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Written By: Cal Kellogg, March 13, 2012
As I sit here peering out at my snow covered deck, contemplating the unseasonably cold March weather we’ve experienced my thoughts are centered on trout fishing. I enjoy trout fishing all year long, however my absolute favorite time for targeting the trout inhabiting our reservoirs is during the spring.
A number of different factors combine to make the spring a great time for chasing trout. For starters, spring trout are generally hungry and aggressive. Due to low surface temperatures the trout will be prowling in the top 20 feet of water, easily accessible without the use of downriggers or leadcore line. At many lakes trout planting gets underway in earnest during the spring. These spring planters join holdovers from plants in previous years, giving anglers plenty of potential customers for their lures. Finally, what could be more pleasant after a cold grey winter than cruising around an azure blue lake framed by brilliantly green hillsides on a sunny spring day?
Now that spring is officially upon us this is a great time to take a look at the basics of trolling for trout. Every year I get asked more questions concerning trout trolling than about any other species or technique. Some guys have purchased a boat after years of successful bank fishing and want to make the most out of their newfound mobility, while others have been trolling for years, but want to add a few new kinks to their repertoire.
One of the intriguing things about trolling is that it can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. Some anglers get no more complicated than knotting on a spinner and tossing it out behind their moving boat, while others invest thousands of dollars in specialized gear and electronics. Most of the successful trollers I know fall in between these two extremes.
Beyond a serviceable boat with a quality sonar unit and a good rod holder there are couple basic tools that every aspiring trout troller needs. Lets start with the rod and reel. Spinning tackle really shines when an angler has to do a lot of casting. Since trolling doesn’t require casting, a conventional set up makes the most sense. A good trolling rig consists of a 7 foot medium fast action rod rated for up to a half ounce of weight. The rod should be teamed with a high capacity high speed level wind reel. My favorite rig consists of a 7’ Lamiglas XPS 703 rod outfitted with a Shimano Corvalus CVL 200 reel loaded with 230 yards of 8 pound Maxima Tournament Silver monofilament. This rig does not over power pansize trout, yet offers plenty of muscle and line capacity for tangling with the big boys.
Once you’ve selected a trolling rig, it’s time to gather a collection of lures. A quick trip down the trout aisle at your local tackle shop will reveal a myriad of choices. I’ve long thought that all these choices tend to overwhelm anglers. Rather than randomly selecting lures that “might” appeal to trout, consider the prey that trout feed on and select your lures accordingly.
In most reservoirs minnows like threadfin shad, pond smelt, and chubs represent the primary forage items of trout. Small wobbling spoons such as Needlefish, Kastmasters, and Cripplures do a great job of imitating the movements of an injured baitfish. You’ll want to begin with colors that match that of the baitfish, but you’ll also want a few bright colored spoons to use when the water is stained or murky.
Spinners are another great trolling lure, especially when there is color in the water. Spinners put off vibrations that attract trout from a distance and help them key in on the lure when visibility is limited. Since I use spinners most often when the water is stained I like to go with bright colors.
A good selection of spoons and spinners will produce trout in the majority of situations, however there are a few other baits that are useful. For larger trout you’ll want to have a few minnow plugs between 2 and 4 inches in length. Natural finishes such as rainbow trout, perch, and black over silver are all proven producers.
Plastic grubs are relatively new on the trout fishing scene, but have proven to be highly effective, especially in situations that require an exceedingly slow presentation. I’ve always got some 2 inch Sep’s scented trout grubs with me when I plan on trolling. These grubs come in a wide selection of colors, are inexpensive, easy to use, and feature a seductive action that trout find hard to resist.
In addition to lures you’ll need a set of small Sep’s willow leaf flashers and couple small dodgers. When trout are playing hard to get these attractors can be the difference between success and failure. Flashers simulated the flash and vibration produced by baitfish, while the low frequency pulses put off by a dodger reproduce the sounds emitted by a feeding trout.
In terms of presentation most trout trolling is done between .8 and 2 miles per hour. An exception to this rule comes when using minnow plugs for big trout. Plugs produce the best result when trolled from 2.5 to 5 miles per hour.
A lot of trollers make the mistake of trolling at a constant speed while traveling in a straight line. Varying speeds while zig zagging results in more natural lure action and correspondingly more strikes. Another common mistake is trolling the lures too close to the boat. The boat creates commotion that momentarily spooks trout. As a result you want your lure trailing from 150 to 250 feet behind the boat. This way the trout have a chance to settle down before being confronted with your lure.
Bass anglers are well versed in exploring under water structure when searching for fish. I meet a lot of trout anglers that fail to consider structure while trolling and that is a mistake. Trout don’t orient to structure as strongly as bass do, but they do orient to it. Rocky points, creek channels, inflowing tributaries, shelves, and under water drop offs are all areas that should be explored by the trout troller. You’ll seldom find me out in the middle of the lake trolling open water. Instead I’ll be working near the banks exploring transition areas were trout hold and feed.
When a trout is caught don’t make the mistake a lot of anglers make and continue on your course. Instead, come back around and troll through the area again. You may have located a piece of structure that holds multiple trout. Many times I’ve trolled for an extended period of time without results, only to pick up several trout from an isolated area.
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