Salmo trutta is the most iconic fish in fly fishing, without question. Without brown trout, fly fishing would likely be very different. They are so highly regarded that when Eurpopeans began colonizing other lands they felt the need to have brown trout exported to those places. Tasmania, New Zealand, South Africa, the United States, Chile… brown trout were spread far and wide. The repercussions of this are huge and diverse and we are still seeing them to this day. They will never go away… both the fish, and their impacts. These impacts are cultural and ecological and even economic.
Brown trout have pushed native galaxiidae to the brink of extinction in parts of Australia and New Zealand, crowded out sea-run brook trout on Long Island and Cape Cod, and threatened to snuff out populations of native golden trout in California’s Kern River basin. They’ve created whole economies in the Catskills, the Ozarks, and the Rockies. They’ve had no small roll in what fly fishing culture is today. Brown trout were a remarkable and important fish within their native range that humans turned into a full blown religion and spread across the globe. It’s easy to understand why; they are fun and challenging to fish for. I do wish we had the foresight to know what damage these fish would do; we still aren’t careful enough. Brown trout are here and they’ve made themselves quite at home -even in small, dirty, stinky, urban CT rivers.
Truttasauruses -huge wild brown trout approaching or exceeding two feet in length- exist in a number of Northeastern rivers. Some are famous, like the Farmington. Some are known but not quite as widely publicized, like the Deerfield. Others are still quiet, thankfully. They may get fished, some quite a bit, but they aren’t widely recognized for their large, wild brown trout. Those are the places I really enjoy seeking a truttasaurus. This past fall and this winter, I’ve been exploring a new river with big brown potential. Actually, I’d fished it before, but not thoroughly or recently. I knew it had some large wild brown trout so I decided it may be time to really learn it. So far all the action occurred in one day. I caught stocked trout every other trip and saw wild browns on the first excursion, but the day after a rain showed me the real potential in this stream.
The first run I fished quickly produced a wild brown not at all big enough to be called truttasaurus. But she was a fat, healthy, and extremely colorful specimen and boosted my confidence. The fly she ate was my simple olive Polar Bugger, a mid-sized single hook trout streamer that has become a go-to in recent years. In fact, my streamer selection has been simplified very drastically since my initial big-streamers-for-trout obsession started. My boat boxes are now filled with mostly simpler, smaller patterns, all proven to catch fish consistently.
I continued downstream, picking off smaller wild browns and ugly stocker rainbows, but I wasn’t moving the sort of fish I wanted to. Then, in a rather nondescript shallow run, I watched a high teens brown sneak out of a sheltered bucket and take a swing at the fly. It never made contact but wouldn’t come back, even after a 5 minute rest, but my confidence was bolstered again and I continued fishing with hopes of a bigger fish. Half a river mile and four more stocked bows later, I sent a cast up a snag filled bend, across a good looking slick, and out came the true Truttasaurus. He showed himself four feet behind the fly, rising through from the gloom. He charged the fly like I’ve never seen before, tail kicking hard. He nailed it, and I strip set hard. I found no purchase, I wasn’t even in contact with the fly the fish had pushed it so far towards me. I saw it shake its head and I tried to strip again but he’d already dropped my streamer. I watched his orange and yellow body disappear, completely dejected. It’s not often we encounter brown trout in the range of 24” in the northeast, and any time one comes and goes without being hooked is a painful experience.
I hustled further downriver, found the quality of the water to be deteriorating in its fishiness, changed streamers to a big yellow and orange Heifer Groomer, and turned back upstream. In the same run where the monster was living, I got a much much smaller but stunningly colored male. It ate the unweighted fly on the surface just after splashdown, one of the most visually spectacular types of streamer eats. I got a few more young browns before deciding to head out, but the truttasaurus window was closed.
Brown trout are a resilient, diverse, and extraordinary species. The obsession with them by fly fishermen and fishermen in general is not unwarranted. It is remarkable and unfortunate how well traveled they have become. Though brown trout are here to stay and indeed a great sport fish, it is paramount that we don’t spread them further. In some special cases, we may even need to consider eliminating them. The few remaining wild brook trout streams on Cape Cod owe their rejuvenation to those that had the foresight to remove the brown trout and allow the native species to reclaim their territory. At the same time, there is no reason states shouldn’t be doing their best to protect coldwater fisheries that happen to hold wild brown trout.
Conservation in the modern era is complex, and few fish exemplify that more than brown trout.