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Written By: Cal Kellogg, March 13, 2012
When the water temperature is cool and the trout move into the shallows, soaking PowerBait or an inflated worm from the bank using a sliding sinker rig can be a deadly effective approach. While this bottom fishing strategy produces tens of thousands of trout for West Coast anglers every year, it is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to effective shore fishing tactics.
While trout do a lot of their foraging near the bottom there are times when they move up in the water column to feed. One of the most effective tools anglers can add to their arsenals to deal with these situations is the slip bobber.
Slip bobbers have been popular in Europe for decades, but anglers in the United States are just discovering how effective they can be. As its name implies a slip bobber has the ability to move up and down the line and there in lies a large measure of the bobber’s effectiveness.
The system works like this, the spinning rod’s line is passed through a small plastic sleeve that has a pre-tied string knot attached to it, known as a bobber stop. Once on the line the string knot is slid off the plastic tube and snugged down tight on the monofilament. The plastic tube is slid back off the line and discarded. Next a bead is slid onto the monofilament followed by a slip bobber. After that a swivel is tied to the end of the main line and one or more split shot are place an inch or two above it. Finally an 18 inch 4 to 6 pound fluorocarbon leader tipped with a hook is tied to the swivel. Once you’re finished what you end up with is a rig that has the ability to fish a bait at virtually any depth without compromising casting distance. For example, let’s say you are fishing on a bank that drops off into deep water. Since the water temperature is in the low 50’s you suspect that the trout are cruising 15 feet deep over 35 feet of water about 50 feet offshore.
Using a standard sliding sinker rig these fish would be difficult if not impossible to catch, but with the slip bobber rig you simply slide the bobber stop up the line to a point 15 feet above the hook. Since bobber stop is made out of string, it is soft and you can reel it right onto the spool of your reel and cast without it hanging up on the eyes of the rod. After reeling the bobber up to within a few inches of the rod tip, bait the hook and cast the rig out to the area where the trout are. When the rig hits the water the split shot will take the bait down, pulling line through the bobber. Once the bait reaches the desired depth the bobber stop and bead wedge against the top of the bobber and the bait is left suspended 15 feet below the surface right in the suspected strike zone of the trout.
Most baits such as night crawlers, meal worms, salmon eggs and even crickets work well when used with slip bobbers. On the other hand buoyant baits such as dough bait and marshmallows should be avoided. When these baits float upward they inevitably wrap around the main line and create tangles.
In lakes and reservoirs where it is legal to use them 1 to 3 inch minnows are absolutely deadly. A frisky minnow will draw strikes from all species and sizes of trout from 10 inch planter rainbows to massive hook jawed browns.
I like to go with an octopus hook when using minnows because they have a wider bite than bait holders that result in a higher percentage of hooked trout. There are a couple of different ways to hook minnows. The classic rigging calls for them to be pinned lightly through the back near the dorsal fin. The alternate method is to hook them through the lips upward from bottom to top.
I’ve found that lip hooked minnows not only live longer and swim more vigorously, but they also result in more hookups. When compared to other minnow eaters like bass and crappie, trout have relatively small mouths. Unlike bass that inhale a minnow, trout typically grab a minnow and then turn it in preparation for swallowing it head first. Lip hooking minnows ensures that the trout will have the hook well inside its mouth when the hook is set.
You can’t rush the hook set when using minnows. If the water is in the middle 50’s the trout will typically grab the minnow and make a hard run. When this happens you’ll want to feed the trout line for about a 15 count before making your move, to allow the trout to get the minnow turned. When he water dips into the 40’s the trout typically won’t run vigorously. Instead, your bobber will slowly pull beneath the surface. Many times it will only descend a few inches and then stop. You’ve got to resist the temptation to set the hook or tighten the line. When the trout are sluggish due to cold water you might have to let them mouth the minnow for a minute or more to ensure they get the bait turned and well back in their mouth.
