With trout season here, it’s time to bust out the trick Jedi stuff! Before we go on, let’s make a little pact here. I’ll divulge my favorite stream trout getter — the “Red Curtain of Death” (RCD) — if you promise to practice a little catch-and-release. This method has been so stinkin’ deadly for me in the past that I fear you guys could go out and clean out a creek with it. So, keep a fish for two for the pan and let a few go too, okay? Deal?
All right, here we go. The foundation of the RCD is a jar of good ol’ Pautzke’s Balls O’ Fire salmon eggs. Man, when I unscrew the green lid off a jar of Pautzke’s and get a whiff of that distinctive smell, a million memories of my childhood come flooding back! But I digress. You’ll also need some size No. 14 Daiichi salmon egg hooks in the red finish; a packet of EZ Trout Floats; a bag of size BB round Splitshot (not the removable kind) and some 2- or 4-pound fluorocarbon leader.
The basic rig looks like this: float, shot and then the hook. The EZ Floats are adjustable and easily side up and down the line and then lock into position. You’re going to want to set it so it suspends your bait just above the bottom. In shallow, fast water; attach your shot 3 to 4 inches above the hook. When fishing deeper, slower pools run the shot 6 to 7 inches above your bait. Use just enough lead to get your offering down but no so much that it overwhelms your float.
Finally, bury the hook into a fat, juicy Ball O’ Fire. You want as natural a look as possible here, so the more the hook you can conceal in egg, the better. The old standby Green Label Pautzke’s — which are red in color — work great but when the water’s clear and the fish are a little skittish, I’ll sometimes use the Orange Deluxe eggs or their Yellow Jackets. I know, not the “Red Curtain of Death” anymore, but sometimes you’ve gotta adapt. In the spring, the yellow eggs are particularly effective in waters that harbor suckers (most streams in this area). Suckers spawn March through June and their eggs are yellowish in color and trout really key in on them.
The real beauty to this whole rig is its versatility. With a float, you can fish all kinds of water – much of it the kind which nobody else can touch. You can hit a slot upstream of your position that would normally be very difficult to fish or you can work a spot well downstream of you without fear of spooking the fish. Since you’re not bouncing the bottom, you can fish your eggs through snaggy areas without worry – like deep, woody pools where lunker browns often live.
The key to making the RCD work lies in your ability to make a drag-free presentation. In other words, your rig needs to drift naturally downstream at the speed of the current. If a belly forms in your line between the rod tip and the float, the current will grab it and drag your line downstream too quickly. Similarly, a bow in the line can also occur upstream of the bobber and that will make your bait slow down and lift off of the bottom. In some cases, that can actually be a good thing, but for now, let’s try to keep everything “going with the flow.”
There are a couple ways to make good drag-free drifts much more possible. First, use a long rod. When I steelhead fish with floats, I run a 12 ½-foot rod. A rod that size is obviously overkill here, so I use an ultralight 7 footer (rated for 2- to 4-pound test) when fishing small trout streams. The extra length helps me to “mend” (or lift) my line off the water – just like a fly angler would do when fishing with nymphs.
I also use braided line when float fishing because it sits on top of the water. Regular mono sinks and can be a real bugger when it comes to mending, but braid is very easy. For trout, I go with 10-pound Spider Wire, which has the equivalent diameter of 2-pound mono. Just be sure to tie 5-foot section of fluorocarbon leader to the end of your braid, so you won’t spook the fish.