Brookie Observations And Inquiries

Keep or release a Washington brookie?


  • Total voters
    31

flyawayfish44

Active Member
Hi all! Long time lurker, recent member and first-time poster here. I'm an obsessive WA fly fisher, and I look forward to getting to know everyone here. Of course, my first post is a series of observations and questions. The first of many, I promise. This series happens to be about brook trout.

I've noticed Chelan and Pend Oreille counties seem to have extirpation protocols in place for these fish in their creek and river systems. I've next-to memorized the regulations and these two counties are the only two counties that list them specifically in their watersheds, and when noted, they have incredibly high keep limits (some at 16 per day). It's hard to ignore. Why do these two counties have these policies in place? Neither seems to have much in the way of closed waters/watersheds (like the White/Chiwawa/Napequa) to protect the bull trout, so is this their alternative to closing them? Just encouraging anglers to remove as many brookies as possible?

If it's true that this is a protocol to remove the fish from the systems - is it working? I know brook trout were fairly commonly planted in many lakes on the eastern side of the side, and I believe in some western lakes as well, but I'm not sure how extensively it was done. Has there been a noticeable decline in their populations in these systems? How can that decline be compared to systems outside of these counties? Also, were there ever any intentional brook trout introductions directly into river systems? If so, what were the results? I know of some small populations of brook trout in Washington escaping their introduced lake homes (only one river system on the west side and two or three on the east side) in my personal experience, but not much beyond that. I can't find much on the internet about brook trout in the river systems except as their threat to bull trout; nothing necessarily about their history or current populations.

With history and data aside (and I'll take all the history, data and general commentary y'all have to offer, by the way), I'd like to move on to brookie ethics. I like to laugh a little bit when I think about brookies in WA sometimes. They're a non-native, potentially genetically damaging fish, abundant in numbers and tasty in the skillet for dinner, yet recreational fly fishing and especially northwest fly fishing holds CNR as a core tenet of our philosophy. And they're so beautiful! And let's not forget how strikingly different from our western trout they are (as eastern char should be, I think). So how do we feel about general brookie fishing? Do you keep 'em in the name of dinner and bullies? Do you let 'em go back to their home and the ecosystem? Do you even bother with 'em at all?

And, naturally, we're going to come across one of the touchier subjects of fishing on the internet: where to fish for these fellows. Now, I'd like to emphasize no one is looking for spots. I can already see some people getting out their sarcastic emojis, so let's all go ahead and get our fingers off the proverbial triggers. That's it, easy now. I promise that isn't what's going on here. What I'm looking for is some discussion on terrain, water types, elevation, vegetative surroundings, bug populations, etc. I can't say I'm totally familiar with brook trout in WA state, but my impression is they're mostly found in high elevation and east side lakes (once caught several very nice 10"+ near Spokane out of a lake a couple of years ago), and not really in very many west side waters, outside of high altitude lakes. Is that true? I can't recall reading anywhere where people are catching brookies in any systems necessarily outside of the Snoqualmie forks and down in the Gifford-Pinchot somwhere and I don't know anyone in person or online who ever caught one out of the main Snoqualmie or the Snohomish. Literally everyone I know in person and online has only caught them in high altitude lakes, where there are few bugs and little vegetation in and around the water. I'm not sure if they're just a well kept secret or if they just don't really exist much on the western side. Do they not escape into the lower drainages in desperation? Why? I feel like even a few escaping could populate any system in a short amount of time. Even in my own experience my only west side skinny water results are mostly little bows and cutties and, if I haven't gone up far enough, steelhead/salmon smolts. Are they notably populous any in west Cascade creeks and river systems? What is it that makes those particular waters suitable to them and not others? Addressing the eastern side of the state, I have similar questions as to their escaping their original stocking homes into the creeks and rivers they drain into, but moreover my question is where to even find them. The eastern side has more varying terrain (western WA game is pretty much steep, wet, fast everywhere that's not an S river main stem), and I'm not sure where brookies might want to hang out. Are there populations down in the coulees? I imagine some of the northeastern creeks and rivers have them, but people don't talk about them much, it seems. Can't tell if that's on purpose or not. High altitude creeks normally prove to be a western brook trout paradise but I honestly don't see much of that here.

