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The Observational Trout Fisherman


It was early morning, a misty fog clung to the surface of the lake, nary a breeze to be felt. The rest of my crew was asleep, but here I was awake. I sauntered to the lakeshore, a couple fishing rods in hand and a small bag filled with tackle strapped over my shoulder. The lake was perfect calm. I ever so lightly eased the boat into the water and slid away. The momentum from my launch carried me a good 30 feet out. I let the boat come to a standstill and all I did was watch. The shoreline had my attention, for something was going on.

A great day to be on the water

A great day to be on the water

Below that placid surface, bulges of water pushed about in water so shallow, I could scarcely believe it could hold a fish. But the signs were undeniable, and then every so often a spotted dorsal or tail fin would poke though and I could watch the trout finning about, searching for food. I was amazed at how bold and how shallow these trout were, when undisturbed. Then I did something that was completely out of character. I left the fishing rods be, and all I did was watch. Looking down the shoreline and taking my time, I could distinguish a good half dozen trout up shallow, their fins poking through the surface, wagging lazily in the air. It showed me beyond any doubt that, when given the opportunity, a trout will come in shallow to feed.

Fooled this early morning trout tossing a minnow imitating plug in the shallows.

Fooled this early morning trout tossing a minnow imitating plug in the shallows.

Then there was the time I was trying like the dickens to catch a brown trout. The lake I was fishing had suckers, perch, and browns in it. I like to catch brown trout, but these fish are notorious for being tough biters, so my trick is to wait them out. I would spend time fishing for browns, and if I wasn’t getting much for bites, I’d switch it up from time to time and chase perch. Schools of perch could be found deep and shallow. In the shallows I could clearly see the schools with the naked eye, and they were fun to catch. I would toss a tiny jig or fly tipped with a few maggots and I was in business. Sometimes when I was fishing for perch, suckers would also come by, making for an entertaining experience.

Be observant, imitate what the fish want and soon you’ll be catching more.

Be observant, imitate what the fish want and soon you’ll be catching more.

One time while I was doing exactly this, fish from everywhere exploded into hurried flight. Puffs of muck blew up off the bottom here, there, everywhere. Somewhere in the murk an unseen brown was attacking. I cast a plug looking for a bite, but this time round I didn’t connect. This one event, however, confirmed to me that if I was hoping to catch a brown trout, fish imitating plugs would surely be the way to do it. Later that day, Melanie and I came across some feeding fish out deeper and we a cast plugs to their positions resulting in three solid bites and two beauty trout landed.

Brown trout eat fish.

Brown trout eat fish.

Brown trout are interesting fish, and at another time, on this tiny puddle of a lake I found, one fish that I happened upon decided home was where the beaver run was. It was again early morning and I was quietly making my way round this lake probing the weed edges, blowdowns, and such in shallow with a little nymph looking for trout. Out of the corner of my eye I caught some movement right tight to shore, as in inches away. I slowly dropped anchor, and intently watched the area where the little swirl came from, and I saw it again. I was sure it was a fish, real, real tight to the bank. I cast the small nymph on a long leader to the spot and immediately the line went tight.

I hooked a sizeable brown and it made a hard and sustained run into and up the shore! "What the...!" I said, but it soon became clear the brown trout had raced a long way up a beaver run. If you were to look from the side, you would have seen my line 30 feet up the bank. A strange sight indeed. I kept the pressure on and hoped for the best. To my utter surprise the trout was giving way, and inch by inch I was gaining ground, no pun intended. It took a good 5 minutes but at last I had him back in the lake proper and after a good account, a chunky three plus pound brown lay beside the boat. It was by far, by almost double, the largest fish I caught that day.

Big browns can happen anywhere.

Big browns can happen anywhere.

