Let’s define big.
Any trout measuring in the mid-teens is a respectable fish. I think that’s fair. And anything eighteen inches or over is “big.” Trout that have grown to over twenty inches are what we call a Whiskey, and twenty-four-inch wild trout are Namers — following Troutbitten tradition, you have the rights to name that fish. Is that silly? Sure it is, but catching a trout just to put it back seems kinda odd to some people too, doesn’t it?
Now, if eighteen-inch trout are so common in your home stream that you don’t consider them big, then God bless you and let’s be friends. But around here, the markers mentioned above define our classifications for wild trout. Think of them as big, bigger and biggest.
Let’s address what wild means too, right from the beginning. This Troutbitten series is about the hunt for wild fish — not club fish, private water setups or stocked trout. That’s not to say there’s no value in catching those other trout — they simply are what they are. And I’ve dug deep into the discussion of artificial trout before. Basically, if your buddy is producing one big fish after another, be skeptical. If it’s easy — if it’s predictable or repeatable — there’s a setup. Always. Like anything else in this world, if it seems too good to be true . . . it is.
Okay, so we’ve defined the terms for this big trout series. We know what big is, and we’re going after wild trout. Why does that matter? Because these places and tactics I’ll cover for catching big trout are tailored to the wild ones. Club fish are different — they expect to be fed from the banks and can easily be stimulated into feeding by tossing dry dog food in the water. (Yes, that’s true.) And most stocked trout, no matter how young they are stocked — still come from a gene strain that prioritizes aggressive feeding and quick growth. So any idea that holdovers eventually become just like wild trout is naive. They don’t. They feed more easily, and they grow faster. Wild trout, on the other hand, follow the laws of nature. And no fisherman has ever understood those laws with any degree of certainty.
Why then, would I write these articles?
That’s a fair question.
I’ve had this series in mind for a while, and I think it’s time to write it down. I’ve merged in and out of the big-trout-hunting game for years. And I keep veering south of the lane because I don’t like what prioritizing large trout does to me. So I enjoy it for a while. And then I deliberately change my goals. But I keep circling back around. Because the search for Hog Johnson is fun. It’s inspiring, enjoyable, addictive and motivating. No one, and I mean no one, looks at a two-foot wild brown trout and says . . . “meh.” A top tier wild trout is impressive. These trout are at the end of a life cycle. Their teeth are big and sharp. They’re wise and battle scarred. Most of them are a decade old or more. They’re the biggest of the bigs. And doesn’t every sport strive for the best?
I know some of the most skilled and dedicated big trout hunters in the game. We’ve shared ideas and flies. I’ve witnessed and participated in their success. It’s a fun time. And the biggest keys are persistence and analysis. The drive to make something happen instead of just lucking into a fortuitous fish is what makes the fishy guys so fishy. It’s not the fly. It’s not the line, the rod or the reel — God no, it’s certainly not the gear. And in the last thirty-some years of trout fishing I’ve learned that if you choose your target and understand the river, you can put big trout in the net on a regular basis. Sure, you may have to adjust your other goals or even give them up completely. Should you? That’s up to you.
Some rivers hold big trout, and some don’t
It’s a fact. And no amount of wishing will change this. You can’t make your home stream hold Whiskeys. Around here, when someone tells me they caught a two-foot wild trout from my home water, I know they’re either lying, they’re inexperienced, or they were fishing the private water section we call the Stink Farm. Because real trout just don’t grow that big on my home stream. I know the regulars, and we’ve collectively put in hundreds of thousands of hours — enough to know the truth. For some reason, this water grows a ton of wild trout, but very few large ones.
So the first step toward catching big trout is fishing the right river. In truth, most watersheds do hold big trout. And some of the ideas in this series will help you find them. Time on the water is the best teacher. And ninety percent of what you hear about most rivers is probably bullshit. Explore and learn these places for yourself. Try to forget the rumors. Discover the truth.
Catch a bunch . . .
The best way to catch a big trout is to catch a bunch of trout, and one of them will be big. This is a tried and true Troutbitten philosophy. And when I get a little too deep into the hunt for big trout, when the action is slow and my soul is wearing thin, I bring myself back to this mantra. Learn to catch a bunch of fish. That’s the measure of a good angler, and it’s usually more fun anyway. When your skills are refined enough to fool a bunch of wild trout, then you won’t blow your chance when you finally do locate some of the places we’ll talk about in this series.
Catching big trout does not make you a stud.
And if you do catch a good one, taking its picture is never more important than the health of the fish.
This summer, I landed some top tier trout in the lower regions of what’s commonly considered trout water on one of my favorite northern county rivers. These were gorgeous fish, landed in water with temps hovering in the mid-sixties. But on such big rivers, the only good place to take a picture of these trout was near the banks. Trouble was, the side water was considerably warmer than the middle, cold, oxygen-rich runs. So I released these Whiskeys without even considering a picture.
Just get ‘em back in the water, so someone else can catch them next time. Above all, the resource — the trout — must come first. A lot of this takes self-discipline and wisdom, so make sure you have some.
I’ve held off on this series for a long time, because I don’t want to feed a growing culture that seems to idolize anglers who catch big trout. But this series is an effort to break through that foolishness, to show that it doesn’t take exceptional technique or skill to catch big trout. It takes an understanding of where they are and what they eat. It requires some forethought. And above all, it takes persistence to catch big trout consistently.
So come on . . . where are they?
There are certain parts of a river that harbor big fish. Season after season, the biggest trout are there.
Many of the legends surrounding big trout in this sport are pure myth.
— The biggest trout feed only at night — not true.
— To catch a big trout you need big flies — that’s a lie.
— Trout over eighteen inches become predators, feasting only on baitfish — simply not true.
— Big Hank, the Legendary Brown Trout lives under that old log. — this one might be true.
In all my years on the water, I’ve believed each of these standards at one time or another. I think we all have. But eventually, the reality of things stares you down. And when forced into it, you ask new questions and find new answers. I did that.
And now, I go to certain water types and river structures to target big trout. Every watershed that harbors the big ones has a few of these locations. It’s up to you to find them and fish them well.
In the next article, I’ll cover what just might be my favorite place to find big trout: the spillouts . . .
Fish hard, friends.
This is Part One of a Troutbitten series on finding big trout..
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N