Friday, April 27, 2012

Brown Trout on Rapalas and Fathead Minnows: Be the First for a Fast Breakfast Limit

          I really hear it only when it catches me unawares: the pure fusion of sensation and spirit in birdsong before dawn. Perhaps because I am still awakening, the effect of the sound under a dome of darkened sky with a pinch of blue can be such an uncanny invitation to the wild. But the trout I have come to take were put there only days before. Nature has its way, however, whatever the conditions. These trout follow nature just as certainly as birds seem sometimes to suggest the Sirens in Odysseus’s ancient Greek mythical adventure—something strange about the wild minutes from home can make a man want to follow nature, too.

          It comes from a deeper place where trout, bird, and man share a secret unity that, like Odysseus, we must perhaps restrain ourselves from knowing or be lost, because ultimately it cannot be known, is bottomless—we must recognize our own end is happiness.

         Before dawn intense contemplation accompanies great mystery for an anlger engaged in the pursuit of hatchery browns.

          Sometimes something so ordinary as trout stocked from a truck can be reassuring in a comfortable way of knowing that life is planned. We have our means to pursuits such as trout fishing. But the very best is to get well beyond routine, yet be able to embrace practice with gratitude, skill, and economy. 

A Few Days After Stocking—and Early

          You can limit out faster the Saturday or Sunday after a Wednesday stocking than on that day of stocking itself. No hurry is needed. The plan I will disclose works for me, and within an hour or so I return to my car with familiar sun warming the seats.

          Typically, browns feed slowly the day they get stocked. Here in Bedminster, with the North Branch of the Raritan running through it, browns get stocked on Wednesdays beginning the first week of May, with the river closed until 5:00 pm. Plenty limits caught attest to a robust fishery, which a few browns escape up tributaries to reproduce. Limits tend to be slow in coming, though; conversation and cursing at missed strikes quicker than fish making it to the bank.

          I always get a chance to get out well before breakfast on a weekend in May, and I always return home to clean my limit, go back to bed for an hour, and then reawaken to fix a big trout breakfast for my family. (We like to crack eggs and apply spiced breading.)

          If you want to compete with me for these fish, you’ll have to wake up while it’s still completely dark and park near the river with blue barely breaking the sky. Most of these mornings, the next guy comes down to the water when I’m walking out with my limit. Many people seem to have a strong inclination to avoid that edge of time between darkness and the very beginning of light.

          Too early,” I’ve heard.

          Unless it’s Opening Day, that is. It’s well known that plenty of others will make their way to a great spot before sun-up.  I remember an Opening Day when my son and I claimed our spot in the dark a full half hour before the next guy showed up. (My son slept with a blanket around him.) Not a minute later, someone else came, and then later, more. The crowd began arriving at about the same time.

          But extra early during the morning in May you can accomplish two advantages: catching browns when they feed and feel least wary, and beating everyone else to them. A third advantage, as a subset of the second, is the solitude you can enjoy. The quality of light itself is removed from the full daylight we feel accustomed to all day, as well as removed from lit rooms artificially normal for us at night. So being outside in that dreamy sort of light, with the visual distinctions of things not so hard and fast as under normal daylight, is a solitary refuge from the ordinary. It’s possible to be refreshed like no other time of day. I find that by leaving an hour or so after I have arrived, I do that special time honor.  Full daylight has replaced it, and leaving with peace still lingering is best for me.

          And it certainly is nice to get back in bed at home.


Feeding Time on Slower stretches and Flats

          So early in the morning, browns will be where they will not be in another hour’s time. The best spot may be a slow stretch from a couple of feet to four or five. And when the trout scoot back into deeper water or beneath undercut banks or into other cover, they will not feed with the abandon that they feed with now. I never fail to see browns rise, sometimes jump, and by casting to them sudden strikes, almost inevitable, come.

          These fish may be exercising some selection in feeding as all wild trout are known to do, maybe not; these are hatchery fish and research has shown that in their radically simple hatchery environment, they grow smaller brains than do wild fish of the same weight. But hatchery browns take the smallest Rapalas, those tiny plugs about an inch long you could cast on a fly rod, shorter than streamer flies. They also hit fathead minnows. They’ll take medium shiners, too; but you don’t need to invest the cash unless you want to tempt a breeder. For all three of these selections, an ultralight spinning rod and reel filled near to the spool edge with no more than four-pound test, manages fine.

          But to catch a quick limit, it may not be so simple as choosing one or the other, lure or bait. I start with the Rapala. I catch a few browns, usually the first cast or two yielding a hit. The Rapala is efficient in the lowest light—no fumbling with the minnow bucket, the retrieve quick, covering range. If I hook up and land the fish that hit, I catch two, maybe three, then the bite suddenly stops.

           No doubt, hatchery browns have some degree of selectivity, or perception of threat. It’s time to pull the bait and switch.

          One or two trout will come quickly on the fatheads. If I see a rise and can reach it with a cast, it’s almost a done deal before I sweep the rod and release the line for a cast. When a trout takes, I open the bail and give the fish line. Browns typically run fast, stripping off as many as seven or eight yards of line before abruptly stopping. They actually chew on the minnow. You can feel the bites. But once that initial run is over, the trout has the minnow in its maw, so set the hook. That hook should be a plain shank size 6 or 8. Use no terminal tackle. Don’t weight the line with a split shot or strip lead unless you try deeper water. Once action slows, trout seem to have become aware of my presence while more and more light is edging the trout toward abandoning feeding. Right after using the Rapala, the trout sometimes swirl hardheads down off the surface, but the bite usually begins to slow by the time I’m working on the fifth fish. (It’s been like this for years.)

          The last two trout may be harder won. I typically move to a nearby section of river, but I don’t toss the Rapala first. I’m more comfortable now with the minnows and often catch my last two.

          Certainly with fatheads more trout could be caught on into morning by either wading the stream to fresh stretches and holes, or car hopping to different stocking points. The really quick action is over.

          I’ve had it all to myself, and typically I greet the next guy coming in as I leave. takes you to a comprehensive article on salmon egg fishing. 




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