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Written By: Cal Kellogg, December 2, 2012
Can you feel that little twinge? If you are a trout troller or fly guy you can. It’s absolutely true, trout love dough bait. That fact in itself disturbs you and you aren’t all that certain that soaking dough is an “above board” method of hooking trout. Trout seem too noble and tricking them with a gaudy glob of goo is just too simplistic.
I’ve been fly fishing for trout for three decades and I’m convinced my trolling tackle contains at least half the lures known to man, yet I’m also an avid dough soaker.
For the folks out there that refrain from stocking up on dough for “ethical reasons” might want to rethink their position. Do you want to ride that ethical high horse or do you want to catch trout? For me the answer is always to do what it takes to catch fish. Very often soaking dough bait from the bank offers you the best chance of hooking trout and at times it’s the only way you can hook them.
Dough baits catch trout all year long, but for bank anglers that work low elevation lakes and foothill reservoirs, spring and fall are the prime times for rolling dough. In the spring and fall the trout are typically up near the top of the water column. These fish gravitate toward the banks as they look for food, making them easy targets for the patient banker.
With fall trout season about to explode up and down the foothills from Eagle Lake in the north to New Melones in the south, this is the perfect time to go over the basic and perhaps a few finer points of fooling fall trout with dough.
Maybe the first thing we should look at is why dough baits work so well. Dough baits attract trout by both sight and smell. The fact that the dough bait floats up off the bottom makes it readily visible to cruising fish from a distance and the various colors that dough bait is offered in cover just about any water conditions you are likely to encounter from crystal clear, to stained to downright muddy.
As important as visibility is, I’ve come to believe that the difference between getting hit and not getting hit comes down to scent. I’ve used a lot of great looking dough baits that would not catch trout even when I was catching trout on other brands of dough. The only two doughs that reliably catch fish for me are Berkley’s PowerBait and Pautzke’s Fire Bait.
What exactly PowerBait scent is, is a well kept secret that only the scientists at the Berkley labs know. To me it pretty much smells like plastic, but what do I know, I’m not a trout? To trout it must smell like pizza and corn dogs, ‘cause they scarf it down with enthusiasm.
The folks at Pautzke aren’t nearly as secretive as the lab coats at Berkley. Pautzke has been bottling salmon eggs since the invention of salmon. Trout love salmon eggs. What to do? They put a big shot of egg juice into their Fire Bait and they fortify that with another flavor trout love…Krill! Make a high floating, brightly colored bait that smells of salmon eggs and krill and trout will eat it…Who knew?
Overall trout fishing with dough bait is a simple proposition, but like other types of fishing it requires a selection of efficient good quality gear and a solid plan. The first thing the aspiring bank angler needs is a rod and reel.
A lot of folks choose short rods ranging from 5 to 6 feet in length, but I prefer a 7 foot stick. Much of the time you’ll be fishing your baits close to the bank, but there are some situations where casting well offshore gives you a distinct advantage and this is when a longer rod really shines. A 7 foot rod also provides better leverage for fighting fish when you hook into one of the big boys.
While a light rod is required, avoid models with a super slow action. Super slow action rods are highly flexible throughout their entire length and display a deep parabolic bend when under a load. This type of rod will limit casting distance and reduce hook setting power. A fast action rod that features a flexible tip section followed up with relatively stiff middle and butt sections provides maximum casting distance, solid hook sets and the power required to wear down large trout.
Once you’ve settled on a rod, it’s time to pick out a reel. As with rods there are a large number of quality spinning reels on the market today. The first requirement is that the reel has a smooth drag. At times 4 pound leader material is required to draw strikes. When fighting good sized trout on line that light you don’t want the drag to stick at all when the fish runs. If it does the leader will likely snap. The reel should also have a high gear ratio. The gear ratio refers to the number of times the line is wrapped around the spool for each revolution of the reel handle. At times trout will run straight toward you at the hookset. When that happens a high gear ratio allows you to keep pace with the fish, preventing slack from forming in the line. A 5 to 1 ratio is ideal.
The final consideration in selecting a reel is its line capacity. An average size trout isn’t going to pull a lot of line off the reel. So a very small reel with a modest line capacity would do the trick most of the time, but what happens when you hook the trout of a lifetime. When that happens you need plenty of insurance in the form of line capacity. My largest rainbow pulled about 100 yards of 8 pound test line off my reel with its first two runs. If I’d been using an ultra light reel with a 90 yard capacity that big rainbow would now be known as the big one that got away. A reel capable of holding at least 200 yards of 6 pound line is a sensible choice that provides plenty of insurance when that big trophy finally comes along.
End tackle represents the nuts and bolts of the dough angler’s toolbox. The basic bait fishing set up is the sliding sinker rig. To construct sliding sinker rigs that meet a number of different situations and conditions you’ll need a selection of hooks, weights, beads and swivels along with a with some fluorocarbon leader material.
I keep my various bait fishing supplies in a plastic compartment box. I like to have both bait holder and octopus hooks on hand in sizes 8, 10 and 12. It is important to use super sharp hooks Gamakatsu hooks are my favorite brand, but they are a little pricy. You can save a little money and use Eagle Claw Lazar Sharp hooks without compromising much in the way of performance.
Egg sinkers are the most popular choice among bait anglers, but I prefer to use the tapered bullet sinkers popular among bass anglers. I find that egg sinkers with their fat round shape tend to hang up in the rocks more than the tapered bullet weight and they also produce more resistance as they move through the water. A selection of sinkers from 1/4 to 1/2 ounce will cover most situations, but I like to add a few in the 1/8 and 3/4 ounce sizes as well.
For a swivel go with a black or anodized model in size No. 1. As for beads, simple plastic ones with an eighth inch diameter work just fine and their color isn’t a factor.
