Photo by Barry and Cathy Beck
If you live in the Rockies or Adirondacks, there’s a good chance you’ve got wild trout and some true wilderness close by. Lucky you. As for the rest of us, spending a day on the stream might mean parking along the railroad tracks, hiking down under the power lines, and casting within eyeshot of the interstate bridge. Still, whether your local stream or river holds native fish or stockers, some tweaks to a classic trout producer and its strategic placement can score you bigger trout than worm dunkers will catch.
Whether stocked or wild, big browns and rainbows can be selective feeders. Sculpins and crayfish make up a large part of a big trout’s diet, though many anglers on smaller rivers and streams rarely cast lures that mimic these meals. A curly-tailed grub on a 3⁄8-ounce jighead is a decent start, but a few simple tweaks at the fly-tying bench can turn that jighead into a big-trout slayer.
Start by piercing a 3-inch bunny strip on the hook skin side down. White and black are good clear-water choices; neons, yellows, and oranges work well in stained water. Secure the strip behind the jig’s collar, then wrap in a few long strands of gold or silver tinsel. Next, lash a thick bunch of brown marabou to the collar, and follow that with one bunch of natural elk hair. Whip finish and coat the wraps with clear nail polish. You can swim this jig in moving water, but it shines when it’s slow-hopped in deep pools, effectively mirroring the action and profile of sculpins and crayfish. Small trout may just nip the bunny strip, but a big fish will inhale the whole thing. I’d be willing to bet the brutes in your community hole haven’t seen anything like it.
The Uglier, the Better
Trout fishing is synonymous with beautiful locations, as quiet woods and pristine waters add to the experience. Even streams that run through heavily populated areas usually have a few stretches in parks or away from town where the setting feels a bit more trouty. That’s typically where everyone goes, but the truth is the trout don’t care how pretty it looks above the surface. Some of the biggest browns I’ve ever caught in the suburbs have come from sections next to busy roads or behind the bowling alley, in spots with more tires in the water than a NASCAR pit. Anglers tend to snub these areas, but the trout generally get less pressure and often grow bigger as a result.—J.C.
“I live on a little trout stream where the average fish is maybe 9 inches. One night the river was a little high and I went down with my wife and son and our Lab. On the third cast in a deep hole with a streamer, something jerked the rod tip down. I landed a brown trout about 24 inches long. Glad I had some reliable witnesses, because my Lab lies about stuff all the time.”
—Tom Rosenbauer, noted trout expert and author, Manchester, Vt.
Photo by Brent Humphreys
1. Cold Water: Both stocked and native trout have been known to tolerate pretty high water temperatures, but colder is always better. Spring creeks maintain cooler temps year-round; well-shaded stretches of freestone streams can provide lower temperatures, even in summer. If your local streams get low after spring, find a topographical map and look for the stretches with the steepest elevations on each side, as less water-warming sunlight will hit them.
2. Oxygen: Native trout thrive in streams with high oxygen levels. Likewise, stockers are more likely to hold over in waters with good oxygenation, and a few key factors in producing it are water speed and how the current is broken. Riffles, plunge pools, bottlenecks, and waterfalls all help oxygenate water, especially if the bottom is rocky. A stream with good current in spring that turns into slow, featureless puddles in summer isn’t likely to house a local toad.
3. Bug Life: To survive, wild and native trout need aquatic insects. Stockers have a better shot at holding over in a stream with good bug life. Flip some rocks and check for stoneflies, or keep an eye out for emerging caddis and mayflies. If you find some, it doesn’t mean you have to flyfish, but it lets you know there could be some trout around willing to smack your favorite spinner or jig.