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What’s the Best Approach?

When it comes to the opening day of trout season, a question I sometimes get, especially from someone just getting into fishing, is, what’s the best way to catch trout? There are people who have written lengthy books on that topic, but in this brief format, here are some things to consider. The truth is you can catch trout with various techniques and presentations. When I think about it, it’s probably not what you use, but more importantly, how well you can perform with whatever you choose.

I started my trout fishing as a teenager, and I was fortunate to have a buddy whose dad was an expert salmon egg fisherman. This guy and a couple of his buddies would go through a case of salmon eggs every year in the first two weeks of trout season, and most often, their presentation would put a bend in their rod; they weren’t losing eggs. They were hooking fish regularly. They slid two eggs on a size 12 hook — almost completely covering the hook.
Small split shot were affixed at several spots further up the leader. The real key to their success was holding the rod tip high and keeping the line tight to detect the slightest tap when a trout hit. I learned from them and had many very successful outings, and I believe that the same technique or presentation with similar baits will result in hookups. Will salmon eggs and similar type baits take trout? You bet they will, but how you present them can make all the difference.

When in college, I had another buddy who had mastered the art of fishing minnows. He tied a small loop at the business end of his leader and then used a straight needle with a little notch in the end so he could simply hook the leader loop and then push the needle down the mouth of the minnow and out behind the anal fin. He then used a double hook that he could open up and slide over the loop in the leader. The hook would be pulled up tight to the minnow’s underside just ahead of the tail fin. The amount of split shot used depended on how fast the water was and how deep he wanted to fish. Again, he kept a tight line following the cast and worked the minnow in a jerky fashion like it was struggling. He did quite well, oftentimes catching good-sized trout, but his presentation was excellent.

Minnow fishing can be very successful, but it has its setbacks. You have to either buy or go out and catch your bait, and you have to keep it alive while fishing. There are, however, lures that imitate live minnows, like in-line spinners and minnow-type lures with lips. Here again, it’s probably more about how you fish these lures when it comes to whether or not they are going to work. A friend of mine who was a fellow outdoor writer took me with him years ago and gave me a good lesson on how to fish in-line spinners successfully. He would often cast upstream and then fish the lure back down. He used an underhand cast to get close to the bank and under an overhanging brush and caught fish like crazy. Do they work? You bet they do, but I’ve watched fishermen hang up their in-line spinners all over the place; again, it’s how you fish them that makes the difference.

To be honest, these days, all my trout fishing is done with a fly rod. I’ll admit that of all the techniques and presentations that work to take trout, fly fishing is probably the hardest to learn, but trust me, anybody can learn, especially with some help from an experienced fly fisherman. I don’t have room here to get into “how to fly fish,” but the truth is you can imitate all of the techniques I just talked about, such as using a flyrod and different types of flies and the appropriate presentation.

So which approach is best? Well, for starters, it’s probably the one you are most familiar with and that you are executing properly.