I have spent all my life trying to become a better trout fisherman. This has become a perpetual quest, I guess, a study and a pursuit I dearly love, one seemingly fused to my sinew and bone.
If you stand and look upon a sparkling trout stream, its pristine waters, the rapids, runs, holes, undercuts, mossy rocks, overhanging trees, stony beaches and all the countless details that a life filled stream presents so beautifully to your wondering eyes, you’ll marvel at just how picturesque and even poetical that stream is.
Each is a living, moving, ever changing entity with its own personality and particular traits. Each stream and the trout in it can become a study in its own right, your challenge to come to know, love and understand it’s secrets.
Trout are at all times sensitive to presentation. Even trout straight from the stocking truck, which have not yet developed a fear and wariness of man, insist on their worm, spinner, minnow, fly or other presentation meeting a certain criteria before they will bite it.
Sure, there are some trout in the lot that are bolder than others and less wise, but the great majority expect their meal to behave in certain ways that appear natural to them or appeal to their instincts.
That is why even in a hole full of hungry trout there are some fishermen who cannot catch more than one or two, if any. Their presentation is so unnatural, their tackle so unsuited to the task, that the trout’s basic instinct is to ignore it.
Trout fishing is all about details — every detail you have ever noticed over the years and new details you just recognized today. They all have to be examined, categorized, compared and then analyzed for success.
Where do I begin? Well, I will make a stab at it; but, remember, beginning angler, that trout fishing is a lifetime pursuit with a constant learning curve.
The first thing an aspiring trout angler has to master is his or her equipment. Someone just beginning would be wise to start with a lightweight spinning outfit, 6-pound test line and a No. 8 hook.
Regarding reels, I prefer a small, very light spincast reel for many reasons. My little Zebco I like first and foremost because it is so trouble-free. Open face reels tangle easily, especially when you are just learning, but if you prefer an open face, fine.
I would also suggest a light, 6-foot rod over a shorter 5-foot. The longer rod has many advantages, the biggest being a gentle cast still producing good distance. This is very important; a hard cast can snap your salmon egg or worm off the hook, not good at all. The longer rod also allows a more natural drift and will place your bait, spinner or spoon more accurately with less effort.
Shorter rods are lower to the water, pulling the bait back at you during the drift and the shorter arc during hookset drastically reduces your ability to bury the hook in the fish’s jaw. Can you use a 5-foot and still catch fish? Yes, but everything is so much more challenging and when you are learning, more frustrating.
Once you have picked your equipment, whatever it may be, take the time to practice, practice, practice with it. Accurate casts are critical. You simply must be able to hit a gallon milk jug at 30 feet or farther. You must also be able to judge the length of your cast to within inches. Knowing how to judge your cast length allows you to place your bait tight against that log or undercut bank. If the bait is close to the trout’s place of security it will dash out and grab it. If it is a foot farther away, they may just watch it float right on by.
Once you have mastered your equipment it is necessary to study the stream and recognize where the fish like to lay or hide. As mentioned before trout like undercut banks, logs and rocks. They feed in the tails and heads of pools and rest in the deeper, slower, water where they feel safe.
A common mistake is failing to cast far enough upstream or above the area the fish are holding in. Your presentation takes time to sink and during the time it is sinking, the current is sweeping it rapidly downstream. If it is not on or near the bottom before it reaches the trout you won’t get a hit. Many times it is necessary to cast 20 feet upstream or more to accomplish this. Also, trout will in time associate the splash of any bait close to them as danger and dash off or simply ignore you.
Once you have done enough correctly to trigger a strike, you have to recognize how different types of strikes feel and act accordingly. Just last week we were catching some small brown trout. These pesky little devils were light hitters, took at least 30 seconds to get the worm far enough into their jaws to hook and if they felt too much tension on the line, immediately dropped the bait. You had to be very delicate in everything you did. It was great training for my daughter who screamed in frustration a couple times, but soon got the hang of it.
So, in summing up; be a master of your equipment, cast with deadly accuracy, place your bait upstream of the fish and let the current sweep it to them. If and when they hit, react accordingly, judging your hook set to the trout’s feeding patterns that day.
All this is just the tip of the iceberg aspiring angler, but it is a solid start to a fascinating journey.
(Wade Robertson is an award-winning outdoor writer whose articles have been published in Pennsylvania Outdoor News, Pennsylvania Game News, Fur, Fish & Game and other publications. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.)