Brown Trout for May
Brown trout originally come from wild Germany. I am impressed with how the sultry, determined nature of these fish suggests how the people speak from the same land and rivers. Rainbow trout—from Rocky Mountain regions—can leap four feet into the air many times when hooked, and the bright colors suggest the blithe optimism of Americans. Brown trout rarely leap. They rise for flies, but their proclivity when hooked is not to seek light, but to dive deep, or under a bank or rock. Big brown trout are notoriously nocturnal, and usually the best a fly fisherman can do is fish as late into dusk as possible. Even when you hold a brown trout in your hand, you notice it’s a more sensuous creature with its heavier body proportion and scale mucous than a rainbow trout.
They aren’t suckers. While rainbows fall for salmon eggs, stealing most of them, typically browns won’t notice a salmon egg. Fly fishermen consider browns the most discriminating of fish. A fly tied without the precise pattern called for may be rejected. But as I wrote about two weeks ago, hatchery trout do not have such refined senses. Tossed the trout version of Kibbles and Bits by hatchery personnel standing over their concrete raceways, these fish have had no way to develop the normal lives wild trout enjoy in rich environments.
But as soon as they are introduced into a river or stream, adjustment begins. It’s not the same as a blind man getting an operation for eyesight which the brain can’t compensate for. Within a few weeks, the trout are becoming wild and selective about flies. In a year’s time or so, I suppose the trout is probably normal.
For all the likeness of salmon eggs to food pellets at the hatchery, brown trout’s avoidance suggests that the genetic component of their selectivity is very strong despite almost total environmental deprivation prior to stocking. They rush and strike plugs—like small Rapalas. The Countdown model in the smallest, one-inch size often proves effective. So are larger sizes to two-and-a-half inches. Spinners almost always catch any species of trout if water is high and slightly off-color, and may work for normal water levels. Certainly spinners garner great popular consent, but I suggest trying the plugs.
For convenience sake, many fishermen use salted minnows sold in cellophane that carry easily. Fished slowly along bottom, they account for many catches. But nothing beats live fathead minnows. These rather hardy minnows--not so strong as cousin killiefish--survive in small, shoulder strapped buckets—they show better resilience than shiners. Use no more than four-pound test monofilament and just a size 6 plain shank hook, with a tiny BB split shot about 18 inches above the hook to fish slow stretches, pools, and eddies.
You will find browns cunning at stealing fatheads from the hook, especially if you go about the fishing in a sporting manner by tryng to set the hook before the trout would swallow it. I notice a lot of browns with deep set hooks caught on worms, but if you use this old standby, you can try to prevent this happening.
Nothing beats hooking and landing one of the lunker-size breeders stocked especially in Highlands rivers and lakes. A trick in your favor is to try medium shiners. Especially if water is not very low and clear, and you know a deep hole where the biggest trout can stay comfortable in the dark, a medium shiner may be irresistible. Smaller trout may avoid the shiner and allow the larger to get to it. Counterintuitive as it may seem, the largest trout do not respond as eagerly as smaller. Typically, they wait until dusk or dark and feed by different rhythms. This includes the pre-dawn hour.
Pre-dawn is the best time, in my opinion. You can fish for recently stocked browns of all sizes. The North Branch Raritan River in my home town of Bedminster gets stocked on Wednesday. I usually reserve a Saturday morning in May to get up before 5:00 a.m. and be at the river when the birds are in full chorus with plenty darkness yet. I catch my limit within an hour and usually before the first fisherman otherwise arrives. At home I quickly clean the fish, refrigerate them, go back to bed, awaken with my family and fix them for breakfast with spiced breading.
Avoid the temptation to be cynical about stocked fish despite their limitations—those that holdover become truly wild because wild is what the wonderful environment is which draws us out to go fishing.