Using a varied approach to hunting stocked trout will increase your catch and your enjoyment.
There’s something about turning the calendar page from March to April that feels like winning. It’s like the finish line of winter, it’s almost as if we should be greeted with a trophy, walking through the gates with the lamb, leaving the lion to sulk in the cold slush. And even though March offers some amazing fishing opportunities, April marks the true beginning of fishing season for a huge percentage of the fishing public.
April also offers that rare excuse to drop everything and fish; opening day, if someone were to try and force you to not fish on opening day, it would almost be like being told you couldn’t barbecue on the Fourth of July! Family rituals have a way of morphing over time, but that ritual of opening day is almost as certain as Thanksgiving.
Betting On A Sure Thing
April offers a lot to the angler, striped bass are charging northward, gator blues are pounding bunker in New Jersey, blackfish are moving inshore, largemouth bass are fattening up for the spawn. As awesome as all these fisheries are, none of them offer the kind of virtual guarantee that a pond full of stocker trout does. Stocked trout are not exactly breaking any records for smarts—in plain English, they’re pretty dumb. This doesn’t mean that they don’t wise up after a while, but for those first 2 to 4 weeks after they’re dumped in, they’re typically pretty easy to hook. Before you get out your pitchforks and start defending these put-and-take salmonids, think about it. These fish will gobble down a floating ball of stinky, fluorescent clay (Powerbait) and they will also chase down and devour hunks of polished metal that spin and flash in the water. I’m not trying to insult them, it’s not their fault.
Being raised in captivity means that they have rarely encountered danger, maybe an osprey or two, maybe a seal swam up the river that feeds the hatchery and he bathed in the mother lode of trout (it happens). But when they are released they don’t have the hereditary instincts of a wily ancestor nor do they have the benefit of experience earned while surviving to adulthood in the wild. Because of this, a stocked trout is his own worst enemy. They’re hardwired to react to anything that seems like it’s getting away, and, since they have never had to hunt for food, their level of aggression seems to increase with the visibility of the lure. Brighter colors or shinier finishes always seem to get more attention from stocked trout—they just can’t help themselves.
I think it’s safe to assume that many of you reading this story will have had similar experiences to mine. For example, I’d wager that many of you were rummaging through your grandfather’s garage and found one of those old reed-woven fish creels with the flip-top and leather strap. I bet you asked and he explained. Maybe he told you that his favorite bait was mealworms or corn or even Velveeta cheese. The effectiveness of things like corn and Velveeta only serves to bolster my claims that stocked trout are not that smart and are drawn to colors that stand out.
There is not much yellow in the underwater world and there certainly isn’t much Velveeta orange stuff in your favorite pond or river either, but these things caught fish and I bet they still would. Be warned though, using corn as bait is illegal in many states because it is indigestible, and has been known to kill trout through the slow process of constipation. As for Velveeta, I’d skip it and go with the Powerbait, you won’t have to eat the leftover Powerbait, although I’d wager that the colorful dough might be more palatable than the ‘cheese-like product’ that Velveeta claims to be. (Plus, Powerbait just plain works.)
Old & New
I’m going to guess that your first trout was caught the same way mine was, on a worm that you dug yourself. I have very vivid memories of digging in my grandfather’s compost pile, the worms seemed to number in the thousands—and they were lively little suckers, often flopping around like beached salmon trying to clear a beaver dam. At the time, everyone seemed to want to use very small bobbers, providing less resistance when the trout took the bait. I also vividly remember catching my first couple trout, I’d guess I was 6 or 7—I caught them on a worm under a bobber and I remember my uncle was having a hard time staying proud of me because he hadn’t hooked up yet. He eventually did.
Soon we progressed to fishing bait on the bottom and the accepted method back in the 1990s was to float the worm above the gravel and weeds with a cheese or garlic flavored mini marshmallow—they were colored fluorescent pinks, oranges and yellows. Nowadays you can’t find those marshmallows anywhere because savvy anglers have learned that you can float your worms more effectively using a worm blower. This little contraption is nothing more than a small glue bottle with a hollow needle on the tip. Depending on the size of your worm, 2 to 4 small bubbles of air injected below the skin of the worm will keep it floating above the bottom, I suggest hooking the worm only once so it can writhe and undulate freely. A worm blower can also be used to float live or dead shiners away from the safety of weeds and rocks with great effectiveness. In either case, hooking the bait onto a size 4 or smaller hook with a slip sinker weighing no more than 3/8-ounce will catch you plenty of stocked trout.
