Early Season Options for Rainbow Trout
March 16, 2018
Winter is finally loosening its grip on the weather and it's time to hit the water for rainbow trout.
With the coming of April, anglers who are fans of rainbow trout begin to shake off the effects of cabin fever brought on by the long lethargy of winter.
The water conditions are often not ideal for fishing, but they do offer possibilities. So when we head to the streams, what are we likely to find and what are the tactics we'll need for some successful outings? Let's have a look.
While our expectations may be great when we finally get on the water in the spring, the weather and water conditions are not likely to be all that accommodating. We certainly can't expect to see warm, comfortable weather and ideal water levels and clarity. Such halcyon conditions are perhaps a month away and maybe even more.
The chances of finding the air filled with hatching insects this early are slim. But, either way, the temperature of the air and the water is most likely still going to be a bit on the cool side.
With regard to the colder water, that usually means the trout are going to be lethargic. Though they will feed, don't expect to find them in fast riffles. They much more are likely to be found skulking in the deeper holes and runs.
The other factor to consider is the amount of water in the stream. Whether the water originates from snow melt or from April showers, most creeks and rivers are going to be at their highest levels of the year at this time. And especially when the run-off is from melting snow, that water also is going to be just as cold as in the winter months.
The higher water can make finding the trout harder, while increased current running through pools makes getting to the fish more difficult.
Next, let's see how these conditions play out when you are trying to locate and catch the trout.
HOW THEY FEED
Though rainbow trout are ordinarily considered "riffle" fish, since they often feed in the broken water of shoals, colder water affects their behavior. As mentioned earlier, this translates to the fish moving into deeper parts of the stream.
Once there, the trout head to the bottom, where they remain, often in a state of virtual hibernation. They will feed, but you probably will have to sorely tempt them with a big morsel, and that bait, lure or fly has to be traveling slow and close to the fish.
Natural baits pegged to the bottom with a light sinker, spinning lures bumped along the bottom, and flies suspended under strike indicators just off the stream bed are the tactics needed for this fishing.
Also, look for obvious rock or log obstructions on the creek bottom. At this time of year trout are unlikely to be holding in the current and expending energy. They more likely are lying behind the current breaks to conserve that energy.
Finding those deeper waters that hold the rainbows might seem like an easy enough proposition. Just look for the slower areas of flow where the water obviously has some depth to it. The only problem with that is the high water so common in April.
This is when some local knowledge comes in handy. When run-off adds a foot or two of water to a run, it can become deep and slow. But unless it stays that way for a while, there is no guarantee that the trout move into the spot. These fish depend on age-old instincts for survival and they know their home waters. When it is time to go deep they most likely will head to the spot that is deep all the time, rather than one that suddenly appears due to high water.
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Fishing with natural baits is probably the easiest method for catching rainbows under April conditions. Still, there are a few things to keep in mind to improve your odds.
The type of water you plan to target is the most important thing with this style of fishing. Because the stocking season is just getting underway, hatchery-supported waters are an option. On these waters, cheese baits, corn and various pellet-style offerings where legal are usually effective for the fish that were recently in hatchery runs.
For wild trout, the choice of baits changes. Those rainbows are more likely going to bite a real earthworm, meal worm or cricket — something resembling what a trout would ordinarily see in its stream.
One thing to keep in mind is that rainbows depend on sight for much of their feeding. Thus, a little movement is good in attracting their attention. Having your bait simply lie on the bottom may work, but then again it may not.
Leave at least a foot to 18 inches of line between the weight and a light hook. The weight will keep the offering near the bottom, but if you put it where some current hits the bait, it can flutter up a few inches. That extra movement may be what convinces the trout to travel a foot or two to get an easy meal.
In many stretches, an even more effective tactic is to fish natural bait exactly like a nymph fisherman drifts his fly: with very little drag, letting the current move the bait before the trout naturally. The key is to start the bait from a place that will naturally cause the bait to reach the depth and spot where the fish is as the current moves the bait downstream.
Presentations to trout in April's high, colder waters with spinning lures are very dependent on two factors. First, the retrieve needs to be very slow. When you think you are bringing the lure in slow enough, slow down some more.
The other factor is getting down near the bottom. In fact, bumping the lure off the gravel and rocks of the stream bed is a good tactic.
Also, because of the effects of the current on retrieving a lure, you want to concentrate on the pools in the stream. Otherwise the drag of the moving water can speed up the action of the lure, making it too fast to interest the trout.
With regard to the type of lures to use, any that imitate a minnow can work. But you do want one that has a wobbling action even when being retrieved at very slow speeds. Although crayfish are not likely to be very active this early, the wobbling crawdad imitations are good because even slight movement imparts action to them.
If you opt for inline spinners, use the ones that have propellers on them. Those props tend to spin much better and dependably at slow speeds than the ones that have blades.
When the stream or river is running high and cold in April, it's not a time to apply a lot of finesse to your fly offerings. Giving the rainbows a real mouthful of food is more likely to provoke a strike than drifting a tiny midge a few feet from them.
As with lures, you want your fly moving at a very slow pace. When drifting it under a strike indicator, just make sure there is no drag on the indicator. You want the fly to match the speed of the water flow, not outrun it.
If you are stripping the fly, keep it as slow as possible and as deep as possible. That often entails making it a heavily weighted pattern. Wooly Buggers and streamer patterns are good options for stripping. As for dead drifting, stonefly patterns are good, since those bugs are on the bigger side and found in streams year 'round.
ROUNDING IT OUT
Regardless of your favored way to catch trout, in April's high, colder water, there is one tactic to which you need to adhere: Keep those offerings deep and moving slowly to attract more rainbow trout bites.