When a friend recently showed me a photo of a nearly five-pound stream brown trout his son had caught locally, I was reminded that although these big trout are finning in many of our largest streams and upper river sections, very few anglers specifically fish for them. These days, the majority are caught incidentally while fishing for other species.
When I was a teen, there was a relative abundance of talented stream brown trout anglers I looked up to. Although they might only catch one or two oversized trout per outing, those they did catch would barely fit in a large fishing creel without the tails protruding from the top. Most were in the 16-20-plus inch range, and to a kid accustomed to catching stream trout half that length, these were trophy monsters I could only dream about catching myself.
Of course the secret of them hauling in those big browns, while I caught small ones, was entirely about where they and I fished. Most spent their time on streams far larger than I fished. Many came from the biggest flows in our area, including the upper Chenango and Unadilla rivers. Meanwhile, since I was too young to drive, mine was pretty much confined to those streams within walking or bicycling range of my home. These waters rarely were large enough to entice and hold trout of over a foot long.
My very first truly big stream brown didn’t come until one memorable day on the Otselic River. Following a thunderstorm, my dad asked me if I wanted to go to the Otselic for some fishing. When we got there, the river was quite discolored from the sudden downpour and resulting run-off. Dad fished upstream, while I fished downstream. On about the third pool I fished, my nightcrawler bait was about halfway through the pool when it suddenly stopped, and I could feel a fish taking it.
I waited a moment and then set the hook. Accustomed to feeling the resistance of an 8-10 inch trout, the sudden weight I felt sent my fly rod bending in a full arc. Then the fish tore off downstream toward the pool’s tail end, and I was forced to give it line so the leader wouldn’t break. Realizing I’d hooked what was certainly the largest trout of my young life, I’m pretty sure my hair stood straight up and my heart rate doubled.
For the next ten minutes time stood still as the trout ran up and down and around the big pool. As I played the powerful fish to the best of my ability, I probably kept muttering a prayer “please don’t let it get away.” Because of the discolored water I didn’t see the fish until it had tired and I gingerly led it toward shore. I quickly jumped into the stream and scooped the trout out and onto the shoreline gravel. I then gazed in amazement at the 22-incher – the most beautiful trout I’d ever seen.
A lot of years and waters have passed by since that memorable day, and I’ve been fortunate enough to catch more large stream browns like that first one, and while all were special, that initial one was the most special. Few came as easily, but each has proven to me that they’re still there, waiting for some lucky or gifted trout angler to catch...