As soon as I saw that my local waters began to get their annual dose of stocked trout, I knew my every waking moment would be consumed with targeting them.
Stocked trout and I have a very complicated relationship. I mean them no harm, other than to poke a sharp metal object through their lip for a couple seconds before carefully releasing them, yet they still seem much more willing to bite the offerings of those not so affectionate with crueler intentions. I suppose their feeding habits are somewhat like humans in a way: they are most willing to eat the tastiest foods, no matter the consequences. At least trout don’t get fat shamed (quite the opposite actually).
So, while others were out putting a hurting on the fresh stockers, I was down in the trenches with them, stripping streamers, chucking bobbers, and euro-nymphing; yet at the end of the day, while scrolling through social media, I stared at dozens of pictures of happy anglers’ bounty, but none of my own.
Unfortunately, this isn’t a new concept to me. In the past, I’ve actually done very well during the stocking season with a much slimmer number of outings. Last year, though, I decided to stick away from bait and focus more on flies, with the occasional spinner or jerkbait thrown in. I rode the struggle bus hard. After countless hours on the water, I only had one rainbow to show for it, although there were plenty more (mostly browns) that I lost. I wish I could say I smartened up and realized I was putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself to catch these fish, but I can’t. Instead, I fished relentlessly for many weeks, catching a fallfish or chub here and there, but almost no salmonids.
The start of this year, I’m sad to say, has been no different. Since Tuesday, when they stocked the Shawsheen River, one of my favorite local streams, I have fished nearly every day. And every outing, while I certainly was learning something new, I felt like I was coming no closer to catching a trout. I wasn’t even getting bit, for Pete’s sake! Some anglers had similar experiences to mine, while others had no problem quickly catching their limit.
Finally, after days of fishing the same stretch of river, I decided I’d mix it up a little. And what do you know, it payed off! On Saturday, I woke up early to hit a stretch of the Ipswich River near my house. At this point, I had lost a good deal of faith, and just wanted to feel a tug. Along with my bike and a few spare lures, I brought my spinning rod, opting to leave my fly-fishing adventure for later in the day at a body of water.
After maybe 20 minutes of fishing, I felt something I hadn’t felt in a while: a bite! I set the hook, the fish leapt in the air, and then it was over. Two seconds of pure bliss and adrenaline, with hours of disappointment to follow. Blame it on dull hooks, cite my inability to set the hook, but whatever the case, that fish left me yearning for more.
Later that evening, I returned to the same spot, and was surprised to find one of my friends there as well. He had faced similar circumstances that morning, having broken off on two large pike – the first ones he had ever seen in real life. We chatted briefly as we watched those around us fish, but then I saw my line go slack. I reared back and set the hook, hoping the freshly sharpened hooks on the spinner would hold this time. When it got near the bank, though, it turned out to be not at all what I expected. The good-sized pickerel thrashed around at my feet before once again spitting the hook, leaving me wondering if I would ever catch a trout.
On my next cast, my spinner landed in the same spot it had before, and within seconds of beginning my retrieve, I was once again hooked up. I could tell even before it got to the bank that it was what I had been looking for the entire week. The rainbow, much like the pickerel, splashed around at my feet, but this time I was able to softly guide it into my outstretched net. It was by no means big – maybe 12 or 13 inches – but it certainly scratched my implacable itch.
Luckily, similar to a barbless fly, the hook popped out as soon as I released tension once the fish was in the net. Without even having to touch the poor thing, I snapped a very quick picture and sent it back on its way.
When we devote ourselves to something and work towards it with every last ounce of our effort, accomplishing that goal feels so much sweeter. It didn’t take much to make my week, but that little fish will probably be one I remember forever.
It’s also important to remember to keep some variety in our lives. I kept traveling to the same spot over and over without any reward to show for it. Once I changed spots, I saw success almost immediately. I definitely need to work towards broadening my horizons this year and not becoming pin-point focused on stocked trout at a singular spot.
The next day, after helping to set up some reflective plates in the Shawsheen to aid counters at the annual herring run, I caught another, much larger, trout on my new 10′ 3 weight Orvis euro-nymphing outfit. Despite being a stunning creature, this was just the icing on the cake.
One final note: while the rezoning plans at Red Brook were absolutely crushed in the Wareham town meeting, this isn’t the end of the fight for salter brook trout. We, as anglers and friends of fish, must remain vigilant and do our part to protect this fragile species, and other threatened species around the world.