Trolling Up Fall Trout
As I sit here writing these words early in the morning on September 21, light rain is falling across the foothills. Fall has arrived! That means it’s trout time throughout the foothills and Sierras…In the last issue of the Fish Sniffer we took a look at ways for bank bound fall anglers to tempt trout. This week we’ll turn our attention to trolling.
Why do we love fall trout fishing? The answer is simple…the fishing is often outstanding. Fall trout don’t have the luxury of subtlety. On an instinctive level the trout know that “Old Man Winter” is on the way and if they are going to survive the lean cold months to come, they’ve got to pack on as many calories as possible during the fall. This makes for aggressive trout that will strike a broad range of offerings.
When you get down to brass tacks, I don’t think there is a traditional trout offering that fall trout won’t grab at times, but there are definitely some lures and presentations that are especially attractive to fall trout.
For starters, fall trout are generally looking for a substantial meal, typically of the baitfish variety. In terms of location fall trout are often scattered.
When the surface temperature drops into the lower 60’s and upper 50’s trout that had been locked up in deep water all summer to stay cool, break out of their temperature dictated period of “house arrest” and roam looking for food. You might find one trout cruising open water 20 feet below the surface and you might find another hanging around a point just beneath the surface in water that is little more than hip deep.
Refine this information down and you are left with two corner stones of fall trout trolling: 1.) Show the trout bulky substantial looking baitfish imitations. 2.) Stay on the move and cover lots of water. The trout are aggressive, but not concentrated. The more water you cover, the more fish you’ll show your lures to… What we are looking for are lures that represent a substantial meal that can be trolled quickly. Here are my favorites:
The Rapala Floating Minnow
The original Rapala floater may well be the most successful and widely used lure of all time. The silhouette and action of the lure combine to scream “wounded baitfish”.
If your meat is big trophy size browns and macks, big giant 7 inch Rapalas and lots of patience are your best friends. For smaller trout from pan size up to a few pounds or more, I primarily run F-6s that are 2 inches long and F-7s that are 2.75 inches long. A 14 incher won’t hesitate to hit lures in this size range, but if I come across a 5 pounder these baits are still large enough to grab the attention of bigger fish.
I keep my minnow plug color selection pretty simple. Rainbow trout and black over chrome are my favorites. Of course the rainbow trout looks like a wayward trout, while the black/chrome looks like a smelt, shad or small kokanee.
At times when the water is stained or even when it’s not, I’ll run bright colored Rapalas. Generally I’ll go with firetiger, but gold/orange is a winner too. Gold/orange Rapalas have a well-earned reputation for producing larger than average trout.
When running these smaller Rapalas keep your trolling speed brisk, but not overly fast. 2.5 to 3 mph is about right. Run the lures naked with out added flashers or dodgers for the best results.
Hum Dingers And Other Large Spoons
Most trouters have a good selection of small spoons that they use when trolling slowly, say from 1 to 2 miles per hour. Spoons like these include, Needlefish, Sep’s Pro Secrets, Cripplures, Sockeye Slammers to name only a handful.
These are great lures, but during the fall you want to upsize to spoons that look like a good size meal that can be trolled at higher speeds. Large Hum Dingers, Sparklefish, Speedy Shiners, Silver Horde Kingfisher Lites and Vance’s Tackle Slim Fins all meet this criterion. If more anglers used large spoons like these they would catch more and larger trout.
In this class of lure my all time favorites are ½ ounce Hum Dingers and 3.25 inch Speedy Shiners. In recent years I’ve also enjoyed success running 3 inch Kingfishers. I fish these lures without dodgers and flashers just like I would a minnow plug and I troll them quickly from 2.5 to 3.5 miles per hour. If working shoreline structure I might even bump up the speed a bit more.
Once again color selection is a keep it simple proposition. The trout are looking for baitfish, so chrome/blue, chrome/black, white and all chrome are great choices.
Early and late in the day when the light level is low or if the sky is overcast, darks spoons work great. Straight black works well as does dark blue. I’m convinced the reason that frog finish spoons are so popular and effective is that frog is the only dark finish that most anglers ever use. Do yourself a favor. When the light level is low, break out some dark spoons, troll quickly and watch the number of hookups you get soar!
When It’s Time To Slow Down
Sometimes the conditions are against you and even though the fall feeding frenzy is underway, the bite might be slowed on the day you fish due to a full moon or a temperature drop. When fast presentations with minnow plugs and spoons fail to produce, it’s time to slow down. But keep in mind that doesn’t mean it’s time to rig up with small lures. Fall trout still want a substantial meal and something that looks like fat slow moving baitfish will often prompt even inactive trout to strike.
For slow work during the fall I rely primarily on 2 to 3 inch trolling flies and 3 to 3.5 inch grubs. Again I refrain from using blades, but at times I do pair these offerings with a Wiggle Disc for added action. Most of my trolling flies either come from Sep’s or Arctic Fox. Shad and smelt colors are my go to hues, but orange and black can be deadly too.
I probably use a Wiggle Disc with the fly 80 percent of the time, but be aware that there are times when the trout won’t touch a fly and disc, but will jump all over a naked fly that has very little in the way of action.
Grubs have great built in tail action, so I don’t use a disc with grubs as often as I use a disc with flies.
Smoke colored grubs are my favorites, but orange, white and black have their place too.
For rigging grubs you’ll want some straight shank, ring eye hooks. You’ll also want to stock up on quality trolling swivels, as grub trolling can twist your line badly if you’re not careful.
If the bite is good you can go through grubs quickly as trout have tiny, yet needle sharp teeth. A trick you can use to prolong the life of your grubs is to add a drop of super glue to the hook when you rig up. This will keep the grub securely in place on the hook, holding the plastic together even if it has tiny rips and tears.