March 15, 2022
Looking for a pot of angling gold this spring? Just follow the rainbow. Specifically, Oncorhynchus mykiss — the ubiquitous rainbow trout.
Native to the west coast rivers and lakes flowing into the Pacific Ocean, rainbows occur throughout most of the U.S., thanks to stocking efforts. Scenarios are numerous, but Georgia angler Jeff Samsel’s partial to lacing up the hiking boots and hunting prime Appalachian trout waters.
In Samsel’s experience, spring and fall find the fish active and eager. The March-April period is his favorite, as the year’s details line up well for reliable opportunity.
“During spring, trout tend to feed opportunistically,” he said. “They’re a cool-water fish, so water temperatures tend to be optimal for activity, but insect hatches aren't heavy so trout are competing for food and will react.”
Samsel points to water level as a significant factor. With the year’s third and fourth months typically seeing good flow, trout will move out of the strongest current, thereby making their location more easily determined.
“Rainbows do like to feed in current, more so than brown trout or brook trout,” he said. “However, they'll often hold behind a boulder or other obstruction beneath the surface.
“Keep an eye out for cover you can see through polarized glasses and look for slick spots or a swell that reveals a (subsurface) current break.”
He expects such fish magnets in the deeper runs with good flow. The rocks aren’t always evident from the surface, but it doesn’t take long to train your eyes for the desired targets. Basically, you just watch for spots of disrupted current.
“Those fish are going to be lying right behind that (current break), so if you can put a cast upstream of that spot and swing by it, the fish are going to see your lure when it’s right there in front of them and they’re going to ambush it,” he said. “Ledges are another thing you’ll find in mountain streams. The visible ledges above the water are obvious, but there are a lot of things like that down below the surface too.
“You can often see those because the water is clear. When you see those little drops, they are going to be sitting behind them. So, if you bring a bait right over the top those breaks, the fish are going to come up to feed.”
Samsel’s also alert for “rises” — trout coming up to grab an insect off the surface. Multiple rises identifies an active area, but if the fish snub his bait, he moves to the next spot, as these fish are likely focused on a particular insect. (More of a late-spring deal.)
Cast And Wind
Mention trout and most envision fly fishing. Notwithstanding this common preference, he does most of his work with small spoons and modest plugs like the Rebel Tracdown Ghost Minnow or one of the Rebel Crawfish models.
Unless he’s fishing a super-tight stream, Samsel uses a 6 1/2-foot light, fast-action rod with 4- to 6-pound line. In tighter confines, a 5- to 5 1/2-foot micro rod helps.
“Watch your lure for as long as you can see it,” he said. “Trout are notorious followers, so this will help you figure out the kinds of spots they are using on any given day. If they are following but won't quite bit, try varying your presentation or change the color or lure profile.”
Whatever lure he throws, he replaces his baits’ treble hooks with singles. Some states require this, so check local regulations; but practical wisdom also applies here.”
“Trout are slippery and trying to remove a lure with small trebles can be dangerous,” he said. “Even with single hooks, if I don’t need a photo, I leave fish in the water, grab the hemostats and remove hook without lifting the fish.”
Pick Your Spots
Fond of day-trip trout missions with his kids, he favors the ends of pools, where the water remains deeper than other parts of the stream, but current accelerates above the next shoal or rapid. Such spots, he said, commonly hold actively feeding rainbow trout.
“Remember stealth,” Samsel said. “Trout live in clear water and are very aware of their surroundings. Cast from outside a pool or downstream of it before stepping in. Use natural cover to break your profile and avoid abrupt movements.
“A bit of walking can make a big difference when you’re fishing popular trout streams, especially if that means walking in the stream or crawling through some brush,” he said. “Even a modest amount of extra effort will get you to waters where the trout don’t see as many lures and fewer trout get taken out of any stream where a harvest is permitted.”
Less Is More
Essential to this rainbow recon is mobility and that starts with an honest of assessment of essential gear. Don’t overdo it and you’ll be able to cover more ground and traverse tighter shoreline cover.
“Go relatively light; you don’t need a lot of stuff,” he said. “A couple of little insert boxes that you can put inside a vest or a small backpack is all that you need.
“I usually don’t carry a net when I’m doing this. When you have a net and you’re crawling through (cover), you suddenly feel yourself slowing down and about the time you realize it’s stuck in the bush, the elastic pops loose and it hits you in the back.”
Waders, while necessary in the teeth-chattering temps, start to become optional in the spring months. Shedding the extra weight and bulk improves mobility.
“As soon as it’s tolerable to do so, I wade wet,” he said. “If I’m fishing a (cold) tailwater, or if it’s early March and it’s been cold at night, I’m going to have waders on. But as soon as I can get used to the water and wade wet, I’m going to do that.”
Ultimately, Samsel said he tries to stay out of the water whenever the stream cover and edge allow. With or without waders, he knows he’ll occasionally need to step in, but from a stealth standpoint, remaining high and dry maximizes his rainbow trout success.