Yes, trout fishing is extraordinary fun even when the target is a 9-inch rainbow in a stream you can jump across. But, this year, we aim our strategies at bigger fish — way bigger fish! Big trout want bigger meals with lots of “meat” — baitfish, bigger baitfish, crawfish and even junior trout.
By Michael Pehanich
Your best bests for finding a fishery with lunker trout involves lakes or reservoirs as well as streams that reach oceans or very large lakes. These are the habitats that supply ideal foods for trout at each stage of their development — plentiful plankton and insects for fry, fingerlings and youngster trout, but also the forage fish that pack pounds on mature fish. Trout need easy pickin’s, too, to grow really huge and fat. Favored forage that is elusive forage forces a trout to expend more energy hunting for prey than he gains with its capture.
That’s why leeches and bottom-hugging forage like sculpin minnows and even crayfish have long factored into the diets of oversized trout and led to classic fly patterns like the Egg-Sucking Leech and Muddler Minnow variants.
When trout are feeding on emerald shiners, alewives, smelt and small trout, a wide range of jerkbaits, crankbaits and swimbaits can prove effective.
BROWNS AND BOTTOM BITES
In recent decades, the round goby has entered the Great Lakes and neighboring waters and proliferated in overwhelming numbers. Great Lakes smallmouth love gobies, as we well know, but, brown trout, lake trout and even salmon and whitefish have begun gorging on the goby population.
That trout feast on gobies should not be a surprise. Gobies bear a striking resemblance to sculpin minnows which have factored into trout meals for as long as the species have interacted. Both gobies and sculpins have evolved as bottom-dwelling species that hop and flit about but never stray far from the bottom.
Match the hatch with sculpins and gobies on almost any water where the species are prominent, and you have a shot at a big trout.
Sculpin fly patterns have a proven history. Goby interest has sparked new patterns like the Goblin, which gets much of its action from a rabbit fur component. Long casts with a sinking tip fly line will help get these flies down to the sculpin/goby zone. Of course, crayfish scuttle about in the same areas, and brown trout in particular savor this shellfish delicacy.
Bottom-bumping lures like tubes, jigs and blade baits can pass for a range of bottom creatures. But hardbaits may prove even more productive. Bottom-bumping crankbaits may not only imitate goby movement but create a “dust” trail that attracts trout attention.
Jerkbaits and small swimbaits imitating forage from fingerling to candy-bar sizes appeal to the cannibal instincts of trout. The trout colors in the new Rebel TD57 Tracdown Ghost Minnow line capitalize on such gluttony. LiveTarget’s Dace and Fry and Parr Trout series jerkbaits bear lifelike resemblance to the real things.
SHALLOW WATER BOTTOM BUMPING
You can often can find brown trout in relatively shallow when most other trout are miles from shore. Water temperature dictates how long trout will remain within shoreline reach. Spring and fall will find trout for extended stretches in relatively shallow water with water temperatures in the 40s and mid-50s. But browns often hold at shallower depths far deeper into the season — well after most shore fishermen and shoreline boat anglers have given up the chase.
Browns are relatively temperature tolerant. They often remain shallow and enjoy a shallow sculpin or goby banquet for weeks after other trout have moved offshore.
“I call it the ‘super shallow’ bite,” says Rob Wendel (www.greatlakeskayakangler.com), who works as guide, trout and salmon specialist on the Hobie pro staff. “Most Great Lakes and big-water trout fishermen won’t fish relatively shallow water after early spring. Before water reaches 60 degrees, most have flown off to water 20 feet and deeper. The truth is, you can find brown trout near Lake Michigan harbors, river mouths and shoreline areas 12 months of the year. That’s the case in other large deep lakes as well.”
Wendel looks for areas where gobies might abound, generally a bottom littered with objects.
“I look for rocks, boulders, mussel beds, broken concrete and pilings, and rip rap,” explains Wendel. “Anywhere you find crayfish there will be gobies, too.”
Wendel generally trolls promising areas first from one of his Hobie Pro Angler kayaks, long-lining 2 3/4-inch Berkley Flicker Shads so that they bump bottom. “The subtle action of the Flicker Shad is key, especially in cold water,” he said.
Goby hues are best.
“Anything gold, brown, or dark green,” said Wendel, who has a 26-pound brown to his credit. “But I’ve used purples, too.”
The pedal-operated Hobie Mirage Drive enables him to vary his speed and impart surges and pauses to his bait.
“I start trolling along the outside of an area where I suspect concentrations of gobies to be — outside of jetties, over rocks and boulders,” he said. “Trout are notorious for following baits, so the ability to make quick changes in speed gets you a lot of bites…. When I hit a couple of fish, I stop and cast. Sometimes I will cast right up to the shoreline.”
Shore fishermen can take advantage of many of these locations as well.
“Align yourself to fish as parallel as you can to the objects coming out,” Wendel advised.
THE STEALTH ADVANTAGE
Trout are easy to spook in stream and still water settings. That’s why wading anglers are always advised to tread carefully along stream bottoms with felt-soled waders. Sound transmits more rapidly in water than it does in air, and fish are highly sensitive to any sound or movement that triggers their internal alarm.
But anglers tend to forget the innate skittishness of trout when they hop in a boat, and they miss many catchable fish as a result.
Kayaks and small electric-powered craft offer extreme advantage over outboard-powered boats, particularly in clear water where fish are apt to detect you before you can put lures within their reach.
Kayaks that offer hands-free fishing opportunity deliver huge advantage over most other craft when it comes to shallow water stealth, even when “shallow” means 20 feet deep. Hobie pioneered foot pedal kayak control with its Mirage Drive, which now offers both backward and forward mobility.
Other kayak makers offer pedal drives today as well. Torqeedo, German manufacturer of advanced electric outboards, offers a 1 HP lithium battery-powered Ultralight 403 motor for kayaks, which allows a quiet, hands-free trolling option and boat control while casting — a handy feature, particularly when wind, waves or current challenge the effort.