Splake Are Simply Splaknificent

Eleanor Hanson

This article is one of a series of articles about catching all twenty of the trout species in North America. The Splake is a different and unique fish that is probably the first hybrid trout ever produced.

Splake are one of the first hybrids that were bred in hatcheries in the United States and introduced throughout North America. Records are a little cloudy, but it appears that the first crosses were developed in 1880. The fish are created by crossing a male Brook Trout with a female Lake Trout. The name is also a hybrid using the “SP” from Speckled Trout (another name for Brook), and the “lake” part of Lake Trout. Several hatcheries have attempted to cross a make Lake Trout with a female Brook Trout to create a Brookinaw but that hybrid has not been successful. When you cross two chars (both Brook and Lake Trout are in the char family) you do get a fish with all of the char characteristics.

Some of the Splake do have the broken lines on the top of the body that are characteristic of Brook, but most do not. They are certainly more colorful than the white-spotted Lake Trout, and I would consider them a pretty fish. Splake do have some interesting characteristics that are unique. One of the most endearing to anglers is that the hybrid exhibits a phenomenal growth rate. Splake have been known to reach 18-inches within 2 and 1/2 years of hatching. A Brook Trout of the same age would be about 10-inches and a Lake Trout would be 16-inches. They are capable of reproducing, but usually do not. The only known natural reproduction occurred in five lakes in Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada.

I have fished for Splake in Maine, Ontario, and Maine. Since the fish are hybrids, fishing is only as good as the state stocking program. Maine does have the most extensive Splake stocking program, and manages 53 waters primarily for Splake. Ten of those lakes are considered trophy management waters. Other states and Canadian provinces stock Splake, but on a somewhat less scale. THe Maine Splake program has been surrounded by controversy. Some people in the state have not supported introduction of this unique hybrid.

The Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department developed a paper explaining why Splake were being stocked and the benefits of the program. The most significant benefit is to the fishing public, and the paper does a good job of explaining the other benefits. Utah uses the hybrids in areas where there are incidents of whirling disease in the native trout. The hybrid does not seem to be susceptible to the disease. Ontario uses the hybrid in lakes where it has been difficult to establish any other type of trout fishery. Splake seem to be hardy and can flourish where other trout have difficulty. I think Splake are magnificent and have enjoyed fishing for them at every opportunity. They are a beautiful fish that fight well, but usually down in the water.

I would offer this caution about fishing for Splake in both Canada and Maine. Choose where you want to fish well. Many of the Splake waters in both of these areas have other species, and in both of those locations I have caught more smallmouth bass when fishing for Splake. The fishing in Utah was limited to a lake that had both Tiger Trout and Splake. I did catch more Tiger Trout than Splake, but in that case I didn’t really mind.

The larger Splake tend to have feeding habits similar to Lake Trout and are minnow eaters. All of my fishing is with a fly rod, so I use a series of clouser minnows tied for the area I am fishing. Most of the minnow imitations i make resemble a rainbow smelt. That is the primary food source for Splake in Maine and Canada, but Canada does also have sculpin as a food source. The fish in Utah do have a little different diet, but I did catch fish on clouser minnows, and I had more success in Utah with smaller nymphs. My favorite choice in that area was a black stonefly nymph tied on a #10 hook.

Any Splake in the 5-10 pound range is considered a trophy fish. The world record is a 20-pound 11-ounce fish that was caught in Ontario, Canada. Most state records are in the 10-pound range. The two places I would choose to fish for Splake are Utah and Maine, and I would fish in the spring in Maine and early in the season in Utah. The hybrids prefer water that is less than 60 degrees F., and will go into the deep water in the summer. It is really difficult to catch them on fly rod or light tackle that time of year. Splake fishing is a lake show and is best done with a tube if you want to catch them on a fly rod. They are fun, beautiful, and worth the effort.

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