By Richard Hines
Across many states, March is the time for trout stocking particularly those in the Southeast where late spring water temperatures can quickly displace trout or cause them to search out more suitable water.
Anglers will generally find both rainbows, brown and occasionally brook trout released along thousands of miles of streams. Numbers of trout released varies among states.
As an example, Tennessee stocks over 300,000 trout in 80 streams, while West Virginia stocks around a million trout. While this is good news, the bad news is that trout streams can be crowded at least for the first few days following the initial release and finding a spot to cast a lure may seem impossible.
Historically, the only trout in the Southeast were brook trout and they could only be found in mountain streams above 2,000 feet elevation. However, with the aid of hatcheries along with good management, anglers can now find trout in a wide range of water conditions.
Sufficient oxygen and temperatures below 70 remain the most critical element which is why the tailwaters under large dams produces large sizes and numbers of trout. Once trout are dropped into a stream, fish are obviously disoriented but within a few hours will start locating a suitable place within the stream’s water column.
Trout stocked in the tailwaters of large dams may move around a half mile while small stream trout could move several miles.
For my part I prefer small streams. They may not always have the numbers, but if you are prepared to walk and spend a little more time, these small streams can provide some enjoyable hours wading and casting.
Like many trout anglers, I started out with worms and corn but soon found that trout fishing was more enjoyable when casting artificial lures and later I switched over to fly fishing. Once I realized how to catch these Salmonids on artificial lures, I was able to move away from the maddening crowds of anglers casting corn.
How you go about maneuvering on the upper stretches of small streams means doing a little bushwhacking, walking under limbs, and around large trees extending out into the creek. Watch for large pools that have developed. These large holes will generally hold one or two large fish that have easily moved over a mile from the release site.
Streams with sufficient flows into the summer months may even have trout that have held over from the previous year. Learn to understand how riffles running into pools will hold fish.
Once trout move away from the release sites their diet will begin shifting to insects and other invertebrates. Cast upstream and pull lures with the current. Trout will be sitting behind rocks facing upstream waiting to intercept food.
The best setup for bushwhacking is ultra-light spinning tackle. This can be quite challenging and you’ll quickly learn how to cast into small crevices or flipping under limbs, between rocks, or into small pockets of weeds. Although trout are voracious feeders, they prefer to stay hidden so work your way past the “main holes” by the road.
Additionally, older trout that have survived the barrage of corn in the pools near release sites have already switched to a diet of insects and crustaceans and will typically be hanging out in more solitary sites waiting for food to drift by.
With the ultra-light, I prefer using 4-lb test line such as Berkley’s Trilene Low-Vis Green. Two ultra-light baits that are very consistent is a 1/16 oz. Road Runner® with a # 6 hook and Joe’s Flies such as the Black Wooly Worm Short Striker.
Joe’s Flies are ultra-light spinners that are a combination inline spinner with a hand-tied fly behind it with a small stinger treble hook. This small stinger hook is a necessity for short striking trout that may have tasted steel.
Another choice of the Ultra-Light Classic “Short Striker” Series manufactured by Joe’s Flies is the size 8 and 10 black wing brass spinner. In all cases, all these baits seem to work best with a slow, shallow and steady retrieve.
Holdover trout that have shifted over from hatchery food to native food will quickly return to their natural feeding routine of watching for food to pass by. All trout are sight feeders and within a short period of time after they have been released into a creek, they will shift their diet over to insects and crustaceans, so having a small spinner with a tied fly trailer is a deadly combination trout will take.
How do you know a trout is freshly released or a holdover? Pectoral fins are a giveaway, if they are short or “ground down” you can bet they just arrived on the stream as they have spent most of their life in a hatchery raceway, as numerous trips around the concrete structure tends to grind down the side fins but after spending time in a stream these grow back out.
The color of the meat also tells you something. The meat of older trout will tend to have an orange color and these are the best flavor as these fish have changed their diet to all the natural items in the stream while recently released or younger trout will have white meat.
There is nothing more pleasurable than fishing a trout stream and odds are a native brook trout stream may be too far away for an afternoon trip. But there may be a stocked stream close by that will not only provide a fun afternoon, but bushwhacking a small stream may get you tuned up to go after native brook trout.