania Brook Trout
Big Pennsylvania Brook Trout

This limited time to pursue the fish has resulted in an even greater appreciation for the species and my time in the woods. Having narrowed my options in both place and time has left me with fewer but exceptionally special times pursuing the fish I love so much.

Green Pennsylvania Brook Trout
It’s easy to see why early settlers called these fish “Spruce Trout”

This collection of photos represents several of the exceptional specimens I encountered this year before the fall. By leaving them alone to spawn, survive low water and high temperatures, and ride out the icy cold winter, I feel I’m ensuring the fish that will replace these individuals will be there next season when I pursue them again.

Until next time.

Pennsylvania Brook Trout
Beautiful Pennsylvania Brook Trout
PA Brook Trout
PA Brook Trout
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