Sunday, February 15, 2015

Super Ultra-Light Salmon Egg Spinning for Trout

With trout season approaching, I thought I would post an article on fishing salmon eggs.

Super Ultra-Light Rods for Salmon Egging Rainbow and Brook Trout

          Rod bending all the way to the butt, drag screeching, the line cut zig-zag patterns on North Branch Raritan River’s calm surface. I pumped all three-and-a-half feet working the trout up current, but once again the tiny spinning reel spool slipped. Three minutes later, I lifted a two-pound rainbow grasped behind gills out of cold water.

          I bought the rod I’ve used for the past 15 years at a sporting goods outlet, but more than 35 years ago, a fishing mentor and I built such rods from component parts strictly for use with two-pound test monofilament and salmon eggs. We sawed off the tip sections of flimsy fly rod blanks and created rods like no others, highly effective for this special purpose. Each spring we were lords of the streams we fished, mastering a method no one else quite knew about. We didn’t introduce three-and-a half foot rods, but we beat their appearance on the market by at least a decade or two.

          My brother, Rick, and nephew, Kyle, do well with ultralights just over four feet long, but I would never trade mine because it’s light enough to bend the tip clear back to touch the rod shaft. Every trout I’ve caught has put up a good fight. Low diameter two-pound test allows a single salmon egg on a size 14 snell hook to cast as many as 12 yards without any additional weight but the size 18 snap connecting a leader. Short rods make traversing the brush and brambles of a small stream easy, fine for small rivers, too. A trick for achieving longer casts without sacrificing weightless drift is to attach two leaders of different length to the snap and fish salmon eggs tandem.

          Salmon egg fishing is all about drift. You might think it’s more about setting the hook just right, since rainbow and brook trout are notorious egg stealers. (Browns are less inclined to strike eggs.) Nevertheless, if you can’t present a salmon egg in an appealing way, trout will ignore it. I’ve witnessed anglers using heavy split shots and still fishing an egg on bottom. A trout would not be tempted by the time the egg decomposed. The majority try to drift eggs on four-pound test, over-weighting the line with split shot so the rig gets caught on rocks, interrupting natural drift just off bottom.

          Situations exist—strong, deep currents—when BB or slightly heavier split shot is called for. Strip lead is a better option to break the habit of crimping a split shot hard. The pressure can compress and weaken line, and you would need all of its strength for a good-size trout. The usual weight we use is swivels.

          I don’t buy snaps for trout. I buy snap swivels and use clippers to cut the swivels off the snaps. I collect the swivel pieces, broken at one end, and put them on a few safety pins through the good loops. Attach pins to your vest and you have a handy way to access a swivel or two placed on the snap for just the right amount of weight needed.

          Figuring out that right amount of weight or lack of it is really a subtle aspect of reading water. Only practice can teach it.

          Trout occupy many different sorts of spots. Most fishermen never venture far from bridges or other access points close to where they park. But the best way to learn to read water is to see some. Don a pair of waders and start walking. Obviously, shallow rifts with a slate or two for a trout to hide under require no more than a couple of short casts to tease out a trout, if it’s there. Deep pools require longer stays. But don’t overlook the water in between. If you keep returning to a stream or section of it, you learn where trout lie in holes, become familiar with overhanging banks to count on, riffles that usually hold fish, etc. Home water is a personal possession that can improve fishing over the years.

          Overhanging banks on any stream sometimes situate deeper back underneath and out of sight. I’ve let eggs drift in visible water a foot deep right in among roots and caught several trout before action died. On closer inspection afterwards, it was evident that the depth increased to nearly three feet. The classic pool of five or six feet of water has faster current leading into it. Cast upstream at an angle and let the current bring the egg into deep water. When the line straightens out, retrieve and make another cast. Not all pools are like this. And sometimes the lead current isn’t best to drift. Long slow stretches often have deeper water interspersed that holds trout. Sometimes stretches have a long length of deep water, and you need to fish patiently and thoroughly, casting upstream and retrieving once the egg settles on bottom with slow current. On many occasions, trout bunch together in a pool or hole. If the water is clear enough, you may spot them. Otherwise, finding the zone is achieved by varying cast placement.

           Whether you hop by car from one bridge to another, or wade a section of a stream or small river, getting in the rhythm and flow of knowing how long to stay at a spot and knowing when to move on is something to learn from experience. But as a rule, when action slows significantly—move on. Otherwise, always make sure to fish thoroughly without getting stuck in place. It’s as if many anglers think fishing is all a waiting game, but fishing is just as said in common parlance. To fish around for something is to search.

