The primary forage for trout in many of the West Coast’s lakes and reservoirs are open water baitfish in the form of threadfin shad and Japanese pond smelt.
When trout are actively feeding, and chasing bait, very good results can be achieved while fishing lures. While lures can catch some trout at any time of the day and under almost any conditions, the best action typically occurs during low light periods such as early and late in the day or when the sky is overcast. One of the big cues for a bank angler to tie on a lure is when trout can be seen jumping, splashing and pursuing minnows.
The best lures for shore anglers that want to imitate minnows are without a doubt wobbling spoons. There are a ton of different spoons on the market, unfortunately for the bank fishing enthusiast many of them were designed exclusively for trolling and are too light for casting.
My all-time favorite casting spoons are Cripplures and Kastmasters. The Cripplure has a unique side to side rolling action that virtually screams injured baitfish. The Kastmaster flies through the air like a bullet, hence the name. When the Kastmaster hits the water it has a traditional side to side kicking action.
The Cripplure only comes in one size. The Kastmaster comes in a wide range of sizes I’ve found the 1/8 and 1/4 ounce model to be the most effective, but I usually have a few 1/2 ouncers kicking around too.
As good as Kastmasters and Cripplures are there some other spoons you might want to consider adding to your selection. I’ve had a good deal of success tossing large ½ ounce Hum Dingers from shore. These lures perform best with a fairly brisk retrieve.
If the trout seem to be a bit lethargic and slow to react Little Cleo Spoons are a great choice. They have a large profile humpback design that gives them a very seductive wiggling action at slow speeds.
Fishing spoons is pretty straight forward, but there are some special kinks that can be incorporated into your repertoire that will result in a few bonus trout every year.
The first thing to think about is your lure to line connection. Kastmasters come with a split ring attached. Other spoons simply have a hole in them. If you tie a tight knot directly to that hole, it will kill a lot of the lure’s action. You’ll still catch fish, but if you employ a connection that allows the lure a free range of movement you’ll catch more.
You can tie on your spoons via a loop knot. I’ve done it and at times continue to do it, but tying the knot is a pain. It’s a skill I think you should have in reserve for emergencies, but overall you’ll be best served by picking up a small selection of high quality light wire lock snaps. Lock snaps, not snap swivels…while I don’t think the appearance of a snap scares the trout, I still don’t like to add to the snap’s profile by adding a swivel.
Trollers score with spoons and other lures by covering as much ground as they can. The shore caster also needs to cover as much water as possible, but with a very different philosophy. When trollers talk about covering water they are usually referring to distance. For the bank plugger covering water mean covering the available water thoroughly.
The first rule of plugging from the bank is to fan cast. This means that you don’t want to stand on the bank casting methodically to the same spot. Facing the lake, you have access to a 180-degree arch of water and you should cover it methodically. Make casts near shore and offshore and explore different depths by counting your lure down.
In terms of retrieve speed, it is usually best to start out working fairly briskly. If a fast retrieve isn’t working, gradually slow down until you find a speed the trout respond to. Working spoons with a steady retrieve will catch fish, but speeding up, slowing down and adding the occasional twitch will give the impression of an injured baitfish, drawing more strikes.
What color lures to use is often a point of much confusion and second-guessing for anglers. Once again my approach is systematic. I begin with natural colors that match the shad and smelt the trout feed on. If those colors fail to produce I start experimenting with bright offerings. Chrome, chrome and blue, gold, brass, brass and red, brass and orange and firetiger have been the most consistent spoon colors for me over the years.
I do a large percentage of my plugging with spoons, but spinners can be effective too. Spinners don’t really mimic baitfish the way spoons do, but they put out a lot of vibration and this accounts for a good deal of their effectiveness.
Spoons and spinners will tempt trout of all sizes, but if you are in the market for a true heavyweight be it a big brown or a trophy rainbow, minnow plugs will put you on the road to Monsterville.
Minnow plugs come in a big selection of sizes from tiny 1 inchers to really large models that are 6 to 7 inches in length.
For most of my fishing career when it came to plugging for trout with minnow plugs, I considered myself a Rapala man. If I wanted a floater I went with a traditional Rapala balsa wood minnow and if I wanted suspending bait, I’d tie on a Rapala Husky Jerk.
Over the past few years I’ve started relying more and more on offerings from Yo-Zuri. Sure, my tackle kit still sports Rapalas, but the contingent of Yo-Zuri’s seems to grow every season.
Yo-Zuri is known for turning out some of the highest quality hard plastic baits available for everything from bluegill to blue marlin.
For trout fishing I find three models particularly interesting, the Pin’s minnow series, L Minnow series and Yo-Zuri/Duel Hardcore Shad series.
Floating Pin’s Minnows are shallow runners that feature a very tight hard wiggling action. These plugs are very aerodynamic and cast long distances with ease. I have some in the 2-inch size and several in the 2 3/4-inch size.
Moving on, the L Minnow is a sinking bait. It has a chunkier body than the Pin’s Minnow and since they are heavier they cast even better. The wobble on these baits is wider and I suspect that they give off more vibration. Since they sink you can count them down and probe deeper water than you can with a Pin’s minnow or floating Rapala. I’ve got L Minnows in both the 1 3/4 inch and 2 5/8 inch sizes.
The Hardcore Shad is a diving/suspending bait that is best known as a bass tempter. I’ve got a few of these in the 2-inch size specifically for working reservoirs where shad are the main forage.
For triggering strikes from large fish, all these baits are fished in the same super aggressive manner. You don’t want to toss them out and crank them back. Instead fire them out, start the retrieve and then punctuate it with lots of pauses and hard rips. You really can’t be too aggressive or move the bait too quickly. Think about that cat chasing the yarn. He can get after it way faster than you can move it away. You’re trying to do the same thing with the trout. Trigger that predatory instinct and make them pounce!
Big trout move into shallow shoreline areas when the light level is low and the odds of ambushing a meal are in their favor. Late evening and early morning are great times to intercept them. Some of the best opportunities occur during stormy weather. Grey skies spitting rain or snow, gusty winds and white caps elevate the heart rate of dedicated trophy hunters, because at times like these they know that the largest trout in the lake will likely be cruising shoreline structure looking to pounce on an easy meal.
Plugging and hiking go hand in hand. It’s hard to beat plugging if you are an angler that has a sense of adventure and likes to get in a little exercise. While plugging, it is possible to cover water relatively quickly and your effective range is only limited by how far your legs will take you.
Many times I’ve covered several miles while hiking and plugging. This is a great way to learn a new lake. While hiking, you’ll often stumble on lightly fished areas that produce trout year after year on both lures and bait.
Once you get a quarter mile from a parking area you are out of the range of the vast majority of shore anglers and most boat anglers like to stay a fair piece offshore, not wanting to lose lures or downrigger balls on the bottom. As a result, there are a lot of lightly fished areas just waiting to be uncovered by the ambitious bank plugger.