Have you ever wondered why the same old names keep popping up when it comes to trophy trout fishing? Dockside talk always involves stories of the ones that got away; blew up and missed the top water, straightened the split rings on a Corky, jumped and shook out the soft plastic bait and, the absolute best is, "I could not get her in my net." What counts is what we actually hang on our Boga Grips or take to the weigh station in our tournaments. I believe the most important thing that separates the consistent trophy trout catchers from the rest of the crowd is well laid plans, hereafter called Game Plans.
What I want to do in this article is tell you what I do. I cannot speak for all the others out there who consistently catch big trout. I know what has worked for me in the past and my history has a few large trout swimming in it. For me, it is all about being in the right place, over the preferred structure, having the right lure presentation and being totally prepared on every cast for that bite that might be your next fish of a lifetime.
I have always been anal about controlling everything that we possibly can; and then letting the rest of the things we cannot control take a back seat during the day. In the winter, which is the time of year I feel we have our best shot at catching a truly heavy trout, it is all about mud and bait. Find these two things and you are in the right area for large trout. Add some scattered shell or a grass lump here and there and your chances get even better. This is one of the first things we can most definitely try to control.
You do not have to get out of the boat until you have found what you are looking for. West side shorelines, with coves and pockets, traditionally hold the warmest waters when it is cold. These same shoreline structures will also be the first to warm during periods when we get cold nights and warm afternoons. If you take a moment and think about your favorite fishing area, you can probably see a place in your mind's eye like the one I just described.
Once in my selected area, I like to anchor on the outsides of these areas and look for any type of bait activity before starting my approach. One mullet can be all that is needed to make me want to spend half the day in such a location. Let the mullet activity continue to increase and I could spend all day in there.
On a daily basis, I do not get the chance to fish this way nearly as much as I would like. Every guide wishes for a clientele of anglers serious enough to want to spend the day trying to trick that one trout that is the equivalent of a 160 Boone and Crockett buck into taking a bait. Today for instance, I saw one 6 inch mullet flip and a pelican sitting over my selected area. Over a period of 4 hours, this area produced 10 trout from 22 to 26 inches. It was never fast and I saw very little bait, but that one mullet gave us the go ahead to get out of the boat.
As for my lure selection this time of year, it is probably not nearly as vast as one might think; in fact, I think many of my clients are disappointed when they see the scant lure selection I use. I am not one that likes to have a tackle store attached to me when I am trophy fishing.
Keep it simple; the less stuff you have with you, the more mobility you have. I do not like long stringers, nor do I like the floating nets. Speaking of nets, I hate them. I have not needed one yet and do not plan on changing. I have seen too many good fish lost because the lure, fish or angler was tangled in its webbing.
I do not carry two rods; many a tip has been broken and world-class backlash caused when the rod you are using finds your spare. I know what you are thinking- "What happens if you are a mile from the boat and in the fish and you break a rod or toast your reel?" Hey it happens; you wade back and get another.
I carry a small tackle box with a few jig heads and soft plastics, a couple of cork lures, some of my favorite topwaters and a pack of gum. The gum is for me when I am alone. I have heard all my stories and most of them are not of interest to me anymore. By keeping my gear light, my lure selection simple, and my work area uncluttered, I can concentrate totally on every cast. These are all things you can control.
Here is one thing I believe many trophy trout anglers overlook and it concerns your reel's drag system. First, it is an absolute must that the drag be smooth at all tension settings. I believe, and this is just me talking; a heavy drag setting sends a message down the line letting the fish know that this is not going to be easy. When I say heavy, remember that smooth is still the key, and heavy also depends on the strength of line one is using. I adjust my drag by feel and I am continually giving it a pull to test it throughout the day.
Let me put it this way, a three pound trout has a hard time taking drag on my gear. You should never back off your drag in my opinion. Set it to a level that allows the bigger fish to run, even when in tight, but make them work while doing it. Work is tiring; the more tired the trout, the better your chances of landing her once you get her close enough. Green fish get off on a regular basis.
Your rod also plays a big role in the amount of drag you can place on a fish. The rods with faster actions and softer tips allow for better casting, they feel better feel, they help you put better action on your lures, and they also absorb the shock of a heavy headshake - whether it be at the end of a long cast or in close when a big trout pulls the, "I'll run right at you," tactic.
The Waterloo HP SLAM and SLAM MAG in 6'6" is my new choice of rod. Good quality rods and reels are the one thing we all need to have if we hope to achieve the best chance of landing that trout of a lifetime.
Lure presentation is something that each one of us does a little different from the other. Some of us have rhythms that draw instinctive strikes for feeding and non-feeding trout. Others have a walk-the-dog technique that no fish can resist. And then there are the Corky enthusiasts that wait all year long for these next few months. Whatever your choice of lures, and by the way all of them are known big trout baits, you have to concentrate on each cast.
From the point where your bait enters the water, all along the line you work it, even the little places where technique needs to be a little more deliberate to get it through the structure, you must remain very attentive to the task before you. All of these are things that we can control, things that we get better at with time and practice. If you do not practice throughout the year, you are expecting too much if you go out with the anticipation of sticking and landing a trophy trout.
I also like to envision and anticipate WHERE my strikes are going to come on each cast. By doing this, you are simply more prepared to take the appropriate action when the strike comes.
Final point, and by no means last or least, is attitude. Attitude is probably one of the most important things we as anglers can control. The belief that, WHAT you are doing, WHERE you are doing it, and HOW you are doing it are critical. We need some help from the fish and the surroundings at times to keep us tuned in to the task, but given the right circumstances this time of year, that is not too hard. It is a beautiful time of the year to be on the water with the ducks and geese flying overhead, maybe a whitetail buck running a doe along the refuge shoreline and the occasional feral hog rooting his way along the bank. All of this simply adds to the day.
What completes the day is that one strike from a sizable trout as we ease our way down the shoreline. Whether it be that sharp double thump on a jig, a massive pop and the foam ring left as a large trout inhales a topwater, or that sudden thump and shake as a big trout snaps her mouth closed on a cork lure. I trust you are like me, looking for that one strike that makes a winter day on the water more of a success than simply just being there. Hey, if you are already there, you might as well do it right and finish it off with a trophy trout.
As always, release these big fish whenever you can and good luck this winter.