Fall Trout And Salmon How-To
While some open-water trout and salmon fans stow their tackle for the season, savvy anglers who understand these popular species’ seasonal patterns know that now is the time for some of the year’s best fishing.
Here’s what you need to know to catch hard-fighting rainbows, browns, lakers and kokanee salmon.
“Unlike walleyes, bass, pike and panfish, which spawn in the spring and early summer, most salmonids are fall spawners,” says veteran fishing guide Bernie Keefe. “This concentrates the fish close to shore in predictable places, where they’re accessible to anglers in boats and fishing from shore.”
To find them, Keefe recommends a bit of early morning recon. “At first light, scan the water from a hill or other vantage point overlooking the lake,” he says. “Watch for surface action ranging from subtle dimpling to pronounced V-wakes and vigorous splashing.”
Once Keefe spots a hot zone, he attacks it in one of two ways: a bright-colored spoon or a tube jig suspended below a fixed float.
“Spoons like the 1/8-ounce Clam Leech Flutter Spoon work wonders. Retrieve the spoon with a lift-drop cadence while reeling, keeping the lure near the surface,” he explains. “If the fish won’t hit a spoon, or you’re snagging more fish than you hook in the mouth, switch to the tube jig approach.”
For that, Keefe ties on a panfish-sized tube jig like one of Berkley’s PowerBait Atomic Teasers, and tips it with a waxworm, shrimp or white shoepeg corn (where legal). “Position a pencil-style float three to six feet above the jig, with no split shot in between the two,” he says, explaining that salmon often hit from below, and your only indication of a strike is when the float tips over on its side.
“Cast out the float rig, let it sit a few seconds, then retrieve it with twitches and pauses,” he continues. “Six-inch pulls are good, but it pays to experiment.”
Browns And ‘Bows
“Inlets and the corners of dams are perennial hotspots for these species in the fall,” says Keefe. “But gravel patches in muddy bays can be real sleepers.”
By day, Keefe fishes 2½- to 4-inch Berkley Havoc tubes, in crawdad-imitating shades of olive and brown, along bottom. “Pitch the jig out and drag it along bottom,” he says. “Pop it occasionally for good measure.”
Strikes are typically solid. “They don’t crush it, but they don’t mouth it, either,” he says. “The fish are either protecting their beds or feeding on eggs; either way, they’re in the mood to smack it.”
Stickbaits like a Berkley Cutter 90 or 110 are top options, too. “In calm conditions during the day, animate a relatively fast retrieve with pulls, pauses and other theatrics,” he advises. “Under cloudy skies with a breeze, slow things down and fish the lure like a wakebait, slow and steady just below the surface. Trout home in on the V-wake and go crazy when they catch up to the lure.”
If your stickbait arsenal includes lures with a trio of trebles, Keefe advises removing one of the hooks. “Removing the front treble makes it a lot easier to handle fish without getting hooked yourself,” he says. “It’s also nice to have your pliers and a dry towel close at hand.”
Cast jigs tipped with a PowerBait Grub twister-tail or Havoc tube, sweetened with strip of sucker meat. “Fish close to bottom, ticking the rocks,” he says. “Slow retrieves are best, but gentle jigging motions can seal the deal, so don’t be afraid to experiment.”
Half- to 1-ounce Fergie Spoons are also deadly. “Add a piece of sucker meat on the hook, but not enough to hinder the spoon’s action,” he says. “Drop the spoon to bottom and fish it with gentle six- to 12-inch lifts, lowering it back down on semi-tight line to within inch of bottom. Let the fish dictate the fall rate. Dialing in the right drop speed can make the difference between fast action and getting skunked.”
For more information or to book a trip with Keefe, visit: fishingwithbernie.com or call (970) 531-2318.