Here at aaronlesieuroutdoors.com, we constantly strive to provide our readers with useful information in which to help you catch more bass. With angler education being the goal, we decided to feature an ongoing series highlighting bass forage as every hard bait, soft plastic and swimbait on the market is designed to mimic something bass crave and hunt. This series features various bass prey, provides detailed information on the species and tips on how to match the hatch while out on the water.
RAINBOW TROUT (Oncorhynchus mykiss)
The rainbow trout is known throughout the U.S. as one of the top sport fishes due to its aggressive feeding behavior, its beautiful coloring, and the majestic setting one can immerse themselves while attempting to catch them. The rainbow trout’s distinctive coloring includes a blueish to greenish back which transitions to a silvery white underside, black spots on the upper half of its body and a pink to reddish center line. Their color varies depending on the surrounding habitat and the time of the year; during the spawn they become visibly darker. The rainbow is part of the Pacific salmon family, has numerous small scales on its body and a streamline torpedo shape. There are over a hundred variations of rainbow trout found throughout the U.S. which are divided into three subspecies including the steelhead, common rainbow and Kamloops rainbow. Adult stream dwellers average 1-5 pounds while the lake variety can reach up to an impressive 20lbs (the largest rainbow trout on record is 57lbs!). The average lifespan of the rainbow is 4-6 years but they have been known to live up to 11.
Originally, the rainbow trout was native only to North America west of the Rockies, but due to its popularity and the fact that it can thrive in hatcheries, it has been introduced to every continent except Antarctica. It is even considered an invasive species in some fisheries.
HABITAT AND BIOLOGY
The rainbow prefers cool clear lakes, streams or rivers where water temperatures range from 55-60 degrees. In streams they use rocks, aquatic vegetation or submerged wood as protective cover and ambush points when feeding. Compared to stream trout, lake trout move about more depending on the season. During the summer months they become pelagic in order to stay in cooler water and follow their forage. As the water cools during the fall and winter months, they move closer to shore using rocks, aquatic vegetation or submerged wood the same as stream trout. Their diet consists of small insects (terrestrial or aquatic), small fish, crustaceans, and fish eggs. They tend to spawn in the spring or early summer using areas containing pea to golf ball size gravel. The female digs a small depression with her tail (called a redd) in which to lay her eggs for the male to fertilize. After fertilization the adults abandon the eggs which incubate from one to five months depending on water temperature and subspecies. If the eggs survive the long incubation period, avoiding drought, floods, disease or predation, the fry then swim from the rocks to feed on zooplankton and begin their lifecycle.
There are a myriad of baits on the market that mimic trout in various shapes, sizes, materials and action. Determining which baits work in your fishery will take some trial and error and this may seem like a daunting task; but the good news is you can catch bass with trout imitation lures even when a lake is void of trout. For example Clear Lake, Ca is not deep enough or cold enough all year round to support the trout species; yet big bait aficionados who sling 8 or 12 inch swimbaits painted in a trout pattern, catch monster bass on them every year. How is this possible? Bait profile is one key factor. Dr. Keith Jones makes reference to this concept in his book “Knowing Bass-The Scientific Approach to Catching More Fish” stating “Bass have a strong dispensation for learning prey search images. An animal is said to have developed a search image if it actively looks for a particular object with an identifiable visual, acoustic, vibrational, or chemical signature. Given enough positive experience with a certain prey type, a bass will gradually come to actively seek out that specific prey.” He later goes on to say “With enough feeding experience, a visual search image becomes the standard against which a predator compares the targets it encounters. The likelihood that a target object will be attacked depends on how closely the target matches the visual search image. In extreme cases, the predator may come to ignore anything that fails to match that image-hence the wisdom in matching the hatch.” So as long as your bait has the correct profile the bass are keying in on, whether it be a crankbait, stick bait, glide bait, or swimbait, you should be able to catch them even if the color doesn’t exactly match that specific forage; assuming you are in the right area, using the right technique and using appropriate gear. Since we are focusing specifically on rainbow trout, let’s talk about swimbaits. So that BAM could provide the most useful information regarding big baits, we contacted West Coast professional angler Paul Bailey to gather some of the secrets to his success. Paul is a guide on Clear Lake, and tournament angler, who has been throwing swimbaits and chasing trophy bass for over 10 years; earlier this year, his knowledge and expertise led him to catching the unofficial world record spotted bass in Northern California weighing in at just over 11lbs! (Okay, he caught it on a shakeyhead and spinning rod, but we won’t hold that against him.) He has spent countless hours determining the most effective baits, the most productive times of the year, the correct gear for the technique and the key areas in which to target. Here is what “Big Bait Bailey” had to say:
ALO: What’s the proper reel to use?
