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By Richy Harrod, Harrod Outdoors
Fishing for trout was the mainstay of angling in my youth. Local lakes and streams had a variety of species, either planted or stocked, and we called them all trout whether they were rainbows, brookies, or dolly varden. We tossed flies, black ants we caught by hand, worms, and cured salmon when fishing streams or small ponds, and trolled the famous Wedding Ring Spinners when in larger lakes. As a kid, it seemed like a 12” trout would bite anything so the thrill of the chase lost its luster.
As an adult, fishing for trout has become a quest for the elusive “large” rainbow. North Central Washington has many lakes and reservoirs that are stocked with triploid trout, which can grow well over 10 lbs.
A triploid trout has an extra set of chromosomes, as compared to their diploid native cousins, which makes them sterile. Triploids place all energy otherwise used for reproductive parts into increasing size, especially weight but not necessarily length. Some fish that exceed 10 lbs. have the appearance of football, but nevertheless they still have the classic strong rainbow fight. And what’s more, they are excellent table fare.
Trout are surface feeders and will eat insects, small fish, and crustaceans. Rainbow trout cruise the shallows along shorelines or weed edges hunting for food. Trout prefer water temperatures between 55 and 60 F⁰, but can tolerate a temperature range of 32 to 70 F⁰. Fish will occupy deeper, cooler water in the summer months and more near surface water in the winter months. Knowing where trout feed and what they are eating is key in targeting rainbows, particularly big rainbows.
Choosing tackle to catch trout is similar to any other fishery; tackle should mimic the forage base. Trout are predators who mostly hunt for live organisms that are trying not to be eaten. As any bank fishermen knows, trout will also eat stationary, brightly colored bait or worms. But trolling tackle that mimics natural food items is a great way to find fish on the hunt over larger areas and will help put more fish in your cooler. A good way to determine what trout are eating is to look at the gut content and match your lures accordingly.
Trout are near the water surface in winter months but also morning or evenings during warmer months. Fish rise to the surface looking for insects. The Smile Blade® Fly, Koke-A-Nut™ Glo®, or Wedding Ring® Glo® Fly are effective lures that allow anglers to “match the hatch” of trout forage.
Pairing these lures with an attractor, such as Flash Lite® Troll, Sling Blade™, or Double D™ Dodgers, will help bring scattered fish to the lure. Dodgers and Sling Blades also provide side-to-side movement giving these lures more erratic movement imitating a struggling insect.
Shortening leaders to 12” or less will provide extra movement to entice finicky fish. Longer leaders, up to 36” can be used with Flash Lite Trolls.
Fish are deeper in the spring and summer months in order to find cooler water. Trout will feed near shorelines and weed edges early in the morning or evening then descent to deeper water during the heat of the day. Lures that are similar in shape and color to small fish and crustaceans work well during this time of year.
The Cha Cha™ Squidders, Pee Wee™ Wiggle Hoochie™, Double Whammy® Pro, Cripplure™, or Hum Dinger® imitate baitfish and come in a wide range of colors to match their favorite forage. Red, chartreuse, and green are consistent colors that catch fish all times of the year.
Use attractors in combination with these lures to create extra movement. The Pee Wee Wiggle Hoochies work well with Flash Lite Trolls because the lure has its own movement due to the Wiggle Hooochie bills. Squidders, Double Whammys or Hum Dingers work well with Sling Blades or Double D Dodgers and again, shorten leaders to under 12” to create erratic movement similar to a wounded baitfish. Cripplures can be trolled alone, with an attractor, or can be casted and retrieved.
Selecting the right trolling rig is obviously important but presentation is just as important. Study lake contour maps in order to find shallow points, shorelines, and bays. Pay attention to electronics while trolling these locations. If you mark fish, keep working these areas, position lures at the depth where fish are found, and change colors or lure types until fish are enticed to bite. In other words, “fish to the fish.”
Trout typically like faster trolling speeds around 1.5 to 2.0 mph. Slower speeds may work better in cold water in winter, but generally trout are looking to chase forage items. Let the fish determine what speed will entice the bite. Start at 1.5 mph and troll in S-patterns. For example, a slow turn to the left will increase the speed of the outside rod on the starboard side of the boat, while the inside rods on the port side of the boat will be slower. Biting fish on either slower or faster gear will indicate an optimal speed.
Trout that are feeding near the surface may be “boat shy,” so positioning your gear away from the boat is a good technique. Some anglers using various side planers, but the Double D Dodger has a unique action and setup that allows the angler to move trolling gear away from the boat. The graphic on the face of the dodger indicates which hole to attach the mainline in order to create a dodging action that moves gear away from either port or starboard sides of the boat.
If using downriggers to control depth, long setbacks of 100-150’ with a Double D Dodger will move lures 20 feet or more, depending on speed, out of the boat path. Additional rods rigged with weighted lures and Sling Blades can be placed straight out of the back of the boat with even longer setbacks of up to 200’ feet. Again, trolling in slow S-patterns will help to continually keep gear out of the boat path.
Fish that are deeper during warmer months don’t require long setbacks, particularly if fishing your gear off downriggers or drop weights. Setbacks of 20-30’ work well and allows for tighter turns without tangling gear. Locate fish on your fish finder and place gear at that specific depth. Gear can be moved up and down the water column to place trolling gear where fish are marked. Additional attraction can be accomplished by attaching Flash Lite Trolls to your downrigger ball.
We are blessed with numerous trout lakes throughout the Pacific Northwest. The trout bite can be fast action trolling small lakes and ponds, which is perfect for kids and first-time anglers. Big fish can be found in most any lake but the upper Columbia River and nearby by lakes and reservoirs often yield large trout many dream about. Whether the lake is small or large, give these techniques a try to put more fish in your boat.
Richy Harrod, Harrod Outdoors