Tactical Tips For The Trouter
Written By: Cal Kellogg, March 13, 2012
When I look back at my fishing career to date, a lot of my memories revolve around trout fishing. I’ve been chasing trout for more than three decades. My dad got me started with trout at a young age. I wish I would have kept a running tally of all the trout I’ve caught. Certainly I’ve caught thousands of them, but I have no idea if the number is 5,000, 8,000 or even more.
So does this make me some sort of trout fishing expert? Absolutely not, no matter how many trout you’ve caught and no matter how much time you’ve spent on the water there is always more to learn and experience.
Having said that, in my 30 plus years of hands on experience, like all anglers that have spent that much time chasing a single species of fish, I’ve picked up on some little things that often make a big difference when it comes to how many trout I catch on any given outing or over a season.
Some of these things I worked out on my own and other things I’ve learned while fishing with other anglers and professional guides. With reservoir trout fishing well underway and the spring stream opener just around the corner it seems like high time to share a few of my most effective tips and tactics with all the aspiring trouters out there is Fish Sniffer Country….
Let’s start with line. At times trout are not line shy at all and you could fish your lures and baits or 30 or 40 pound mono and hook fish all day long. At other times for reasons known only to them, trout can be exceedingly skittish. At these times they’ll turn their nose up at offerings presented on all but the finest monofilament lines.
For a long time the only solution when trout got line shy was to use finer and lighter mono. These days things have changed and we’ve all got access to a secret weapon…Fluorocarbon! Fluorocarbon lines are expensive, but they can be worth their weight in gold. Put simply fluorocarbon reflects light at the same rate and intensity as water. This means that trout and other fish have a very difficult time seeing it. This allows you to use 6 or 8 pound test line and enjoy the benefits of near complete invisibility.
Many times I’ll spool a reel with fluorocarbon, but if you want to keep costs down, simply tip your mono with a fluorocarbon leader. You’ll save some change and those line shy trout will end up with a pierced lip. Since you can’t predict when and where trout will be line shy, employ fluorocarbon on every trip to maximize success.
Fish attracting scents have become widely available over the past few years. Some trouters swear by them, other don’t believe they work at all. From experience I can tell you that at times scents make no difference at all. At other times they make all the difference in the world. Yet one thing is certain. I’ve never encountered a situation where using scent, decreased the number of trout being caught. As a result I almost never fish for trout without using scent.
There are basically three types of scents available, oils, gels and pastes. Gels like Pro Cure Super Gel and pastes like BioEdge Wands are best used with hard lures like plugs, spoons and spinners, but they can also be used in conjunction with flies, soft plastics and even natural baits.
These scents will stay on an offering for an extended period of time whether trolling, casting, drifting or still fishing. As far as the type of scent I use, when fishing lures I try to match the scent with what I’m trying to imitate. For example, if the trout in a given lake are feeding on shad or pond smelt, I’ll use threadfin shad or herring scent accordingly.
Oils have a more limited application than gels and pastes. If you put oil on a lure, it will wash off relatively quickly, but if you put oil inside an offering its effects can be long lasting. When it comes to trout fishing, I use oils in two ways.
When I’m slow trolling or rolling dead rigged baitfish like shad or anchovies, I’ll often soak my baits in bait oil and inject them with oil as well. If I’m bait fishing from the bank, especially when the water is cold and the trout are lethargic I like to inject my night crawlers with bait oil.
Now, most bank trouters inflate their worms with air to float them off the bottom. Since oil is lighter than water, injecting worms with oil causes them to float, but you get the added benefit of creating a scent trail as tiny oil droplets seep out of the worm. This oil and worm trick has helped me enjoy productive trout fishing in the dead of winter when guys fishing around me were getting blanked.
Hooks are a key component of any tactic. No hooks equal no hook ups and no fish in the boat….Who knew? Yet there are some finer points when it comes to hooks and hooking. I hate trebles. At times I use them, but overall I try to avoid them.
A lot of guys that bank fish believe that treble hooks are a necessity when fishing dough baits like Power Bait. A lot of my fishing buddies insist on using those little gold trebles, but I employ No. 8, 10 or 12 octopus hooks and generally land more fish. A small treble hook looks good, but it actually consists of 3 teeny tiny hooks. Trout have soft mouths and tiny hooks are much more prone to tearing out of soft flesh than larger hooks. When I hook a fish on an octopus hook they almost never pull free.
My treble hook hatred extends to most commonly employed spoons and spinners. If I had more time in my schedule, I’d replace all the trebles adorning the spoons and spinners in my tackle box with needle sharp J hooks.
When trout hit a lure with a trailing treble they tend to get hooked near the outside of the mouth. While trout that hit an identical lure tipped with a single hook will be hooked much more deeply since the fish tend to get the lure and hook much more deeply into their mouth. When fishing lures armed with single hooks I loose far fewer fish than I do than when using lures tipped with much more lethal looking trebles.
I like to catch big fish, so I often use big baits and big lures. Big baits do equal big fish MOST of the time, but not ALL the time. When the going gets tough and strikes are hard to come by, it’s time to downsize your baits. If you are fishing a stream with a size 10 woolly worm or muddler minnow and you can’t get hit, put on a size 16 or 18 nymph and your luck will probably change. If the trout in the same stream won’t touch a whole worm, show then a cricket or a single salmon egg.
If the trout in a lake or reservoir won’t touch your 3 inch minnow plugs or 2 inch spoons, rig up with a 1 inch grub or a lightly dressed marabou trolling fly and your luck just might change for the better.
Here’s a final thought. As anglers we pretty much have a herd mentality. If pansize trout are being caught on 2 inch orange spoons we all tend to use 2 inch orange spoons. Now this system works great until the fish learn that 2 inch orange spoons are dangerous and of course any large holdovers living in the lake had long known that 2 inch orange spoons are nothing to mess with.
This is called conditioning. Fish can and do learn. When they learn something isn’t food or is dangerous they stop hitting it. However when confronted with something new they often have a tough time laying off of it. Always try to separate yourself from the herd and show the trout something they are not seeing regularly. If everyone is pulling Rapalas, show the fish a Needlefish. If everyone is trolling slowly, try fishing fast and so on. This will set your lures and presentation apart from what the trout have gotten conditioned to.
I remember a day up at Hell Hole Reservoir a long time ago. A lot of folks were trolling and the fishing had been slow for quite a while, but one guy managed to pull out an incredible 18 pound mackinaw. He didn’t use a Rapala or a large spoon like his buddy and everyone else was using. He wasn’t a hardcore angler, he was a casual fisherman and his one and only tackle box had a general selection of drugstore lures. He tied a frog pattern Hula Popper on his line, sent it down on the downrigger and busted a trophy fish the likes of which none of us so called “experts” had ever seen. Are Hula Poppers a go to mackinaw lure? No, but that guy showed a big experienced trophy caliber fish something it had never seen before!