Zeroing In on Spring Brown Trout
By: Mark Romanack
Spoons such as this Wolverine Tackle “Standard” Streak are very useful brown trout lures when combined with a downrigger such as the Cannon Optimum TS pictured here.
About the same time the first spring sightings of migrating song birds like the robin or red-winged black bird take place, an annual fishing bonanza also kicks into gear. Brown trout fishing in the Great Lakes region is steeped in a tradition that has evolved over many decades. While the places brown trout are routinely caught has changed dramatically over the years, there are still enough browns being stocked to keep this early spring tradition alive and well.
PORTS OF PROMISE
While some states like Michigan have all but abandoned the stocking of brown trout in the Great Lakes, other states such as Wisconsin and New York have picked up the ball. In the Wisconsin waters of Lake Michigan anglers can find consistent brown trout action at Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee, Sheboygan and near the Sturgeon Bay shipping channel.
Further north in Lake Superior browns are stocked heavily at both Superior and Ashland Wisconsin. These same fish in turn show up in Michigan ports including Ontonagon, Eagle Harbor, Copper Harbor and L’Anse.
Moving east to Lake Ontario, brown trout are still being stocked in significant numbers and providing noteworthy fisheries at places such as the mouth of the Niagara River, Wilson, Olcott, Oak Orchard, Rochester, Sodus Point and Oswego.
In the spring of the year brown trout are most commonly found in some classic spots I can sum up as contact points. Typical contact points include creek mouths that pour in nutrient rich water, warm water discharge sites, bays that allow the icy cold water to heat up a little quicker and shorelines that feature a lot of rocky structure.
The keys to brown trout success are often finding water that is a few degrees warmer and also water that is stained from runoff or wave action. Clear and icy cold water are almost always the kiss of death when hunting for spring browns.
Browns will bite a variety of popular trolling lures. Shallow diving stickbaits such as the iconic Rapala Floating Minnow and Husky Jerk series of baits do an excellent job of imitating smelt and emerald shiners where these baitfish are prolific. These baits are very handy for fishing the skinny water browns are famous for inhabiting.
Small to medium sized trolling spoons such as the Wolverine Tackle “Mini” and “Standard” Streaks are deadly effective trolled using downriggers, diving planers, lead core line and also in-line sinkers. The beauty of trolling spoons is they can be fished in shallow water, moderate depths or as deep as necessary.
Friend of the show Captain Travis White of Keweenaw Charter Company spends a lot of time targeting brown trout on Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Diving style crankbaits also hold an important niche in the Great Lakes brown trout trolling scene. Diving cranks such as the Yakima Bait Mag Lip, Storm Deep Jr. ThunderStick and YoZuri Deep Crystal Minnow are useful for targeting trout found using the mid depths. When fished in contact with bottom structure these wobbling plugs do an excellent job of imitating other forage species including round goby, crayfish, alewife and gizzard shad.
TOP TO BOTTOM
In the spring of the year, most of the places that brown trout are found, these fish are likely to be inhabiting water as shallow as a couple of feet or as deep as 25 to 30 feet. One of the best ways to target browns is to mix up baits and presentations so as to cover as much of the water column as possible.
On any given day it might be the baits on bottom that fire or ones higher in the water column that are most productive. Running a six to 10 rod spread is one of the best ways of covering all those bases efficiently.
The downrigger is one of the spring brown trout trolling presentations that is often overlooked. Because many anglers believe that downriggers are only useful for deep water fishing, some great opportunities are often missed.
The Cannon Optimum TS downriggers have a feature called “Bottom Track” that uses a transducer signal to control where in the water column the downrigger weight is running. Bottom Track works by programming the downrigger to keep a selected distance off bottom. As the water depth changes, the rigger automatically raises and lowers to keep the trailing bait the desired distance off bottom.
To say the least, this technology is a “game changer” for anyone who fishes brown trout.
This photo of a Lowrance graph shows the Cannon “Bottom Track” feature at work. A transducer based signal is used to keep the downrigger weight at a predetermined distance from the bottom. In this image one line represents the downrigger weight and the other line is the Fish Hawk depth probe. Bottom Track is a game changer for anyone who commonly fishes trout, salmon or other bottom loving species.
In-line planer boards such as the iconic Off Shore Tackle Side-Planer is a work horse when it comes to trolling for spring brown trout. Boards can be used to deploy a host of popular lures and trolling presentations. The beauty of using boards is the angler can spread out lines to cover as much water as possible.
While brown trout are not as line shy as their reputation suggests, the advantage of fishing lighter action rods, reels and line is the enjoyment of the fight. I find that the same trolling rods, reels and lines I commonly used for targeting walleye are ideal for most brown trout trolling situations. The exception of course are diver rods which of course need to be a heavy enough action to support the diver of choice.
The final piece of the puzzle for targeting spring brown trout is to employ natural scent products such as Pro Cure Super Gel. Natural scent products are made from real baitfish and do an excellent job of creating a natural scent stream in the water.
Because browns are often targeted in stained water where visibility is limited, a scent stream helps tremendously in triggering more robust strikes. Choosing a Super Gel formula that matches the common forage species found in a given area is the best strategy. For example, in Lake Superior where smelt are a common forage species, the Smelt Super Gel would be a good choice.
SUMMING IT UP
For those who love to target spring brown trout, the minute the ice has melted, the games begin. In the more southernly places that brown trout are stocked, the action can get started as early as February! For most waters however, brown trout are most vulnerable in March, April and early May.