The primary forage for trout in many of the west coast’s lakes and reservoirs are open water baitfish in the form of threadfin shad and Japanese pond smelt. When trout are actively feeding and chasing bait, very good results can be achieved while fishing lures. While lures can catch some trout at anytime of the day and under almost any conditions, the best action typically occurs during low light periods such as early and late in the day or when the sky is overcast. One of the big cues to tie on a lure is when trout can be seen jumping, splashing and pursuing minnows.
The best lures for shore anglers that want to imitate minnows are without a doubt wobbling spoons. There are a ton of different spoons on the market, unfortunately for the bank fishing enthusiast many of them were designed exclusively for trolling and are too light for casting. In an emergency these light spoons can be used with split shot clamped on the line for extra weight, but this is a makeshift solution. It is much better to lay in a small supply of heavier spoons that cast well.
My all time favorite casting spoons are Cripplures and Kastmasters. These lures have very complimentary actions and you’ll find quite a few of them in my bank fishing tackle. The Cripplure has a unique side to side rolling action that virtually screams injured baitfish. The Kastmaster flies through the air like a bullet, hence the name. When the Kastmaster hits the water it has a traditional side to side kicking action. The Cripplure only comes in one size. The Kastmaster comes in a wide range of sizes I’ve found the 1/8 and 1/4 ounce model to be the most effective, but I usually have a few 1/2 ouncers kicking around too.
Fishing spoons is pretty straight forward, but there are some special kinks that can be incorporated into your repertoire that will result in a few bonus trout every year. Trollers score with spoons and other lures by covering as much ground as they can. The shore caster also needs to cover as much water as possible, but with a very different philosophy. When trollers talk about covering water they are usually referring to distance. For the bank plugger covering water mean covering the available water thoroughly.
The first rule of plugging from the bank is to fan cast. This means that you don’t want to stand on the bank casting methodically to the same spot. Facing the lake you have access to a 180 degree arch of water and you should cover it methodically. Begin by making a cast nearly parallel to the shoreline to the right or left. Make the next cast a yard or two farther out into the lake and proceed until you’ve covered the entire arch. On the first time around the arch begin retrieving a second or two after the spoon hits the water. The next time around count the spoon down before starting the retrieve. Using this method both near shore and offshore water will be covered and a range of depths will be explored as well.
In terms of retrieve speed, it is usually best to start out working fairly briskly. If a fast retrieve isn’t working, gradually slow down until you find a speed the trout respond to. Working spoons with a steady retrieve will catch fish, but speeding up, slowing down and adding the occasional twitch will give the impression of an injured baitfish, drawing more strikes.
What color lures to use is often a point of much confusion and second guessing for anglers. Once again my approach is systematic. I begin with natural colors that match the shad and smelt the trout feed on. If those colors fail to produce I start experimenting with bright offerings. Chrome, chrome and blue, gold, brass, brass and red, brass and orange and firetiger have been the most consistent spoon colors for me over the years.
I do a large percentage of my plugging with spoons, but spinners can be effective too. Spinners don’t really mimic baitfish the way spoons do, but they put out a lot of vibration and this accounts for a good deal of their effectiveness. There are a number of different spinners on the market that have well earned reputations for tempting trout including Panther Martins, Roostertails, Mepps and Blue Foxes.
As with spoons you’ll want a selection of 1/8 and 1/4 ounce models. I don’t believe that color is as critical with spinners as it is with spoons, but I still adhere to the natural colors, followed by bright colors strategy. The casting pattern and varied retrieve that is used with spoons should be employed while fishing spinners too.
Spoons and spinners will tempt trout of all sizes, but if you are in the market for a true heavyweight be it a big brown or a trophy rainbow, minnow plugs will put you on the road to Monsterville. Minnow plugs come in a big selection of sizes from tiny 1 inchers to really large models that are 6 to 7 inches in length. The really small ones do a good job imitating small baitfish. However, they tend to be light and don’t cast very well. In general, if your goal is to imitate small baitfish, you’re better off using spoons.
