Early-Season Trout Tactics

Prepare for less than prime fishing conditions when trout season first opens.

Early-season trout fishing can be rigorous when the weather doesn't cooperate, which is fairly often at northern latitudes in the United States. An ideal springtime trout fishing day opens with sunny skies before transitioning to a cloudy afternoon that promises to make the trout less spooky as they feed in relatively warm water. As fishing goes, however, you can't always get what you want.

High, murky flows are what springtime anglers frequently find. "S-L-O-W" is the keyword in lure presentation in these conditions, using lures that have good action at very slow retrieve speeds. The flash and vibration created by weighted spinners with broad, flat, French-style blades are especially good spring trout lures.
Photo by Jim Bedford.

Even though browns, rainbows and brookies are coldwater fish, water temperatures can often be too cold early in the season for lively fishing action. Trout will still bite when the stream temperatures hover in the 40s, but they will be much more active when the water warms above 50 degrees.

Remember, too, small streams warm faster than large rivers, and you'll generally find the best trout activity in early spring in small streams. Pick a feeder creek to your favorite river, rather than the mainstream flow, and you'll often discover its best fishing takes place in the afternoon. However, if your only time to fish after a cold night is in the morning, the big river will likely hold warmer water than its smaller tributaries.

High, murky flows are what springtime anglers frequently find, too. That's one more reason to pick small streams this month. Creeks clear more rapidly than larger flows and are easier to negotiate in your waders when high. And many trout fishermen find creeks easier to read, leading to make more productive presentations no matter the method of your fishing.

Whether your preferred method of trout fishing is drifting baits, casting lures or flinging flies, presentation in cold spring trout streams is important. Foremost, remember that trout will be holding in the slower water of the stream or creek. That improves your opportunities to give the fish a long look at your offering. The slower your lure, fly or bait is moving, the better your chance for a hookup.

Using live bait is one of the most popular and effective ways to catch spring trout. Many anglers find night crawlers among the best all-around choice of baits for early-season fishing. Others do well with wax worms, minnows, redworms, wigglers (Hexagenia mayfly nymphs) and -- especially, if spring spawning rainbows are present in your chosen stream -- salmon eggs.

In almost all cases, cast your bait upstream and allow it to drift with the current at the same speed or slightly slower than the flow. It is important to keep your offering near the stream bottom, but try to use as little weight as possible to achieve this. A sinker that is too heavy will cause an unnatural drift and result in frequent hangups. In small, relatively shallow streams, you can usually avoid the use of split shot completely. Anticipate the likely holding water and cast well upstream of it. The 'crawler will be at eye level when it reaches the trout. Keep in mind, too, that baits do not have to be on the bottom -- just near it.

While many bait-fishermen fish and wade downstream, they'll usually catch more trout when they turn around, wade and fish upstream. Stream trout always face the current. Fish downstream and trout will often sight you. You'll also send them signals that "something's up" when they encounter the silt, noise and surface ripples you simply cannot avoid creating when wading. Cast your 'crawler or other bait upstream past the suspected lair and let the current bring it back to you. Keep your rod tip up and slowly reel in the slack to detect any pause in the drift.

Experiment with leader lengths up to 3 or 4 feet, depending on the strength of the current (long lengths for strong flows). Use fine-wire circle hooks. Circle hooks typically lodge in the corner of the trout's jaw, reducing (or eliminating) injuries caused by hooks of other designs. When handled carefully and immediately released, a trout caught on a circle hook is much more likely to survive. This is especially important for small trout and for fish where length limits are enforced.

Small lures are very effective for taking early-season trout. Because S-L-O-W" is the keyword in lure presentation in springtime's cold waters, it is important to fish lures that have good action at very slow retrieve speeds. The flash and vibration created by weighted spinners with broad, flat, French-style blades are especially good spring trout lures.

Accurate casting is always important when fishing lures for stream trout, but accuracy carries even more weight early in the season. Trout will not move far in the chilly water to intercept or chase a lure. Muddy or stained water also lowers their ability to see the lure.

In addition to representing food, flashy lures also appeal to the trout's curiosity. It pays anglers dividends to cover a lot of the stream. Present the lure often and with broad coverage upstream of holding areas and cover so that many trout will see your spinner as you retrieve the lure downstream.

You can also tease sluggish trout to bite. Sneak up even with, or slightly beyond, the likely holding area when the stream size and water turbidity allow you to stay undetected. Cast the lure across the stream, let it sink a bit, and sweep it in front of the trout. The sudden increase in lure speed can entice a fish to strike, especially when presented close to trout.

Ultralight spinning rod-and-reel combos are ideal outfits for both bait- and lure-fishing for early-spring stream trout. I prefer a rod a bit longer -- 6 to 6 1/2 feet -- than the more common 5-foot lengths to make casting and line control easier. And spinning reels of high quality should be used -- those with a sturdy bail system to support the many short casts you'll make each outing. High-quality reels also operate smoothly and easily in cold weather.

Fly-anglers who think "big meal" when fishing early in the season can often make better catches than those who look to small fly patterns for their action with the long rod.

Warm spring afternoons may bring on some insect hatches, but trout still feed most of the time near the bottom. Bright streamers fished slowly in slower flows of your favorite stream draw strikes from lethargic -- but hungry -- browns, brookies and rainbows. Drifting large, buggy nymphs will also entice coldwater trout to put a bend in your fly rod. As

with lures, upstream presentations with downstream retrieves help drive streamers and big nymphs along the stream bottom. Quarter your cast across and upstream, too, and sweep your streamers downstream in front of trout stationed in slow water near current lines.

Staying comfortable when stream fishing for early-season trout can be a challenge. Choose your clothing wisely and you'll enjoy your outing.

Smart wading anglers use lightweight breathable chest waders. These are typically constructed of a Gore-Tex type of material. Layer your clothing under the waders as necessary for the cold you plan to encounter. For many, breathable boot-foot waders provide more room for layering socks than do stocking-foot waders. However, you can also choose neoprene stocking-foot waders and quality wading boots with a strong toe for toe space, and plenty of room at the sides and the uppers for layering, to keep your feet warm. Just don't pull your boot-strings down tight. Doing so constricts the booties around your feet.

Spring is upon you! No matter how you prefer to catch trout, celebrate the season now by chasing up the browns, brookies and rainbows in the warming waters of your favorite trout stream or river.

Get Your Fish On.

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