Paul: “I throw big baits on a 300 or 400 size reel as they have the capacity to hold 20 or 25lb line and they have bigger gears in them. What starts happening is guys try to throw the big baits on the smaller 200 series and start casting their baits off and don’t know why. The gears on the smaller reels are not made to handle the larger baits and during the cast the gears will engage and there goes your bait. I use a reel with a 5.3:1 gear ratio. I have gotten significantly more bites by reeling the bait as slow as I can possibly wind it.”
ALO: What is the proper rod to use?
Paul: “A good seven and half to eight foot rod with a soft tip, a lot of backbone and longer handle. For the past year I have been throwing my signature IROD swimbait rod which I am in the process of testing and developing and it has those characteristics. You need a long rod for ease of cast but more importantly, the hook set. You are driving a large gauge hook into the fish and if you don’t have a stout enough rod to burry that hook you are going to lose more than half of your fish on the first jump.”
ALO: What about the hook set?
Paul: “I know some guys like to wind them on when they feel a bite but when I feel that tick I wind down and swing as hard as I can. I burry the hook deep and wind them in as fast as I can. I own the fish, kick his butt, get him in the boat, take a picture and release him.”
ALO: What type of line are you using?
Paul: “90 percent of the time I am throwing 30lb mono and I always go braid to a leader. I run an 8-10ft leader using a double uni-knot to 65lb braid. I cinch it down tight and just cut the tag ends off. During all the years I have been using this knot, I have never broken off a connection fighting a fish or casting a lure. The only time I have broken a connection is if I get snagged on a rock and have to get straight up and down on it and pull hard. I also use the leader because the line is stiffer than braid. When you are fishing glide baits, wake baits or walking baits and you twitch the bait, the front hook will grab the braid and ruin the action.”
ALO: What is your go to bait?
Paul: “I think everyone knows that I am a Hudd (Huddleston Deluxe) guy. I use the 8” and like the blue top color so I usually go with the hitch or Shasta in the ROF (rate of fall) 12. (In a recent video on Youtube you can watch Paul modify his bait by removing the slotted weight at the bottom of the ROF 12. He says it makes the bait act more like a ROF 8 and it crawls over the rocks easier and get snagged less. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7RXVU-hiNo ).
ALO: What areas should anglers target or look for?
Paul: “During the winter in Clear Lake, and most lakes across the country, bass have their wintering holes and they will typically hold in the same spots from the end of fall until they start to move up to spawn. In Clear Lake and a lot of lakes that are not over a hundred feet deep, they hold on the deep rocks and the largest boulders they can find. Bass don’t like to chase so I work the bait slowly over the rocks so they can get over it, track it as long as they want and then trap it when they are ready to attack.”
ALO: Well what about the summer months? Do you put the big bait down?
Paul: “I tend to size down in the summer. After the trout stop running up higher in the water column or after the hitch stop running up the creeks I go out and have fun with a frog or buzz bait. You can spend a lot of time throwing a big bait in the summer and be really disappointed. If you put in enough time with any bait you are going to get bit but I have learned over the last ten years to just put the big bait down until the water temps get back down to 45-60 degrees. When it comes to trout and the water temps get into that 60 degree range, the trout go down and the bass come up to spawn. That’s when the whole trout deal goes away. You do have bass that have trained themselves to follow the pelagic trout but those bass are very hard to target. I wait for that first big storm of the year in the fall when the lake temps fall about five degrees. When that happens I bring out the big baits again.”
The goal of this series is to familiarize you with the most common bass forage and some important characteristics of each that ultimately may equal more bites out on the water. Knowing the habitat, characteristics and behavior of the specific forage in your local fishery, and how and when the bass are relating to them, can provide that additional edge for a great day on the lake of fun fishing or fierce competition. Until next time, stay focused, fish hard and I’ll see you on the water.
- Jones, K. (2002). Knowing Bass – The Scientific Approach to Catching More Fish. Guilford, CT: First Lyons Press
- Laurie Root. S.D. Department of Game, Fish and Parks. 1994. Rainbow Trout. Retrieved on 5/26/16 from http://www3.northern.edu/natsource/FISH/Rainbo1.htm
- Katherine Staley and John Mueller. United States Dept. of Agriculture. Rainbow Trout. Retrieved on 5/26/16 from https://www.fws.gov/northeast/wssnfh/pdfs/RAINBOW1.pdf
- Unknown author. National Wildlife Federation. Rainbow Trout or Steelhead. Retrieved on 5/26/16 from http://www.nwf.org/wildlife/wildlife-library/amphibians-reptiles-and-fish/rainbow-trout-or-steelhead.aspx
- Unknown author. National Geographic. Rainbow Trout. Retrieved on 5/26/16 from http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/fish/rainbow-trout/