Another method that your grandfather may have told you about is throwing spoons for trout. My grandfather told me he used to use a red and white Daredevil spoon for – as he once put it – ‘damn near everything!’ He also told me that the bright orange Daredevil was known as a ‘trout spoon’ – there’s that color again! At the time I just accepted it as fact, but now I can’t help but draw more conclusions about making your lures or bait impossible to miss. I have caught a ton of trout on tins some of my favorites are Kastmasters in silver or blue/silver, Kamlooper Spoons in flame orange/gold, Krocodile Spoons in silver or perch and Thomas Buoyants in rainbow trout color or red dot frog. After talking with some friends that do a ton of trout fishing the consensus is that hardcore trout anglers pay more attention to the finish than they do the color—meaning the plating of the base metal, gold versus silver. A simple rule of thumb is that gold is better for cloudy days and silver is better for when the sun shines.
It’s wise to carry a selection of small to medium sizes, even one or two that you think might be too small. I know for a fact that the Massachusetts state record lake trout (23 pounds) was taken on a 1/4-ounce Kastmaster, if that doesn’t convince you, I’ll stop trying. There’s not a whole lot to the process of fishing them, just cast and retrieve—mixing up sizes and speeds. If the fish were recently stocked, you’re probably going to get a lot of hits. I have not had the same results with spinners like the Mepps Aglia or Roostertails, but I would apply all of the same color and finish ‘rules’ to these as well and I know they work, they just aren’t my personal favorites.
Bassing For Trout
Speaking of my favorite method, I get more enjoyment out of catching stocked trout on small jerkbaits than pretty much anything else. Jerkbaits also come with added bonuses, for one, they are killer for early season largemouth bass and they also have a knack for catching large ‘holdover’ trout. I spoke with master angler Roy Leyva about using jerkbaits for trout and he said, “I really like small suspending jerkbaits for holdover trout. I use natural colors and my favorite one is the Rainbow Smelt Shallow Dive jerkbait made by Live Target. I downsize my line to 5-pound braid and my leader to 4-pound fluoro, I fish it on a light 7-foot rod matched with a 1000-size Shimano reel.”
I have done my heaviest damage with Vision OneTen Juniors, Lucky Craft Pointers in the 3-inch size, and the RipStop from Rapala; colors range from natural to obnoxious, but metallic gold has worked well for me and so has any natural tone with a bright orange belly. Soft plastics have also made their way into the trout hunter’s tool kit, with Ned Rigs being a very effective way to earn strikes from wary or finicky trout. Those wielding ultra-light sticks can cash in with the wildly effective Trout Magnet soft plastics. These minuscule split-tail rubbers are fished on featherweight jigheads that resemble shad darts, believe it or not, they weigh in at a mind-numbing 1/64-ounce. It won’t take you long to understand why they are called trout magnets.
Bring The Kids
Not to make a total mockery of the stocker trout’s diminutive IQ, but a pond full of reckless and aggressive fish makes for a great situation when trying to get little ones involved in fishing. I chose not to use bobbers at all when teaching my daughter to fish, I found that there was far more benefit in teaching her to watch the line. And whether you’re throwing worms or teaching them the finer points of working a jerkbait, confidence builds fast when the fish are biting. During the height of the pandemic in 2020 we took a day off from distance learning thanks to hot tip about a recently stocked pond. She started the day barely able to make two consecutive casts, but after hooking up on her very first cast and catching six total trout in about an hour, she was so confident in her abilities that she insisted that I let her make an instructional casting video. That little gem will be gold on her wedding day.
Stocked trout are put there for anglers to enjoy and you certainly shouldn’t feel any remorse about keeping a couple for the table. Regardless of your plans for the fish you catch, I would urge you to be versatile in your methods—maybe resign yourself to only using bait if the fish won’t cooperate on lures. Remember, finding ways to make your offering impossible to miss—either in color or by floating bait away from the bottom will increase your catch. If you haven’t caught trout on tins, jerkbaits or plastics, you’re in for a whole new obsession. The hits change the game and will add a whole new dimension to your opening day (or opening month) efforts. Take my word for it.