Earlier this June, I was lucky enough to participate in Pennsylvania Trout Unlimited’s first ever Brook Trout Odyssey trip. It was on this trip that I fell in love with and truly experienced “blue-lining” for native brook trout. After spending every day of our three-week trip, researching and fishing for those blue halos that are hidden within Pennsylvania’s wild waters, I learned a lot of lessons. So, if you’ve never tried “blue-lining”, or if you’re a seasoned veteran at navigating those tiny waters, here are some stories and tips that will hopefully convince you to give it a try or take your skills to the next level!
For those who are unfamiliar, the term “Blue-lining” refers to the act of getting out a topographic map, Google map, or even a local hand-drawn map and making a beeline for those thin, blue lines that twist and carve their way through the region. As this was a Native Brook Trout Odyssey, a majority of our hunting for brook trout took us to these fabled blue-lines—that were picturesque brook trout streams and to places where you would never have guessed they existed.
Never overlook the overlooked
The first valuable lesson I learned came from a local Pennsylvanian named Mark, who, when we first met him, talked of a place that had cascading pools born from mountainside trickles full of native brook trout. So, when our caravan began to follow him to his family honey hole and we started to carve our way through a major city, down a highway access road and then to a sudden halt, we were all shocked. But, after a mile hike over an abandoned railroad, under a highway overpass and up and down some hills, we arrived at his spot and it was exactly as he had described it. We caught some aggressive brookies on flies ranging from small streamers to mop flies. But, what shocked me more than the magnificent display of colors the fish had, was the fact that Mark and his father actually found this place. When I asked him about it, he told me plain and simple, “lots of people get excited about fishing remote streams/creeks in the middle of the mountains in hopes that they are untouched. I’ve found that it’s often the places right under your nose, like this stream hidden in the woods under a highway, that can hold some of the best places. Never underestimate the overlooked.
Put on a different pair of shades
Conducting research as a part of the trip added a unique element that I never experienced before, electro-shocking. Whenever we would approach and electroshock a body of water, we would notice staple Brook Trout habitats, like a little pool under fast-moving water or a logjam adjacent to some current and say to each other “there has to be a fish there.” And guess what? There were. This might not be new for many of you, but every time we would point that out and our prediction would come true, the doctoral student would be amazed—“How did you know that?” Our answer was often just something along the lines of, “When you’ve been fishing for so long, reading a stream becomes almost natural.” However, in a similar vein, whenever we would approach a stretch of water where we traditionally wouldn’t expect any fish to be holding, the doctoral student would tell us, “There has to be a fish there.” And guess what? There were! Approaching the water with a scientific perspective allowed us to learn things about brook trout behavior that we didn’t know before. We were electroshocking brook trout out of muddy, slow-moving, long stretches of water that I would walk right past if I was fishing. So, whether having the opportunity to work with a scientist or fishing with someone new, I learned that reading the water through different perspectives and keeping an open mind will greatly enhance your ability to dissect water, find and catch fish.
Be One With Your Inner Ninja
One of the first lessons almost every new fly fisherman learns is to approach a moving body of water “stealthily”—working upstream so as to not disturb the water and inevitably whatever fish are near you. Blue-lining in PA gave an entirely new meaning to stealthy fishing. The first few days I struggled to land fish and I didn’t know what was wrong. I was throwing the same bugs as everyone else, same size tippet, the same type of spots and I just wasn’t getting bit. Only when I took a step back and watched the other anglers around me did I learn what I was doing wrong—to the fish, I was an entire stampede of buffalo. That’s not to say I wasn’t walking slowly, being quiet, etc. but I learned that I really had to get down and dirty. That meant, kneeling down to make bow-and-arrow casts even if there was room for regular standing casting, army crawling up to a pool or placing flies in spots that would seriously make me think I was about to lose another $2.50 fly. When it comes to blue-line fishing, you have to be just as delicate as the environment around you and the fish you are fishing for, then, once you’ve adopted those tactics, nature will forget you are there for a while and Mr. Trout will come to attack your fly.
Blue-lining can be some of the most exciting and breath-taking fishing you can do for trout, from big flies to stealthy approaches, bow and arrow casts and beautiful fish, often the hardest part of the whole journey is just getting there. However, if you do find yourself in a pickle where these supposedly, wild, untouched and hungry trout won’t budge, hopefully, these tips can help you land a monster fish… even if it’s only 10 inches.