          Drifting an egg the right way is rarely perfect. Current drags on line. Wind can wreak havoc. Eddies slacken line. But at least with thin diameter monofilament current and wind have less to bow, sag, and run away with. If you can find fluorocarbon two pound test, this line sinks and may be even more manageable without unduly weighting the egg’s drift.

          The chief consideration concerning line bowing, turning in eddies and lifting in wind is how these factors affect drift. Study what happens and try to cast so the egg is presented in as unhindered and natural a way as possible, just off bottom. Any lack of straightness between the line at the rod tip and a trout that has taken an egg makes setting the hook a problem. Pull the line straight and the trout may either slip the egg off the hook or drop it. It may be best to wait a second or two, even more, before snapping the rod back to set the hook. I like to wait until I feel a firm pull. Then I know the line is straight and the trout has the egg fully in its mouth. But not every trout takes an egg firmly. Many will steal an egg before you feel a tug.         

          Many years ago when I was in my teens, my fishing mentor taught me that when trout are fed up—full—they are reluctant to take eggs fully into their mouths. Getting a hook set in this sort of situation is not impossible, but it’s certain you’ll miss hits.

          Hook setting in general when it comes to trout and salmon eggs is trying. Even with years of experience, you will miss many. This is part of the game, testing patience and skill, skill never perfected, yet trout will usually bite another egg on the next or subsequent casts. Fishing dry flies, I find the hook up ratio is greater than with salmon eggs. Nevertheless, missing fish shouldn’t be a frustration or considered a flaw in the method. On the contrary, hooking trout should be a confirmation of the persistence required. It would be too easy if hooking trout this way was as simple as hooking bass, yet the flimsy tip of a super-ultralight is perfect for absorbing the hard tug of an active trout just before you lay back into it.

          The color of eggs can make a difference in how many hits you get. For clear water, I use pale beige eggs almost exclusively, but I’m not averse to trying a red egg if trout are reluctant. Muddy flows are obviously useless for salmon egg fishing, but off color water with a visibility of a foot or so can be challenged by using red, chartreuse, or fluorescent eggs.

         Place eggs on plain, size 14, baitholder snell hooks. Gold salmon hooks are unnecessary, although effective. Learn to snell your own leaders with two pound test fluorocarbon if you can find it, and vary the length of leaders if you plan on using tandem rigs. Monofilament will work fine, but fluorocarbon is less visible, so at least as a matter of form, when fishing very clear water it is preferable. The size 14 hooks are absolutely essential. The smallness fits an egg just right, and trout will ignore your offering if you use a large hook.

          Buy or make your own leader wallet out of thick plastic wrapping, using coat hanger wire to bind sleeves. Tape the sleeves together on the open ends with electrical tape. You also need an egg container with a quick opening lid to attach to your belt or vest. Losing eggs to casts, retrieves, and trout is a constant problem if you have to take a jar out of your vest and unscrew the lid each time. Missing hits is just part of the game, but making a mess of clothing due to spilled salmon egg oil shouldn’t have to be.

          Waders or hip boots are essential for cold water rainbow and brook trout, and take the following tip to mind. Especially when wading small streams, the chances of confronting briars or other neoprene or breathable wader damaging brambles are high. If you get a big rip or tear, there’s little you can do, but usually the penetration is just enough to spring a leak. So take a tube of UV activated wader repair fluid. Even on cloudy days, this stuff works within a minute. If it’s really cold, vermiculite toe and hand warmers are a must. If you want to carry a light pack on your back, streamside coffee from a thermos makes for a real nice break.   

          As a method for spinning gear, no other approach to trout has the subtlety of a single salmon egg on a super ultra-light rod and reel. Tiny jigs work sometimes for some anglers. They don’t likely work as well as salmon eggs. And besides, they take all the challenge of drift and line problems out of the game. They better ensure a hook up when a trout hits, so you don’t get all the play involved in judging when to set the hook. Again, this is not to say that salmon eggs are less effective. In my opinion, salmon eggs are the most effective bait for rainbow and brook trout. Brook trout especially may at times prefer a waxworm over an egg, but most of the time you may do best with salmon eggs once you master this method, and rainbows never seem to get temperamental over them.