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Woods, water & worse/Jim Junttila

Those beautiful brookies

July 16, 2010
By Jim Junttila

EDITOR'S?NOTE:?Jim is off this week, so enjoy this column from our archives, which originally ran Aug. 7, 2009.

"From now til the enda September, I'm stepping up my game in pursuit of brookies," I told Dolly Partanen and her equally-Finnish cousin and WW&W Brookie Correspondent, Dolly Vardenen.

"So are we!" they replied in stereo. "Nothing's as soothing as a streamside serenade of birdsong, frogs, crickets and grasshoppers," they added. "Catch a grasshopper and you can catch a fish."

Brookies are regaining popularity with women anglers these days. The brook trout, Salvelinus fontinalis, isn't just Michigan's official state fish, not by a longshot. She's been swimming around with quite a few other states.

"According to Wikipedia, the brook trout is the state fish of New Hampshire, Virginia, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont and West Virginia as well," Dolly added proudly.

"They're as popular as I was at the Chicken Ranch when we filmed 'The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.' Now I'm thinking about opening a new one on a piece of property I bought at Hoar Lake way up in the Keweenaw. If I stock the lake with brookies, and the house with hot babes and cold beer, the fishermen oughta come running."

"Commonly called a trout, the brookie is actually a char, like Arctic char, lake trout, bull trout, and Dolly Varden," Vardenen added. "No matter what you call them, brookies are way too beautiful and sporting to be the state fish for any one state. The distinctive markings on their back with red dots surrounded by blue haloes, reddish fins with white leading edges and big square tails are gorgeous. I love how the boys' bellies become red or orange when they spawn in the fall. Some develop dramatic hooked jaws."

"And watch out when they hybridize with browns to beget tiger trout, or hook up with lake trout and the kids become splake," she continued. "Natural hook-ups don't happen that often in the wild, but we breed 'em that way in hatcheries."

I enjoy exploring little no-name, jump-across cricks and hidden beaver dams where a carefully drifted fly, hopper, or halfa crawler can coax brookies out from deep, dark undercut banks and reward you with the big yank.

I love to wade rivers and streams, reading the water for the most likely lies; visualizing brookies lollygagging in the shade of a submerged log or windfall, or feeding in current breaks and eddies, pocket water behind boulders, and other places where they think I don't see them. You can detect tell-tale dorsal fins splashing, wriggling and fish-tailing through shallow riffles, then holding in a deeper snag-infested and root-ridden run, beneath an undercut bank or a foam-covered pool. I cast to the fishy-looking patch of water, and if I'm lucky, my garden hackle catches his eye for just a moment, and I catch him. More often than not, I get irretrievably snagged and the brookie is one Mepps or Panther Martin richer.

When a sudden flash appears outa nowhere and engulfs your spinner, it's speckled proof that just because you can't see something doesn't mean it isn't there. Brookies aren't just gorgeous, they're masters of camouflage.

"Whether I'm wading through waist-deep sweet peas or up to my shoulders in purple loosestrife, wild celery, and a half dozen different kinds of goldenrods, every trip to a trout stream is an adventure in live bait gathering," Dolly said. "I catch my own hoppers as I go. They often jump right into my hip boots or waders."

"Then I just slip the hopper's hind leg onto the hook, sneak up to the crick, and make my best presentation. No fish nor fisherman can resist."

Jim Junttila can be reached 24/7/365 at



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