Some good tips in here!
To catch a big trout the next time you go stream fishing, ditch all the usual stuff — salmon eggs, small spinners and worms — and give the fish something meatier: Jerk Baits!
While aquatic invertebrates account for the bulk of the average stream trout’s diet, the largest fish in the creek prefer to dine on smaller fish. Jerk baits imitate forage fish extremely well and by using them you will see the average size of your catch go way up.
Jerk Bait is a term that refers to a wide array of minnow shaped plugs that are designed to be retrieved with a JERK-JERK-JERK-PAUSE type of retrieve. In my early days of throwing minnow baits for trout, we had a few basic ones from which to choose — chief among them were Rapalas and Rebels. Thanks to the explosion in the popularity of this technique among bass anglers, there are now more plastic baits than you could hope to try in ten trout seasons. In the warm-water world they’re often called “rip baits” and are pretty slick tools designed to solicit reaction strikes from bass. It just so happens that big trout love ‘em too!
The old balsa and plastic baits I used as a kid were basically cast out and crank-in types of lures. The modern ripbait’s function is to be tossed out and retrieved with an aggressive popping (ripping) of the rod trip and cranking of the reel, punctuated with frequent pauses.
These new baits feature all kinds of fancy technology like tungsten rattles and weight transfer systems for bomb-like casting (remember the way a light wood plug would pinwheel when you’d throw it?), but the most important feature is their neutral buoyancy.
How far down these lures dive is governed by the size of the bill, but once you’ve cranked it down to its working depth and pause it, a jerk bait will hold its place in the water column. There’s no sinking or rising up like the baits of yesteryear and that’s one of the things that make these things so deadly.
The new generation of minnow baits is designed to be fished fast (though they also work well in cold water on a painfully slow retrieve), which allows you to quickly cover lots of water. Additionally, they’re adorned with some extremely sexy laser finishes and super realistic paint jobs. When you look at all the attractive attributes of rip baits, it’s easy to see why bass of all persuasions love ‘em – and it doesn’t take much critical thinking to understand why big trout also fall all over themselves for them too!
The Best of the Best
As I noted earlier, there are dozens of companies making ripbaits – and there are a lot of really good lures out there. In fact, if you wander the aisles of your local tackle shop or flip through the pages of one of the big tackle catalogs, there’s a good chance you’ll get a little overwhelmed by all the choices. I’ve fished a bunch of different models and brands of rip baits for trout and have pretty much settled on one for most stream fishing situations: Lucky Craft’s Pointer 65.
They’re a bit pricey (typically around $14 to $16 a pop), but the little Pointer 65’s will get straight up medieval on rainbows, browns, cutties, dollies and brookies. They’ve got an erratic side-to-side darting action that I just don’t think any other lure can touch. I actually started fishing the larger versions for stripers and eventually added Pointers to my trout kit. Now, I hardly throw anything else – spinners, spoons and crawlers included.
At first glance, a 65-millimeter (2 ½ inches) lure seems kinda over-the-top in a small stream. It takes a little getting used to throwing them, but what you’re doing is targeting the biggest fish in the creek. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to have to sacrifice quantity for quality as the smaller fish eat ‘em too. While the 65’s are my all-around favorites, bumping up to the Pointer 78 size is a good call on larger rivers. When fishing big browns and macks on lakes (a topic I’ll cover in a future article), Pointers as large as the 5-inch No. 128 can solicit some punishing strikes.
As far as colors go, the best advice I can give you is try to match the shades of the natural trout forage in the waters you fish. Some of my favorites include Rainbow Trout, Ghost Minnow and American Shad.
That being said, color isn’t as important in this style of fishing since the lures are moving through a trout’s territory so rapidly. The idea here is to present the bait quickly enough to a fish that he doesn’t have much time to think about things.
I run my rip baits stock out of the package with only one minor modification: I pinch the barbs, which makes releasing fish much easier. Also, be sure to tie your line direct to the bait – swivels and clips will compromise the lure’s action.
As the name “ripbait” implies, the basic technique is to “rip” the lure aggressively through the water with a combination of sharp pops of the rod tip and corresponding turns of the reel’s handle. Ideally, you fish these things from a position above the water (as in a bass boat), with the rod tip pointed down and across your body towards the water. Obviously, that’s not practical in most stream fishing situations, so a modified approach is in order. Depending on the water I’m fishing, I’ll hold the rod parallel to the water or with the tip slightly up.
