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“Artificial lures only” is the rule on many trout waters, and this proven selection of spinners, spoons and flies will do the trick.
Not so long ago, the universal favorite bait of early-season trout fishermen was a fat, wriggling garden worm, but an increasing number of anglers now start their season (by choice or by law) with a lure or fly on the end of the line.
The following lures are guaranteed to draw strikes no matter where you hang your fishing hat:
Stocked trout find an in-line spinner with a weighted shank irresistible, but holdovers also stir when a flashing blade swings through their home pool.
The major challenge in fishing with spinners in spring is choosing the proper lure. If your spinner is too light, it will pass overhead and out of reach of bottom-hugging trout. A spinner that’s too heavy, or one that is retrieved too slowly, will hang up on the rocks or fail to function properly. The only solution is to bring a full size assortment and experiment until you start getting strikes.
All the good spinner fishermen I know cast straight upstream or up and across, depending on the speed and depth of the current and the configuration of the pool. Retrieve downstream just fast enough to keep the blades whirling and avoid snags.
By the way, it’s easy to modify a treble-hooked spinner to fit local regulations. Either replace the treble with a single hook or snip off two of the three hook points supplied with the lure.
When creeks are swollen with spring runoff, try an unweighted spinner sweetened with a piece of worm (where legal) and drifted along the bottom with enough split shot added to keep it there.
To prepare this rig, knot a lightweight spinner with one or two Colorado-style blades to 4-pound-test monofilament. Then, put a small garden worm or a piece of night crawler on the hook up to the bend, and then pinch from one to three split shot on the line about 10 inches above the lure. Where bait is forbidden, a swatch of squirrel hair can be lashed to the hook in place of the worm.
Flip the rig up and across the current, and hold the rod high to feel the lure ticking on the rocks. The slightest tug calls for a quick hook-set.
Spoons come in a wide variety of shapes, weights and sizes, but the best choices in the early part of the trout season are heavy, compact and no more than an inch long. Spoons are best fished up and across the stream. Spoons draw more strikes if they’re reeled in fitful stops and starts.
In clear water, realistic hues draw the most strikes, but a spoon, which is silver on one side and fluorescent green or orange on the other, will get more attention from fish in muddy currents. Don’t overlook the classic red-and-white wobbler either, particularly on sunny days.
Spoons are at their best in medium-speed currents where they can be retrieved slowly without causing them to whirl in unnatural manners.
A floating or diving plug with a slim body, subtle action and a good paint job bears an uncanny resemblance to a fingerling trout or a shiner minnow.
My first choice in stickbaits is one with a black-and-gold finish, but other anglers swear by a rainbow trout pattern, even in creeks that hold only other trout species.
Because they perform best in slow water, stickbaits can be cast upstream or down with equal effect. In either case, the lure should be retrieved with erratic stops and starts. Often as not, the strike will come when you’ve just stopped reeling and the lure begins to rise in the water like a wounded, dying minnow.
Few anglers jig for trout – probably because the rocky bottoms in many trout streams makes conventional jigging difficult – yet a good friend who loves to explore backwoods creeks with ultra-light spinning gear swears a jig is the best trout lure of all.
My friend hangs a small jig below a Styrofoam float so that the lure drifts at current speed a few inches above the rocks. He moves the float up or down his line to make his jig swim at the proper level.
The jigs that he favors weigh 1/32 to 1/16 ounce and are sometimes marketed as “teardrops” or “ice flies.” Where legal, he tips his jigs with a waxworm, mousie grub or some other tiny tidbit.
Small jigs are best suited to clear creeks with moderate currents.
HARE’S EAR NYMPH
Turn over a couple of rocks in one of your local streams to see what lies beneath. Chances are most of those little what-not will bear at least a fair resemblance to a wet, scruffy No. 14 Hare’s Ear nymph. The Hare’s Ear looks a little like most sub-aquatic organisms, from mayfly and stone fly nymphs to caddis larvae and scuds.
My recipe for a gold-ribbed Hare’s Ear nymph includes a short tail of brown hen hackle fibers, a dubbed abdomen and thorax of mixed gray, brown and black fur from the head of a European hare, thin oval gold wire for ribbing, and a slip of dark gray duck primary feather for a wing case. To simulate legs, I pick out a bit of the thorax fur with a dubbing needle.
You can weight the fly to fish deep or tie the Hare’s Ear on a light wire hook to mimic a mayfly or caddis emerger drifting just below the surface. For variety, use hare fur dyed olive or rusty brown, or substitute copper wire for gold.
Where the law allows, fish the Hare’s Ear along the bottom by pinching one or two BB shot on the leader about 18 inches above the fly.
The gold-ribbed Hare’s Ear is an excellent choice for fly-rodders when winter runoff flows are receding and water temperatures are in the high 40s or warmer. It’s also a good bet for dredging bottom in colder flows.
Designed back in the 1960s, the Wooly Bugger is now a fixture in the catalogs of every major fly tackle distributor. The fly is basically an old-fashioned Wooly Worm with the addition of a marabou feather for a tail. My favorite color pattern includes a black marabou tail, an olive chenille body and black hackle palmered over the chenille.
A bugger resembles nothing in nature when it’s perched in a vise, but when it is soaking wet and on the move, it truly comes alive. Depending on hook size and how it’s weighted and retrieved, it can mimic a minnow, crayfish, leech or aquatic insect.
In high or off-color water, I lean toward the crayfish presentation. I pinch a small split shot on the leader about one-half inch ahead of the fly. I cast across and slightly upstream, let the fly sink for a second or two, and then initiate a darting, hopping retrieve by simultaneously stripping line and raising and lowering my rod tip.
If leader weights are illegal, simply tie your buggers with a black or copper-colored metal bead at the eye of the hook. The bead head will facilitate a darting crayfish retrieve.
The best time to use a Wooly Bugger is after a warm spring shower has roiled a stream.
STREAMER AND TRAILER
Hatchery trout are instinctively drawn to flashy lures, meaty-looking streamers and other mouthfuls, but they have a hard time catching up to anything that swims on its own.
To counter this, I tie a 12-inch length of 5X tippet material to the bend of the all-black Wooly and then knot a small, bright wet fly (such as a Royal Coachman) to the free end of the dropper.
I’ve pulled this same trick many times since on stocked waters using a variety of flashy patterns.
Every stream I’ve ever sampled contains at least a few green-bodied caddis, and in many rivers they are a trout’s daily special.
The Green Rock Worm patterns I use actually represent a couple of so-called “free-living” caddis species. These larvae don’t build portable houses for themselves but instead crawl among rocky crevices and clumps of vegetation on stream bottoms.
My version of a Green Rock Worm is tied on a no. 12 or 14, 2X long nymph hook. It has an abdomen of bright green dubbing, a small head of dark brown fur and a few wisps of grouse feather for legs.
BLUE-WING OLIVE DRY
As soon as spring water temperatures rise into the high 40s or low 50s, trout start to feed on the surface. The first major hatches of the season in most waters across the country are some species of olive bodied, dusky-winged mayflies. The size of these insects varies from stream to stream, but if you come prepared with an assortment of Blue-Wing Olive dry patterns on no. 14 to 18 hooks, you’ll be in good shape.