I swear by fluorocarbon leader material. Due to its molecular make up fluorocarbon line diffuses light in much the same way as water, making it virtually invisible to fish. Sometimes, having an invisible leader isn’t important, but at other times it is a critical element of success. As a result I use fluorocarbon leaders at all times. Most often I use 6 pound test, but I also like to have 4 and 8 pound test on hand.
Once you’ve gathered all the necessary components, putting together a rig is simple. The first step is to pass the line of your spinning rod through one of your sinkers going in from the narrow end and out through the wide end. Next pass your line through a bead and then tie on a swivel using an improved clinch knot. The bead acts as a spacer between the weight and the swivel, protecting the integrity of the knot. To the other end of the swivel attach an 18 to 36 inch section of fluorocarbon leader with an improved clinch knot. The final step is to tie a hook to the end of the leader using a palomar knot.
Now it’s time to bait up. One of the tricks to effectively fishing with dough bait is to use a ball of bait that is no more than a quarter inch across. You can catch fish on larger dough balls, but you’ll miss more trout because it takes them a while to get a large ball well into their mouth.
Both PowerBait and Fire Bait come in a long list of colors and combination colors. Most dough baiters have handful of colors that they have a lot of confidence in and as a result they use these personal favorites almost exclusively. Rainbow is very popular as is chartreuse. My strategy is to keep things simple. I like to have chartreuse and orange colors on hand for stained water and subtler yellows and pinks when the water is clear. The nice thing about dough bait is that it’s relatively cheap so you can afford to carry solid selection of colors.
Now that we’ve taken a look at rods, reels, rigs and baits it’s time to get out to the lake and put these tools to work. One of the big reasons that the casual bank angler doesn’t catch trout consistently is the fact that they don’t put much thought into the areas they choose to fish.
The most successful bank anglers are the ones that take a systematic approach to selecting fishing spots. Since there is only a limited amount of ground that a bank angler can cover it makes sense to focus on plying high percentage areas. The most productive bank fishing spots are generally located near transition zones that feature an abrupt depth change, in areas where the lake narrows or where small tributaries flow into the lake.
Many times I’ll hike long distances to get to productive spots or I’ll even utilize my boat to access remote areas, then beach the boat and fish my dough from the bank. Since these banks are seldom hit by bait guys, a lot of time I’m fishing “virgin territory”.
Over the years I’ve had some of my best bank action while working areas where a shallow flat drops into deep water. During low light periods trout typically move onto flats to feed. When the sun is on the water they tend to retreat to holding areas adjacent to the security of deep water. Spots where flats transition into deep water are high percentage areas because they provide the trout with immediate access to both shallow water feeding habitat and the safety of the depths.
Narrows or bottlenecks, while not occurring at all lakes, typically feature hot action wherever they are found. The reason productive action generally can be found in bottlenecks is simple. These areas concentrate the trout and whenever you can find a large number of trout passing through a limited area, your chance of success rises significantly.
The best bottlenecks feature an abrupt and extreme narrowing of the lake. Ideally you are looking for a lake with an hourglass shape where two large basins are connected by a relatively narrow band of water. Another classic bottleneck is often found in small to medium size impoundments where the river arm that feeds the reservoir meets the main body. In this situation the angler wants to be positioned right at the mouth of the tributary.
Areas where small tributaries enter a lake are attractive to trout for a number of reasons and should always be explored. Inflowing tributaries introduce both food in the form of small fish, invertebrates and terrestrial insects as well as oxygenated water into the lake. As a result trout tend to stack up around tributaries.
Finally, tributaries that enter reservoirs whether they are actively flowing or not mark the location of submerged creek beds that eventually meet the submerged river channel of the lake’s primary tributary. These submerged creek beds typically feature deeper water than the surrounding area and act as major travel corridors for trout and other gamefish. Areas within submerged creeks that play host to rock piles, stumps or fallen trees are particularly attractive to brown trout and are well worth seeking out.
Once you’ve identified some promising areas to explore, it’s time to bait a hook and get down to business. Most trout prefer a water temperature of around 56 degrees. If the surface temperature is in the 50’s you can be certain that trout will be holding in the top 20 feet of the water column, so you’ll want your bait resting in water that is 20 feet deep or less. If the surface temperature is in the 60’s or lower 70’s you can bet the bank that the majority of the trout will be holding in deeper cooler water most of the time and baits should be positions accordingly.
Many bank anglers seem to have an obsession with flinging their baits as far from shore as possible. At times this is a good strategy, but when the water is cool these anglers often cast their bait out into deep water well past the depth zone where most of the trout are holding, so once again before you make your presentation consider the conditions and let them be your guide.
Once you’ve baited your hook and lobbed your rig into the water, you’ll want to place your rod in a holder, while waiting for a bite. A forked stick stuck into the bank will suffice, but I prefer to bring along a compact metal holder as it saves me a lot of time hunting around on the bank for sticks.
A common mistake is fishing with a tight line. This works great for catfish and other less sensitive fish, but when a trout feels any kind of resistance it will likely as not spit out the bait. To prevent spooking trout it is important to have some slack in the line so any trout that picks up the bait can move off and swallow the bait without feeling anything.
One trick to accomplishing this its to hang a small plastic bobber on the line between the tip of the rod and the second eye. Enough slack is pulled off the reel to allow the bobber to hang down almost to the ground. When a trout takes the bait and moves off the slack is paid out gradually as the bobber pulls upward toward the rod. When the line comes tight it's time to set the hook and begin fighting your prize.
A final point to remember is that the most successful bank anglers tend to stay on he move. You don’t want to pick out a spot and spend the entire day fishing it if the trout are not responding. Instead you should give a spot anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to produce. If nothing happens it’s time to move on in search of greener pastures.
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