Ultralight spinning tackle is ideal for catching stream trout, especially early in the season. With it you can present bait, lures, and flies to trout in all sizes of streams with all degrees of overhanging vegetation.
One of the most effective ways to catch spring trout is to use the real thing, live bait. Earthworms are probably the best all-around bait choice but salmon eggs, crayfish, live and preserved minnows, and large aquatic nymphs are excellent baits for taking stream trout. In recent years, the larvae of terrestrial insects, wax worms for example, have become popular and effective trout baits. Bronzed fine-wire hooks will keep the bait lively and natural.
Anglers fishing for trout with bait traditionally have fished and waded downstream. This will work when the water is up and roily, but I think you will be more successful if you don’t betray your presence by sending sand and silt ahead of you along with the surface ripples. You are also much more visible to the upstream facing browns and brookies.
Wading slowly upstream with long strides rather than short splashy ones and keeping a low profile will keep the trout unaware of your presence and increase your success. In almost all cases, the bait should be cast upstream and allowed to drift with the current at the same speed or just slightly slower than the flow.
Sometimes you will want to get above cover such as logjams and undercut banks and drift under them. You can accomplish this by sneaking up along the edge of the stream or on the bank. Stay low and tread lightly on the bank as footfalls send vibrations into the water that can spook the trout. Fishing from your knees will help you stay out of the trout’s view.
While it is important to keep your bait near the stream bottom, try to use as little weight as possible. You want your offering to be near but not on the bottom; it is better to err on the high side as the trout are usually looking forward and up. Too much weight causes unnatural drifts and too many hangups.
In some streams it is possible to avoid the use of a sinker altogether. If you anticipate the holding area and cast well upstream of it, your bait will be at eye level when it reaches the trout. If the current is quite slow or the bottom is especially cluttered with wood, rocks, or other snags, use a small float and suspend the bait up off the bottom.
In order to make the bait drift as naturally as possible, use the lightest line that you can employ and still land the trout. Pick a fine-diameter premium monofilament. Constantly check your knot strength and the line near the hook for abrasions. Clipping off the last foot or two and retying often is a good idea as it keeps your light line at maximum strength all the way out to the hook.
Reel in the slack as your bait drifts toward you and keep your rod tip fairly high. This keeps some of the line out of the water and makes it easier to detect strikes or subtle pickups. It also decreases the amount of belly in your line and thus facilitates setting the hook.
But spinning tackle isn’t just for bait fishermen. Casting small lures with ultralight spinning tackle is a great way to draw trout out of their shadowy lairs. Small, weighted spinners are probably the most versatile as they have action (spin) at very slow retrieves, sink quickly, and can be accurately cast into the nooks and crannies of the stream cover. Small, highly curved spoons, jigs, and diminutive crankbaits that imitate minnows and crayfish are fine lures for stream trout.
Accurate casting is a real key to catching trout in rivers, especially when fishing creeks and small streams. Trout usually are under cover and the closer you can swim your lure to their hideouts, the better your chance for a hookup. That being said, lures do draw trout out; it is important that you not try to get so close to the root wad or overhanging bush that you continually get hung up. Try to get as close as you comfortably and reliably can on the first cast and then try to get tighter on subsequent casts. That way you won’t spoil a good fishing spot by getting snagged on the first try.
The underhand pendulum cast is ideal for delivering your offering to the target. This cast keeps your lure low and in sight all the way to the landing spot. You can even make midair corrections during the cast. The under
hand approach also enables you to fish under overhanging vegetation and tends to land more softly.
In addition to representing possible food, lures also appeal to a trout’s curiosity. This is especially true of weighted spinners as they definitely look alive but don’t mimic any natural prey. Because of this attraction, it pays to cover lots of water when fishing lures. The more fishy spots you can flip your lure into, the more chances you will have in finding a cooperative trout.
Try to make your lure land upstream of the suspected holding area or cover so the retrieve will bring it past the waiting trout. Don’t worry if that is not always possible, such as just below a logjam, as the plop in the water next to a trout’s hideout can be the terrestrial dinner bell — a beetle or hopper landing in the water — that triggers a strike before you can even begin your retrieve.
