Afield with Friends: Time to catch big fish

Time to catch big fish

DON DAUGHENBAUGH/Sun-Gazette Correspondent John Wilbreght displays a 15-pound steelhead, caught as it made its way 1,500 miles to spawn.

Fifty years ago after I dressed out a 10-point buck and attached a tag to a long-beard gobbler during the first hours of the fall season, I realized it was time to make some adjustments in my outdoor activities. The 9-foot Sage rod on the wall of my cluttered den seemed to remind me the outdoor season was just beginning.

My well-trained English setter, Beau Jess, also barked and sent signals as he sat in his outdoor pen that it was time to get a grouse or pheasant. If you own great bird dogs and love to catch big fish, then you have to make some important decisions.

In the high country and the eastern slope of the Rockies, he fall seasons are short and snow comes often in September. The weather, many times, dictates and helps you choose your fall hunting and fishing schedule or forces you to adjust to the conditions.

If you live in country like Pennsylvania or similar areas where small streams are fed by cool springs with low water temperatures, then you are on the right track to locate and catch trophy fish.

Steelhead and brown trout are the most common freshwater species that trophy anglers target. For these game fish to grow to maximum species size and maturity, they must have the habitat that offers them protection from predation. Large bodies of water like Lake Erie, Lake Superior and lakes in trout country offers them that environment.

The small streams that enter the larger bodies of protective habitat are perfect for spawning and migration and that is the key for catching large fish. If you want to catch large brown trout and steelhead in small streams with a 9-foot fly rod, then those are the places to go. It’s a simple strategy and if you can conquer the nasty weather, you have a great chance to hang a large brown or rainbow on the wall of your den.

If you are a local, dyed-in-the-wool angler who likes to land nice brown trout, then think about small streams that are spring fed and flow into larger streams like Pine Creek, the Loyalsock and Lycoming Creek. Sometimes brown trout move to upstream early to locate desired clean gravel beds and return to the larger habitat like the Susquehanna River where they are more comfortable.

Walk the banks until you spot clean gravel and good fish. A warm day with snow is ideal. Remember that many trout are holdovers and brown trout are genetic tough creatures.

In my time, I have caught really large brown trout in blinding snowstorms, in streams that flow into lakes and clean gravel runs along the banks of Pennsylvania’s great streams, in the Falklands and in small tributaries that you could jump across.

Plan to do more observing, looking for good holding areas. It may take weeks for the large males and females to chose their sites but they may linger in the stream until late spring.

Change your plan and technique in the fall and winter. Target only holding water where big fish are resting or work on a single fish if possible because it’s different then fishing over massive pods similar to streams such as Walnut Creek in northwestern Pennsylvania.

Single or double glo-bugs that represent spawn tied on upturned eyes are good when presented to a single holding fish. Use a splash of white marabou — the key to represent sperm. On large water, the most productive pattern of that I have ever used was a 1/8th lead jig head marabou imitation developed by my fishing friend, Jim Bradsbury. Tied in a verification and fished on an 8-foot spinning rod or your 9-foot fly rod, they are hard to beat. My all black No. 8 shaggy black wet fly tied with black skunk tail for wings is rarely refused when fished dead-drift.

The big guys are out there, we just have to understand how they got that big. In reality, we have to understand there are many ways to catch big fish. Our choices of techniques and patterns are personal and how you would like to catch them is up to you.

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