Finding productive water is one of the most vexing aspects of brook trout fishing. We research, explore and even eaves drop to become enlightened. We search by truck, snowmobile and snowshoe, chasing the dream of icing a brace of robust speckled trout from the snowy quiet of a secluded lake.
What many people don’t know is that this dream-like scenario is repeated with frequency throughout Northeastern Ontario, and most often by anglers who have embraced the allure of stocked lakes. Thanks to Ontario’s stocking program, the names and locations of recipient lakes are written in black and white. With the first major hurdle removed we can pour less of our resources into searching and more into angling.
Catching hatchery-reared specimens may not have the same resonance as tangling with native brook trout, but these stocked trout wear their speckles with pride. They are every bit as aggressive in battle, as stunning for photographs and as tasty as their native brethren.
Brook trout have been stocked in Ontario for well over 100 years for various reasons. Today, most stocking is done on a ‘put, grow and take’ basis to provide a sport fishery for anglers. Close to 1 million hatchery-raised brook trout are stocked annually into Ontario waters and Northeastern Ontario receives her fair share.
Recipient lakes are assessed by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) to determine they have what it takes to grow trout. Actual stocking is generally a cooperative effort between MNRF and game and fish clubs. Historically, these lakes may never have held trout but the introduced brookies take advantage of the feed in the lake to grow corpulent and provide an additional sport fishery.
The hunt for brook trout begins by picking up a stocking list for the district we intend to fish. Available at MNRF District offices or sporting goods shops, stocking lists coupled with a topographic map point to serious speckled opportunity. You can also use MNRF’s Fish ON-Line tool to find stocked lakes.
Choosing Your Destination
There are many variables affecting the size and numbers of fish in a stocked lake, but the most predictable is angling pressure. The harder a lake is to access, the fewer anglers and fewer fish removed. With all things being equal, low-pressure equals great fishing.
Virtually every lake on the list will be accessible, but some are more difficult to reach than others. Working from the assumption that we want lots of action and the chance at catching large fish, we should scour the map for the stocked lake that is hardest to get to. It may lie at the end of a long snowmobile, ski or snowshoe trails, but there are inland lakes in Northeastern Ontario where brook trout grow in excess of 10 pounds. Even a fish half that size has been known to make ice anglers grin.
Another tactic in choosing waters is to ask around locally for the best fishing spots. Information gleaned should be carefully filtered with the knowledge that trout anglers are not always reliable. We must also consider the dynamics of a local fishery. Often an easily accessed lake will get fished down and lay forgotten for years. The result is an ignored lake laying under the nose of anglers and brimming with brook trout.
Enticing Winter Brook Trout
Throughout the winter, brook trout cruise the rich shallow feeding grounds for nymphs, leeches, minnows, snails, crayfish and freshwater shrimp. It follows that live bait is an effective enticement. With worms and minnows readily available in winter, check regulations for bait restrictions then stock up on the appropriate temptation.
While brook trout feed in the shallows, they like the security of deep water nearby, making the ideal spot a shallow area adjacent to the depths. Points, islands, inflows and outflows, rock piles and narrows all point to shallow feeding areas. After choosing a spot, drill at least six holes per angler covering a range of depths from as shallow as two feet down to about 12.
A number six or eight single hook weighted with split shot works well to suspend live bait just off bottom. Hook night crawlers once through the head and 6-14 cm minnows just behind the dorsal fin. Above-ice set-ups include commercial tip-ups, gads or 28 to 36-inch jigging rods.
Tandem live-bait rigs can be effective but jigging a second line is often the undoing of buxom squaretails. Aggressively lifting our rod tip and letting it down imparts movement to ¼ to ¾ ounce shiny spoons in combinations of silver, blue, black, red and bronze.
Work both presentations from hole to hole until we connect. Any lingering doubts about hatchery imports are purged with the authoritative strike of a thriving trout. As the battle wages on, the charm of stocked lakes hits us like a slap across the face with a broad square tail.
In a perfect world there would be enough easily accessed native brook trout waters to meet the swelling demands of Northeastern Ontario anglers. Perfection in angling remains illusive but stocked lakes bring us closer to the ideal.