Upstream casts followed by downstream retrieves help keep lures like spinners and spoons near the bottom. And they present the lure in a natural manner with the current. Cross-stream casts, especially in front of logjams or brush, are also great fish catchers when you can sneak into position to make them.
Changing lures to match the water and cover can pay dividends. Even though spinners are effective in all water types, sometimes switching to a larger or heavier spinner might be needed for a deep, fast run and vice versa. Changing the type of lure is sometimes a good plan as well. For example, if the flow in a long run is kind of slow, retrieving a minnow-imitating plug through it is a good idea. There the wild trout get a long look at the lure whereas they might not hit a spinner that really doesn’t look like any natural food.
If you have to cut and retie every time you change lures, you are likely to be reluctant to take the time unless a different lure is really needed. The solution is to use a small, black Duo Lock snap on the end of your line. A size 1 snap works for most situations and doesn’t seem to be noticed by the trout. You can move up to a size 2 if you expect to encounter large trout. No swivel is needed, even if you are fishing with spinners.
Just last summer I changed lures three times before I found the right one. There was a jumble of logs along the side of the stream in fairly deep water that absolutely reeked of a large brown trout. First, I retrieved a gold spinner along the logs several times with no action. Then I switched to a minnow plug and brought it alongside the cover, both with a steady retrieve and then with some twitches added to the presentation. Nothing!
Off came the plug and a 1/8-ounce jig, which was tied to imitate both a crayfish and a sculpin, went on the snap. I hopped it a couple of times along the bottom next to the logs. Suddenly a huge dark form slid out and grabbed the jig. The big trout really wanted to get back into its lair but somehow I was able to steer it away. After several tense minutes, I managed to slip the beautiful trout into my net.
At slightly more than 25 inches, it was the largest brown trout I had ever caught in that stream. I’m sure glad I changed lures until I found the right one!
You can also use the snap to change from a lure to live bait. Just pre-tie some hooks to leaders and tie a small snap on the other end. When you switch, you just need to clip the snaps together, add a split shot if needed, and you are ready to go. You can also make the quick change to flies as we will see.
Ultralight spinning tackle allows you to present flies in streams that are too small or brushy for conventional fly-casting. You accomplish that by using a spinning bubble or small clear float to provide the necessary weight to be able to deliver your fly to the target.
Since you are casting upstream and allowing your fly to drift down to you, it is best to tie the bubble on the end of your line and attach your fly with a dropper. That way the trout encounters the drifting fly before the bubble arrives. That is especially important when fishing dry flies. It is less necessary when you are drifting nymphs under the water. Then you can just fish the nymphs as you would live bait under a float.
A prime time for switching to a bubble and a fly is when you encounter a hatch and the trout seem to become totally focused on the hatching insects. Sometimes that also happens when large numbers of terrestrial insects such as beetles, ants, or grasshoppers are being blown onto the stream surface. To make the switch from lures, just replace the spinner or plug with the bubble and tie on the pre-tied leader and fly a couple of feet up from the bubble to your main line.
A 6- or 6 1/2-foot graphite rod designated with a light to ultralight weight and a limber tip make a great spinning rod for trout. You want the tip to be soft but the butt should have some backbone for setting the hook when fishing with lures. A high quality, fast-retrieve spinning reel is very important. A sturdy bail system is especially necessary since you will be making many short casts on each outing. In addition to the need of being very durable, the reel also needs to operate smoothly so that you can detect subtle takes.
As mentioned earlier, the right line is another important part of your equipment since you must cast tiny lures and light baits yet hold large trout out of the logs and brush. There are many premium quality lines available on the market today that have fine diameters and cast well.
But, you will sacrifice some abrasion resistance with them. So, in addition to constantly checking the terminal end for nicks and weakness, plan on changing your line after every five or six trips. The bottom 50 or so yards of line on the spool never get used, so just change the top 5
0 yards of working line. Just attach it to the "backing" with a blood knot when you put on fresh line.
Finally, remember that cover is the key to figuring out where the trout will be. Food is also a necessity for all trout but overhead protection seems to be even more important to stream trout. Solid cover is almost always preferred over water depth because often the water is too clear to hide the trout unless the surface is disturbed or riffled. Logs, undercut banks, tree roots, boulders, and overhanging vegetation all create hangouts for trout.