Mike Petrole and Lake Trout
Round Valley Reservoir Trout from the Gravel
November characterizes some of the best shore-bound action for rainbows and browns at Round Valley until April or early May. Rainbows come in close to shore first, sometimes feeding in a foot or two of wave-churned water as soon as surface water temperature falls to 70 degrees, usually during the third week of September. By sometime in October, brown trout traditionally begin to get caught, although this species has suffered sharp decline without recent stockings. Round Valley Trout Association stocked 200 11-inch browns early this year, likely legal size as they come in this fall, but please return these fish—identifiable by tags--to the reservoir, as the intent is to see them reach trophy size.
Lake trout never seem to meet the gravel at angler’s boots until mid-December. Fishing is tough after November, but as is said, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. A few of us fish through the entire winter, sitting on fold-out chairs or flat slates in temperatures as low as 15 degrees, my personal best as yet, and if the reservoir freezes thick enough, some of us of the same group—plus others who don’t shore fish--pursue trout through the ice.
Motivated to spawn, all three species behave as if they will reproduce, but without any streams entering the reservoir, rainbows and browns don’t reproduce. Lake trout spawn with great success in deeper water; the catch and release season is from September 15th through November 3Oth. Fishermen unfamiliar with the Round Valley cold water shore scene tend to think everyone bottom fishes, but a number of approaches prove effective in the main boat launch area and Ranger Cove sections of Lot 2. You can hike into the back of the reservoir if you’re adventurous.
Marshmallows and Mealworms
Most popular, a single small marshmallow to float a mealworm on a light wire hook, weighted by a 3/4-ounce steel egg sinker, separated by a small barrel swivel and four-foot leader of six-pound test: M & M rigs catch rainbows and browns and may possibly work for lakers. Occasionally, lakers get caught on Power Bait employed on the same rig, although better ways exist to fish the frigid band of a month or two when lakers may dominate catches.
Three rods and reels serve any of the bottom methods, medium power and six-pound test line sufficient. Rod holders you can stick through the sand and gravel at shore edge keep order. Some of the guys close the bails after casting to 10-30 feet of water and place bells on rod tips to alert them to a hit. Subtle trout aren’t supposed to wrangle with bait resisting a free take, tight line forcing trout to chomp on the bait in place, but plenty get caught this way. Nevertheless, I witness dropped bait, so I simply position my rods with opened bails and keep an eye on them. The line runs freely through the egg sinker, and then it’s a matter of setting the hook quick to release a trout back into the reservoir safely.
Rainbows average 16 inches. Fish less than 15-inch legal size infrequently get caught. Any browns caught this season will be bigger due to the gap since last stocking. Lakers average a little better than three pounds. People think the trout migrate to the boat launch area and Ranger Cove, but this is just a self-serving notion reflecting the fact that this is where they can fished. The reservoir holds a lot of trout, and they range 12 miles of shoreline by rules other than our ease at catching them. However, the more familiar you may become with this fall and hardcore winter fishery, the better nuances and details, secrets, present themselves to guide choice about just exactly where to cast an M & M. I will divulge more when I discuss lures and shiners.
I met a guy casting a spinner on a 30-degree afternoon in February, shaking ice out of the guides of his ultra-light, having caught an 18-inch brown on two-pound test. The fight seared like heat, but his description of a solid strike impressed me most. A hard-hitting trout in water colder than 40 degrees is exceptional compared to other species, but this trout is not the only one the man has caught on spinners in the middle of winter.
If you want exercise, fish eighth and quarter-ounce spinners; bladebaits like the Binsky; jerkbaits sinking, suspending, or floating as lengthy as four or five inches; lip-less crankbaits, especially in chrome; spoons like the Kastmaster. Some guys never touch bait. And in the fall, Round Valley features a contingent of fly casters. Streamers will catch these trout that frequent very shallow water into November. It’s not impossible to catch a January laker on a streamer, though unlikely because fishing in any event is usually slow. Fly casting for them would require dedicated stamina and I haven’t seen it happen.
