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Written By: Cal Kellogg, March 13, 2012
Have you heard about the latest trout spinner? It looks a lot like the venerable Wedding Ring, but the beads are made of metal and the spinner blade is constructed from a stiff piece of leather? No. Well that’s not too surprising since I just made it up 30 seconds ago. I'm just trying to have a little fun with ya!
When I speak about metal and leather in reference to trout fishing I’m talking about spoons, spinners and boot leather as in hiking boots. I think hiking and plugging is one of the most underutilized approaches to catching trout here in Northern California and yet it is one of the most enjoyable ways to go during the spring and fall.
At these times of the year, mild weather make for pleasant hiking, while cool water temperatures pull trout to the top of the water column and near the shoreline. At these times there is no denying the effectiveness of soaking bait from the bank, but for the angler that doesn’t have the patience or the desire to set watching a rod for hours on end, hiking and casting offers great rewards.
When you think about the reservoirs that dot the Norcal foothills almost all of them offer superb access for the angler that wants to walk the banks in pursuit of trout. When you’re out hiking the banks of a lake you have the opportunity to explore and get some exercise, that’s a given. But you’ll also get to engage your predatory instincts.
Without the aid of sonar, you’ll have to scan the shoreline and deduce where the trout may be holding or are likely to be concentrated. Can you see trout jumping? If so you’ll want to present your lure just under the surface. Where are the mergansers or other minnow eating birds? Their presence may tip off the location of baitfish and the trout that are feeding on them in the depths.
The first step is a successful metal and leather trout attack doesn’t come in the form of a physical step. Rather it involves doing a bit of homework before your outing to deduce the area that offers the best opportunity for finding trout. In general you want to work an area that features an irregular shoreline with ready access to deep water.
If you know the lake you plan to fish well, you’ll already have an idea of where to find such areas and you can dispense with this first step. If you are hitting an unfamiliar lake or a part of a lake you’ve never visited you’ll want to take a little time and identify some areas using a topographic map that feature irregularities adjacent to deep water.
You don’t want to spend your time working shallow flats or long featureless sections of bank. You need deep water close to shore, because it is deep water that gives the trout a sense of security. Sure the fish may be holding just under the surface, but they want to know that if danger presents itself they can drop into the safety of the depths at a moments notice.
Okay, the depth requirement makes sense, but what does an irregular shoreline do for you? Two things…First if given the opportunity trout, just like stripers or any other predator prefer to hem their forage up against solid structure if possible. If a trout can crowd minnows up against a boulder or rocky point, it cuts down on their potential escape routes and makes catching breakfast a lot easier.
Secondly, features like points, shelves, bluffs, rock piles, creeks entering the lake and narrows tend to concentrate the movements of trout. Anyplace where you can find gamefish concentrated is a place that offers a high percentage chance of hooking them. I spend a lot of time trolling these types of features from a boat, but I learned how effective working bottlenecks, narrows and other features can be back in my bank plugging days long before I ever owned a boat.
Very often when I’m trolling, if I spot a creek entering the lake, I’ll pull in the gear and position the boat to make a few casts into the inflowing water with a spinning rod. The temperature change and food introduced by inflowing water is a major draw for trout, so when an opportunity to probe such an area presents itself, I have a hard time passing it up. As good as inflowing creeks can be for the plugger working from a boat, they are even better for shore anglers since while working from the shore you can probe every sector of the current from the surface to the bottom insuring that any trout holding in or near the current will see you offering multiple times.
Tackle requirements for shore plugging are pretty simple. I like to use a light fast action spinning rod with a sensitive tip that is between 7 and 8 feet long. The rod should be rated for line in the 4 to 10 pound range. The length of such a rod, allows you to make long casts, which can be important when confined to the bank.
You’ll want to team the rod with a reel spooled with 6 or 8 pound fluorocarbon line. Fluorocarbon is nearly transparent to fish. When the trout are wary, fluorocarbon will enable you to get more strikes. The reel doesn’t need a huge line capacity, but you’ll want at least 100 yards of line just incase. Trout have soft mouths, so a smooth reliable drag is key when it comes to landing larger trout.
Next in line of importance to your rod is a pair of comfortable hiking boots and some sort of pack for carrying your lures, camera, snacks, water and other essentials. I have a good size fanny pack that works well for me, but I’ve utilized daypacks too. A fanny pack is easier to access than a daypack when you want to change lures or make other adjustments.
The lures you choose to carry represent the place where the rubber meets the road for the trout hiker. For starters you need to keep your selection fairly small since you’ll be carrying them and space is at a premium. Yet you’ll need to have enough options to meet all the challenges you are likely to encounter out on the water.
Metal lures like spoons and spinners are at the heart of the shore caster’s lure arsenal. Some anglers prefer spinners over spoons and have great confidence in them. I’m just the opposite, I rely on my spoons about 90% of the time, but I do carry a spinner or two, to cover all the bases.
Most spoons designed exclusively for trolling are thin and light. This gives them a great fluttering action, but their lightweight makes them a poor choice for the plugger. For shore fishing you want a dense spoon that you can cast long distances. Such a spoon will also sink quickly when you’ve got to get them down into water that is 15 or more feet deep.
My go to spoons are Cripplures, Kastmasters and Krocodiles. All these spoons cast like bullets, sink quickly and display a lot of action. The Cripplure has a unique side-to-side rolling action while the Kastmaster and Krocodile have a more traditional side-to-side swimming action.
Over the years I’ve found Thomas Bouyants to be highly effective when working areas that feature inflowing water. These spoons are not as dense as the others I’ve mentioned, so they sink slower. They also have a big back and forth wobble when reeled slowly. This adds up to a lure that won’t drag the bottom if the water is shallow where the creek enters the lake and since these lures work so well at low speeds they stay in the strike zone much longer than most other spoons
I carry spoons in three basic color schemes, chrome, brass and firetiger. When the water is clear and the conditions are sunny, chrome offerings are typically the most effective. On overcast days or at dawn and dusk, brass offerings get the nod. When the water is stained or when the fish are simply being quirky firetiger often works well.
In addition to my spoons I also carry a chrome Blue Fox spinner, a yellow Panther Martin spinner with a gold blade and couple 3 inch Rapalas in rainbow trout and black/silver. True, Rapalas aren’t made of metal, but they are offerings no trouter can afford to be without.
A shore angler that does his homework will be fishing fairly specific areas that offer a high probability of holding trout. When it comes to actually fishing these spots you’ll want to be thorough and systematic.
As you face the lake there is 180 degrees of water in front of you. You want to systematically fan cast all that water first working your lure just under the surface. Then you want to work the area again and again while counting the lure down ever deeper. This way you’ll cover all the water available. When you start getting hit you’ll be able to establish a pattern of how deep the fish are cruising, the type of structure they favor and the distance they are holding from the shore.
When working structure like boulders, rock piles or points, be sure to work these features from all possible angles to ensure that any fish holding on them are exposed to your lure multiple times.
As far as tackle and technique are concerned we’ve covered just about everything. On the water experience will help you establish your own personal favorite destinations, types of structure and lures. No matter what type of fishing we are talking about confidence is the key to success and confidence is built on the water.
Working our foothill reservoirs when the weather is mild and you are footloose and free, unencumbered by boat or folding chair is a unique and rewarding opportunity. I hope you’ll find the time to take advantage of it this spring. I guarantee that it will put trout fishing in a whole new perspective.
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