I generally start out with a rip-rip-pause-rip-rip-rip-pause type of retrieve and then experiment from there. The fish will tell you how they want it on a given day – just keep varying your cadence until a pattern develops. And try to keep the speed up – remember, we’re looking for a reaction strike here.
When you’re tossing a ripbait in still water, the majority of the bites will come when the lure’s lying motionless on the pause. It’s a different deal, however, in moving water. You still want to throw pauses into your retrieve but they need to be a lot shorter in duration. Perhaps it’s better to think of them as “hesitations” instead, but they’re still extremely important. I think it’s that change from the darting action to the stop that really makes fish want to eat the lure.
Depending on the type of water you’re fishing, casts can be made directly up or downstream, though the down and across swing type of presentation seems to draw the most grabs.
As is the case with so many of the other “outside the box” methods I’ve written about in the past, nobody makes a technique-specific rod for throwing small rip baits for stream trout. Luckily, there are some light bass rods designed for drop-shotting and small darter heads that fit the bill pretty nicely (check out the Daiwa Aird, which is a nice stick for under $50).
Basically, you want a rod with a soft tip and a little bit of beef in the back end – something that won’t collapse on the hook set. Most of us are used to throwing hardware for trout on ultralight gear, but the standard 5 ½-foot ultralight stick is going to be way too soft for this style of fishing – and you’ll lose most of the fish you hook.
Pair the rod up with a quick-retrieve spinning reel. The Abu Garcia Revo S in a sweet reel in the $100 range, while the Orra S is still nice but a few bucks less. I usually run 6-pound mono when fishing smaller streams and then bump it up to 8- or even 10-pound on larger waters. Line with some stretch like P-Line CX is a good choice because you want a little “give” in your mono when a trout decides to try destroy your plug.
In addition to being a super-effective technique for catching trout in moving water, tossing ripbaits is a total blast. The strikes are awesome and the results can be, too! So, go ahead and feed those big fish what they want…give ‘em “meat for dinner.”
Much has been written about pulling plugs for salmon and steelhead, but what about taking this extremely effective method any applying it to stream trout? Well, the bottom line is “mini steelheading” as I call it, is a super deadly way to hook lots of river trout – and, oh yea, it’s a total gas!
What’s really cool about pulling plugs for trout is you can do it on all sorts of streams. It’s highly productive on larger rivers out of a driftboat or even a sled, but you can also access smaller creeks with a pontoon boat, pram or Tote-N-Float type of vessel. And, there’s a pretty good bet that wherever you do it, the trout haven’t seen the lures you’re presenting to them!
On anadramous waterways, trout plugging gets even more interesting when the occasional spring Chinook, summer steelie, dolly or sea-run cutt latches onto your offering.
Pulling wigglers for trout is a lot like fishing for steelies, with a few subtle tweaks. As with backtrolling for larger species, you want to run the lures the same distance behind the boat – generally 30 to 60 feet, depending on the size of the stream and water clarity. You can keep tabs on how much line you have out by counting passes of the levelwind eye as it travels back and forth across the spool of your reel or by placing fluorescent bobber stops on your line at a pre-measured spot.
Once the lures are in the drink and swimming properly, work them slowly downstream at about half the speed of the current. What’s really nice about this technique is that it allows you to back your bugs into those hard to reach places under cutbanks and overhanging wood and into the heart of boulder gardens – areas that don’t get touched by other anglers.
Again, we’re talking basic backtrolling here – but there is one variation on the theme that seems to work wonders for trout. When you’ve fished your lures to the downstream edges of a particular spot, don’t immediately reel up and move on. Instead, pull on the oars a little harder to get the plugs to start working back upstream. There are days when this subtle tactical adjustment will blow your mind!
Since pulling plugs for trout isn’t super popular, nobody really makes a technique-specific lure for it. So, you’re going to have to troll the aisles of your local tackle shop for inspiration. And, honestly, this may be the part of pulling plugs for trout that I like best. I’m always on the lookout for some tiny crappie crankbait or sexy finesse bass plug that looks like it might make a good trout lure. To that end, I’ve got boxes full of a thousands different “impulse buys” from my travels – some of them work great, others, of course, were duds. To get you started, you can’t go too wrong with Size 50 Hot Shots, old school Pee Wee Warts (if you can find ‘em), Norman Deep Tiny N’s, Yakima Bait MapgLip 3.0, Wally Marshall Crappie Cranks, Matrix Flea Bittys from Shasta Tackle and Strike King’s Mini 3.
