Tom Ference and I hastened to don our waist-high waders. A few yards below us the small stream tumbled through a rocky ravine, seemingly in a rush to merge with a larger creek a mile down the valley, one stocked with adult-sized trout.
It had been years, nearly 40 of them in fact, since Tom had last fished this particular stretch of water. But at that time it produced a few native brookies; our quest was to see if any of these gems still existed in what is an unlikely place.
Three hours of exploration led us to the conclusion that native brook trout are only a memory in this particular stream. But the outing was far from a failure. We heard several grouse drumming over the clamor of the turbulent stream, tipping us off to potential sport this fall. Tom, who spent a lot of time hunting and fishing in this area during his youth, showed me where he took his first deer, and where his brother did the same.
During the past couple of months I’ve had the pleasure of joining various fishing buddies in checking out several of these “off-the-grid” streams. On some of them we’ve come back fishless; others have produced holdover brown trout of 20 inches and some beautiful native brook trout. In certain instances the streams were non-stocked stretches, either upstream or downstream of approved trout waters that see regular plantings. We also fished pristine mountain streams known to support wild trout populations; others were “rebound” waters, ones still healing from years of negative impact from acid mine drainage and other pollutants. All of these adventures have been productive, whether we’ve caught trout or not.
Our area has a horde of such places to explore, and you’ll likely not see another angler while doing so. The Fish and Boat Commission lists stocking points on all approved trout waters, complete with GPS coordinates. It’s quite easy to transfer the coordinates to online mapping sources like Google Earth or the “bird’s eye” view in Bing Maps. Armed with this view you can look around — on the computer screen — to see where a creek leaves the easy access spots and winds its way through a forested valley, far enough from roads and bridges to discourage much effort from other anglers. After that it’s boots-on-the-ground, time to put forth some on-site effort.
I’m an admitted tackle junkie, but when it comes to this type of fishing I find it wise to trim down the choices to the simplest level. When investigating a stream section for the first time, I prefer to take a light-action 6-foot spinning rod. The handful of lure choices includes a few spinners, spoons and 2-inch suspending jerkbaits. The rod has enough backbone to effectively fish these lures — whereas an ultralight would not — but I still get plenty of sport from the fight of stream trout. Its short length is a plus when navigating streamside shrubs and alders.
If the creek proves open enough to allow for fly-fishing, a fairly short rod is in order. Tom Ference uses a 7-foot, 2-inch, 4 weight fly rod for this type of work. Again, the shorter rod has more to do with ease of negotiating the woods than the actual fishing. The 4 weight line provides enough mass for throwing a small streamer and handles smaller wet and dry flies with ease. Regardless, there’s very little real fly-casting in this situation; in most instances you’re happy to have enough room to propel a fly out via a roll cast.
Overlooked streams have a lot to offer the angler, including a strong dose of seclusion. Check one out this spring if you’re looking for a different kind of adventure.