Planning for trout fishing as much fun as catching fish

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Right now is the perfect time for natural bait trout fishing.

The frequent rains have kept water levels in trout streams about right; insects, worms, beetles, and other assorted bugs are being washed into the waters and falling from the tree limbs that overhang streams, and trout gobble them up. The ranks of anglers seeking stockees are thinned out by now, and you can spend great days on trout streams without running into another fishermen around every bend.

My excitement at heading up a trout stream, using only natural bait I find along the way, goes back to the day that a 14-inch rainbow trout streaked from the riffles at the tail of a pool and gulped in the caterpillar as if it were the first one he’d ever seen. I reeled in a bit of slack and just as he grabbed the bait, I set the hook.

The trout roared downstream, right past my boots, while I frantically tried to reel in the slack and turn him before he reached the shelter of the submerged tree. If he tangled himself around the small limbs that were lying in the water, I knew I’d lose it.

The monofilament tightened just in time as it swirled and broke the water in a tail-walking leap rainbows are noted for. I hung on, using the rod tip and 4-pound line to keep him fighting the current and away from the tree.

I netted it, admired the brilliance and color of this rainbow the gently shook the hook from his jaw and watched him swim away. I suspected he’d lie under that big tree for a long time.

After the first frantic weeks following the trout opener, anglers dream of tossing his furred and feathered imitations over the water, watching for the dimple on the water that betrays an interested trout. But the fact is that trout still find about 80 percent of their food under the water, gulping it in as it floats by their feeding position. I’ve been using a summer trout fishing method for years that is challenging, frustrating and exciting all at once.

It’s no super-secret method but actually one that few fishermen use: fishing natural baits. I’m not talking here about minnows or worms, both of which are commonly used. Rather, I start upstream carrying no bait at all and using only those naturals that I find along the way.

Such baits include grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, caterpillars, inch worms, snails, salamanders, grubs, hellgrammites and such things are found with a bit of scouring for them on tree trunks, grass, bushes, under rocks and other such spots. In short, anything I can find hanging from a tree or clinging to a bush, whatever I find under rocks in shallow water, under logs, or scurrying across my path, whether I happen to know exactly what it is or not. At times, finding something to use for bait can be harder than catching the fish.

As with any bait, the presentation of it is the most important aspect of luring a trout to it. It has to look natural: to come drifting by a trout looking as it would had it fallen accidentally into the water.

Presenting a bait naturally calls for ultra-light tackle as a rule. I prefer light spinning gear, with no more than 4-pound monofilament, or a fly rod with floating line and light tippets.

When I find a bug or worm I want to use I tie the smallest mini-bobber I can find on the end of the 4-pound line then tie a No. 14 or No. 16 hook on a dropper line a foot above the bobber. The bobber adds enough weight to cast and allows a bug to float.

With a fly rod, a No. 16 hook tied on the end of the leader lets you impale a small bug, cricket, grasshopper etc. and then it can be cast as delicately as any dry fly. Using a spinning outfit for this kind of fishing takes a bit of getting used to but it does enable you to make longer casts, a real plus when water is low and clear.

A fertile place to find natural baits is in tiny feeder streams or swampy areas next to the main stream. Shake the tall grass or overhanging brush or tree limbs growing near streams. Use for bait whatever falls out.

Next time you go up a creek, pack a few small hooks, tiny bobbers and light tippets in your vest. They take up little room but are just what you need to transform a tough day into an exciting one.

Next time you step over a log, (checking first for rattlesnakes) look closely to see what might be clinging to it or skittering on top of it that you could use for bait. When you stand near a tree at streamside, examine it closely to see what may be clinging to the leaves or hanging from the branches.

The morning I hooked the 14-inch rainbow, I’d been casting worms, corn and salmon eggs to him but he refused all those offerings. I happened to see a greenish-yellow caterpillar clinging to a leaf of a nearby tree. I plucked it off, tied on a bobber and No. 14 hook to my spinning rod and drifted the caterpillar by the rainbow and he grabbed it.

I’m not a puritan in this pursuit. Whatever I see that could be bait, I skewer it on my hook and try it. I don’t have to know what it is or what its scientific name may be. If it tempts a trout. I’ll use it.

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