It’s time to get troutside and enjoy the budding spring weather.
It’s time to get trout-side, and pose with a beautiful fish.
Time for Oregonians to chase positive troutcomes.
The only thing worse than those trout puns is not knowing how to get in on the action when everyone starts chasing Oregon’s most popular sport fish: rainbow trout.
Wild or planted?
Your first choice for rainbow trout is whether you want to chase wild rainbow trout or hatchery fish. Both varieties have their appeal, and it depends on who you are and why you’re trout fishing.
Odds are, your first fish was a hatchery rainbow trout caught as a child.
Though native only to the Pacific Northwest from Alaska to California and stretching just inland to Idaho and Nevada, rainbow trout — along with common carp and largemouth bass — are the most widely introduced fish on earth.
They can be found on every continent but Antartica, and there’s just cause: they’re pretty, they hit bait, flies and lures alike, they can fight well in ideal conditions and some people (myself excluded) think they taste good.
When should you chase hatchery or “planter” trout? If you’re fishing with new anglers, children, or those who just want to relax in the sun while coincidentally fishing or if your goal is harvesting the fish you catch, then planters are for you.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will stock a staggering 1,445,365 trout into state waters in 2019, according to the Trout Stocking Schedule. You can find details on your favorite trout lakes at https://myodfw.com/fishing/species/trout/stocking-schedule.
Trout stocking is a “put and take fishery,” meaning the fish planted are intended to be harvested by the same anglers who pay for hatchery programs with their own license dollars.
On the other hand, there’s something special about wild fish. Though harder to locate and catch, wild fish typically fight harder and grow to much larger sizes in ideal conditions.
Since they are wild, self-sustaining populations, harvest is typically discouraged by most anglers, though it is not morally wrong to harvest wild fish where legal and sustainable.
When should you target wild fish? If you’re an intermediate or experienced angler looking for a challenge, if you’re hunting for the fish of a lifetime and if you don’t plan to eat anything you catch, then you should go wild.
Bait and wait
Bass will rarely hit a dead bait, though they’ll readily take flies and lures. Carp will rarely hit a lure, though they’ll take bait and sometimes flies. Trout are the world’s most popular species, in my opinion, because they’ll readily take all three.
For anglers who really view fishing as a chance to relax on the riverbank or lakeshore, maybe sipping a cold beverage, getting a tan or keeping the kids occupied in one place, bait fishing is the way to go.
The most effective all-around-bait is the standard nightcrawler. Cut it in half and thread it onto a No. 8 single, baitholder hook at the end of a leader 12-24 inches in length that leads to a barrel swivel and slip sinker. If the trout are feeding up in the water column, use a syringe to pump a little air into the worm to float it off the bottom.
The upside of worms? They catch more species than just trout.
The downside of worms? They catch more species than just trout.
If you’re fishing a place with bluegill, perch, catfish or other species you’d like to avoid, consider using PowerBait, cured fish eggs, Velveeta cheese, bread, corn, or virtually anything soft and either sweet or stinky that comes in a can. Trout will eat it up, and other species won’t find it quite as appetizing, save for bullhead catfish, which will eat anything.
If you plan to release fish, don’t use bait. Trout usually swallow bait or take it more deeply in the throat than lures, and this contributes significantly to mortality. If you’re more of a catch-and-release angler, go with flies or lures.
On a troll
As April winds to a close, anglers suddenly have access to warmer, cleaner water. Though intermittent storms still hamper water clarity from time to time, and cold fronts can kill a bite, this is still your best chance to get out on the water and chase some tail.
Trolling is effective early in the season as trout are still spread out. If you camp on the bank and fish with bait, there’s a chance you’re “in the fish” and will find success, but there’s a chance you won’t, too.
Trolling involves covering a lot of water, and this strategy helps you cast a wide net (figuratively, of course, as cast nets aren’t a legal method for trout fishing in Oregon) until you find fish and then target those features that seem to be holding fish.
If water clarity isn’t at least a foot, trolling won’t be terribly productive, so pay attention to that.
Water temperature is also critical, as fish won’t be feeding much at all if water temps drop below 40. Once the water hits 50 degrees, trout will be more active. Look for the peak feeding activity for most trout to take place in 55- to 65-degree water.
Troll lures that have high visibility (spoons), make noise (lipless crankbaits) or have a lot of action (erratic jerkbaits). Use a swivel or tie a “Rapala Knot” to ensure your lure entices fish properly.
McKay Reservoir is one of my favorite waterbodies in the state. It has darn-near everything, including a healthy population of trout. The fish present can be wild redbands from McKay Creek, holdover from hatchery stock or a mix of both.
This means you can target them with large and small lures, as well as a variety of baits.
Troll along the dam with spoons or Rapalas. Go slowly, and you might hook incidental smallmouth bass.
Fish from shore along the west side of the lake or, if the creek isn’t blown out, near the outlet of McKay Creek.