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Are you ready to hook your first Brown Trout this winter?
Well, winter is on the horizon. Trees are shedding. Everything slows to dismal grey, and fishing is no exception – a fish’s energy declines as the temperatures drop. But Trout can still be caught. Having the correct approach with a variety of lures could result in a hard strike from one nature’s baddest freshwater killing machines.
Brown Trout: Understanding Their Nature
Whether on the edge of winter or the dog days of summer, Brown Trout are predators that eat a significant amount of food from beneath the surface. As Browns mature, like other salmonids, they explore larger food sources and develop a row of teeth lined on the roof of the mouth, as well as teeth angled backward on the tongue – an engineered hunter!
Other attributes of Trout:
“There is strong evidence that trout can detect polarization of light, which helps them locate prey which is otherwise difficult lacking stereoscopic vision (eyes either side of the head).”
Natural prey for Brown Trout include insects, smaller fish, crayfish, small mammals like mice (documented in New Zealand), and fallen birds.
I was shocked one season to have pulled three half-digested crayfish and a pebble from a Brown Trout that had gorged in a fall frenzy.
They are opportunistic hunters, which leaves room for anglers to play with various lures with relatively high hookup percentages.
Brown Trout: Eating Habits in the Fall and Winter
Brown trouts’ ferocity doesn’t end as winter settles, but does slow a bit. If you’re fishing in the fall, you may notice an increase in this aggression.
This is because Brown Trout are fall spawners, with November being the target month, generally. This is a great time to throw your minnow lures as a disruption, similar to throwing a soft plastic to Bass on a spawning bed.
Seek out areas with high water level, possibly just before a storm with high atmospheric pressure, providing fish with the ideal environment to eat. Brown Trout will commonly eat aggressively at 50 degrees (Fahrenheit) and all the way down to 46 Degrees.
As winter arrives and the water temperature drops further, they’ll head closer to the bottom and become less active. But that doesn’t mean they shut off. Presenting a food source within striking distance is difficult to pass up for any fish.
They also won’t stray far from cover, as the old saying goes – not all cover has fish but every fish can be found near cover.
Brown Trout: Where to Find Them
Seek out rock walls and ledges, especially those found around hydro electric stations. These areas have been dredged deep and often with sharp drop off points. Watch for vegetation and submerged logs. You can bet the fish will be there all winter taking up safety and ambush positions.
Although Browns do snatch bugs from the surface during the winter, the greatest advantage you’ll have is a lure capable of reaching the optimal depth.
This is why I fish The Rebel Tracdown Minnow and other sinking jerk baits in the dead of winter.
I first dangled with this killer in the cold of December on a reservoir in Northern California.
Using the 4 ” Rebel Tracdown (Brown Trout patterns), I worked it over water strewed with brush and submerged tree limbs reaching up like skeletal hands. This presented difficulty, as I needed to place the minnow deep, yet still over the obstruction.
Then I felt it – the long resistance as though hung on a branch, followed by a furry of head shakes. A 16″ Female German Brown had clobbered the Rebel, but didn’t fight long.
I brought her up to the boat and netted her. Her lethargy was clear by a series of unusually slow tail wags. While she was slow, her reaction was still operating as if it were summer. I knew it wasn’t a fluke. I had found a great winter lure.
Rebel Tracdown: How to Fish it
This minnow, like the Rapala CountDown, is a sinking lure – 1 ft per second. If you cast out and let it sink, count to five (as an example) then you’ll be at five feet.
If you’re on a body of water with little obstruction, try sending it to the bottom and begin a slow retrieve back up.
After fishing at different depths with no strikes, I move right to a twitch and pause retrieve. Once again, allowing the lure to sink to the appropriate depth.
The 4″ Tracdown Brown Trout is a great lure for larger fish. But it must be placed in front of your target.
Remember, fish, like any organism, will conserve energy when possible.
Chasing down a food source and failing to catch it will result in a loss of calories. A 4″ minnow does present a larger meal but also presents a larger fish capable of evading capture, unlike a smaller, erratic minnow on his last breath.
