Winter Trout Fishing

by Jason Brooks, December 06, 2016
December is full of time to reflect back on this past year, enjoy family and friends, and trout fishing. Yes, trout fishing! Thanks to WDFW late fall planting of thousands of trout the fishing is really good throughout the winter. Most of the lakes that received the late plants also received fish this past spring which have grown all summer and provide an opportunity at some nice sized rainbows. The lakes are mostly in major metropolitan areas in Western Washington but the ones located in Eastern Washington provide a nice mix of near the city or out in the urban areas where you can get away from the stresses of city life.

As the temperatures drop so does the metabolism of the fish. Being cold blooded trout are not going to be as reactive to a lure or fly as they are in the springtime. This mostly means that bait soaking anglers who stand around fires and enjoy the company of friends have a better chance at getting a bite than those that take to the water and troll. But don’t completely rule out using lures, just make sure you troll or retrieve them at a slower rate. This is where Mack’s Lure out of Wenatchee has really helped the winter trout angler. By using the “Flash-Lites” and a double whammy wedding ring you can troll at speed as slow as a ¼ mph. Both use Mylar blades that spin at the slowest speed your electric trolling motor can go. Those that like to strip flies should use the Mack’s Smile Blade Fly, which is a whooly bugger with a small smile blade at the eye of the hook. Favorite colors are olive green or black.

Bait will be your best bet, even when trolling. I like to tip my wedding rings with shoe-peg corn. Make sure you “season” up your corn though by soaking them overnight in a few different flavors. Use small plastic containers each with a different scent. My top producing corn is scented with “Bloody Tuna” bait oil by Pro-Cure, followed by “Anise” bait oil, and then some corn that have been cured Pro-Cure’s Last Supper Tuna salmon egg cure. Yes, I cure my corn with salmon egg cures as they add color as well as scent and some other attractants. After all we have used cured salmon eggs for trout well before any of the dough baits hit the market so it only makes sense to use it on the corn.

Bank bound anglers do well fishing off of the bottom with the many floating dough baits, including Powerbait or “Power eggs”. The key to fishing off of the bottom is making sure your bait is above any weeds. Lakes in the winter tend to have warmer water near the bottom so the fish really like to stay low. But weeds can interfere with your baits and make it hard for the hook to penetrate into the fish. When tying up leaders for fishing off of the bottom start with a super sharp size 8 baitholder hook from Brad’s Killer Fishing Gear. These hooks are sharp, strong and affordable. Even though this is trout fishing and heavy leaders are not needed, it’s a good idea to use eight-pound test for leaders. Tie the leaders thirty-six to forty-eight inches with Izorline clear Platinum monofilament line. A size 5 snap swivel and on the main line is a sliding ¼ ounce to ½ ounce egg weight, depending on how far you need to cast. This set up allows the weight to slide on the mainline and the trout is more likely to become hooked before it feels the tension and let’s go. For mainline use ten-pound test, in Izorlines Hi-Viz yellow. This is really important because you shouldn’t reel up the line tight. Over the years I have found that if you reel the line tight you end up pulling it through the weeds and it causes your bait to get tangled up and the fish really don’t care to bite a mouthful of weeds with the bait.

When casting let the bait settle on the bottom before retrieving any of the slack. Slowly reel so the bait doesn’t get dragged through the weeds. Once the line starts to lift off of the water stop reeling, leaving a “belly” in the line. Thanks to the high visibility of Izorline’s Hi-Viz monofilament you can watch the mainline for any subtle bites. When a bite occurs its best to not touch the rod until the fish pulls the line tight, as it slides through the sinker, and by the time the rod tip starts to jiggle the fish is hooked.

For baits I prefer Power eggs over Powerbait. This is a personal choice but the main reason why I prefer the eggs over the dough paste or nuggets (pre-formed dough bait) is because the eggs don’t get all over my fingers and I can even bait up with a pair of wool gloves on and not get it all over them. Both baits float really well. When using non-floating baits such as cured or cooked salmon eggs (yes, the single eggs in a jar are actually cooked, not simply cured), a small piece of raw prawn or some cooked salad shrimp, make sure to pair it up with a small marshmallow. The marshmallow floats and get the baits above the weeds. Anytime I use prawns or shrimp I soak some in the same scents I like on my corn. Prawns are an easy, inexpensive, trout bait. You can find them frozen at the grocery store and the 45-50 count ones provide a lot of bait. I thaw one or two prawns out in the refrigerator overnight. The next day cut them up into small baits and sprinkle your favorite salmon egg cure or Pro-Cures Shrimp and Prawn cure on them a few hours before fishing. This also makes great steelhead bait for those that like to chase winter steelhead and don’t have any freshly cured eggs.

Anglers who ice fish-probably a bit later this month for the higher elevation lakes such as Fish Lake near Leavenworth-bait fishing is the best way to go. Jigging small marabou jigs soaked in Pro-Cure’s water soluble bait oils also make for a fun day. One nice thing about jigging through the ice is that it keeps you moving just a little bit and can help from getting too cold. For bait fishing rig up with a bell weight on the bottom of your leader. Use two single Brad’s Killer Fishing Gear snelled size 10 hooks, each tied onto a loop that are about two feet apart and a snap swivel above the leader. This allows you to fish two baits and with the sinker on the bottom of the leader the baits won’t get tangled with the mainline as you drop it down.

For places to go look to the WDFW website’s trout stocking schedule. I talked with Larry Phillips, WDFW’s Inland Fish Program Manager, who is really behind the late fall stockings. Larry was very excited about the winter trout fishing as this year several lakes received some hefty plants. Anglers in Western Washington should look to Black Lake in Olympia which received nearly 3,000 trout since mid-October with almost 2,000 of them put in late November. Offut Lake in Thurston County had a planting of 950 larger sized fish, around a pound and a half each, adding to the nearly 10,000 put in this spring and summer. Anglers a bit further south should give Fort Borst Park Lake a try in Centralia. This old gravel pit turned “trout lake” receives plants throughout the winter including even more fish in January. In late November WDFW stocked 2,000 trout including nearly a thousand over a pound a piece.

Eastern Washington trout anglers will do well at Chelan Counties Roses Lake with over 18,000 planted in November. This lake is also one that could provide an ice fishing experience later this winter. There is ample parking at the WDFW access site. There are two “fingers” that provide some bank access but they are lined with tall cattails. A small plastic dock is very slippery when temperatures drop to freezing during the day but it also gives a little more space to cast a line. Before the lake freezes over you can launch boats and then anchor up to fish. The lake has no motor restrictions but the fish are slow to move so you don’t need a large boat to fish here.

There are several other lakes that recently received plants as well as those lakes that are open year around with carryovers from this past spring and summer. Winter trout fishing is a great way to get outside on a short trip and spend some time with friends. Unlike steelhead fishing, planter trout usually gives anglers a chance to catch multiple fish in a short amount of time. No need to spend all day, but if you want to then make sure to dress warm and soak some baits. For anglers there are many options to go fishing and thanks to WDFW late fall plants the trout angler has one of the best fisheries all winter.

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