Robertson: First day basics

The first day of trout is an institution and something thousands look forward to every year. Trout can be difficult to catch at times and the author gives a few hints on the proper way to drift your offerings. This young angler proudly shows off his limit caught last year on the Kinzua Creek using the recommended methods.

Hey, the first day’s next Saturday and we can go fishing once more! Hallelujah!

Usually first day anglers find themselves facing cold, high water. Trout are designed for icy water and thrive in it, but they will be a little less active, not as quick to grab your bait, but these basics hold true in all water conditions. Your biggest challenge in cold conditions is deep water and fast-moving current, which makes it much more difficult to get your bait down to the fish. What can you do about this?

Well, the good news is that trout like your bait to be moving and they feel safe in high water. Additionally, the rapidly moving current makes it easier to present your quarry with a natural-looking drift. Light line, 4, 6 and 8-pound test, is smaller in diameter than heavier lines allowing your to bait sink deeper, quicker.

The correct amount of weight, numbers of sinkers you’re using, coupled with your rod position and line tension enable the fisherman to control the drift. I, myself, do not like larger split shot except in the fastest water conditions. The ¼-inch or bigger sinkers seem to plummet to the bottom and get caught up very easily on any rock, twig or other snag in its path. I have had my best luck using the smaller BB-sized sinkers. In my experience, it’s better to use six spaced-out BB shot than one or two bigger sinkers. The smaller split shot are much more snag resistant in my experience.

The correct number of split shot to use can be difficult to guess, but trial and error will help you determine how many. Start with two BB size split shot and cast upstream of the area you believe the trout are holding in. The faster the water, the further above the trout you need cast. Ten feet is a good distance to start, 20 feet is better. After your bait hits the water, count to four, then gently lift your rod to tighten the line. You may have to remove some slack, but do not reel your line so taut you cause the bait to lift off the bottom. As soon as you feel weight, drop your rod tip a little and follow the spot your line touches the water. That spot will be moving at the same speed as your sinkers. With your bait washing along the bottom and minimum line tension, there should be a noticeable upstream curve in your line, the faster the water, the bigger the curve needs to be. Remember, a faster current will wash your bait along the bottom by itself. By watching the point your line hits the surface, you can follow the speed of the drift with minimum tension on the line. Beware of the ever-increasing slackline or you will be unable to set the hook when a trout takes. Remember, the bait is traveling downstream in your direction — you need to gradually take up the slack as the bait draws ever closer. If the bait will not stay on the bottom no matter how little tension you put on the line, add split shot until the bait moves naturally. If your bait constantly sticks on the bottom and won’t drift in the current, remove split shot.

Ideally, your bait should be tapping the bottom, the sinkers hitting every foot or so. You may have to raise your rod and tighten the line a little ever so often to keep the bait from settling on the bottom or lower the rod, decreasing line tension if your bait lifts off the bottom during the drift. Too tight a line pulls the bait toward you instead of allowing the current to wash it directly downstream.

The secret is learning to balance the amount of pressure on the line to the stream conditions, keeping the bait moving naturally down the current and this requires constant attention and feel. Always try to keep the great majority or all of the drift upstream of you.

Since most trout like to hold in current breaks, where fast and slow water meet, your position on the stream is very important. You need to place yourself so you can use the existing current to wash or drift your presentation through the area the fish are laying. Generally speaking, you need to be on the slow current side of the hole, downstream of the fish as far as possible. This allows you to keep your presentation drifting down current with no drag to either side. Wise trout spook easily when the bait moves in an unnatural direction.

With time, you will begin to visualize how the bait is acting without seeing it — constantly monitoring your line tension and sensing instantly when your bait hangs up or is drifting too high. You will then increase or decrease your line pressure accordingly or put on or take off a sinker. It is all about attention to detail. This is stressful and very tiring at first, but as your skill level grows, it becomes almost second nature. As you begin to catch more trout, you’ll gain confidence and experience in the technique.

Good fishing and good luck on the first day. April 3 is just a week away!

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