And what are their seasons like? Do they start their spawning run in the fall? Where do they go depending on what kind of system they live in? Yada yada yada.

This isn't quite as in depth as I'd originally wanted, but it's clearly already getting too long and I plan on being around for awhile and will get there eventually. Any info on brookies in this state would be great!

Thanks for reading! Tight lines!
 

bakerite

Active Member
Lots of brookies down here in Oregon. No limit on them here except in a few select waters. They are doing fine in a lot of creeks but I don't find them in the rivers. In Washington I have caught them in the ohanapocash (spelling?). I caught a couple in the Yakima by creek mouths and up by the reservoir.
 

Old406Kid

Active Member
You've mentioned many of the negatives associated with them in your post. The increased limits amount to a "brook trout genocide" of sorts as WDFW, the tribes, and many others want/need to eradicate them in waters where they compete with natural reproducing native fish primarily the genetically pure Westslope Cutts on the east side.
Prettiest fish out there, too bad they're a pain in the ass.
 

Smalma

Active Member
Flyawayfish-

While my interest have been most with our native salmonids it is impossible to pick up a bit of some of the regions exotics. As I recall the first brook trout were introduced in Washington during the 1890s. Here in western Washington brook trout were being introduced into a variety of waters during the early 1900s where are times they preformed spectacularly. In many of the first alpine lakes they were introduced into (previously fishless waters) the first fish grew very well with multiple pound fish common with some exceeding 5 or more pounds. However within a couple fish generations the self sustaining populations were out stripping their food supplies and today in the same waters a 12 inch fish would be a giant and in some cases adult fish are dying of old age at less than 8 inches.

My experience with brook trout is confined to the west side of the cascades and mostly the north Puget Sound region. In spite how well brook trout preform in lakes I agree that they don't seem to be well adapted to many of the western Washington streams. I suspect that is due to a combination of the competition from other species, the steep gradients of many of those streams as well as the fall flooding that many of those streams experience. The bulk of the waters that I have found natural reproducing brook in the region have been associated with flatter/slower waters- low gradient creeks, beaver ponds, oxbow sloughs, etc. Typically those populations (especially those with fishable numbers) are found above anadromous waters (though as with all things fishy there are exceptions).

You mentioned the main stem of the "S" rivers; over the course of the decades of fishing that basin I have caught exactly one brook trout in the Snoqualmie (above the falls and below the forks). While provide an interesting diversity to our fishing there are few waters where the brook trout can take advance of specific niche habitats to provide some quality fishing. In addition to the tendency of brookies to "stunt out" the completion with other native salmonids and the potential to hybridize with the regions native char (bull trout and Dolly Varden) are the biggest concern with the species and the reason one sees less stocking of the brooks and out right persecution of the species in many waters. Though to be fair I have seen relative few brook trout/native char hybrids; limited to upper Skagit reservoirs and few high mountain streams. On the Skagit below the dams in spite of handling a number of bull trout I have never seen hybrid or a picture of a hybrid taken in the Skagit/Sauk and their tributaries for which I'm thankful.

Curt
 

Old Man

A very Old Man
WFF Supporter
I knew of a few lakes on the wet side. But the fish were all the same size. And the little lake was a high one. Since I don't eat fish, I don't keep anything I catch.
 

MG driver

Active Member
The 3 northeastern counties of WA have bookies in most northern small streams, they are like rats there and easy to catch. Look on a map and almost any stream coming out of the National Forest will be infested with 8-12 inch fish, I usually fished the area between the Lake Roosevelt and the Kettle River. The largest I ever caught was a 3 pound fish out of a larger creek (crick in NE WA speak). They are found in lakes also but much less often. I spent 15 years with a fly in that area. Send me a PM and I can name names...............
 

