Sound And Fury
September 28, 2010
Hatchery trout planted in urban ponds need a taste of home: Use high-visibility baits with a familiar scent to turn tame trout into ferocious foragers. (February 2007)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt.
When it comes to catching trout, the toughest ones to catch are commonly the ones closest to metropolitan areas.
Each year, state wildlife departments stock tens of thousands of trout in urban lakes and ponds -- and many of these fish are never caught by trout anglers.
These are the same trout that anglers catch in high-mountain lakes, rivers and streams. In fact, they are raised in the same hatcheries. However, due to several factors facing anglers in these heavily urban impoundments, trout fishing here can be challenging.
Ironically, "fishing in a barrel" -- as many anglers refer to fishing the small park lakes -- requires a bit more skill than one might expect. It's not as easy as fishing in a trout farm.
It's a fact that the urban waters tend to be much smaller than lowland reservoirs, high-mountain lakes and streams. And here, the trout are confined to a tighter area and more heavily concentrated. On the other hand, birds like cormorants also tend to crop the population of stocked trout the moment they touch the water.
Cormorants are a protected species. They are obstacles you won't be able to control. Add that to the murky, off-colored conditions, and you'll need to employ special techniques to get the trout to bite.
Don't be discouraged. State stocking programs dump enough trout into urban waters that all anglers can succeed. They stock these trout so that inner-city residents, those living in urbanized districts and those in the suburbs can find viable fishing opportunities closer to home.
There are urban lakes, small park lakes and ponds that are stocked with trout in almost every major city on the West Coast, and also in smaller towns. They are planted from winter through spring when temperatures are sufficient to harbor trout. And by following a few tips, catching these trout won't be a chore.
In late February and March, heavy rainfall along the West Coast can add to the already poor visibility in most urban waters. The seasonal rains stir up sediment and can reduce visibility down to less than a foot. This is when you'll need to alter your techniques to find success. When water conditions are poor, it's more challenging for trout to find food. Finding ways to make it easier for them will help your success.
"What I do in those situations is go to colored patterns, and sometimes some pretty outrageous ones like chartreuse and yellow," said Berkeley's Buzz Ramsey, the director of the freshwater trout fishing division. "I know they show up better in more turbid water. Even glow-in-the-dark stuff can help them find it better. Even if you are plunking PowerBait, sometimes the colors make a big difference."
In brown- or tea-colored water, a standard rule to follow is to use yellow or chartreuse, so fish can see it better. Keep in mind that with visibility low, anglers will need to do all they can to help the trout in locating their bait. Using colors that appear better in low-visibility conditions is a great start.
When it comes to fishing urban waters, PowerBait has been a staple since the late 1980s. This is because you can plunk the bait and wait patiently for the trout to find it. It's an easy way to fish and doesn't take lots of skill. Ramsey believes it's more than productive when fished properly.
"When fishing PowerBait, you need to use a small enough hook with a large enough bait so the bait will float off the bottom. Cruising trout will find it," he noted.
The same can be said for salmon eggs. Since PowerBait came to the table, usage of salmon eggs has declined. In recent years, however, anglers are rediscovering this technique that's been around since the 1930s.
"The salmon egg has been catching fish for decades in the U.S. and anywhere there is trout, all over the world," says Tom Vander Mause of Atlas Mike's Bait. "They've been using them in Europe, too."
Salmon eggs can rival PowerBait and other dough baits in all waters -- as long as they are fished properly. But if your egg is sitting on the bottom in the mud, leaves and other muck found in most urban waters, your success would be limited.
"I think the biggest thing is that if the water is murky, you want to use the combination to get them off the bottom," Vander Mause noted.
Whether using Pautzke's Balls O' Fire salmon eggs, Siberian eggs or Atlas Mike's salmon eggs, there are only three ways to keep that egg from sitting on the bottom and out of the strike zone: a bobber, marshmallow or some type of Puff Ball.
When it comes to marshmallows, anglers can float a salmon egg with a Pautzke's Krillow, Siberian Glitter Mallows or Marshmallow, Atlas Super Scented Marshmallows or Mike's Glo Mallows.
"It gives it the egg buoyancy, but it also gives a scent into the water because these marshmallows are scented," Vander Mause added. "You have the natural egg scent and the scent from the marshmallow."
You don't have to add a marshmallow to find success, however. Anglers fishing salmon eggs can achieve that with a bobber.
"If the water is not moving, you have to move your bait. You can't just leave it on the bottom. Keep slowly retrieving it," explained Vander Mause. "With the bobber, you'll be able to cover a little more distance, and then you can just let it drift. It could vary, depending on the depth of the lake, but I'd want the egg to be 6 to 12 inches off the bottom. That can change from day to day, but usually the fish are near the bottom."
When fishing these waters with poor visibility, possibly the most important factor is scent. With the water being off-colored, trout have to work harder to find food. It's not as easy at it might be in a high-mountain water or lowland reservoir where cleaner water makes it easier for trout to find your worm, salmon egg, dough bait or cricket. In most urban waters, using scent will increase catch rates. Anglers can find success by smearing, soaking, pouring and injecting Berkeley Trout Dip, Smelly Jelly and Pautzke's Liquid and Gel Krill onto any bait or lure.
"Scent is what brings them the extra yard. You want to lead them right to where your bait is at," says Casey Kelley of Pautzke's Bait Company. "Those fish in urban lakes are plante
d trout. That's why a krill scent is so effective. These farm-raised fish have been eating krill from the time they were born. Once they are introduced to these urban waters, the krill is effective because it's a feed response that those fish remember from the time they were hatched."
To them, there's no scent more powerful than krill, and in that cloudy water scent is going to play a huge role in your success, said Kelley.
Ramsey of Berkeley agrees.
"Using scent helps them find it in more turbid water," he said. "And you want everything at your disposal to help give you the edge."
According to Ramsey, another mistake anglers make is fishing too deep. He believes that during the winter and spring, many trout prowl the shoreline searching for food at certain times of the day.
Fishing tight to the bank can yield surprisingly good results during lowlight hours.
"Trout will work the shore edges in morning and evening and during lowlight, especially when the lakes are turbid," he explained. "And as the sun comes up, I may go deeper because the sun may push them down. But if there's cloud cover, they'll stay shallow."
Some anglers believe that spinners, spoons and stickbaits aren't productive in off-colored water. That's not true. Nevertheless, the way you fish those baits can dictate your success. For example, if you are fast-retrieving those baits in urban waters, you'll likely compromise success. A slow retrieve will be more effective.
Another option is to choose a lure that has a rattle in it, or with blades that will bang into each other or stir up the water. These things can draw trout in the same way that flashers and dodgers attract trout when trolling.
"Make it easier for them to find," added Ramsey. "What I'd do if I were casting a lure is I'd use painted patterns and add scent. And I'd retrieve it slower, so I could give the trout a chance to find it and catch up with it. It's going to be much tougher for them to find the bait if the water isn't clear."