Mar 10, 2015

Spring Time Means Boating Brown Trout!

By: Capt. Lee Haasch

Spring brings rains and that means a couple of things to me.  First, water levels; after the wet summer we had in 2014, we watched the river continue to rise all summer and finish higher in fall than early summer.  Second, ice-out is the perfect time to target those “silvery footballs,” the brown trout, along the shallow structure lakeside. 

Brown trout have probably been my favorite fish to target ever since my days as a youngster wading out into the lake for hours at a time casting small cleos and champs with light tackle.  Back before I had a boat for trolling, these coastline travelers were the most accessible to shore fishermen.  Whether slipping on a pair of waders or standing on the piers, the brown trout were common catches, especially in the springtime with the colder water. 

A few things have changed over the years.  One change has been the clarity of the water.  Since the zebra mussels invaded the Great Lakes, we have seen water clarity improve 10 fold.  What this means to the brown trout angler is instead of angling in 6-12 feet of water, browns spook easily and anglers need to shift outside to 15-30 feet of water when water is clear.  This opens up a whole new selection of baits to target these fish.  Before, stick baits dominated our selection in shallow water.  Slowing down or turning in the shallows meant using floating stick baits that would rise to the surface instead of sinking into the rocky bottom and snagging up.  Now we can look to other options, like spoons and even small flashers and flies to target the browns.

Not only does the deeper water open up the bait selection, it opens up the way we fish for the browns.  Now, downriggers and divers come into play.  Before these options were difficult because of how shallow we were fishing.  This also makes it much easier to place our lures at specific depths and keep them in the “strike zone.”  I also love running slide divers for browns.  By letting out 50, 60 or even 100 feet of line behind the divers, then setting them, you present your baits not only at suspended depths, but back a ways behind the boat.  Using long leads behind the downriggers will keep the baits a ways back from the boat.  These are great places to run spoons or sometimes a flasher and fly combo.

Planer boards still play a big role in brown trout trolling.  Just as in the shallow waters, planer boards enable the angler to place baits wide from the boat in front of browns that spooked wide from its path.  These wider spread lures tend to run shallower to target the more aggressive browns cruising higher up in the water column.  This is also a great place to run stick baits.  Inner boards will often get large lipped deep divers or husky jerks and outer boards will often get floaters.  

As I mentioned earlier, sliding out a few feet deeper enables the use of more diverse bait selections.  Some of my favorite brown trout baits are spoons.  When trolling in 6 to 10 feet of water in the rocky areas north of Algoma, it is difficult to keep the spoons from snagging in the rocks.  In deeper water, it is much easier to run spoons without the fear of hanging up on structure.  One way to ensure this is to play close attention to your GPS plotter screen and carefully follow the bottom contours. 

Some of my favorite spoons for brown trout are the smaller lighter spoons.  A couple that occupy the working side of my fluorocarbon are the R & R Razor Spoon in the froggy patterns especially the Albino Frog and the Warrior Flutter Spoon in the perch patterns, my favorite here is the Blue Perch.  In the springtime, browns cruise the shoreline hunting for tasty meals of smelt, alewife and other small bait fish like gobies.  Baits imitating these tasty meals, not only in action, but in also in color patterns will often lure the browns to your net.  One of my go-to gobie imitators is the black & gold Flicker Shad.

Another important aspect when targeting spring browns is paying close attention to water temperature.  Areas with slight increases in temperature, as little as a degree or two will tend to attract more bait and thus more active browns.   Some of these patches of warmer water are areas that contain water that is slightly cloudy or dirty.  The cloudier water tends to absorb more sunlight and warm faster than the clear water.  I like to mark these areas and make several passes through these spots, often producing several strikes with each pass.

A bonus in the spring is the lake trout.  Lakers are known to travel the shallows in the spring feeding also.  Lake trout seem to take a liking to orange baits.  Orange/gold Rapalas, R & R Razor Flamethrowers, and Warrior Flutter Naughty Natalees are a few of my favorite Laker takers.   Trolled the same way and in the same places, that is why I consider them the bonus fish.  Not only are the lake trout caught in the cold spring waters, great table fare, but when you get a fish on, you never know what it will be.  I’ve even taken a few kings in the shallows on light line.  What a fight that is!

That brings up a third point with the water clarity – stealth!  Not only do we need to be cautious to keep our tackle light, but 8-12 lb. fluorocarbon is a must for leaders and I spool my planer board rods (7’6” Ugly Stick GX2’s) with Abu Garcia Alphamar 16LC reels filled with 40 lb. Stren Sonic Braid.  My downriggers are running straight 8 lb. fluorocarbon.  With the gin clear water, every little bit helps, and with careful preparation the bonus is that chunky, silvery, football shaped brown tugging at the end of your line!

For more information or current fishing reports, visit my website at or like Haasch  Guide Service on Facebook  or call me at 1-888-966-3474.  From Captain Lee and the crew aboard the Grand Illusion 2, we wish all of you full coolers and hope to see you all on the water!

Captain Lee Haasch is a charter captain out of Algoma, WI.  Capt. Lee has over 40 years of great lakes angling experience and has been instructing anglers for over 25 years with education seminars and timely freelance articles in outdoor publications.