There was a time in my life when I was so obsessed with targeting big trout that I couldn’t think of much else. It lasted about a dozen years and what I learned from those countless hours is big trout like big meals. It’s so stupid it’s simple, I know, but doesn’t make it untrue.
When I was a youngster my father was a devout fly angler, so that’s what I became. By the time I was eight-years old, I could tie an elk-hair caddis and spent as much time as I could trying to entice stream trout to eat my homemade offerings.
While we had a blast plying the many streams of my native southeastern Minnesota, we never caught big fish. In fact, I can remember finally landing a true 16-inch brown and we debated – ever so briefly – on whether to keep the fish and display it permanently on the wall.
My greed over keeping my first big fish lost out to my desire to simply watch him swim away, so I granted him clemency. Eventually, on a whim I took a spinning rod to a few of our trout spots and started fishing with tiny spinners and crankbaits. I caught the same trout I did on fly rods, only it wasn’t as much fun.
Then I put on a spinner designed for pike fishing to satisfy teenage curiosity, and the first fish I caught created a wake behind it and measured a full three inches longer than any brownie I’d ever landed.
After that it was all I could do to fish every day with big lures. I eventually got into the writing game and got an assignment to write about this very topic, but the editor told me he wouldn’t buy the story without a legitimate 26-incher. I had two days to find one, and at the end of it all, I had six fish more than 20 inches, but nothing close enough to 26 to call it good.
That kind of pressure is no good for fishing enjoyment, and since then I’ve moved to a place where trout fishing is pretty much nonexistent. I still fish every year in the streams I grew up on, but have to plan a little more for the experience. And when I go, it’s almost always on short notice in early spring when the forecast is calling for plenty of sun and warmer-than-average temperatures.
For some reason, the big fish seem to shake off the winter funk in early spring and if the sun hits the water long enough, they get voracious. They will eat a fly, but they’ll also eat a 5-inch sucker minnow or a chub swimming by them. And nature being nature, they seem to prefer the big easy meal that is chock-full of calories.
So give it to them. Just for kicks, bust out some tackle mimicking a wounded minnow of decent size, whether it be a crankbait, a softbait, a jerkbait, or something else. Then, have a simple swimming jig, or a twister tail on a jighead ready as a backup.
Big fish will often follow a big lure a couple of times, or swipe and miss. Sometimes they come back to your original offering, a lot of times they seem to sink back into the depths and won’t strike again. Only the fish know why. It doesn’t matter though, because for some other inexplicable reason, they’ll often hit a swimming jig or a simple twister as a follow-up. You may think it would work just to throw them first, but for some reason it doesn’t. At least not in my experience, and not with the really big fish.
I tend to target the typical spots you’d expect big fish to be, where there’s plenty of deep moving water to hide, but don’t forget to think shallower. On overcast days, which are common throughout the early spring, there are often periods of the day where they seem to move shallow to feed. These fish will be aggressive, and they’ll be fun.
Re-think the assumed reality that trout are finicky sippers who dine solely on terrestrial appetizers, and give them something meaty. You’ll feel pretty awkward at first, but the fish you hook into will quickly alleviate any self-conscious feelings.