Trophy Trout Techniques

There are a variety of tactics employed to target the larger trout in a given body of water. It is well known that big fish feed on small fish, and most of my fishing is based on this simple concept. It is, however wise to be aware that insects and other small terrestrials still make up a fair percentage of most trout’s diet. There have been several times at Crane Prairie Res when huge rainbows and brookies were boiling and leaping out of the water gorging themselves on dragonfly emergers, but they would not touch the lures that are normally effective for me there. The ultimate angler would be knowleged and geared for all situations. That is a near lifetime achievement for those who can only fish so often. I will discuss the tactics that I have found useful in my fishing on this page.

Here’s a porky brown that hit my lure on a long flatline just before dark.

Flatline or Topline Trolling

Flatlining (aka toplining) is one of the easiest and best ways to target trophy trout. Although quality gear is always a good idea when planning on doing battle with a large adversary, there is no specialized gear required to fish this method. It is as simple as putting a minnow imitating lure on your line and letting it go 100 yds or so behind the boat. Trolling speed can vary a lot from 1.3 to 4+ mph, and lure selection covers an even wider range from 2 inches up to 8 inches. I know of guys catching trout on 12 inch lures, but that’s a bit large for me. Most of my flat lining is done with 3-5 inch lures at speeds of 2 to 3 mph.

Although quite a few big fish have hit with the rod in the holder, more will strike when you impart the action of a desperately wounded baitfish by “ripping” your rod and letting it slack slightly between rips. With 100 yds of line between your rod and the lure, it takes a long, aggressive stroke on the rip to have the proper effect on the lure.
My rod of choice is a 7-7 1/ 2 foot 5 power Lamiglas which is a fairly stiff (fast action) rod. Reel wise, you want something that’s not too big and heavy, but will hold plenty of line for the occasional hookup with a fish that takes 100 yard run on the hookup. It happens! For line, I use a base line of 15 lb PowerPro which in my opinion is the best in the superline/braid world.Thin and manageable. To the PowerPro, I use a back-to-back uni knot and tie a 50 ft leader of 10-15 lb fluorocarbon. I like the P-Line products and I don’t pay the money for the small spools of leader material, I buy 300 yd spools of Fluoroclear for around 10 bucks. The PowerPro wears well and lasts a long time, and when it does start to seem worn you can remove it and re spool it the opposite direction and your good for another year or two. To the leader I tie a small but heavy duty cross lock snap (no swivel).
Depth of water to troll in varies a ton depending on conditions. In my tackle box there are lures that range in running depth from 2-3 ft deep up to some that will go down 40 ft on a long line. The general rule of thumb is to keep your lure tight to structure, in shallow water 10-20 ft deep, but at times the ticket might be trolling in the top 10 ft of 100 ft deep water. I often catch bull trout at Lake Billy Chinook flat lining Rapala #20 Sliver (runs 25 ft) over 300 ft deep open water. A sonar graph is extremely useful for tracking depths as well as finding fish in deeper water, but don’t expect to see many fish on the graph while trolling in water under 20 ft. Wary big trout scatter as your boat passes over, and this is why your lure is 100 yds behind you!
I personally find casting lures to be more enjoyable than trolling them. It allows you to get the lure in closer to certain structure, and really work a given area thoroughly without buzzing your boat over the water that the fish are holding in. For casting most mid sized plugs, and medium to heavy spoons, I use a 7 ft 4 power Lamiglas spinning rod with a Shimano Stradic 2000 reel. I spool it up with 8 lb PowerPro, and 50 ft of  8 lb leader. I can cast most lures a mile with that set up, and that helps when it comes to fooling the big ones. For smaller plugs and spoons, I reach for my 6 1/2 ft ultra light action rod and reel, filled with 4 lb line. My favorite casting lure is the Kastmaster spoon by Acme Tackle. I fish it with a jig-reel-jig-reel rhythmic action, usually after letting it sink to the bottom, but any depth can be effective.I have found 40 ft to be the maximum effective depth if using a heavier spoon.  Best colors are Brook Trout, Metallic Perch, and Fire Tiger in 1/8, 1/4, & 3/8 sizes. This is lure/technique is deadly for brookies at Crane Prairie Res. in central Oregon, as my gang has pulled a good number over 5lbs with the biggest pushing 7lbs. Another favorite is Lucky Craft Pointer 65’s on the ultra light. Try the Black Aurora color, it makes a great juvenile kokanee. Don’t be shy, get jiggy with it, the browns go nuts!
Downrigger Trolling
Downriggers open up a whole new dimension in hunting for trophy trout, for years they have had a place in saltwater and the great lakes, but they have found a solid place on my boat and many others fishing freshwater lakes for trout and kokanee big and small. The concept here is pretty simple, and although you can score random fish by covering water at trial depths, the goal is to locate schools of baitfish and set your lures to run through or just below them. Often the dense schools of bait are accompanied by nice arcs of big fish around them, and this is the ideal scene. Downrigging doesn’t necessarily mean you are working deep water, I have found that at times the ability to drop your lure that extra 5 or 10 feet beyond it’s normal running depth is the difference between being in the zone or not. Especially for browns in the summer time. 25-45 ft is a very good depth to run lures in July and August in the lakes of Central Oregon. I employ a wide range of setback distances (the distance between your lure and the ball) depending on the situation. For big browns at shallower depths, up to 100 yds. For lakers tight to deep structure, as little as 20 ft, which allows for tight maneuvering of the boat without fouling the lines.
I invested in an electric Scotty downrigger a few years ago, and if you are serious about fishing it is money very well spent. With a full lifetime warranty, you can’t go wrong. The manual crank ones are fine if you will always have a second person on board, but if you are alone and you hook that fish of a lifetime, you could be in big trouble! I have given some thought to buying my second downrigger a hand crank seeing as I already have the electric for when I am solo. I have fished 3 lines off my one downrigger using cable clips. Depending on the lure combinations, I have stacked lures as tight as 5 ft apart, but I usually like to have at least 10 ft between lures.
Like most fishermen, I am always changing my program with a tweak here and there, I’m sure that some very good fishermen will read my techniques and shake there heads at one thing or another. I do know that I catch a lot more wild trout over 5 pounds per hour on the water than I did 5 years ago by a large margin, and that encourages me to push on and learn more. As I learn, I will continue to share what I know on this page . Feel free to contact me and share your 2 cents or pick my brain.
I caught this killer fall hookjaw casting with my ultra-light rod. A battle to remember! C&R’d!!
Jordan nailed this dandy brown on the downrigger in the middle of the summer…