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Written By: Cal Kellogg, June 7, 2014
The day before a foot of fresh snow had fallen. Overnight the cloud cover had broken up and the air temperature plummeted. When Gene Rush and I woke up about an hour before sunrise the temperature was hovering in the teens. At the cabin the air was crystal clear, revealing an impressive array of shimmering stars dotting the sky from horizon to horizon.
Launching my Gregor a short while after dawn we encountered a wall of dense fog hanging over the lake’s surface. While the lake’s temperature was a chilly 39 degrees the difference between water temperature and the frigid air was great enough to prompt the formation of fog.
With the low light level and little fishing pressure, trolling seemed an obvious choice until the water temperature was factored in.
Anytime the water temperature drops below the middle 40’s trolling for rainbows becomes a sketchy proposition. They will still feed readily at these temperatures, but they won’t move very far or very quickly to do so.
This is why I advised Gene that we stood a much better chance of hooking trout if we anchored up and fished bait rather than trolling. Gene was agreeable, so we slowly motored out of the marina and I set a course, using my hand held GPS unit, for a series of rocky shelves in an area that boasted several underwater springs.
It was an area that featured well-oxygenated water, shallow feeding areas and instant access to the security of deep water. The two-mile run to the spot took us over a half hour, since the fog forced us to move along at little more than idle speed. But, as soon as we started cruising over the shelves the sonar unit started registering multiple fish and I knew our patience was going to pay off.
After dropping the anchor on the shallow side of the shelves in 20 feet of water, Gene and I each rigged our spinning rods with slip bobber set ups and baited our hooks with lively baby night crawlers. After pitching the rigs out we put the rods in their holders with the reels open. Gene’s bobber was adjusted to fish his worm 10 feet below the surface, while I had mine set for 15 feet.
Our baits had been in the water for a very short time when Gene’s bobber started to twitch and wiggle before slowly disappearing into the dark water. Knowing that the trout would spend a good deal of time mouthing the worm, I cautioned Gene not to set the hook too quickly. Finally after about 30 seconds of waiting, line started to steadily stream out of Gene’s spinning reel. Closing the reel’s bail Gene allowed the line to tighten and drove the hook home.
At first the trout showed little reaction and Gene was able to quickly reel it to within a few yards of the boat before it woke up and started making fast hard charging runs. The fish was strong and determined, but it was no match for the unrelenting pressure of the spinning rod. We’d been fishing for less than 15 minutes when Gene slid the first trout of the day, a fine 3.25-pound rainbow, into the net.
Over the course of the next three hours, Gene and I were in trout fishing heaven as we battled rainbow after rainbow in the 2 to 4 pound range. That night while eating dinner at a lakeside restaurant we overheard a bunch of local guides that had spent the day trolling, talking about how tough the fishing had been. That made our success all the more gratifying.
It’s a sad fact that when many anglers make the transition from bank fishing to fishing from a boat they get caught up in what I like to call the “trolling rut”. These anglers, perhaps on an unconscious level have the belief that because they have a boat they must troll whether they are catching fish or not. Don’t get me wrong, trolling is a great way to catch trout, but it doesn’t work all the time. There are plenty of instances when trout are sluggish or inactive and just won’t chase a moving lure. At such times if you really want to catch trout your best bet for success is soaking natural bait.
Bait fishing from a boat is a simple yet highly effective proposition. Unlike the bank angler that most often fishes floating baits off the bottom, the boat angler uses a couple different techniques to suspend baits at various levels below the surface.
The simplest method of all is to either anchor up or drift with a bait hanging directly below the boat. A light spinning rod spooled with 6 or 8 pound monofilament is well suited for this work. To rig up begin by tying a small swivel to the end of the line. Tie a 24 inch 6 pound fluorocarbon leader to the swivel and tip it with an appropriate hook. Above the swivel add a split shot or two to get the rig down.
A variety of different baits can be effectively fished in this manner including worms, salmon eggs, cured roe, crickets, mealworms, small anchovy fillets or live minnows. The only baits that should be avoided when using this approach are floating baits like PowerBait, Pautzke Fire Bait, Power Eggs and marshmallows. Since the line will be hanging down directly below the boat in most cases, a bait that floats up will sit next to the main line and tangles will inevitably result.
All things considered, my favorite baits for fishing from a boat are baby night crawlers or minnows. These baits are alive and provide a lot of subtle movement that really makes them attractive to tentative trout. Since the trout that are generally targeted while bait fishing from a boat are inactive, applying scent to baits can mean the difference between success and failure. My favorite scents include anise, anchovy, herring, predator and garlic.
This method of fishing is especially popular at lakes that feature a lot of natural forage in the form of both aquatic insects and minnows such as Lake Almanor near Chester, California.
In lakes that have a massive abundance of food, the period when trout are actively feeding and willing to chase lures is short and the trout are seldom hungry. Instead of seeking out actively feeding trout, anglers zero in on the areas were the trout hang out between active feeding periods. While the trout might not be focused on foraging, they still have a hard time passing up a vulnerable slow moving offering presented right in front of them.
At Almanor anglers suspend baits just above the bottom in areas that feature springs to catch a variety of handsome rainbows, browns and landlocked king salmon. Overall, this method works best for targeting trout holding in close proximity of the bottom, but it will take suspended fish in open water too. In open water situations, you’ve got to rely on your sonar unit to pinpoint the depth of the fish and then you must strip line off the reel in one or two foot increments until you know your bait is hanging just above the level of the fish.
The article is an excerpt from author Cal Kellogg’s latest book, “Trout Tactics”. The book retails for $19.95. To get your copy call (800) 748-6599 and order directly from Brooke at Fish Sniffer headquarters and she’ll mail your trout fishing book out directly!
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