Salmo_g

WFF Supporter
The lack of popularity of brook trout in WA can be ascribed I think, to Smalma's observation that they tend to over produce and create stunted populations. Those 8" fish dying of old age that Smalma mentioned would be trophies in a couple brook trout lakes that I have fished. I only know one lake, and it's fairly low elevation, where the reproductive environment must be especially limited, and brookies reach about 15" in size. A couple nearby lakes are less limited reproductively, and they are stuffed with anemic looking 6" brook trout. Given this outcome, it's hard to conclude that stocking brook trout in the PNW was anything other than a bad mistake.

Sg
 

flyawayfish44

Active Member
Flyawayfish-

My experience with brook trout is confined to the west side of the cascades and mostly the north Puget Sound region. In spite how well brook trout preform in lakes I agree that they don't seem to be well adapted to many of the western Washington streams. I suspect that is due to a combination of the competition from other species, the steep gradients of many of those streams as well as the fall flooding that many of those streams experience. The bulk of the waters that I have found natural reproducing brook in the region have been associated with flatter/slower waters- low gradient creeks, beaver ponds, oxbow sloughs, etc. Typically those populations (especially those with fishable numbers) are found above anadromous waters (though as with all things fishy there are exceptions).

Curt

Interesting, interesting. Smalma you've got me thinking some more. Now, I never really thought that the gradient and speed of the water would be much effect on brookies on the west side, considering I've seen them hauled out of 8" fast moving water in pockets no bigger than a pizza box in more than a few places. In going through some conversations I've had with people over the years, I remembered last night that I did used to know someone who hauled the occasional brookie out of a lake-fed creek on the Mountain Loop highway (near Silverton/Verlot), that was non-anadramous. And it was medium steep/fast, I'd say. Which makes me think about the flooding. I never considered the regular, good-sized floods these systems get once or twice a year, and not every creek gets them equally distributed. I guess it makes sense that they'd only be able to hold on in a few spots in those kinds of conditions, especially flatter stretches of creek and sloughs. Good note.

I knew of a few lakes on the wet side. But the fish were all the same size. And the little lake was a high one. Since I don't eat fish, I don't keep anything I catch.

And this is my understanding, not stocked as extensively as the east side, and the fish didn't do very well. How do they compare to high altitude lake brookies in Montana? Just about everything is different, from an environment/climate perspective.

The 3 northeastern counties of WA have bookies in most northern small streams, they are like rats there and easy to catch. Look on a map and almost any stream coming out of the National Forest will be infested with 8-12 inch fish, I usually fished the area between the Lake Roosevelt and the Kettle River. The largest I ever caught was a 3 pound fish out of a larger creek (crick in NE WA speak). They are found in lakes also but much less often. I spent 15 years with a fly in that area. Send me a PM and I can name names...............


MG I'm not looking for spots (I fancy myself a hunter), but I am looking for as much general "everything you wanted to know about WA brookies" info as possible. I'll still be hitting you up in a minute, if you don't mind me asking oddly-specific questions about that area (I used to live out there for a couple of years, too).

The lack of popularity of brook trout in WA can be ascribed I think, to Smalma's observation that they tend to over produce and create stunted populations. Those 8" fish dying of old age that Smalma mentioned would be trophies in a couple brook trout lakes that I have fished. I only know one lake, and it's fairly low elevation, where the reproductive environment must be especially limited, and brookies reach about 15" in size. A couple nearby lakes are less limited reproductively, and they are stuffed with anemic looking 6" brook trout. Given this outcome, it's hard to conclude that stocking brook trout in the PNW was anything other than a bad mistake.

