Stocked trout provide sport and spring tradition throughout New England.
It’s finally April and right now I have either spring tog on the brain or I’m out hunting for stocked trout. Rhode Island’s opening day happens every year on the second Saturday in April and stands as a generational fishing tradition. Hordes of anglers awaken well before the sun with visions of casting to endless numbers of trout. Who wouldn’t want to do that, right? To be honest, I used to sit out opening day, but then I started to really dial in this fishery and it became a tradition for me too.
Now that I have many years of experience to draw from, I really want to dive into what makes these fish tick and talk about, what I believe are, the five best lures for hooking up on opening day. You also need to understand that, while stocked fish are known to be aggressive, there are still factors that make them easier (and harder) to catch. And no, it’s not finding the exact location where the truck dumped them in!
Eye The Sky
The first thing I look at when planning an April (or opening day) trout trip is the weather. And, believe it or not, the thing I’m looking for is wind and the stronger the wind, the more excited I get. Many of my largest Rhode Island trout have come on days when the wind was approaching gale force. Most anglers seem to shy away from the wind, but I use it as a tool.
The wind can help you decide where to fish, if the wind isn’t too crazy you can fish the windward shores and take advantage of the fact that the wave action will turn up the bottom which will draw the trout in closer to look for anything edible that may have been kicked up with the silt. We all know that old surfcasting saying, “wind in your face, fish at your feet.” We can apply that to trout fishing too. With the stirred up water along the shoreline, the trout tend to become extra aggressive, making them easier to target with lures. You’ll quickly see that these trout can strike with the kind of speed and precision that would make lighting jealous. One mistake I often see anglers making with an onshore wind is casting too far and/or giving up on the retrieve before it swims into that kicked-up water near the shore. Make some shorter and parallel casts to find where the fish are feeding and always fish out your entire retrieve.
When the wind is really whipping, I change my tactic to using it to aid in casting. Sometimes getting your offering way out there can translate to more hookups and, with a honking wind at your back, you can make some impressive casts. This will increase the water you’re able to cover and also up your chances of finding a phenomenon that I call a ‘stockie stack’. Sometimes stocked trout will ball up and stay together, when you stumble upon one of these stacks the fishing can be epic. All of the factors that make trout fishing better in the wind are amplified when there are dozens of trout competing for the same lure or bait.
Cinco De Abril
With the weather factor out of the way, let’s move on to lures. I have five favorites that combine forces to make most of my trips for trout a success. You might be surprised to see that my lineup of trout crushers is almost completely made up of classics, classics achieve their status because they work and these five lures really catch a lot of trout.
The Little Cleo is the first lure on my list. I like to keep it natural and simple, silver or gold in the 5/8-ounce size. The fluttering action of this trout fishing classic really gets the fish to react, and if you ask me, they are the most versatile metal lure on the market. I typically have a Little Cleo in my box no matter what species of freshwater fish I might be chasing. This is also a great lure to use in the wind, they cut through a headwind like butter and they will carry on for a country mile with the wind at your back. A slow-medium, steady retrieve is usually all you’ll need to hook up, but experimenting with depth will help you dial in a tougher bite.
Next on my list is the Worden’s 1/4-ounce Roostertail in white. I like this lure because it’s sleek and speedy and presents as a perfect-sized bait for stocked trout. I also think it represents a diverse selection of forage species. The churning blade draws constant attention while the profile presents as something any stocked trout can easily devour. One thing I often do with my Roostertail is throw it under trees to mimic something like an insect that has fallen into the water, it’s been a very effective method for me. And trout are known for hanging under overhanging branches, looking up for anything that might fall in—it’s a perfect marriage.
The Roostertail works best in clear water situations, keep in mind that you may have to use very light leader if the fish seem especially wary. I don’t like to crank these baits too quickly, just reel them fast enough to keep the blade turning and leave it at that, working them too erratically or cranking too fast can actually spook the fish. As with any lure, you’ll want to let the fish tell you what they want, experiment with more and less vibration, flashy blades and painted blades can sometimes make a difference as well. Don’t be afraid to try some out of the box ideas either, stocked fish see a lot of lures and many are caught and released several times so showing them something they haven’t seen can sometimes turn on the bite as well.
Thomas Special Spinner
If you find yourself wanting to up your vibration even more, may I suggest the third item on my list of favorites, the 1/4-ounce Thomas Buoyant inline spinner in half silver/half gold coloring. These spinners feature an Indiana blade, which really maximizes its vibration and this spinner is a thumping machine! Thanks to that powerful blade you can really slow this spinner down and let it churn through the water column, this thing is like a haymaker to the jaw, once it starts spinning all the fish in the area know it’s there. The Thomas Special Spinner really shines in dirty water with that big, low-frequency thump cranking along the whole time, it’s easy for the fish to find. The name of the game is to get noticed and these things draw lots of attention.
Number four on my list is actually my all-time favorite way to fish for trout and that is with a jig. Not only is it a fun way to catch them, but it’s just deadly, I couldn’t even wager a guess for how many trout I’ve caught this way. I like to use a 1/8-ounce Cabela’s Mean Eye ball-head jig with a 2-inch paddletail soft plastic or the infamous Ron-Z. Some might remember my article from the January edition where I mentioned that the Ron-Z is killer when jigged through the ice for lake trout, well it also crushes trout in open water. As far as I’m concerned, the Ron-Z is the Joe Montana of soft baits and it carries with it that same ‘hall of fame’ reputation. I like to fish jigs on calm days, water clarity is not an issue, they work in both clear and muddy water. I’ll usually cast them out and let them sink to the bottom and then begin a slow retrieve with gentle jigs of the rod tip, allowing it to sink back to the bottom when I feel like it’s gotten too high in the water column. Many of the hits will come on the fall.
Number five is perhaps the most classic trout lure of all time: the Acme Kastmaster. I lean on the 3/8-ounce version, it allows me to get a small presentation out pretty far into the lake, even with a honking wind. These lures are effective when reeled steadily at any depth or sunk deep and snap-jigged off the bottom. For colors I usually use silver or gold and I have not found too many reasons to deviate from that.
Just for the heck of it, I’m going to give you a sixth trout lure that most fishermen aren’t using for trout and that is Strike King KVD 1.0 Square Bill crankbait. I like the chartreuse color best and it has proven itself as an effective changeup when finicky, pressured fish won’t hit anything else. Swim this thing down deep and crank it along, you’ll be surprised how the trout react to it! I throw all these lures on a Berkeley Cherry Wood 6-foot-6 medium rod paired with a Penn Fierce 1000 that’s spooled with 10-pound Power Pro in moss green. My leader is 5 feet long (7 in gin clear water) and made with 8-pound Daiwa J-Fluoro.
Rhode Island may be most famous for its saltwater fishing, but we have amazing freshwater options here in the Ocean State as well. Hitting the stocked ponds in April is something that everyone must do, but even if you don’t live in Rhody, these lures and tactics will work anywhere stocked trout swim. The state releases thousands of rainbow, brookie, brown, tiger and golden trout and if you’re lucky you might catch a Sebago salmon or a lake trout. Hopefully my experiences will enrich yours and you’ll have a great start to the Rhode Island fishing season, casting to hungry trout.