The beaver dam brown also let me in on anther nugget of information. Trout make forays up and down beaver channels to see what’s going on and if there’s food there. This got me thinking. On this one stocked trout lake there was a beaver channel that connected it to a shallow pond that wasn’t stocked. But, and this is a big but, every year shallow cruising trout would wiggle their way into that pond and stay. Given that this pond is never stocked, the fish that did swim through had a veritable food factory all to themselves, and they ate and grew at extraordinary rates. We would sneak our way to this pond come fall and while the fishing was tough, because there just weren’t a lot of fish there, nearly every fish was caught was an extraordinarily large specimen, averaging 4-6 pounds. And I suspect these were young fish, because every winter the fish in this little pond would winterkill and the whole process would start over anew the next spring. It was a scenario that played itself out every year for the 10 or so years my buddy and I fished it.

Being observant will put you into more trout.

Being observant will put you into more trout.

Being a good angler means being a good observer. Understanding what is going on in front of you and applying this information will improve your results as an angler. So take the time, slow things down, exhibit patience, and really observe what is going on in the water. This approach has helped me piece together where fish are, what they are up to, and sometimes what they ate. Knowing this has helped me refine presentations, which has ultimately led to more fish in the boat.

Previous Fishing Articles

(1) What to expect when fishing the West Coast

(2) Tips & Tricks for Fall Fly Fishing

(3) There’s No Place Like Home

(4) A Golden Opportunity

(5) The Observational Trout Fisherman

(6) Un-matching the Hatch

(7) Alberta Super Bugs

(8) Glass is Back

(9) The Bull Trout of the Athabasca

(10) Speed Kills

(11) Entering the Twilight Zone

(12) Old Man River

(13) The Pink Salmon of the Squamish River

(14) Small stream BT fishing

(15) Fly fishing beyond Trout: getting started

(16) In The Walleye Zone

(17) Zoo Trout

(18) Fly Selection for Beginners

(19) Fly Fisher's Christmas

(20) New Waters

(21) Big Bad Burbot

(22) Looking Back

(23) Out of Africa

(24) Finding Success on Crowded Trout Streams

(25) Mountain Peaks, Fast Streams, Fall Colours And Rocky Mountain Whitefish

(26) The Browns of Autumn

(27) Fly-Fishing Pike Through The Seasons

(28) Walleye Town

(29) River Fun - One Bite At A Time

(30) Fly Fishing Larger Rivers

(31) Going With The Flow

(32) Becoming A Better Fly Fisherman

(33) Swinging The Fences

(34) A View From The Aerie

(35) Dixieland Delight

(36) Atlantic Salmon - The Fish of 1000 Casts

(37) Do It Yourself Pink Salmon

(38) Montana's Cool Missouri

(39) Pretty Is As Pretty Does

(40) Toothy Critters

(41) Hard Water Lakers at Cold Lake

(42) Top Ten Flies

(43) Northern Exposure

(44) Home Water Lessons

(45) Chicken Of The Sea

(46) Sealing the Deal – How to Ensure You Land More Fish

(47) Deep In The Heart Of Texas

(48) Keep It Up!

(49) River Fishing for Fall Walleye

(50) After the Flood - A look at Southern Alberta rivers and streams one year after the flood

(51) Reindeer Lake - A Diversity of Opportunity

(52) Hawg Holes

(53) Saltwater Salmon

(54) Early Season Dry Fly Fishing

(55) Down a Lazy River –
A Fly-rodding Adventure on the Lower North Saskatchewan

(56) The Fly Fishing Season Ahead



(59) Bright Fish from the Land of Silver

(60) Canada's "Other" Salmon

(61) Fall Walleye

(62) Wet Flies

(63) Versatility the Key to Success

(64) Grayling of the Boreal

(65) Teaching Kids To Fly Fish

(66) Size Matters

(67) Fly Fishing Small Streams

(68) Chasing Winter Whites One Lake At A Time

(69) Manitoba's Fishing Jewel

(70) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas

(71) The Point Of It All

(72) Fishing With Friends-Big Weather Seizing The Day

(73) Fall Fly Fishing

(74) Personal Pontoon Boats 101

(75) Big River, Big Fish

(76) Bottom Bonanza

(77) Fishing Small Flies

(78) So Many Choices, So Little Time

(79) Four Seasons of the Bow

(80) Favourite Lakes - Some Like it Hot


(82) Trout Hunting - New Zealand-style

(83) Don’t Leave Home Without Them –
10 Lures That Should Be In Everyone’s Tackle Box