Sg

Salmo, you raise an interesting point. While I'm very aware of their nasty habit of overpopulating and out-competing, I'm not necessarily aware as to why they're more prone to it in certain places than others, and why they're not more prone to escaping those crowded environments (which I know they can do) in other, certain places. Like your lake, the one I used to fish was lower in elevation, and had a very healthy brookie population in it (good size, good weight) in it. Why are they prone to overpopulating some lakes, and not others? Is it about bugs? Vegetation? I think the high altitude lakes have fewer bugs and less vegetation than lower lakes, however, the lower lakes in WA can get hot as hell in the summer - how does that not hurt them/drive them to cooler waters like creeks?
 

zen leecher aka bill w

born to work, forced to fish
Spectacle Lake out of Salmon la Sac has a bunch of brookies. I fished it a couple of times in the past. Nice camping and good water. Only issue is it's about 11 miles from the trailhead. There are golden trout nearby.
 

flyawayfish44

Active Member
Spectacle Lake out of Salmon la Sac has a bunch of brookies. I fished it a couple of times in the past. Nice camping and good water. Only issue is it's about 11 miles from the trailhead. There are golden trout nearby.

I'm familiar with that area and have fished the Cooper, Waptus and Salmon la Sac - my luck is always terrible. Last summer I couldn't get away from rafting vacation families and the Cooper River was covered in trash and signs of people have barbeques right on the river's banks. Not really an area I like so much these days.
 

flyawayfish44

Active Member
I don't really fish for brookies so I wouldn't necessarily know where they are in abundance. And bonus limits are specifically put on rivers and creeks in Chelan and Pend Oreille counties (Entiat river, Pend Oreille river, Peshastin Creek, Chumstick Creek, Nason creek, etc) in addition to some lakes.
 
Flyaway,
One of the reasons brookies overpopulate mountain lakes more than other trout is that they can spawn in still water, whereas rainbows and cutts require moving water. Suitable inlet or outlet streams are often missing from many mountain lakes. As a consequence stocked bows and cutts grow old and die without reproducing and, if the state manages stocking properly, the fish will grow to appropriate size. In contrast, similar lakes once stocked with brookies will forever host a population of stunted fish that destroy food sources with considerable effectiveness.

There are plenty of low elevation lakes in western WA that also have persistent brook trout populations. In my limited experience, these tend not to stunt. Perhaps because the lakes are more productive and they live in an environment with natural predators, including other fish species.

Your survey asked about release vs. kill. I am almost entirely a C&R guy, but I have been known to kill a brookie when I encounter it in habitats with other threatened native species (e.g., in westslope cutthroat streams in the northern rockies, mostly).
 

flyawayfish44

Active Member
Flyaway,
One of the reasons brookies overpopulate mountain lakes more than other trout is that they can spawn in still water, whereas rainbows and cutts require moving water. Suitable inlet or outlet streams are often missing from many mountain lakes. As a consequence stocked bows and cutts grow old and die without reproducing and, if the state manages stocking properly, the fish will grow to appropriate size. In contrast, similar lakes once stocked with brookies will forever host a population of stunted fish that destroy food sources with considerable effectiveness.

Aaahhhhh, ok, now I'm getting it. I didn't know that brookies could reproduce so much easier than local native trouts in still water. I suppose that makes sense, too, when you consider how much of their native range is pothole lakes for zillions of miles.

There are plenty of low elevation lakes in western WA that also have persistent brook trout populations. In my limited experience, these tend not to stunt. Perhaps because the lakes are more productive and they live in an environment with natural predators, including other fish species.

Yes, I've noticed this in the small amount of brookie fishing I've done. I've only ever fished for them in a lake they share with bows and cutties, but it also had a respectable hawk/snake/otter/etc population (including a grass snake that bit me).

All very interesting and informative!
 

Old Man

A very Old Man
WFF Supporter
Brookies are all over the place here in Montana. I find them mostly in skinny water. But everyplace I fish here is over 5,000' in elevation
 

Support WFF | Remove the Ads

Support WFF by upgrading your account. Site supporters benefits include no ads and access to some additional features, few now, more in the works. Info

Latest posts

Top