To get the most out of minnow plugs you want a selection of 3 and 4 inch baits. Big trout, say those 4 pounds and larger certainly eat a lot of minnows, yet if a plump trout, squawfish or chub shows up when a trophy trout is in a feeding mood it will seldom pass up a big meal.
For years Rapala minnow plugs were synonymous with big trout. Rapalas remain a top producer, but these days there are other manufacturers vying for the attention of both trout and the anglers that pursue them. In reality some of the best new baits are suspending rip baits designed for bass fishing. It didn’t take bass anglers long to discover that these baits are not only deadly on bass, but they catch their share of hefty trout too.
The well heeled minnow plug aficionado’s lure selection will include some Rapala floaters in sizes No. F5, F7 and F9 along with some Rapala Husky Jerks in sizes No. HJ6 or HJ8. From the Yo-Zuri line of baits the Pin Minnow in the No. F196 size and the Hardcore Jerkbait in the F684 size. If money isn’t a problem the Lucky Craft Company produces some fine baits for the trout angler, namely the Pointer in size No. PT65 and the Deep Pointer in size No. 65DD. The array of colors in your minnow plug selection need not be extensive, but you do need both natural and bright colored offerings. Rainbow trout, silver body black back and gold body black back are pretty standard on the subdued side. On the bright end of the spectrum firetiger and clown are great choices. These bright patterns don’t resemble anything in nature, but there is something about them that triggers strikes.
The rainbow trout pattern is my number one choice and I have a lot of confidence in it. Confidence is a very important factor in the model and color of minnow plug you choose to throw. While minnow plugs do draw big strikes, there is often an extended period of time between trout. If you don’t have confidence in your bait, it is tough to keep working it cast after cast as you wait for that all too infrequent strike.
Minnow plugs can be effectively worked with a number of different retrieves, but I’ve had my best luck by burning them, popping them and stopping them. The cadence goes something like this. I cast out the bait and crank it down hard until it reaches its maximum depth. Then I give it a couple of sharp twitches before letting it come to a complete stop. After the pause I might twitch it a time or two before I begin cranking or I might just start cranking it.
Strikes can come at any time, but I’ve hooked most of my fish when the plug begins to move after a pause. One of the reasons that Lucky Crafts are so effective and pricy is the fact that they will stop absolutely dead in the water for extended periods of time while neither rising nor falling. Lucky Crafts really shine when the water is in the lower 40’s because of their ability to suspend. When the water is really cold, the longer you can pause the plug the more effective your presentation is and Lucky Craft lures are really conducive to this type of retrieve.
Big trout move into shallow shoreline areas when the light level is low and the odds of ambushing a meal are in their favor. Late evening and early morning are great times to intercept them. Some of the best opportunities occur during stormy weather. Grey skies spitting rain or snow, gusty winds and white caps elevate the heart rate of dedicated trophy hunters, because at times like these they know that the largest trout in the lake will likely be cruising shoreline structure looking to pounce on an easy meal.
For a long time I wasn’t sure if adding scents to lures made much of a difference. More recently, I’ve really come to believe that adding scents results in more hook ups. These days I’ve been relying on BioEdge scents with outstanding results. My favorite scents include threadfin shad, smelt and anchovy. Using the wand applicator I apply a coating of BioEdge to both sides of my lure and reapply every 30 minutes or so.
Plugging and hiking go hand in hand. It’s hard to beat plugging if you are an angler that has a sense of adventure and likes to get in a little exercise. While plugging, it is possible to cover water relatively quickly and your effective range is only limited by how far your legs will take you. Many times I’ve covered several miles while hiking and plugging. This is a great way to learn a new lake. While hiking, you’ll often stumble on lightly fished areas that produce trout year after year on both lures and bait.
Once you get a quarter mile from a parking area you are out of the range of the vast majority of shore anglers and most boat anglers like to stay a fair piece offshore, not wanting to lose lures or downrigger balls on the bottom. As a result there are a lot of lightly fished areas just waiting to be uncovered by the ambitious bank plugger.
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