Rebel Tracdown Ghost Minnow
For smaller fish, the 2 ” Rebel Tracdown Ghost Minnow (TD47) is a great alternative and presents the same action in the water.
I prefer throwing the Ghost Minnow when I’m on the hunt for fish. If an area produces strikes, I’ll switch back to the 4″ to call out those larger, more experienced and weary Browns.
In my experience, the 2″ (TD47) in Rainbow or Brown Trout color pattern invites a wider range of fish and covers all sizes. When throwing the 4″ big boy I described above, you’ll isolate larger fish.
Line and Rod Selection
When strait retrieving a lure of any action, I have little preference on line and rod. But when twitching and pausing, I prefer using a heavy mainline (10 lb) braided with a 8-10 lb mono leader.
Having the extra backbone of a medium-heavy rod will greatly support your action when twitching and pausing. You’ll notice the difference when you try it on a light action rod with a light line.
Rebel produces a great line of lures called the micro minnow with barbless hooks. These lures are designed for special regulation areas where barbless lures and flies are required.
Few lures produce greater erratic slashing action than the Rapala X-Rap.
This lure is designed to grab attention and produce reaction bites like no other. It is by far my favorite jerkbait on the market. With its internal weight system for long casts, suspending and side to side slash action, no other lure appears more realistic.
I reserve these lures for when I need to hit the upper water column. A good indicator of top water action is an active hatch with fish busting the surface. Keep an eye out for for swirling or water being moved.
My approach for certain spots in Northern California is to hang back and out of site with a clear view of the area I want hit. Spotting a fish or two doesn’t take long and gives me an immediate idea of what lure I will use.
If I do spot a fish, I study its behavior-
is it feeding? Is it anchored to structure? Are there schooling bait fish nearby?
If so, out comes the X-Rap.
Rapala X-Rap: How to Fish It
Remember, this bait has a maximum depth of 2-6 Feet. I would recommend studying the water first for signs of early morning, topwater action. Scout out any fleeing baitfish. Match the hatch.
When fishing this lure, I would again recommend a medium heavy rod with braided line or 6-10 lb mono. If braid is your preference, go with a 6-10 lb mono leader. Braided line color fades over time and will give the fish a red flag warning if it doesn’t match the environment.
Cast your lure out, let it hit, and wait. Rapala recommends you wait for the ripples to clear before starting your retrieve – I would agree. Brown Trout, like many salmonids, are smart and easily spooked.
They routinely outwit anglers. You may be fishing pressured water as well. It pays to take every precaution in avoiding handing the fish a juicy advantage.
Retrieve with a twitch-twitch- pause. The X-Rap is outfitted with a vibrant tail feather that waves and flutters in the water as the lure suspends. If you’ve used this lure before, you know that you are likely going to get hit on the pause.
My second go-to lure for winter Brown Trout takes us back to the early days of fishing. The Rooster Tail lure is a tried and true assassin I use year-round.
Whether fishing summer stocked Rainbows or wild Cutthroat and Brown Trout, this lure is simplest to use and catches a lot of fish. This is a lure even my five year-old son has mastered.
With no real technique in mind, cast out and do a strait retrieve, and practice with different retrieval speeds. Thats it.
This lure produces a flashing similar to a fleeing bait fish.
Cast out and let your bait sink a bit to your optimal depth. Give the tip of your rod a quick flick to get the blade moving and begin your retrieve.
On cloudy and darker days, I prefer to use a straight black color with a silver blade.
For dirty water, I like throwing a vibrant color like turquoise, charturese, and bright reds and greens.
Check out Panther Martin and Yakima Bait Original Rooster Tail Spinner Lures for the best products.
Retrieve your rooster tail over and beside tree stumps and drop offs. Do this several times at different speed and depth. But give it time.
It’s not uncommon for trout to follow these lures to the bank and strike moments before pulling your bait out of the water. In winter, this is possible, despite their lower energy. So keep working a spot. Have patience.
Winter Brown Trout are still voracious predators. But you’ll see when you’re out there that everything will have become sluggish. Persistence and patience are key, and using the right winter lures will allow you a tactical advantage over other anglers.
Have a great season. And good luck!