Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Stream Brown Trout on Lures and Fatheads

Not too many brown trout stocked in New Jersey this year, but I thought I would include a piece published last year for Recorder Newspapers.

Brown Trout Provide Fishing into June

          Fishing for brown trout with spinning gear differs significantly from brook and rainbow trout. They don’t hit salmon eggs nearly as often and other options may work better than power bait. Browns are also more nocturnal than the other two, so fishing deep into dusk and before sunrise can be especially productive.

          Fathead minnows work especially well. Available at Efinger Sporting Goods, Dover Sport Shop, Stanhope Bait and Boat and other venues, fatheads are small minnows that almost always work. An ultra-light rod and reel, four-pound test, and perhaps a BB split shot a foot above a size 10 hook are all you need. Generally pools, deep holes, and slow stretches hold brown trout, but faster water often does too, and fatheads can be drifted with or without weight, depending on depth and current.

          Other options have advantages over wading long lengths of stream while you carry a minnow bucket. Shoulder baitfish canisters are available at some shops, but in any event, plugs like the one and two-inch Rapala Countdowns, in-line spinners, Berkeley synthetic minnows, and a whole range of plastic twister tails and grubs used on tiny jig heads or plain hooks can make angling simpler and lead to plenty of catches.

          Rapala Countdowns sink. Their namesake means you can count about a second per foot of descent, which can help when fishing deep water to get the lure near bottom. Steady retrieve is more effective in fast, broken water where plenty of current action is a given. Jerking the rod tip may make a difference in slow stretches. Plugs and spinners give you the advantage of covering more water quickly. If a stream is running high and somewhat off color, spinners may be the best choice since the blades produce vibrations trout sense. Mepps spinners have a modified Colorado blade that produces more vibrations than typical willow leaf blades perhaps more suitable to clear water.

          The best way to fish a synthetic minnow may be to use a split shot a foot above a size 10 plain shank hook on four-pound test, the same simple rig used with fatheads or salted minnows. I think this synthesis of bait and lure is an improvement over salted minnows, which I’ll never use again. They stay on the hook better and have more life-like action. Retrieving with subtle rod tip jerks, lifting the bait off bottom to let it settle again, and drifting it through current produces.

          Another recent discovery on the trout scene is that trout—especially browns—respond well to the sorts of soft plastic grub lures combined with a jig head usually used for bass. It’s a matter of scaling down to jig heads as light as 1/32nd or 1/64th-ounce or just using a BB split shot ahead of a size 10 hook. Tiny Trout Magnets have been on the market for years, and the simple straight plastic tail may be all that’s needed. I used to catch native brook trout on Dunnfield Creek with small shad darts. But trout are selective. If they’ve seen a lot of one variety, they may hit another. Trout can also pose a problem by their sensitivity to color, so experimenting may at the least seem to bring results.

          For a number of years, I would wake on a May Saturday before dawn, fix myself a quick coffee as I organized gear, and arrive on the North Branch Raritan with a chorus of birds loud like a party, very little light in the air. I began with a one-inch Rapala Countdown to get immediate results. After catching the third brown trout in a single stretch, the action would stop. Then I offered a fathead. Again, an immediate hit, and I would catch three more and walk out with a full limit string, sometimes just as the next guy arrived before the sun had risen. I would go home and clean the trout, refrigerate them, and go back to bed. When I had awakened with the rest of my family about two hours later, I always fixed a big trout breakfast for all.

         Why did the browns come to refuse the Countdown, then immediately take a fathead? Whatever the reasons science can discern, trout are selective. None think. But they do perceive very keenly. Perhaps I could have switched to a soft plastic in a subdued color pattern so as not to be too conspicuous in low light and have done as well.     


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