A Day on the Water: Spring Trout Fishing Continues in April

Since this column was written, I’ve been in the creeks catching trout while using techniques touted here, including this 24-inch, nearly 5-pound trout on a Rapala Skitterwalk water plug. Photo: Gordon Churchill

So you have your new rod, complete with a shiny new reel spooled with spotless 10lb braid and a beautiful Mirrolure. Now what?

I assume you have a boat. The great thing about speckled trout fishing is that you don’t need an $80,000 boat with all the new daddy doos and bells and whistles. If you have one of those water Range Rovers, that’s fine too. Every little thing helps find fish, and the comfort of a beautiful boat makes a full day on the water more enjoyable. A small skiff with a trolling motor is enough to get started.

Launch the boat into a cove off a major river system, then head to a sheltered spot along the shore. In the spring we are looking for water that might be a bit warmer than the surrounding area. If there are trees, a high shoreline, high cordgrass, or even a marina, start there. Anything that will block the wind a bit. These more sheltered areas are where the trout will be in the spring.

Related: March means the return of trout fishing to North Carolina waters

Lower your trolling motor and adjust your speed so you’re barely making progress. This will allow you to cover the entire area and also move your grip effectively. If you have been bass fishing it will be similar. What will be different though is that you don’t roll to the bank all the time. Yes, cast to shore just to make sure, but most of your cast will be parallel or nearly parallel to the shore.

Keep an eye out for leaping minnows. When a trout catches prey at the surface, it makes a sound similar to a cork jumping. Don’t be fooled by little mules jumping for no apparent reason. They do it all the time. You will actually hear their tail splashing when they come down. It’s a pretty casual thing. But when chased, they come out quickly and quickly scatter. If the trout catches up, the pop sound will be how you know it was a successful chase. Quickly launch yourself to this location.

It’s quite wild really, but the trout are super greedy. After taking one meal, they quickly search for the next one. If your lure happens to be the next thing they see, you’ll have a bite to eat. You get your cast in front of that trout feeding and you start your recovery, Twitch, twitch, pause, tap, set! You must be there on tap.

Many new trout anglers don’t know how sweet this tap can be. When your lure stops, they swim up to it, spread their gills and it enters directly. Since there aren’t many larger predators in these coves, they don’t need to move immediately to get away.

The big lure associated with chasing many other saltwater fish will not always be there. A lot of fish are missed because the guys aren’t ready. If you are and get this set of hooks, now you need to play the fish effectively. You can’t just haul them like bass or rockfish. The brackets will just pop out.

These fish are shaking their heads like crazy. You need to keep a tight line without treating him like a bull at a rodeo. I prefer to keep my rod tilted to the side, especially on big fish. If they stick their heads out of the water and shake, well…you’ll probably be sad after that 4-pounder slips away.

When you finally get the big fish next to the boat, you’ll want to capture it. Trying to hoist a trout over 2 pounds onto the gunwale is like watching a gymnast barely land on the balance beam and watching her struggle to maintain balance but can’t quite pull it off . It will not work.

A beautiful 19 inch trout from a slow running coastal stream caught on a MirrOlure MR 17. Photo: Gordon Churchill
A beautiful 19 inch trout from a slow running coastal stream caught on a MirrOlure MR 17. Photo: Gordon Churchill

Get a quality net, preferably the type with the rubber net bag. That way your hooks won’t all get caught and you can get the fish out sooner, which becomes important if you’re going to release the fish. My recommendation is to release trout over 20 inches long. If you get one of the big girls, pull out the hooks, take your shot, and release her with love. Larger fish lay exponentially more eggs than smaller ones. If you get a 16-19 inch fish, let’s put it in the cooler for a fried fish. If your boat has a livewell you can just set it down and keep the fish alive all day and it will be as fresh as possible when you cook it that night. No well of life? It’s best to have a good sized cooler and fill it with enough ice to completely submerge the fish.

Kill the fish quickly. Before putting it on ice, drive a knife blade quickly and firmly through the top of the head and into the brain. You know you’ve done it when the fish shakes quickly in your hand. Do this before you put the fish in the box. If you keep fish in a livewell, do so before filleting. Research suggests that this prevents lactic acid from being produced and entering the muscle and results in a fresher tasting meal. It’s also more humane than letting the fish thrash about in a box and suffocate it.

Bo Howlett from Newport shows off some nice spring trout.  Photo: Gordon Churchill
Bo Howlett from Newport shows off some nice spring trout. Photo: Gordon Churchill

Try something different

After working the shore for a while you get a few bites but you are sure there are more fish there. Nothing wrong with going back and working the same stretch again. You probably haven’t caught them all. Change color, recovery speed or decoys. This is where a switch to a lightweight jig with a swimming shad tail can get a few more bites.

Remember that spring fish do not school, but multiple fish will use the same area. I prefer a hopping recovery for these coastal coves. The bottom may be soft and may foul the hook of a jig dragging the bottom. A quick lift will cause it to bounce off the bottom and get their attention. They will hit him in the fall. Again, the faucet is the thing. There will be no aggressive strike. Set the hook quickly on the slightest feeling of something different.

Trout fishing can sometimes drive you a little crazy.  Photo: Gordon Churchill
Trout fishing can sometimes drive you a little crazy. Photo: Gordon Churchill

Tides and current

The tide will affect fish and fishing differently. Some streams will not have much tidal movement. In these waterways, light lures and tactics are the way to go. Small Mirrodines don’t have much weight and hang in the water and look like an easy target. Light jigs can target fish throughout the water column. The fish will be distributed horizontally, along a series of banks. The key is to find where in the stream they are concentrated on the day you are fishing.

In coves with more tide things will be different. Fish may congregate more specifically in holes to escape the current and provide a good ambush point when prey species that cannot swim as well against it are displaced. In these streams, small, lightly weighted plugs may not be very effective. They will be swept away too quickly. However, there is a solution. There is a weighted version called Heavy Dine. These work well in higher current situations.

Of course, a jig is a great option. This situation where the fish stand in a deeper place in a current flow is what a jig excels in all over the world.

In streams with a lot of current, the places where the fish are can also be more obvious. The turns will have deeper water on the outside. Long, straight stretches will be deeper on one side than the other. Often the water in these tidal coves will be quite clear in the spring. In some you may be able to see the fish. The problem with this is that trout are very demanding when it comes to being watched. By the time you see them, they’ve probably seen you. Clear water demands long, precise casts.

If the water has a strong current and is darker in color, a depth sounder may be needed. Bay boats with sounders and side finders come into their own in this situation. The electronics help define where the deepest water is in the stream and can even help see a fish. However, remember that we are talking about water that is not very deep. Sounding the depths of the creek may be useful for the future, but it may scare off fish today. However, some of these small coves with fast currents will also be good spots later in the year. Put everything you learn into your memory banks.

Some coves will be better at rising tide. This is often a good starting point. Trout normally like to feed when clean water comes in with the tide. They also feel safer with a higher roof over their heads.

If you are fishing a creek with a strong tidal current for the first time, start with the rising tide, and usually the last four hours of the rise can be better. Of course, to every rule there is an exception. Fishing is full of contradictions. There are places where trout bite better on arrival and others on exit.

Honestly, there’s no way for me to determine in advance what your preferred location will be. It’s one of those times when you just have to go outside.

Comments are closed.