Trout Season Cheat Sheet
5 tips, tactics, and presentations to help you catch more trout this season.
Every spring, hundreds of thousands of trout are released into creeks, rivers, lakes, and ponds, which brings out droves of anglers to celebrate spring with spinners, flies, mealworms, and PowerBait. Competition can be fierce during the early days of the season, but here are a few tricks to keep in your trout vest that may help give you an edge.
Float a Worm
In lakes and ponds, trout often swim off the bottom, looking up for their food. To help increase the visibility of one of the most effective natural baits for trout, nightcrawlers, fishermen use small devices called “worm blowers” to add air bubbles into their bait. This floats the worm off the bottom and into a cruising trout’s line of sight.
To “blow up” a nightcrawler, first thread it onto a hook, inserting the hook at the worm’s collar. Since this is the toughest part of the worm, it’s the best place to secure it onto the hook. A bait-holder-style hook (with two barbs along the shank) is best for this application. It helps keep the worm in place and prevents it from bunching up on the hook.
Next, take a worm blower and insert it into the head of the worm and squeeze. You should see the worm fill with air. Repeat this with the tail section, and the worm will be ready to fish. Set it 8 to 20 inches above an egg sinker or split-shot, adjusting the distance between the weight and the worm based on water depth and the level of cruising trout.
The Most Attractive Trout Lure
While spinners and spoons are considered classic trout catchers, a modern classic (and perhaps the most productive stream trout lure ever) is the aptly named Trout Magnet. It’s a must-have lure for your trout season.
The Trout Magnet is a 1/64-ounce shad dart fixed with a segmented, split-tail soft plastic. Rigged, the lure is 1¼ inches in length.
Jeff Smith and Todd Gaines of Leland Lures in Searcy, Arkansas, had kept the Trout Magnet to themselves for years before releasing it to the market in 1997. Smith attributes the lure’s success to its tendency to remain horizontal when falling or suspended below a float. “The flat look drives them crazy,” Smith notes.
Ultralight tackle is essential to fishing the Trout Magnet, so 2-pound-test line is best. Line heavier than 4-pound test will adversely affect the bait’s action.
Smith and Gaines created the E-Z Trout Float specifically for fishing the Trout Magnet. With constant short twitches of the rod tip, the float gives the bait a lifelike presentation as it moves downstream. The float should be positioned so the Trout Magnet sweeps just above the bottom.
In slower-moving water, the Trout Magnet can be effectively fished without the float. Use a similar retrieve, with constant twitches of the rod tip. Once again, attempting to keep the lure near the bottom will provide the best results.
Make Your Own Trout Dough
While a jar of PowerBait costs only $5 and will last a full spring of casual trout fishing, fishermen still enjoy whipping up their own trout dough. Some even claim their recipes work better than store-bought trout baits.
Flour and water—and sometimes cornmeal—are the base of most trout dough recipes. The key is finding the right mix to achieve a consistency similar to Play-Doh that can be molded around a hook. Next, flavor is added.
Cheese, specifically, ultra-processed “cheese product” like Velveeta, is popular as both a flavor and a binding agent in trout dough recipes. Sugar, anise extract, honey, marshmallows, and salt are used as well, but garlic powder seems to be the most popular dough additive. Here’s a simple recipe for a smelly, biodegradable dough bait that’s sure to turn a few trout heads.
Melt a quarter-pound of Velveeta cheese in the microwave and mix it with 1 cup flour, 1 cup cornmeal, ½ cup sugar, and a healthy heaping of garlic powder. Add up to 2 cups water, in ½-cup increments, until it has a firm but pliable consistency. If you’d like to use color, now is the time to add food coloring. Mash it all together until it forms a heavy dough.
Bring a pot of water to boil. Pinch off bait-size pieces of the dough and roll them into balls about the size of target marbles, roughly 5/8-inches in diameter, and add them to the boiling water a few at a time.
Let the dough balls to sit in the boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove them with a slotted spoon and allow them to dry on paper towels.
Select a Spoon
While spinners reign supreme at creeks and rivers, spoons are a more practical choice on ponds and lakes. Spoons cast further and cover more water, making them better for still waters where trout school up and roam.
Selecting the best spoon to launch into your favorite trout pond depends on how recently the trout were stocked and the conditions.
Freshly stocked trout often linger near the surface until they see a few of their friends carried off in an osprey’s talons. In those early weeks, wider-bodied spoons, like the Little Cleo or Thomas Buoyant, work best because they can be kept near the surface with a slow retrieve.
Wider spoons have a more dramatic wobbling action compared to the tighter wiggle of narrow spoons like the Acme Kastmaster or Thomas Rough Rider. These can be fished near the surface but require a faster retrieve. On days when trout are following but not striking, a faster retrieve with one of these spoons can be the key. Sometimes, giving the fish less time to eyeball an offering results in fierce reaction strikes.
When trout go deep a few weeks into the season or when targeting a larger holdover trout, narrow spoons plumb the depths better than wider-bodied spoons. Cast a Rough Rider or Kastmaster far out, allow it to sink, and begin a slow, steady retrieve that keeps it just off the bottom.
Just about any spoon color has its time and place, but over the course of the season, gold usually outshines all others.
The 100-Trout-A-Day Rig
One of the deadliest spinning-rod presentations for trout in lakes and ponds is the casting bubble and fly. Three-time Massachusetts Angler of the Year, Roy Leyva, has used this rig to catch what, for some fishermen, would be a season’s worth of trout in a single outing.
To fish this rig, Roy uses a 7-foot or longer rod and a reel filled with 4- to 6-pound-test mono. Roy uses a Rainbow Plastics Tough Bubble in sizes medium and small for trout (he’s used the large size with remarkable success for stripers), and threads his main line through the bubble, tying on a swivel that’s large enough not to slide into the bubble’s stem. He makes sure the leader he attaches to the swivel is no longer than his rod, so if he’s casting a 7-foot rod, he uses a 6 ½-foot leader.
The bubble acts not as a bobber or strike indicator but as a weight. When filled entirely with water, the bubble sinks slowly. Paired with a streamer or wet fly, this combination fools many trout, especially when casting from the windward side of the pond.
By filling the bubble halfway, you’ll still be able to cast well, Roy says, but the presentation still floats. He pairs this with a dry fly to help reach distantly rising trout or to fish streamers just below the surface.
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