Salomone: How to target big brown trout
Vail Valley Anglers
Fall is without a doubt the best time to target big brown trout. I’m not talking about spawning brown trout that some anglers choose to try and catch. Good anglers know their water and the indicators that signal spawning grounds possess and avoid them. I’m talking about pre-spawn and post-spawn brown trout.
These fish are in “eat mode” — like a black bear stocking up for a long winter nap. Brown trout feel the oncoming lean months of winter approaching; in turn, they are eating big food items like sculpins, crayfish and their own kind.
Aggressive by nature, big brown trout are predominantly predators. Rarely will you find a brown trout 20 inches or bigger sipping midge dries. These fish require large food sources to maintain their size.
During autumn, large brown trout lose their guarded sense of survival. Hiding under cutbanks and beneath root balls during the day all summer, these behemoths rise to the surface at night for uncharacteristic flies. JP Moderno, manager at Vail Valley anglers, is a “mouse-aholic” when it comes to nighttime escapades and casting large, furry flies to sounds and not shapes.
Mouse fly-fishing, or mousing as it is sometimes referred, is a niche in the angling world that requires experience to perfect. Learning to cast in the dark can be daunting. The sound of large flies parting the air past your ear on a forward casting stroke is something to get used to. Trusting your casting stroke and line-control skills takes some effort.
Leaving the fly in the water after an audible strike is critical for success. Trout setting in the dark removes the fly from the strike zone. A big brown is often looking for the food after the initial bite and will eat the mouse fly a second time.
Streamer flies account for most big brown trout. Fierce, predatory instincts force big browns to eat out of reaction. Float fishing is the best presentation method and covers the most water, increasing your odds for success. Sinking lines or streamer specific lines like the Airflo Streamer Max easily turn over heavy flies and save your shoulder in the process.
Large-profile streamer flies with articulation, a jointed body, swim through the water column with lifelike imitation. When retrieved with short, broken strips, the fly bends and folds, giving the impression of vulnerability. Any small fish struggling to swim becomes an immediate target for strong, swift, swimming browns.
Broad tails, wide pectorals and a large, toothy mouth are reasons brown trout rule sections of the river with intimidation and authority. Brown trout will expend a lot of energy chasing brown trout streamer flies imitating injured juveniles. Cannibalistic in its aggressive state, a small brown trout streamer elicits ferocious strikes and can be visibly tracked through the water by the angler.
Anglers who like to live through their vise and self-created flies are in the middle of bliss during fall. Frankenstein-style flies pieced together with aspects of this fly and that one emerge from the vise.
Dragged behind sinking head lines, articulated flies breathe with life in a way that entices larger fish to eat. Masters of the vise piece together the intricate skeletal framework that makes up articulated flies. Fur, feather and flash are the building blocks, and when combined correctly they can be undeniable.
Now is the time to break out a heavier rod. My streamer rig consists of an Echo EPR 7wt, Ross Reels Evolution LTX and an Airflo Streamer Max Short. Capable of turning over the largest streamers I have for freshwater and retrieve line with power and speed, this outfit gets the job done with ease.
Head-hunting for trophy brown trout is the name of the game for trout anglers in the fall. Larger-than-life flies on weighted lines cover the bank in search of the most aggressive fish in the river. Articulated streamers tease and dance in an enticing rhythm that brings the big boys to the game. Anglers with the proper gear and knowledge have the opportunity to catch the fish of a lifetime.
Michael Salomone moved to the Eagle River valley in 1992. He began guiding fly-fishing professionally in 2002. His freelance writing has been published in magazines and websites, including Southwest Fly Fishing, Fly Rod & Reel, Eastern Fly Fishing, On the Fly, FlyLords, the Pointing Dog Journal, Upland Almanac, the Echo and Vail Valley Anglers. He lives on the bank of the Eagle River with his wife, Lori; two daughters, Emily and Ella; and a brace of yellow Labrador retrievers.