(84) Edge Walleye


(86) Smallmouth Bass – An Oft Overlooked Challenge

(87) Four Corners – Four Waters

(88) Chasing Pothole Trout

(89) Springtime Stoneflies

(90) The Torrents of Spring

(91) Drift Boat Fly Fishing

(92) Bust Them With Bait

(93) Cure the Winter Blues with a Good Book

(94) Hot Strategies for the Cold Months

(95) Cutthroat: The Angler's Trout

(96) Terrestrials

(97) Fly In For Fishing Fun

(98) Rocky Mountain High

(99) Reading the clues

(100) Where the Trout Are
The art of locating feeding trout
in rivers and streams.

(101) K.I.S.S. and Tell Fly-fishin

(102) Fly Fishing 101

(103) To Catch a Big Halibut, or Ling Cod

(104) The Bountiful Bones of Ascension Bay

(105) Grayling in the Eye of the Beholder

(106) Fly Fishing for South Fork Clearwater Steelhead

(107) Manitoba's Red River - North America's Catfish Capital

(108) Eliminating the Spook Factor

(109) Trust Your Electronics

(110) The Most Important Hatch of the Year

(111) Early Season Nymph Fishing for Trout

(112) Finding Success for Ice Trout

(113) Walleye can be Humbling

(114) The Secret to Landing the Big One Finally Revealed

(115) Winter Flyfishing

(116) North Saskatchewan River - An Underutilized Gem

(117) Hot Fall Pike Action

(118) Tips and Tricks to Save the Summer Slow Down

(119) Reading Trout Stream Waters

(120) Frequently Asked Questions

(121) Streamer Fishing for Larger Trout

(122) The Lure of Big Walleye at Last Ice

(123) Deep Water Perch

(124) Post Spawn Brookies

(125) A Fisher's Life

(126) The River's Last Stand

(127) The Big Ones Come out at Night

(128) Coho on the Coast

(129) Chasing and Catching Halibut

(130) Summer in the Mountains

(131) Peak Walleye Season

(132) Slow and Steady Wins the Race

(133) Last Ice Rainbows

(134) The Burbot Event

(135) Tackle Matching

(136) Ice Fishing Strategy #2 - Going Light

(137) Ice Fishing Strategy #1 - Location

(138) The Lure of Brook Trout

(139) The Shallow Water Hunt is On

(140) Hot Backswimmer Action Happening Right Now

(141) Fishing Among Giants-Pursuing Lake Sturgeon on the Prairies

(142) Adventure at Davin Lake Lodge, Northern Saskatchewan

(143) The Vesatile Plug

(144) Bead Head Flies, Plugs and Shot and other Spring Favorites for Pothole Trout

(145) Planning your Upcoming Angling Adventures

(146) Good Fishing at Last Ice

(147) Maximize the Odds - Use Multiple Presentations

(148) Daily Fish Migrations

(149) Fish Migrations - Following the Spawn

(150) Lake Whitefish - An Ice Fishing All Star

(151) Pick Your Favorite Brook Trout Lake...and Go Fishing

(152) A Look Ahead to Great Trout Fishing

(153) Wrestling White Sturgeon on the Fraser

(154) The Fun in Ultra Light

(155) Flyfishing and Leadcore Lines

(156) Embrace the Spirit of Adventure

(157) Never Stop Learning

(158) Ice Fishing is Getting Hot

(159) Jigging through the Ice

(160) An Ice Fishing Unsung Hero – The Setline

(161) Rainbows on Ice

(162) The Season of Ice Begins

(163) Red Hot Fall Pike Action

(164) Hitting it Right with Water Boatman

(165) Facts On Cats

(166) West Coast Adventure

(167) June Walleye Frenzy

(168) Aerated Lakes are Big Trout Factories

(169) "First Fish of the Year - Pothole Rainbows and Browns"

(170) "Northern Exposure"

(171) Sometimes There is More to Fishing Than Catching Fish

(172) Early Season Pike On The Fly

(173) Man Overboard