If you live in the northern part of the country where trout and salmon fishing are prevalent, you’re probably experiencing one of the joys of spring. Every year around this time ice shanty’s and tip ups are being packed away for the summer and anglers are wiping the dust off their summer rigs. We all prepare for the moment that signals the beginning of the summer fishing season: ice out. Yes, as the ice melts away opening our favorite lakes and ponds for fishing on the boat, so opens one of the best and most productive times to fish for trophy salmon and trout. Some anglers may assume they need to crank up their downriggers and deep diving baits, but fortunately that is not the case. I’m going to show you some techniques I’ve learned to catch really nice salmon and trout near the surface just after ice out. It’s a cost friendly, fun way to catch some beautiful fish before they dive deeper to cooler waters.
Early Spring Trout and Salmon Technique
Typically when I target salmon and trout I spend the majority of my time trolling lakes, using a downrigger or dipsy diver and usually swimming spoons or live bait. This method is effective because it gets your baits down to the desired depths and allows you to cover a lot of water in a shorter period of time. I’ve talked about these methods in great detail in other areas on this site. But at this time of the year, all that equipment is really unnecessary due to how close to the surface the fish are swimming. You can find salmon at the surface slurping flies or in depths as shallow as a few feet. Because of how easy it is to access, you should really try catching them on a simple hook and bobber setup. Here’s how I rig up a hook and bobber for salmon and trout
Spring Trout and Salmon Technique – The Rig
The rig I use is fairly simple. First, as you know, trout and salmon rely heavily on their sight so you cannot fool them with easy to see line in the water. Never use wire leaders or braided line directly to your bait. I recommend fluorcarbon leaders at a minimum, but spool your reel with your favorite thin, barely visible mono or fluoro and tie your hook down using a palomar knot.
You’ll find early spring fishing will show fish are anywhere from zero to ten feet deep as they actively feed during the early morning hours. I grab a small yellow or orange bobber and clip it about six or seven feet above the hook. You can use whatever hook you prefer but find one that’s really sharp and sized appropriately for the bait you’ll be using and the fish you’re looking to catch. I’ll discuss bait more later.
PRO TIP: Never clip both ends of your bobber to the line and slide it up or down to desired location. This action adds stress to the line and if you’re using monofilament, you’re introducing extra kinks to the line that could snap during a fight. Always unclip the bobber and reclip to the desired location. Never slide it around
You can find some good bobbers here on Amazon. As with bobber size, it’s relative to the size bait you’ll be using but sticking with something smaller would be better. Once you’ve clipped your bobber at the desired location, it’s time to put some bait on your hook.
Spring Trout and Salmon Technique – The Bait
When picking bait the obvious answer always falls to some sort of fish. In the northeast the answer usually is smelt, but you can use this technique with any minnow or shiner the fish tend to feed on. All that matters is your bait attracts the fish you want to catch, so use what they eat.
Where to hook a shiner is all about preference. The objective is to let the bait swim while hooked, particularly letting it look injured. This is a key principle to rigging baits. Let’s dive into this in more detail a little bit.
PRO TIP: When using live bait, you need to make sure your bait swims somewhat off rather than exactly how it would if it was swimming freely. By design, a fish hooked can be enough to alter its swimming just enough to attract attention. Why is that? Well, remember, trout, salmon, any game fish anglers target are predatory. Because they have to hunt for food, it is in the fishes’ best interest to pick on the food that looks easiest to eat. Bait that looks healthy and fast will be harder to catch and make them expend more energy. Fish don’t like that. But a fish with an erratic swimming action, or one that seems to be injured, or seems to be slower than the rest of the bait? Well that’s easy picking. That’s the bait fish will target. It’s very important for your bait to stand out in the water and draw these predators in to strike.
One thing I like to do to help my bait stand out is cover the tip of the hook with a little salmon egg, like the Berkley Gulp eggs. A buddy of mine described it as it looks like a tumor on the bait, making it an easy target. Next time you’re out, slide one of those eggs on the hook and see what happens. You might be surprised at the result.
If you don’t have access to shiners or smelt, you can always opt for the most widely used live bait on the planet- worms. Yes, even on big lakes, worms are still an effective bait for catching all sorts of fish. Using your favorite worm hook, tie a worm or nightcrawler on and keep it in place with one of those gulp eggs, using the same principle with the shiners. It’s something a little different and eye catching which is what we’re trying to do here. Get their fish eyes on our bait!
Spring Trout and Salmon Technique – The Action
So you have your rig set up and ready to go. Oh, one more thing about using swimming bait (fish). You might want to toss on a small weight to keep the fish at your desired depth. Some states have banned lead weights but you can find legal weights on Amazon for great prices. Have a look!
Most anglers I know of using a six or seven foot rod, so keeping the distance between bait and bobber at seven feet makes for a difficult cast. If you can find a way to get elevated on your boat, giving you more distance on your cast that would be ideal. The idea here is to cast out your bait and let the flow of current take it where the fish would be. Once I’ve cast, I like to close the bail but set the drag way low so if a fish does take it there is little resistance and force it to spit out its food. Some anglers prefer just keeping the bail open so the bait can swim and float freely so whatever way you prefer will work. Keep in mind, if you don’t let your bait swim or float freely you will end up with a current taking your line away from target zones so you’d be resetting over and over again pretty frequently. If you leave the bail open your bait can stay in the area you want it to longer.
Once you’ve cast your bait it’s a matter of waiting to see the fish bite. Still, after all these years fishing, the thrill of seeing that bobber dance on the surface until it completely submerges is one of the best thrills of fishing. If you happen to get a bite and the bobber is underwater, I recommend you let it stay under for a few moments before you pull back on your rod and start reeling. One thing I would avoid doing is snapping the rod back like setting the hook on a bass. I would subtly pull the rod back and start winding the reel, setting the hook in via tension that way. For me that has produced more hookups than the dramatic hook sets you see on bass fishing tournaments.
Spring Trout and Salmon Technique – Conclusion
I’ve always been an angler that relied heavily on trolling to catch salmon and trout. But this season I’m using this technique more and more, especially early in the year because the fish are easier to reach and the action is just more exciting this way. Using live baits will open you up to other fish you may not be targeting but if you know your waters and where the fish you want to catch like to be, you should have no problem pulling up some fantastic salmon and trout, even some trophies, using this spring trout and salmon technique. Tight lines!