Steep drop-offs of Ranger Cove afford the possibility. My buddy Mike opened the belly of a laker full of banded sunfish an inch long. Most of the winter lake trout hug the bottoms of channels and trenches deep as ever during winter, and I’ve never heard of any more than eight pounds caught from shore. Despite the forage fish crisis at the reservoir, lakers as large as 18 pounds get caught by boaters who know the whereabouts and deep water methods. The greatest of the lakers apparently forage largely on other trout, cannibals that put a small dent in results of prolific lake trout reproduction, but smaller lakers feed voraciously on freshwater shrimp and whatever small forage fish, obviously not limited to soft-rayed, lingering alewife herring or the shiners stocked by the state and Round Valley Trout Association to boost the food supply. Lakers ranging from two to six pounds pick off little baitfish as shallow as 10 or 15 feet deep, like this unusual banded sunfish, making a streamer a possible target.
Whichever lures you may decide to cast, hugging bottom isn’t always necessary. Trout get caught on floating jerkbaits fished four feet down over bottom another 12 feet down. The reservoir’s pellucid clarity allows trout to sight a lure from a distance, and despite the metabolism of browns and rainbows slowed in the coldest water, when these fish motivate to feed, they will give chase and strike with abandon.
Naturally, the best fishing conditions will be windy, wet, or snowy. I’ve fished under 45-mph gusts driving rain against the side of my face to get skunked, and another year fished in nearly identical conditions for steady action. No hard and fast rule guarantees success for efforts, and we’ve caught trout under the severest of cold fronts without a cloud in the sky, but nasty days have proved the best.
Lures give you the chance to scout the reservoir’s shores under any conditions. The back of Ranger Cove, for example, is accessible by trail and productive. I spoke to someone who reported a brown trout suspended near the surface as long as his arm, wouldn’t hit anything. Wherever you try, do so with an open mind that may subtly guide casts in directions that count. Life attracts life, and deep in the back of the human mind, intuitive connectivity exists that helps sense where action might happen. We’re animals like any other, and although all species use all of their senses to hunt, more is involved than the outward five, though it is nothing simple like the use of GPS coordinates.
If you regularly scout the reservoir’s shores, casting as you go, over time you will come to know spots better, developing a total affinity for the main launch and Cove regions accessible by foot, like a map in the mind with a live report, cluing you into the present situation. This hardly makes the fishing any easier—especially in the dead of winter—but the gains in interest far surpass the dull blindness of random luck. Even one-time outing can be plenty interesting for anyone who pays attention.
Live Shiners Catch Lakers
Shiners will catch rainbows and browns also, so after the flourish of November M & M action, I switch to shiners and hold my breath. Some winters very few lakers get caught. Mysteriously, other winters produce many. Last winter, during three weeks before the reservoir froze over, I heard word only of lakers, no rainbows or browns while a laker or two hit nearly each time out. Possibly, rainbows passed on our shiners. Browns take shiners better than rainbows, but few remain. Waiting on bottom sets other times, rainbows have taken this bait, so last winter remains a curiosity.
Some fishermen experiment with floats and catch trout, setting at four feet and casting the rig over 10-20 feet of water. Others go to the opposite extreme with limber 12-foot rods capable of casting a one-ounce weight great distance. I marvel at how the shiner isn’t ripped from the hook, but these slow action rods soften the blow of forward momentum. By keeping bail open for the weighted bait to sink straight down, these anglers achieve sets as deep as at least 35 feet.
I catch lakers using the same rig as I do for M & M, only I slide a Styrofoam walleye nightcrawler float—painted black to reduce visibility—through the leader line just like an egg sinker. Others simply acquire white Styrofoam and cut into a small piece with the leader line so it stays in place. Styrofoam seems to make a difference in keeping a shiner out of rock crevices or from hugging bottom.
In pursuit, I’ve micromanaged a 150-yard stretch of Ranger Cove over the years, deepening my familiarity. Last winter, I reduced the possibilities until I seemed to know exactly where to expect hits. And those hits came—most of the fish lost, unfortunately. Fish don’t really behave by random senselessness, so the better we guess whereabouts, the better come results.
As a rule, when bottom fishing three sets, space them as widely as comfort and accessibility allow. If you learn enough in the process of experimentation to guess a good spot, set one there, and move the other two wherever the best guesses lead, but don’t crowd a spot unnecessarily.
Fall involves the best action you’ll see until next year. The winter scene can show you the slowest fishing you’ll ever know, but patiently catch a laker and the entire natural wonder of Round Valley may seem yours.