For many years, I believed that it takes nothing special to catch a big trout. I argued with friends about this over beers, during baseball games, on drives to the river and through text messages at 1:00 am. My contention was always that big trout don’t require anything extraordinary to seal the deal. They need a quality drift, a good presentation, and if they are hungry they will eat it. I frequently pushed back against the notion that big wild trout were caught only with exceptional skill.
So for all who’ve heard me make this argument, I’d like to offer this revision: I still believe that large trout don’t need more than a good presentation. But what is GOOD may actually be pretty special. Meaning, it’s rare to find the skill level necessary to consistently get good drifts and put them over trout (large or small).
Some guys are good at tight line nymphing but have no dry fly game. Some girls can plant a streamer in the bullseye but can’t dead drift a damn thing. Big trout can be anywhere. And they might eat anything. So we need precision casting and an ability to feed s-curves into the tippet leash of a Rusty Spinner. We also need the facility to tuck cast a #16 beadhead into the two-foot froth and get a ten-foot drift before it plunges over the lip. The best big trout anglers are good at all of this.
And how good should the presentation be? Top notch. And how rare is that? I think it’s an uncommon skill. But remember, I didn’t think that before. And that was the crux of my dispute with friends. When I argued that it didn’t take anything special to catch big trout, my friends and I were really disagreeing on what was an average skill level.
But what about those big trout? Are they looking for anything different than what the mid-sized, garden variety fish are looking for?
Just a minute . . .
Let’s quickly define what we’re talking about here. Some readers get a little bent out of shape when I bring this up, but I’m saying it again. Because quality counts.
When I talk about targeting big trout, I only consider wild fish — not club fish, stocked trout or anything else besides river trout that aren’t being fed from the bank or being fed fingerling trout stocked by a fish commission. There are a lot of artificial setups out there. And such a thing changes the conversation, because trout in a club environment or trout from a stocked strain are a different thing altogether. Their habits are dissimilar from wild trout. Their expectations are unnatural.
Are they fun to catch? Absolutely!
Does it take a lot of skill to put one of those big trout in the net? Maybe. And maybe not. When there’s a setup, it’s hard to say.
There is No Super Drift
There’s no extra-special drift required to sell a big trout. Get a great drift. That’s enough.
On a nymph, the presentation should be a one-seam drift in the strike zone, long enough for a trout to see it and close enough to the trout to make it worth his time. Honestly, how can that be improved? It can’t, really. Get it perfect, and if a twelve-inch trout is in the pocket and hungry, he eats. If a two-foot trout is in the pocket and hungry, he eats. There is nothing extra — nothing more — no magic trick beyond a quality presentation necessary to fool a big wild trout.
Same with dry flies. Just show them a dead drift in one seam. Make it excellent and you’ve got a shot. Don’t line the trout. Shoot ahead of your target, etc. Hungry trout eat, whether big or small.
Streamers are a bit of a different story. Many different presentations are successful on the river, so every avid steamer angler has a few in-house tricks that he swears turns big trout on. That’s fair. But as I float down a river, covering miles of water and targeting every watery log, boulder and undercut, there is no way to predict what will come charging out to eat the long fly. Good streamer presentations fool both large and average sized trout. But bad ones don’t.
So is it all luck?
Yeah, it kind of is. But I’ve written my thoughts on this before. It takes persistence, knowledge of the river and good fish-fighting skills. Above all else it takes having big fish in the area. You can’t hook a big trout if the river doesn’t hold one.
But if it does — if big wild trout are around and your technique is solid, you stand a good chance of catching a big wild trout.
I’ve argued about this for years. And I know that my thoughts go against conventional wisdom. Honestly, I think it’s part of the angler lore that many enjoy. You want to think that you did something really special to catch a Namer. But I tend to think you just got a good cast in front of a great fish that was hungry.
If you have other thoughts about all of this, drop a line in the comments section below. It’s interesting to hear what big fish anglers from all different regions think about why big trout eat.
Fish hard, friends.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N