By Mitch Eeagan
Every technique has its time and place. As an example, take the tactics brown trout anglers employ most often.
Fly flingers are fond of unfurling tiny tidbits of spun fur and feather to fish feeding on the surface – this while the pragmatist extracts deeper fish with nymphs and strike indicators. And then there are those who toss hardware like small in-line spinners and spoons, as well folks who nip chunks of nightcrawler onto a bare hook-hard to argue with the efficacy of good ol’ garden hackle.
A lot of fish are caught using these methods. And sometimes even trophy-size trout are seduced from undercuts, lunker lodges and other places where big brownies dwell.
But when it comes to catching the truly big brown trout that live in any river system, a select few have discovered unique schemes that buck tradition and catch big browns – that’s “bass fishing” for browns.
Go big. Go heavy. That goes for rod both selection and baits. Consider it a small fish filter.
But while big fish eat big baits, you also need some power. Like a big bass, a large brown trout will pull you into root systems and into nasty, craggy light-tippet-busting places. Or into the heaviest current and downstream, so if you’re not already in the water, well, you will be.
What big fish eat
There’s no doubting that big browns are the rulers of any river. More than most anglers realize, small trout regularly become dinner for these behemoths.
So, it’s best to use lures and flies that emulate the look and profile of these cannibalized fish. For example, if you’re finding smaller, 7- to 9-inch trout among the undercut banks, pools and riffles where you fish, consider baits to the same scale.
Stickbaits with a wild and wide wobble, like Bomber Long A’s and Challenger Minnows, are by far some of the best baits to use. Personally, I’ll rummage through my Plano tackle totes until I find one that’s at least 4 3/4 inches in length. A lure this size casts well upstream and under overhanging brush, and is large enough to grab a big brown’s attention.
Take one for a spin
Spinning gear is preferred by anglers who cast big baits to browns. But your average whippy, ultra-light-action rod is underpowered for big baits and trophy browns.
Medium-action rods with a little extra backbone near the butt are good for casting stickbaits, as well setting the hook and pulling brute browns from log jams. St. Croix’s 7-foot 1-inch medium-power, fast-action Legend Tournament Bass spinning rod is solid contender and my personal favorite.
As for line, 10-pound test in either monofilament or a superline will work just fine. Mono, however, works better in shallow water due to its thicker diameter and buoyancy, which doesn’t allow the bait to dive as deep. Superline, on the other hand, will allow a lure to dive deeper; thus is best in rivers with holes deeper than 7-feet. Just make sure to loosen your drag when fishing superline and stickbaits – or choose a rod with a slightly softer tip – as the no-stretch quality of braid can easily rip trebles from fishy maws.
Fly by night… as well by day
It was decades ago when Kelly Galloup-today proprietor of Galloup’s Slide Inn fishing resort in Montana, creative bug tier and renowned fly rod designer-was crafting new streamer concoctions within the walls of his fly shop in the Traverse City, Michigan, area at the time. These included the predecessors to his now famous “Circus Peanut”, “Articulate Butt Monkey”, and the venerable “Galloup’s Sex Dungeon” and more.
What started then as an innovative understanding that big trout eat immense flies on the surface at night (mice and frog imitations) lead to the realization these same brutes really prefer larger than average offerings by day, as well. Thanks largely to Galloup, the large minnow-imitating streamers once only relegated to bass or pike, have become standard fare for big brown hunting.
But unlike the choices anglers who use spinning gear had, with the creation of hefty streamers came the need for gear that not only could handle the big bugs, but the enormous trout that ate these offerings. At the time, there really wasn’t anything specialized for such situations.
Subsequently, Galloup was commissioned by St. Croix Rod to help design a family of rods now known as the “Bank Robber” Series – three different 9-foot rods ranging from 5- to 7-weights; the latter working for casting big bugs to bass, too.
Easy does it
Overall, trophy trout are released right after being caught. But like other coldwater fishes, trout often succumb to post mortality easier than warm-water species; that said, extra care is needed from the point of netting through the release. Keep the fish submerged in the water and inside the mesh of your net while prepping for photos. Sliding a big trout onto the river bank should be avoided at all costs.
Best fish handling practices include the use of a net designed for easy capture and quick release. Frabill’s Conservation Series nets have a bag that allows fish to lay flat, with a treated mesh so slime won’t soak in. Hooks come out easily as well.
You get the general idea
Looking to land the biggest brown trout of your life? Beef up.
Whether you cast hardware or fly fish, consider larger-than-average stickbaits or big articulated and double bunny streamers. Just make sure your gear can handle the baits and perhaps the biggest browns of your life!
Mitch Eeagan is an outdoor writer who lives off the land and waterways within the mosquito-fill cedar swamps of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.