As far as colors go, you’ll often find that the plugs designed for warm water species don’t have all the cool metallic finishes that we in the cold water arena are so fond of, such as Dr. Death and the various Pirates, etc. But, if you look around, you’ll find some trouty-looking colors. I’m always a believer in silver, gold and copper, but trout also seem to really like craw and frog finishes as well. As with plug fishing for salmon and steelhead, always attach your line to the lure via a plug snap.
There are some days that the fish will crush your lures with reckless abandon and others when they seem a bit more tentative. On the tougher days, a little scent oftentimes will help motivate the trout into biting. A small dab of Atlas-Mike’s Shrimp Lunker Lotion under the bill will often do the trick.
Trout Plugging Tackle
Back in the day, it used to be hard to find a rod that was really well suited to backtrolling for trout. But then the whole kokanee craze hit…problem solved! Kokanee rods are light, with soft tips and make pretty good plugging sticks. There’s a hundred different koke models out there from every manufacturer under the sun, but the one that I really like is the 7’GLoomis MF65436 – the tip is plenty soft enough to allow the plugs to work properly and let fish pull it down without feeling a lot of resistance, but the rod’s also got a surprising amount of power in the lower end. I’ve caught wild rainbows and browns to 5 plus pounds on that stick and it handles them fine. If you’re looking for something a little less expensive, check out the Okuma SST-C-702L.
You’ll notice that all the gear listed so far has been conventional style. I just like fishing with –and fighting fish on – baitcasters more than spinning tackle. However, if you’re going to be doing a little solo plugging out of a pontoon boat or pram, you may want to switch to spinning. Light plugs don’t cast well on levelwinds and it can be a pain to get them back behind the boat when you’ve got both hands on the oars. With a spinning rod, you can cast the lure straight downstream, close the bail and be fishing in about 3 seconds flat.
When it comes to line, there are a couple trains of thought: braid and mono. I’ve used both and kinda go back and forth. Generally speaking, mono is the better choice for plug fishing because it has some stretch that acts like a shock absorber when a fish mollyhocks your lure. The give in the line helps keep fish buttoned much better than no-stretch braid, but there are some downfalls as well.
Tiny plugs are pretty temperamental little buggers and you really need to run a light line to get them to dive down in fast water. Four-pound test is about ideal. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of room for error with line that light if you happen to hook a wayward springer or summer steelie. Additionally, little plugs will kick to the surface when they pick up even a slight bit of moss or weeds. If a plug spins, unnoticed, on the surface for more than a few seconds, you’re going to have some seriously twisted mono.
Braid solves those problems – it is very resistant to twisting and enables you to use a heavier-rated line in a thin diameter. I’ve had great success with Pline braid in 10-pound (it has a the diameter of 2-pound mono). It’s expensive and breaks down fairly quickly, but it’s also durable and very supple. With any braid, just remember to run a 5- to 10-foot section of mono or fluorocarbon between the lure and the end of the braided stuff. As I mentioned earlier, however, you’re going miss more grabs due to braid’s lack of “bungeeness.” A soft rod really helps combat this issue and the other thing you can do is run a super light drag until you’ve got a positive hookup.
Well, there you have it – the basic concepts of trout plugging. All that’s left now is to get out there and give it a whirl. But before I turn you loose on the trout in your neighborhood, here’s one last thing to consider: It’s not a bad idea to swap out the stock trebles on your plugs with barbless siwashes. Trebles can really tear up a trout’s small mouth and there’s no sense leaving a trail of carnage in your wake.
Sure, they’re great tools for fishing lakes in the Dog Days of Summer, when the trout and salmon are holding down deep. They allow you to present your lures at precise depths and then get back to that same section of the water column easily. Handy devices to be sure, but I also think there’s an inherent flaw in the system…
Think about it:
You see some fish on your meter, take note of their depth and then drop your gear down to that zone. Sometimes it’s as easy as that. But other times, you may see fish on the screen all day long and have to scratch and claw for a bite. In those cases, we’ll often blame the moon phase, barometric pressure, wind direction or a combination thereof.
But it may be something completely different. Let’s take a look at what’s really happening down there…Click here to read more…
When trolling for landlocked salmon and trout, you can catch plenty of fish on hardware like spoons, hootchies and plugs, but to take your game to the next level, try dragging brined-up baitfish!
Thereadfin shad, minnows, small plug-cut herring and anchovies all work well for his method and, when pulled through the water, a properly rigged bait gives off tons of flash…plus you have the added benefit of an offering that smells like the real thing too…because it is!
Here’s how to do it…Click here to read more…