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Off-Road Brook Trout

Fishing Regulations Vermont Freshwater Fishing

By Jud Kratzer

Fisheries Biologist
Vermont Fish & Wildlife

Each fish species has a unique combination of features that endear them to certain subsets of the angling community. Some species are favored because of their large size. Some are beloved because of the challenging sport they provide in coaxing them to strike or landing them once they do. Others are prized less for their performance in the water and more for their performance on the table. Still others hold a special place because of aesthetics, beauty both in the fish themselves and the places they’re found. Such is the case with brook trout.

While brook trout are easily accessible throughout much of Vermont, some of the best and most fulfilling brook trout fishing can be had well off the beaten path. Road-side streams see more fishing effort simply because many anglers lack the initiative to walk more than a few steps away from their car or truck. While these road-side streams never get “fished out” completely, anglers selectively harvest the larger fish leaving behind smaller, educated fish that may have been hooked and released a few times. For these reasons, some of the best brook trout fishing, not to mention better scenery, might be just a few thousand steps away. Here are same basic clues to find hidden brook trout stream gems.

Cold Water, Deep Pools, Plenty of Cover

The single most important defining characteristic of brook trout biology is their need for cold water. If you find a Vermont stream with cold water, you are likely to find brook trout. How cold? A few years ago, the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department performed a study to determine what factors were the most important predictors of brook trout abundance in northeastern Vermont. Biologists found that the best brook trout streams rarely exceeded 68°F, even in the summer.

They also found that brook trout tended to be more abundant in streams with deeper water and large amounts of woody material. Woody material, in the form of logs and branches contributed from the surrounding forest, provides hiding places for brook trout and can also increase depth by creating small impoundments upstream and plunge pools downstream.

Use a Map to Locate Hillside Streams and Public Access

Finding cold water is one of the most important considerations when planning a wilderness brook trout trip. Look for streams flowing off wooded hillsides. If the stream is small enough that the surrounding forest provides shade for most of the day, there is a good chance that it will be cold enough to support a fishable population of brook trout. One exception is pond outlet streams, which usually consist mostly of warm waters skimmed from the pond’s surface. If in doubt, take the stream’s temperature during a hot summer day. If it is less than about 68°F, it is cold enough for brook trout. A good map and a look at something like Google Earth can help with assessing the amount of forest cover along the stream and whether there are any ponds that might warm the water.

A map can also be helpful for determining land ownership, which is another important consideration when planning a wilderness fishing trip. Fortunately, Vermont offers several thousand acres of forested lands that are open to public access including state wildlife management areas, state forests, national forests, federal refuges, and private timber company lands with public access easements. A call to a local fisheries biologist might also help to narrow the search for good brook trout streams on publicly accessible lands. Or check the Vermont Fish & Wildlife website, www.vtfishandwildlife.com/wilderness-brook-trout, for maps, fishing tips and more.

The diverse and abundant sport fishing opportunities enjoyed each year by anglers across Vermont are a direct result of fisheries management and restoration activities conducted by the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. These activities are funded through the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Program — money generated by user purchases of fishing equipment and motor boat fuels. The department’s fisheries management and restoration projects help maintain and restore healthy aquatic ecosystems, clean water, and good habitat, benefiting anglers by supporting and providing quality sport and recreational fishing opportunities across Vermont.

The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department shows students how electrofishing can be used to sample wild brook trout populations.