Growing up I was taken hunting and fishing by my dad. He had grown up in the country, on a farm, and enjoyed being outdoors. But he had never been taught the 'art' of hunting and fishing. His dad, a farmer, didn’t hunt or fish. He was a Depression Era young farmer who spent every waking hour trying to keep his family fed and clothed, and then when the Depression subsided he was of the mindset of working nonstop to get ahead so he never had to face severe hardship, as he had just lived through, again.
Subsequently, his children - including my dad - were never taught the intricacies behind hunting and fishing success, and subsequently he didn’t have that knowledge to pass along to me and my siblings.
That said, I’m glad dad took the time from his busy schedule (he worked a full-time manual labor job and pastored a church) to take me hunting and fishing. He taught me to hunt squirrels and rabbits, and he really like to fish when time allowed. Those times afield and on the water sparked a love of the outdoors in me that has given me many nice days and some extra change in my pockets as an outdoor writer and enthusiast. I’ve gone on to hunt or fish for everything available in the Midwest. I’ve also spent time photographing animals and countless hours visiting and interviewing wildlife biologists and hunting and angling experts - some of which have became good friends.
But early on I learned there was science behind having hunting and fishing success. Old timers I grew up around who always caught fish or killed turkeys or deer knew where and how, and more importantly why and when to go after game. Success afield first requires understanding why a creature behaves as it does, and when and how to find it consistently and get close enough to make contact with a bullet, arrow, trap, gig or hook.
Growing up our fishing and hunting trips were built around when, within a given season, dad could get a few hours off work to hunt or fish. Our trips were planned around church events, work projects and dad's other obligations. On rare occasions those days would line up with when the crappie were really hitting, when the panfish were spawning, when the white bass were running, or the deer rut. While I enjoyed any chance to get out and hunt or fish with dad, I realized through the years that the guys who were really bringing home the wild game were building their hunting or fishing schedules around the natural activities of the animals.
When it comes to trout fishing, over the years I've been fortunate to have several wise sages impart wisdom on me. In fact, there's always someone standing near you while fishing at one of the state's four trout parks who will tell you the secret to catching trout. The true test of that knowledge is to look at his or her stringer and see how many fish they've caught as compared to you.
My own trout fishing mentor used to get a big kick out of when we'd be catching noticeably more fish than the anglers standing near us. He'd look across the stream at me real serious and say something like, "It sure does help when you paint you pee on your bait."
With trout season in Missouri's four dedicated trout parks (Montauk, Maramec Spring, Roaring River and Bennett Spring) set to open March 1, let me impart some tried-and-true nuggets of wisdom which will help you catch more fish this season. Now admittedly I'm no 'trout whisperer' or 'rainbow sage', but I have been trout fishing for a couple decades now and know what has and hasn't worked.
Here's some things I've learned:
Tip 1) Wear green (and green waders if possible) - I've never seen any scientific studies showing that trout cannot see green as well as other colors. However, several years ago my fishing buddy and I noticed one day that he was getting more bites using green line than I was using blue line while fishing the same hole of water .
So we performed our own informal experiment, taking turns fishing with green monofilament versus blue monofilament. With him using green and me using blue he would get more bites and catch more fish. Then he would switch to blue and I would tie on a lengthy green leader, and suddenly I'd be getting more bites and catching more fish. We flip-flopped line colors between us enough times to convince ourselves that there's something to the fact that green is either less visible or less alarming to trout.
The next step was to begin wearing green caps, and then green t-shirts. What happened next convinced us that we had hit on something important. We found that when the fish are really feeding good (like just after the whistle sounds signaling the start of fishing for the day, or mid-morning when they tend to 'turn on' the feeding instinct again for a few minutes) that the "green factor" is less obvious and a trout is just as likely to bite the bait of someone wearing a tie-dyed hippie t-shirt and blaze orange deer hunting cap.
But at times when the fish are more finicky or not as eager to take bait, the "green factor" definitely seems to offer an advantage. Just saying!!
Tip 2) This one is related to Tip 1. Using green monofilament, in as light a weight as you feel comfortable. For some that might be 6-pound test, or maybe 4-pound test. As for me, I prefer 2-pound test line. I've landed trout up to the four pound range on 2-pound test line. I use an ultralight bait reel with the drag set super light. Once a fish is on the line I spend about half my time listening to the fish strip line from the reel while I'm reeling like crazy, but the trade off is that I catch a lot of fish and rarely have one break the line. I've also seen guys fishing for trout by using green nylon thread instead of traditional monofilament line. That's a little too light for my preferences, but it seemed to have worked.
Tip 3) Arrive early or stay late. The most fish are caught in the trout parks in the half hour after the whistle blows in the morning, or the half-hour before the ending whistle sounds in the evening. Why is that? Because fish are animals, and most wild animals prefer to feed at sunup and sundown. Depending on weather and other conditions, I've noticed trout will also "turn on" and "turn off" their appetites throughout the day, but it's never as consistent or as strong as early morning and late afternoon.
Tip 4) Use "angel dust". Now I'm not talking about the kind you may or may not have relied on during the free-loving decade of the 1960s. I'm talking about a powdery version of the same little brown pellets that hatchery-raised trout have eaten every single day of their little lives. It's the same brown pellets that you buy for a quarter out of the vending machines beside the hatchery runs and then toss to the hungry fish and watch as your kids eyes light up with excitement as the fish race to the treat.
Several years ago a local trout angler told me his wife's secret to catching more fish. She had hit on the idea of buying up some of the trout food pellets and then taking them home and pulverizing them into a fine powder. Back at the park to fish the next time, she would roll tiny pea-sized balls of dough bait in the brown powder before using them for bait. When the bait hits the water the outer flakes will come off and head downstream, and the remaining flakes imbedded in the bait add an extra enticement for any trout in the immediate area.
While this could be viewed as “baiting” on a very minuscule level, as long as you mix it with your bait it seems to be acceptable. Simply dumping some of the powder into the hole, a practice known as “chumming the hole”, would be frowned upon, I'm sure. For several years the park store at Maramec Springs Trout Park (which, coincidentally, is the only of the big four trout parks in the state which is not state-owned) was been selling the pulverized pellets in small plastic baggies marketed as "angel dust," but it was most cost effective to drop a couple quarters into one of the machines along the hatchery runs and take some pellets home and pulverize them yourself for the next fishing outing. I've also wondered how pulverized rabbit or swine feed pellets, or layer pellets we feed our chickens, would work? (Thought to ponder: would a Missouri park-raised rainbow trout fed chicken layer pellets produce redneck caviar?)
Personally I really like the beauty of a trout park (when it’s not opening day) and enjoy catching and eating the fish. I may not make opening day this year ... it's too early to know. And fishing on opening day is more about tradition and being part of the spectacle than it is about enjoying fishing and the beauty of the location. Yeah, you can catch your limit on opening day, but it's not really relaxing fishing. That happens once the early-season crowd dissipates ... or, as we way, once the riffraff is gone.
I hope to see you stream side this year.