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Eddy Line: Big trout don’t always come easy

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Big fish, like this beauty, often come with patience and perseverance. Committing to targeting big fish requires an adjustment to your fishing skills and approach. PHOTO BY PATRICK STRAUB

Here’s some help

By Patrick Straub EBS FISHING COLUMNIST

There’s a place in Montana known as The Land of the Giants. A Google search will do the trick to reveal its location. Appropriately named because of the abundance of large trout, the section of river that bears the name shares many characteristics of other waters synonymous with big trout. 

These features of big-trout water often include unique or limited access, home to a variety of water types and a diverse array of available trout food and forage. Big trout, and by big, I mean 20-inches and longer, grow in places with cold water and plenty of healthy habitat. 

Fortunately, several places exist in our area to find these large fish. To find them, do some research on your own. Start with your local fly shop. Once you’ve made it to the right water, here’s some help to get ‘em.

Think like a predator. If you’re a trout swimming in a river or lake, the odds are good there is something bigger than you that also could feast on you. Large trout do not grow large because they are careless and easily seen by prey. As an angler you must approach fishing as the apex predator in the system. Walk slowly when in a stream or lake; the impact of your feet on the ground or walking roughly on a stream bed can be felt by nearby trout. The best predators carefully approach and plan an attack. Do the same when targeting big trout. If you spot a large trout, a quiet and deliberate approach before casting is crucial. 

Most big trout like big meals. As trout grow, they often shift from eating small aquatic insects to larger meals. Streamers, grasshoppers, large crickets or large stoneflies are all good flies to fish when large trout are on the feed or when laying wait in holding water—near drop-offs, undercut banks or tail-outs at the end of a shelf. In spring creeks and tailwater rivers—rivers that originate from dams—large trout may forego large meals and eat a lot of smaller meals.

If trout are eating small meals, up your game. When trout are eating a lot of small food and being selective, you’ve got to match the hatch, cast better, get a better drift, use a more life-like pattern; Just fish better. Fishing better doesn’t happen overnight. It comes by choosing to fish to selective trout and committing to angling in challenging situations. Casting a large hopper or streamer from a drift boat all day very likely will bring some big fish to hand. However, when big fish flip the narrative and get selective, understanding fly selection, insect life cycles, micro-drag, deep- and sight-nymphing, floatants and dessicants, leader length, tippet size and rise forms, will result in more big fish to hand. 

Learn to fight fish differently. When hooked, a large fish will fight. Be ready, but also be patient. Once hooked a large trout may run fast and hard. When this occurs, two things must happen. First, let the fish run. Let the slack line slide through your line hand and let the fish take line off the reel. Second, be sure your rod tip is allowed to bend. This is accomplished by raising your rod hand high into the air. When you feel the fish begin to slow down, apply steady pressure and reel in line. But be ready to let the fish run again. The steady pressure that is applied in between runs means the fish is tiring and you can land it. The best way to land a large trout is to keep your rod tip high and attempt to bring the fish’s nose and eyeballs slightly out of the water. If you can keep the nose and eyeballs slightly out of water and close enough so you can slip a net under the fish and land it, you got it! 

Big fish can create lasting memories. Whether it is the big one that got away or the big one that was finally caught and landed, the best fish stories involve big fish. Committing to fishing for, and improving, your big fish angling skills means more of your fishing stories will be crowd pleasers, even if your story doesn’t occur in a place with a catchy name like Land of the Giants. 

Patrick Straub has fished on five continents. He is the author of six books, including “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing” and has been writing the Eddy Line for nine years. He was one of the largest outfitters in Montana, but these days he now only guides anglers who value quality over quantity. 

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