8 AM - 4:30 PM (PST) Mon-Fri
8 AM - 3 PM (PST) Mon-Fri
By Jason Brooks
Trout fishing is often thought of as soaking some sort of dough bait and watching the tip of the fishing rod for the telltale bite of a hungry fish. This can be a fun and productive way to fish, but depending on state laws and regulations, such as in my home state of Washington, every fish you catch using bait must be counted towards your daily possession limit even if you let that fish go. Then there is the “must be at my spot to catch a fish” dilemma where you know fish like to congregate and, if other anglers are already in that spot, then you need to go find another. This is where trolling for trout will make you a better angler, as well as allow you to catch more fish if no scent or bait is used with the lures.
When it comes to lures where no hooks need to be tipped with bait or added scent is needed, look to ones that have flash and attract trout by their action and presentation. The Smile Blade Fly is such a lure as it looks like a damselfly nymph, one of the most common food sources for trout, and a spinner, which attracts the fish. Another lure to be used without the need of scent or bait is the Hum Dinger. Fishing these two lures can be done a few different ways depending on the type of water and gear you prefer to fish.
The Smile Blade Fly is often thought of only as a lure for fly anglers and it works well when being cast with a fly rod. However, it also trolls well with a light spinning outfit. For the gear angler, one of the best ways to fish the Smile Blade Fly is to put a few split shot on the mainline with a swivel, then use a two-foot leader of monofilament or fluorocarbon line to the fly. Troll it very slowly as it mimics an aquatic insect and, thanks to the mylar Smile Blade, the spinner attractor will rotate at extremely slow speeds. If fishing water with a current, such as in large lakes where a stream flows into it, the blade will continue to work regardless of increased current or when you kick up the trolling speed.
If you do have a fly rod with some intermediate sinking line, then try trolling the Smile Blade Fly with this set up. One great thing about using a fly rod is that you can troll along until you find the fish and then stop and make a few casts while varying the retrieve from slowing stripping it in with a finger crawl to a quick strip to entice the bite. Trout will often follow the lure for a while before deciding if they want to bite it or not, but when you add in a few quick strips it jerks the fly forward and often creates a reactive bite. You can do this while trolling as well, just grab the line and give it a quick strip in, then drop it and let it fall back. This creates a sudden upward or forward movement of the fly and when you drop the line the slack creates a dropping or stopping of the fly. This “skip” action is almost impossible for some trout to resist. If you miss a bite, then do this trick right way as the fish is still near the Smile Blade Fly.
The Hum Dinger mimics baitfish and trout are aggressive eaters, especially sea run cutthroat that feed on chum fry. For those that have the opportunity to fish in saltwater for sea run cutthroat the Hum Dinger will produce a lot of fish. Trolling along kelp beds and near points that jut out from the shoreline where small baitfish and fry are found seeking shelter and cover from predators. Again, you can use a few small split shot on the mainline if needed or fish it with a downrigger and a light release.
Brown trout are often thought of as the most aggressive trout species, but all trout will feed on baitfish. If you find yourself in waters with multiple species of trout the Hum Dinger is an excellent choice. It comes in two sizes with the smaller Hum Dinger 1/8-oz. (1 3/4" length) size being the most popular. For lakes where you find large trout, such as the great lakes with steelhead or places such as Lake Pend Oreille where the Idaho state record Kamloops rainbow was caught weighing in at 37 pounds, then the Hum Dinger 1/2-oz. (2 1/2" length) size is a smart choice.
Downriggers are not just for salmon and kokanee fishing but they’re great for trout fishing, too. One important thing about using downriggers is to get the lure to the depth where the fish are at. In large and deep lakes, they are a must, but do not overlook using them in shallow water and the popular trout lakes. You can set the lure back several feet from the release and then drop it down a few feet to several hundred, but it also keeps your gear close to your boat. This is an advantage when a lake is being heavily fished, such as on opening day of trout season. You can make turns easier and shorter, which means when you get a bite you can make a turn and go right back to where the fish are.
If you do not have downriggers and need to get the lures down deep where split shot just will not get them deep enough, then you have a few other options. One being going “old school” and using lead core line. The line is marked by colors, often in ten-foot or ten-yard sections and then let out as many colors as you need to get down to the fish. This is also a terrific way to fish if you do not have a line counter reel and need to reset the gear back to the same depth as previously fished.
Dropper weights are also a way to get gear down without a downrigger. Using a pinch release, much like those used for downrigger fishing, and a cannonball weight, you can let the lure out several feet, clip the weight onto the mainline and then use a line counter reel to lower the lure to the desired depth. This is much like turning your rod and reel into a downrigger with a lure. The one main drawback is that you must use a cannonball weight heavy enough to get the lure down such as a 1- or 2-ounce weight, and until you unclip the weight from the line, you are not getting to fight the fish much as you are reeling in a dead weight between the rod and the fish Thus, when you unclip the weight, be sure to take up the slack that is created or else the fish may be able to get off.
Trolling for trout is a fantastic way to extend the day of fishing when the fish are biting. It also helps you learn the lake you are targeting that day as you will be searching for fish. If you get to your favorite spot and find other anglers already there, then put away the dough bait and rig up the trolling rod. Go find a new spot or a few new spots and spend the day catching trout.