Hammering Stream Trout With Spinners
Written By: Cal Kellogg, August 13, 2013 Species: Trout,
I was about 10 years old. In my hand I held a willow switch with a half dozen rainbows and browns hanging from its length. Mom and I were sneaking along the banks of the Feather River a few miles from Quincy, California.
We were taking turns fishing from the holes in the streamside brush that anglers had hollowed out over the years. The trout were feeding on cased caddis worms and they had a real fondness for the black and yellow Panther Martin spinner knotted to the end of our spinning rod’s line.
Both my mom and dad are crackerjack stream trout anglers and I learned a great deal about effective stream trout tactics from them back in those days. On the afternoon my mom and I spent fishing the Feather more than 30 years ago, I learned the importance of keeping my feet quiet and staying low. All the trout I caught were on the small side, but mom’s were quite a bit bigger.
“You stay back and watch how I sneak up on this spot,” she told me as we approached a pocket in the brush. Stopping on the trail I watched as mom crouched down and softlyed walk up just close enough to the opening to get the rod tip out over the water. Making a short underhand pitch, she shot the spinner out into the current and closed the reel’s bail.
Almost instantly the line came tight and the lure swung across the current and came to a stop next to the undercut bank below mom’s position. Just as she started to turn the reel handle an unseen trout that had been lurking among the roots under the bank rocketed forward, grabbed the spinner and then darted back into its lair.
The light fiberglass rod bent nearly double. Looking back on the scene today, I’m surprised the line didn’t hang up on a root. Keeping her cool, mom put the rod tip in the water and slowly used the reel to coax the trout in her direction.
After what seemed like an eternity the thick bodied trout boiled to the surface at mom’s feet and she deftly slid it onto the bank where I pounced on it. Up until that time the holdover rainbow was the largest trout I’d ever seen, measuring 16 inches in length and weighing in at about two pounds. I remember being super excited and hoping that someday I could land a big ‘ol trout like mom’s!
Targeting stream trout is the quintessential trout fishing experience. Sure, in general, trout found in reservoirs and lakes average larger than stream trout, but fishing for stream trout reduces the sport of trout fishing to its basic elements.
As with other forms of trout fishing, having the proper tackle is a crucial component of stream fishing success, second only in importance to employing proven tried and true tactics. The spinning rod and reel combination used for stream fishing is a lot like the outfit used for bank fishing at lakes, except the stream combo is lighter and nimbler.
My pet stream fishing rod is a 7 foot Fenwick spinning rod that was presented to me by the Roostertails Fishing Club in Auburn, California after a public speaking engagement. This stick is rated for 4 to 10 pound line.
It is a moderately fast action rod with plenty of flexibility in the upper third and solid backbone in the lower two thirds. Since my Fenwick boasts quality graphite construction, it provides superb sensitivity. I’ve matched the rod with a compact Abu Garcia spinning reel that holds 140 yards of 6 pound test line.
I spool the reel with 6 pound Vanish fluorocarbon, further enhancing the rig’s sensitivity and responsiveness. For all practical purposes fluorocarbon is invisible to fish, which is important in the gin clear waters of a trout stream. In addition it stretches very little and sinks readily. It is fluorocarbon’s low stretch characteristics that make it more sensitive and responsive than standard monofilament.
Spinners, spoons and plugs will all take stream trout, but over the years spinners have hooked the most trout for me. I’m very particular about the type of spinner I use. For me there are Panther Martin and Roostertail spinners and then there are all the others.
I’ve been busting browns and rainbows on these spinners for more than 30 years and I have a tremendous level of confidence when I’ve got one of them on my line.
I carry Panther Martins in the sixteenth, eighth and quarter ounce sizes. My favorite color scheme is black blade and body with yellow or red dots. I’ve also had success with the yellow/red dot model, the all silver or gold models and the all black models.
A glance at the Panther Martin lineup of spinners reveals that some models come with bare hooks while other models boast hooks dressed with bucktail. In most situations dressed hooks aren’t required, but when fishing slower moving water or when the fish aren’t biting well the extra movement created by a dressed hook will often generate extra strikes.
Why are Panther Martins so effective? I could point to several different factors, but foremost among these is the vibration the lures emits. The unique shaft design of the spinner makes for a very fast spinning blade and the convex/concave shape of the blade creates sonic vibrations at a pitch that active fish find virtually irresistible.
As for Roostertails I carry both 1/8 and 1/6 ounce models and maybe a quarter ouncer or two. Brown and black models are my favorites, but I’ve caught my share of fish on white and yellow models too.
Spinner fishing requires a significantly different strategy than fishing with bait or flies. Instead of moving upstream, the lure angler is most effective traveling downstream. It doesn’t matter if you are fishing a spoon or spinner the basic presentation with a lure is to cast straight across the stream and allow the lure to swing across the current on a tight line.
You rarely need to work the reel, because the current plunging past the lure will give it action. Once the lure has swung directly downstream of your position, let it hang in the current for a few moments before retrieving it slowly along the bank. Strikes can come at any time during this process.
Spinners don’t need to be fished as close to the bottom as baits or wet flies, but you don’t want them skimming along the surface either. If the current is such that your spoon or spinner isn’t digging deep enough, add enough split shot above the leader to get it to the desired depth. In general, I like my lures to run about two thirds of the way to the bottom. For example if the water is three feet deep, I want my lure running a foot off the bottom.
The best spinner anglers tend to fish quickly and as a result cover a lot more ground than bait or fly guys. Spinners are primarily targeting active fish and the sonic vibrations put out by Panther Martins can be felt by trout many yards away. This means that you only need to toss your spinner into to a likely looking holding area once or twice before moving on.