Improve Your Chances to Land a Trophy Trout

Improve Your Chances to Land a Trophy Trout
Dale Combs with a CPR trophy.

If you watch NFL games you have probably seen the commercial with Jason Witten sitting in the Dallas Cowboys locker room talking about how long it took him to earn his authentic Cowboys ball cap. Next to him is a young boy with the same cap; his mom bought it at the NFL online store. Who are you, Jason Witten or the boy?

My focus for the next three months will be trophy-sized trout. But before we get into that we have a few things we need to cover.

Manage your expectations: I believe that nothing truly valuable comes without hard work. And, to be honest, trout that tip the scale to 10-pounds (and more) are extremely rare nowadays think 180-class low-fence whitetail rare. So, as we get on with managing expectations, know that catching a 10-pound trout will require extreme preparation, skill, and at least a fair amount of luck.

Learning: It seems that many anglers today have their fish-catching cart before the horse in both the mental and physical game and please don't take that the wrong way. My goal here is educate you and help you prepare for an encounter with a trophy fish. I will turn 59 in a few days and have fished my whole life. I am still learning.

Learning is done on the water. Due to the wealth of information available today via social media, seminars and magazine articles, some anglers become "experts" without actually doing much fishing. Learn the basics of fishing and you can avoid the trap of getting your cart too far in front.

Skill Development: I think the first skill that must be mastered is casting. Casting is not just how far you can sling a lure. It's picking a target and accurately placing the lure on it. It takes a lot of practice. Pick a target every cast.

Second is learning to quickly clear a backlash. This should come while mastering the casting thing. The last thing you want to be doing is wasting precious minutes picking at your reel or returning to the boat for a spare when the bite is on.

Third is learning to tie knots properly. The knot connecting the lure to the line is the most important link between you and the fish and it needs to be the strongest possible.

Fourth is lure presentation. Think of it as dancing. For every lure there's a dance, and in case you haven't noticed, no two two-steps are the same. Every angler has to find and develop their own rhythm. I think lure presentation is something we tweak continuously throughout our fishing career.

Tackle: A fast-action medium-light rod makes a lure dance differently than a moderately-fast medium rod. What I do with a 6'-6" Henri medium-light will be different from your 6'-6" Waterloo HP Slam Mag medium. Both are awesome sticks by the way. Match your rods to the presentations you are trying to make.

Detecting a Bite: Distinguishing which signals being telegraphed through the line are bites and which are not is critical to success. The intensity of the bite can vary from day to day in winter, so it's necessary to learn to decipher all of them.

Landing Fish: Looking at the rod tip to see if the fish is still on the line is not in the fish landing protocol. Remember, bigger fish have the ability to literally tear themselves free of the lure. The big ones get away because they can.

Oh, the net thing. Hey, do what you want but, when I teach anglers to land fish I teach them to do it without a net. I want the angler to learn to play the fish down so that it becomes easier to handle. Not saying nets are bad, just one more thing floating in the water for a big fish to tangle in. I've seen too many tangles and break-offs...why risk it?

Reading Water: Let's say you have mastered everything so far; it's time to learn to read the water. This does not mean jerking the throttle back every time you see a bent rod just kidding. Reading water means interpreting every sign and signal your eyes can detect and you'll need the best pair of polarized sunglasses you can afford. I wear Costa Del Mar 580s with copper lenses and green or silver mirror finish. With practice, you can learn to interpret depth changes and structure types. Black is typically grass or shell in my part of the world. White is shallow sand and dotted with long-legged birds more humor. Blue-green is deeper potholes.

Learn to visually establish underwater bottom structure where are the edges and what's the water depth where the edges begin? Reading water allows you to establish the line where heavy bottom grass begins and the broken stuff starts.

Oh, and then there's constant monitoring of water temperature. Two degrees can make a huge difference in your day's results. Not knowing this will lead to defeat more times than not in the big trout game.

Solunar Table: So, we've got us some bad to the bone Costa's and we're reading water and monitoring water temperatures. Now it's Solunar Table time. You don't have to take a course in astronomy, just know the times during the day when feeding activity is most likely to occur. They're called majors and minors; skip the science and follow the table. That's how I do it.

Bait Presence: Locating predictable food sources is huge in winter trout fishing. I can't tell you how many times a single mullet flipping or jumping over the proper bottom structure has put me right in the middle of them. An osprey or brown pelican gliding overhead patrolling the same piece of water repeatedly is even better. They see things we cannot and they do not waste time where there is nothing to eat. Do not rush in, you'll only ruin the bird's chances and your own.

Preparation: There is no excuse for not being prepared. Make a checklist. Mentally if you are younger than 50, write it down if you're older. You need two reels, both in top working order. Make sure the drags are smooth. Monofilament line should be changed once a month, braid will last two or three. Never risk losing a great fish to weak line.

Tie your leader knots the night before in good lighting, you can put your lure on once on the water where the conditions will dictate lure type and color.

Check your waders for leaks. You won't last long in 50 water if you're wet and cold. I had a guy get in the water and one leg of his 1960 model waders came off. No small tear, I'm talking all the way off.

Carry a small box of your favorite lures and some extra leader material. Your knot tying skills will allow you to tie a new leader while wading if the need arises. By getting prepared the night before you'll be ready to fish when the boat stops.

Patience: This comes with water time. I can be as patient as Job on the water. In the grocery store, not so much. Patience is something we acquire as we mature. My angling patience twenty years ago left a lot to be desired.

If you will apply yourself and work on the things I have laid out here, I believe you will see significant improvement in your fishing success. Thanks for reading, laughing, and hopefully learning.May your fishing always be catching! -Guide Jay Watkins