Newsflash: You don’t need an ultra expensive fly rod setup to catch stream trout.
If there’s one thing I know about trout chasers, it’s that they can be a secretive bunch. They keep their prime pools as close to the vest as they do a secret family chili recipe. While I am not exclusively a trout pursuant, I understand the desire to keep spots a secret. As a fellow fin chaser, I don’t exactly go around giving out my best waypoints either. However, with roughly 13,000 miles of trout streams in the state of Wisconsin, there is plenty of water to go around. With a little work and exploration, you can find your own trout haven.
The author holds up a nice brown trout he caught in a small Wisconsin stream.
The allure of this type of fishing is that it is very similar to spot and stalk hunting. These streams are so small here in Wisconsin, it is imperative to be quiet, wear natural colors or camo, and maintain a low and slow profile to prevent being seen. The pools that hold these fish may only be several feet across. They can be created by a washout below a rock ripple, or a strip of undercut bank on an outside river bend. Any sudden movements or shadows cast and you’ll see them darting away with your chance of catching them squandered. Navigating blowdowns and creeping through tight stream quarters can be challenging, but the struggle makes the bites that much more rewarding.
Precision casting and stealthiness are paramount when it comes to getting strikes. Many anglers prefer to wear fishing shirts resembling the colors of the sky to stay hidden from a fish’s perspective.
Above all else, the cast is the most important part of the whole operation. In one of these small pools, you may only get one or two casts at these fish. They can quickly become aware of your presence and shy away from eating. It is key to put the bait in the deepest most shaded part of the pool, where the fish will likely be set up. When you make the right cast, you’ll know. It’ll be one that barely misses a tree branch and lands 6 inches from the undercut bank. If a fish is there, it only takes a few turns of the reel and they’ll usually eat. Miss the mark by a foot on your cast, and you’ll get no strike. A phenomenal way to improve your casting skills is to practice casting at precise targets in your yard, it helps when fishing for other species as well.
Targeting these small stream burners doesn’t require much for special tackle. While many trout fishermen use an expensive fly rod, lightweight spinning gear can be just as effective and easier to put to task. On water that can be only several feet across at points, a short rod allows for the best maneuverability and lends to more precise casting. Something in the 5 to 6-foot length, light to medium-light power and a fast tip works well. 4 or 6-pound fluorocarbon allows for nice casting distance and offers abrasion resistance against rocks and wood. For that size line and rod, a 20 or 25 series reel size is compact, but still a good drag for controlling their runs. This setup carries a good combination of light line and lure casting ability, yet enough backbone to steer these fish out of cover and away from stream hazards.
A spinning reel does the job just fine for trout.
I like to keep bait selection simple. The old standby of trout spinning tackle is an inline spinner. The most well-known is a Panther Martin. They are sold in a wide range of colors and a few different sizes. A good place to start is one of their 6-piece variety packs. It’s got silver and painted spinner blades for sunnier days, and gold bladed ones for cloudy and overcast outings. A slow rolled steady retrieve is usually enough to entice a strike. There are other options in baits, like a Rapala mini fat rap, which at only 1.5” long, runs about a foot deep. It is a nice crankbait alternative to the in-line spinner. Some folks will use live bait as well, but it is not legal for use in Wisconsin during the catch and release season. Regardless of the type of lure used, it should be presented coming downstream whenever possible. The fish will be positioned facing into the current, waiting for their meal to come flowing downstream. For this reason, I will step into the water downstream from where I want to fish and work upstream casting into the current.
Early trout season is a great way to cure some cabin fever and scratch the fishing itch at the end of a long Wisconsin winter. With some basic gear that most fisherman may already have in their tackle box, it doesn’t take much to get out there. Grab a pair of wading boots, find a bridge, and hop in the water. Check out this link if you’re ever looking to fish in Wisconsin to find a list of maps featuring all of the recognized trout streams by county. You may be surprised to find there is one closer than you think. Stay positive and chase that next bite!