this fish has been all over the internet. Now I’m going to tell you exactly how to catch one like it for yourself.
Once in a while the “perfect storm” really is perfect.
My buddy Dan and I were throwing around some dates for a fishing trip the other day and when those dates started falling in November he said, “As you know, fall will be all about finding big brown trout.”
Brown trout are addictive like almost no other freshwater fish. I can’t tell you how many anglers have told me, “I just want to catch a big brown.” We all want that but if you are serious about turning that want into real-life experience, you’ll need to work for it and you’ll still have to be lucky.
Brown trout are tough customers. Moody, smart and reclusive, they put trout anglers to the test. Especially the big ones. There are two ways to get one. Either you can be lucky and just stumble into it, which is awesome and I highly recommend it, or you can do the leg work and put in the time.
Your best bet is the combination of good timing, the right conditions, the right place and a great presentation. That and persistence will get you what you’re looking for. Here are some guidelines to start with.
You must first be in the presence of big brown trout to catch big brown trout. Finding the right place usually starts with a tip, a fly shop conversation or a photo or article you found on the Internet. Some places are well known for holding big Browns. Reputation alone, however, is not enough to go on.
Once you identify the river where you think you can catch that big boy, you have to start narrowing it down. Brown trout are notorious homebodies, spending most of their lives in one run or even under one rock. There are certain events and times when they will venture out and, to catch them, you either have to know where they are or where they’re going, and when.
I talked to one angler who hunts for big Browns on a local tailwater, and catches them. He has a brilliant, and time consuming, method that works well. He learned from experience that these fish would only eat during high water flows. He goes to the river on low flows with binoculars rather than a rod. He finds big Browns and marks their location on his GPS and returns on high water to catch them.
You can increase your odds by getting after fish in smaller water when they are moving to spawn. Don’t target fish on redds. That’s short sighted and bad for the future populations, but there’s nothing wrong with targeting fish on the move. (Read all about that here.)
My point is, you have to make a plan and do the research.
Timing and conditions
Fall is the peak of brown trout aggression. Browns are fall spawners. The height of their spawning season is around the full moon of November. This varies a little with geography and weather but in the month or so leading up to the spawn brown trout are highly aggressive. That’s your best shot at hooking a leviathan. Spring is good too, when the fish are putting weight back on after the spawn.
High water is always a good time to catch big fish and Browns are no exception. When water is high, and better yet a little stained, cautious fish feel safer and feed more casually. Rainy days are big fish days, as long as the water is safe and not total mud.
Low light is always a trigger for big Browns to feed. Early mornings, dusk and full-on night are great times to catch big fish. So are cloudy days and even places where overhead vegetation blocks out the light. Fish are more comfortable in the dark and they feed when they are comfortable.
Pressure is a huge factor too. Big brown trout don’t like crowds. Unless they are motivated by conditions, they will sulk when a lot of anglers are present. Look for places and days when you can have some water to yourself. It pays to fish in the middle of the week or the bitter cold.
Presentation is always the most important part of the equation. There’s a lot that goes into a good presentation and I’m not going to waste time talking about drag-free drifts and line mending. I’ll assume that you know how to properly fish your chosen fly and get to some things that get talked about less.
Stealth is huge! Trout don’t get big by being careless. The fish you are after knows the game and he’s on the lookout for predators. Approach the water slow and quiet. Conceal your profile and stay in the fish’s blind spot. Make delicate presentations and minimize false casting. You’ll need every advantage.
Use your eyes. If you’ve chosen your water well, you know that you are in the presence of fish. Don’t get in a rush. Hang back from the water and look for fish. If you can see the fish, your odds go way up. Even fly choice is easier when you can see how the fish is behaving. Observe your target. Your best bet is to be a sniper; one shot, one fish.
Choose the right fly. Obviously, always important but here is your chance to get inside the fish’s head. It may be obvious. If the fish is sipping BWO’s don’t start with a streamer. If however, he’s playing grab ass with everything that swims by, a nice Sex Dungeon might be the ticket. It’s more likely that you’ll be guessing. Know what’s in the water. Whatever is most common is a good start but there are other considerations. You don’t want to fish the same patter every other angler has shown him. Sometimes a fly that just gets him curious does the job. After all, fish don’t have hands, there’s only one way for them to satisfy their curiosity.
There are some good guidelines to start with. Streamers or mouse patterns in low light. Worms or large nymphs on high water. Pale yellow sucker spawn patterns in the spring are like kryptonite for brown trout. Unless the fish is rising or there is an obvious hatch, start below the surface. A sub surface eat asks less of the fish and is a surer bet. Even in a hatch a dropper is worth your time. Check your leader and tippet. This is no time to have a wind knot or chafed leader.
So think of this list as a Chinese take-out menu. For the best possible odds combine one or more from each list. That way the odds stack up in your favor.
Justin and I did just that the other day. It was a Wednesday and with hurricane Joaquin hanging off the east coast, we’d had several days of steady rain. Just enough to have the mountain streams running high and stained. That’s one from column A. It’s October and the Browns are in pre-spawn mode, that’s one from column B. We went to a stream where I know, from experience, three runs that hold big brown trout. That’s column C and it’s time for the fortune cookie!
First thing that morning, I hooked a monster brown trout and lost it just a few minutes into the fight. Run one was shot but we knew the Browns were in play. Run two, Justin hooked and lost a nice brown. That put us behind in the count but we were still motivated. The brown trout were eating well. The end of the day put us at run number three.
We spotted a couple of fish but we couldn’t identify the brown from the rainbows. They were all nice fish. I hooked and landed a big rainbow, which was great but I assumed that would put down the big brown I knew lived in that run. Justin tied on his favorite fly. He calls it a Trout Brain and it’s one of those flies that preys on the fish’s curiosity. He made a cast and came tight to a big fish.
It was several minutes before the fish turned and made a downstream run. It was one of those moments when your heart stops. When the fish went past we could see it was a big brown. The biggest I’d ever seen in this creek. We had lost two big Browns that day and we’d just talked about how, “sometimes it’s better not to know how big a fish you have on.” Justin was white knuckled.
When the fish went in the net we almost lost it. The big brown kicked his tail and back-flipped out of the net. By the grace of God the hook held. The second time he went in the net, I had his tail. Justin had a tape measure in his pack. The fish taped out at 29 inches on the nose. Way more fish than either of us expected.
Days like that are what we, as anglers, live for. I know I’ll never forget the look on Justin’s face when he held that fish. It can happen for you too. Just fish hard, fish smart and stack the odds in your favor. And call in sick on that Wednesday when it’s the perfect storm.