Brook trout are native to Eastern Canada and the Northeast US and are typically the smallest of the trout species found in these regions, though they get significantly larger in the most northern climates. For someone who wants to try their luck with trout, brook trout fishing is a great target because they feed aggressively and are typically bountiful in the waters to which they reside.
Find Trout Waters
The first step is to find trout waters that hold brook trout. The easiest way to search is on your state’s department of fish website or on mapping programs and apps such as our Places to Boat and Fish Maps, Google Maps, Navionics, or Fishbrain. Trout in general are a highly regulated species, so there is usually a lot of detailed information on where brook trout can be found. If there’s a local fishing store in your area, contact or visit them and ask your questions. You’d be surprised at what you can learn from this. Brook trout are found in shallower waters, hence the name “brook”, but are also stocked in lakes and easily spread to larger rivers. Look for small to mid-sized streams that feed into larger river systems, as well as ponds and lakes with a healthy stocking program for your first trip.
Brook Trout Setup
When it comes to preparing your gear for brookies, it’s important to note that they’re a smaller fish that eats small baits. They also have keen eyesight and are very aware of their environment. We recommend using 6lb test monofilament for this reason. Fishermen that specialize in trout fishing usually have small rods and reels; however, a simple rod and reel multi-species combo that’s a little larger is still effective and works great. This way you can target all the various trout species. Just spool it with lighter line if you plan on fishing for brook trout. Stock up on smaller spinners and crank baits in the 1/8 oz to 1/4 oz weights as well as terminal tackle for live bait options. All of the gear you need to start fishing for brook trout can be found in our trout fishing kit.
Brook Trout Bait
Check your local regulations first to see which kinds of bait are not allowed in your area. Some areas are designated as artificial lures only, some fly fishing only, while others aren’t subject to any further restrictions. If you aren’t sure, it’s good practice to just use lures with a single hook and a pinched barb. Keep pliers on you to pinch down barbs and clip off any extra hooks from a treble. The good news is that most of the brook trout lures and hooks are small so its pretty easy to just clip and pinch on the go.
Live Bait for Brookies
The primary diet of brook trout are bugs and very small baitfish. Using live grubs and crickets on a small #8 baitholder hook like that found in our trout kit are staples of trout fishing. Put on some split shot to help it sink to the bottom, and that’s about as simple and effective as trout fishing gets. You can also run bait under a slip float rig, like the one we make, so that the bait can drift higher up in the water column. If you are fishing with bait, it’s nice to have a bottom rig and a float rig set up so you can easily switch back and forth depending on where the brookies are feeding. Brookies are aggressive and can feed anywhere in the shallow water column so you need to test and learn each spot.
Presenting Live Bait
For areas with current, cast upstream and let it drift downstream naturally just like a real bug would drift. When it gets downstream of you, reel in and do it again. For calmer water, letting it sink to the bottom and working it slowly back is a good strategy. Reel it in slowly and bounce it off the bottom with many pauses in between. Fishing a float is better for faster water, or when gusty winds on a lake can move your rig around for you. If the water is moving fast or the water is deep, place the float higher. In lakes and ponds, try using a float for trout hanging out near the surface. If your bait doesn’t sink very well, add a split shot about a foot above your bait to keep your bobber upright.
Artificial Bait for Brookies
For artificial lures, inline spinners and small crankbaits that resemble a baitfish work great. For spinners it’s pretty simple—cast them out and reel in fast enough to get the blade spinning. Use crankbaits the same way, except vary your speed on different casts. Brook trout will react differently to different speeds. During the summer months, try out a crankbait that looks like a bug, something like the cricket or grasshopper found in our trout kit.
A jig with a white curly tail grub or using a small plastic worm works excellent too. Artificial baits in natural colors are always a safe bet. Default to a white grub that mimics baitfish. Brook trout can find white colors hard to resist. If you’re on a small stream with small brook trout, pinch off the curly tail to make it smaller and more manageable. Brook trout fishing is best done with smaller meals.
In rivers and streams with a steady current, it can be challenging to keep your blades spinning or your lure twitching when the current is moving fast. You need to present your bait moving with the current so it looks natural, but you likely cannot work it fast enough straight down stream. Instead, cast your lure 45 degrees up stream. This way your bait moves with the current, but your retrieve is diagonal so you can still get the lure to create action as it is designed. For lakes and ponds, focus on covering a lot of water along the shoreline. Brookies like to defend a small territory and do not move around the lake very frequently. You need to find them in pods and pockets.
Brook Trout Fishing in Streams & Rivers
Find the deeper water. On small streams and rivers, this might require some walking before you come across deeper water. “Deep” is relative, so if your immediate area is mostly 1-foot deep, and you see that in the middle is 3-feet—focus on the middle. If your area is less than 1-foot deep, but in one spot behind a rock it’s about 1-foot—fish that spot. As you fish the deeper water, you can continue moving along to fish other deeper spots as you discover them. Sometimes these spots are only big enough for one fish, sometimes they can hold multiple.
After scanning for deeper water in your area, look for structure that blocks or redirects the current. This could be in the form of larger rocks, boulders, tree roots, fallen timber, a deep bend etc. Brook trout survive because of the way they hide behind these structures. They wait here to ambush prey but also shelter for safety. You’ll often have to cast to same spot multiple times to get the bait to drift in just the right spot for productive brook trout fishing.
Brook Trout Fishing in Lakes & Ponds
For brook trout fishing in lakes and ponds, focus on the weedlines and muddy flats around the shoreline. Brookies hold shallow when the temps are 60 degrees and lower. Most lakes that stock brookies are cold water lakes, so they can be found in the shallows year round. Brookies thrive in the cover of streams and rivers so it is not surprising that they hold to cover in lakes. However, the aquatic insects and crustaceans they feed on are typically found on the bottom of muddy flats. The spot on the spot is a patch or line of weeds/cover that is near a muddy flat. Target the area in and around the cover.
Locating Brookies on Big Water
Brook trout are territorial and often hold this territory in a pod of 2-3. While some of your strikes will be from actively feeding brookies, many of them are predatory strikes in defense. This is why loud and aggressive lures work so well for brook trout. They aren’t actually trout like the rainbow trout or brown trout, but of the char family. They have habits that aren’t typical of a trout species. If the lake you’re fishing doesn’t have cover or flats, try finding streams that feed in/out. Often times, brookies will hold to the edge of the stream where they are comfortable, then venture into the inlet/outlet to feed. If that doesn’t exist either, brook trout fishing can be good along drop offs. If nothing else is around, they will use the slant of the decline to hold.
Find the Bugs
You may notice during the warmer months there are a lot of bugs out. Scan the water and look for trout rising to eat the bugs. This is actually a common occurrence when bugs and flies are around. If you see a fish rise, now you’ve located a hungry fish. Brook trout are some of the most aggressive insect feeders. They have no problem surfacing up right next to the shoreline to feed on falling insects. During the spring and fall insect hatch, don’t be afraid to cast tight to the shoreline. Take your time to slowly approach the fish and try not scare it away. They’ll stop feeding or swim away entirely if they’re scared.
Check Your Local Regulations
Be sure to check your local fishing regulations for brook trout. Different areas have different regulations, so pay attention. A single stream or river can have different regulations in different sections. You’ll need to distinguish the meaning of signs such as “Delayed Harvest,” “Artificial Lures Only,” and “Stocked Trout Waters.”