Early spring varies from year to year here in Northeast Wisconsin, but generally the boat launches open up enough to allow anglers to get out on Lake Michigan here in mid March. Last year was the exception, as I made it out in early February!
Regardless of when mother nature enables us to get the trolling rods back out, being one of the first anglers out will lead to great fishing! Since Brown Trout spend the winter months close to shore, usually in waters of less than 40’, active fish can be picked off in the common areas pretty quickly. Taking a nice boat ride to get away from high traffic areas near the harbor will usually pay off, as there will usually be unpressured fish awaiting you further up the shoreline!
At this time of the year, warmer water is also key. Wherever you can find dirtier, warmer water, you will find the Brown Trout! Typically stained water will be warmer, since the sun hits the floating particles in the water, which absorb the heat from sunlight and warm the water. Even a one or two degree difference in water temperature can be huge! Understanding this and keeping an eye out for stained water, and then doubling back through these areas once hooking up will play a huge role in putting numbers of fish in the boat!
Another dynamite location in the spring for numbers of Brown Trout are warm water discharges. Power plants, water treatment plants, and even creek/rivers that dump warmer, stained water into the lake will hold fish. Since 9/11 Nuclear Power Plants have really tightened up their security, which has resulted in limited access for trollers unfortunately. Trolling these areas (where legal) can lead to memorable fishing, as Brown Trout are guaranteed to be around.
Another factor to consider in the spring is wind direction. Generally an Easterly wind will generate dirty water and push the Trout shallow. West winds do just the opposite, bringing in crystal clear water and pushing the fish deeper, where the water is warmer. A Southeast wind is my favorite for targeting spring Browns, since you are almost guaranteed to find some nice stained water holding hungry Trout! You also want to keep in mind that it will be cold, so heavy winds make for a cold day on the water, try to avoid the windy days if possible.
Trolling speed is another key factor to pay attention to during the cold water months. Browns are less active in cold water, so presenting your baits slower is crucial. Experiment with speeds until fish are caught, but generally 1.5-2.2 mph will do the job. Look at your baits in the water to see how they run at certain speeds, and then try to keep the speed that makes the lure run nice.
Lure choice is another important factor to consider. Many guys like to run spoons, while others prefer crankbaits early in the year. Both approaches will catch fish, but generally I prefer crankbaits when the water is so cold, since they can be ran at slower speeds. Spoons will work better when the Trout are a bit deeper however, so having both along on any given day is always a good idea.
|Blue and Silver Husky Jerk, a proven Trout Killer!|
Husky Jerks, Flicker Shads, Floating Rapalas, Smithwicks, Thundersticks, Shad Raps, and just about any other Walleye crankbait will work for Brown Trout. I like to run shallow running baits on the shallow side, and always try a deeper diver on the deep side of the boat. Once a pattern is identified, switch up lures, speeds, and depths to put more fish in the net!
|Small Stinger Spoons are another good option|
Time of day, believe it or not, doesn’t seem to effect the bite at this time of the year as it does in the summer months. Once located, Brown Trout will bite all day long, so racing the sun in the morning is much less important than the rest of the year!
When determining lure colors, there are a couple factors to consider. When you have dirty water, a brighter color will typically out produce a natural color since the fish will locate the brighter bait better. Just the opposite is true during clear water, the fish may not hit the bright colored bait since they can inspect the bait before biting. A more natural color that mimics a baitfish will fool the Trout into biting.
The last thing I wanted to touch on with spring Trout is keeping fish. Brown Trout, once over 6 pounds, are not the best table fare. The larger Browns taste fine when smoked, but not nearly as good as the smaller ones on the grill. There are lots of people that keep everything that they catch on the Great Lakes, since they figure fish are stocked and only live a few years.
Trout are different than Salmon in this aspect, as they can spawn multiple times and return to the lake after each spawning season. Trout get spawning colors as they enter the tributaries/harbors to spawn, and the males even develop a kype. Once spawning is finished, these fish head back out to the lake and lose their colors and kype. They can also live for 10 or more years, so releasing a few more fish will allow them to grow into trophy Trout, something every angler dreams of catching!