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This week's Feature Blog

Brown Town

By: Mark Romanack

Matt Yablonsky of Wet Net Charters in Wilson, NY has caught as many brown trout as anyone on the Great Lakes. Western NY is consistently one of the best destinations for those who love to target brown trout.

​At least for a few more weeks, it can be Brown Town for those anglers who covet catching the elusive brown trout. The month of April and early May represent the times that most anglers target brown trout in Great Lakes waters. Mind you, browns can be caught at other times of year, but most anglers associate browns with that mystical experience known as “ice out”.

​ The winter of 2024 didn’t really have any ice. In fact, anglers targeted brown trout all winter long on some popular trout fishing destinations such as the Niagara Bar in New York and the Milwaukee Harbor in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

​ We might not have had ice this winter, but we certainly had water cold enough to freeze. Things might be a little ahead of previous years, but you can bet that brown trout are going to show up in predictable places and for predictable reasons.


​ Brown trout are attracted to a number of things, but warm water is perhaps the biggest draw. Water that’s slightly warmer than the ambient lake temperature can come from power plant run offs, tributary streams, organic dark bottom areas, rocky shorelines that absorb energy from the sun or break walls that also absorb solar radiation.  In short, anyplace the water is a few degrees warmer, bait will show up and browns will be quick to follow.


​ The second thing to look for are places where the water has a little stain to it. Gin clear water is rarely going to hold large numbers of brown trout. Instead these aggressive predators seek out stained water that provides these fish a better opportunity to ambush bait.

​ Stained water can come from tributary run offs or wave action pounding the shoreline. Often the most productive water is the transitional edge that forms between the clear water and the heavily stained water.

A well marked brown trout like this represents one of the coolest fish that swims in the Great Lakes.


​ When it comes to their appetite browns are similar to lake trout in that they will eat a wide variety of bait fish. Some of the most common forage species to turn up in brown trout guts include smelt, alewives and gizzard shad, but browns will also eat gobies, emerald shiners, spot-tail shiners, golden shiners and many other small fishes.

​ Because brown eat it all, they can be found suspended in the water column, hugging the bottom or anywhere in between. That in mind, I like to spread out my gear in the water column to keep the fish honest while I’m working on what pattern is going to produce the best on any given day.


​ Trolling with spoons is never a bad way to target brown trout. I find that the Wolverine Tackle Mini and Standard sized spoons typically produce the best on browns. These spoons can be fished on downriggers, diving planers or short lengths of lead core then married to in-line planer boards.


​ When browns show up in very skinny water, often the best lure options are stickballs, fished in combination with in-line boards. Because stickbaits have a modest dive curve, they can be fished over shallow water  easily without fear of snagging and losing valuable gear.

​ There are dozens of stickbaits on the market that will consistently catch brown trout. Some of my favorites include the Rapala Husky Jerk 12 and the Smithwick Rattlin’ Rogue.


​ Diving plugs are especially useful for targeting spring brown trout because they can be fished suspended or near the bottom as the situation dictates. Baits that have a lot of flash, vibration and loud rattles tend to produce best on brown trout. My “go to” plugs for browns include the Mag Lip 3.0 and 3.5 and the Hot n Tot (Rattle Tot).


​ Back in the day lots of anglers targeted browns by long lining their lures a country mile behind the boat. These days, in-line boards like the Off Shore Tackle Side-Planer do the heavy lifting. By simply rigging these boards to release when a fish is hooked, it’s possible to stack several boards on either side of the boat, covering an enormous amount of water in the process.


​ Brown trout stocking efforts have been down in recent years. Some of the best destinations include the ports of Racine, Milwaukee and Sheboygan in Lake Michigan, the ports of Lewiston, Wilson, Olcott and Rochester in Lake Ontario and the Ashland, Wisconsin and Apostle Islands area of Lake Superior.


​ Brown trout are where you find them. That goes double these days when stocking efforts are seemingly not a priority for some fisheries managers. Because natural reproduction on brown trout in the Great Lakes is very low, the only way to create and maintain fisheries is through regular stocking efforts.


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