Untangling Trout

By Jeff Durniak, Unicoi Outfitters

My exercise route takes me along the Smith Creek trail, where last year’s storms put a lot of wood into that stream and others across our region. GADNR fish biologist Anthony Rabern has a great saying for trouting fans: “Wood is Good!” Those instream messes of logjams and trees create some great lairs for sneaky trout. They are the under-fished critters and often the biggest browns in the creek. It’s hard to cast upstream and get a good drift down to the trout without snagging wood. So how do we “untangle” those trout? As mountain streams start to warm from their winter lows, my Unicoi Outfitters gang has some tips to help you succeed this spring.

Untangle those trout by sneaking in above them, casting down, and twitching your bugs in front of their noses. Quietly slip into the stream, well upstream of the tangle. If you can, slowly wade down and over so you’re directly upstream from the tangle, still at a good distance above it so you don’t spook the residents. Then make a short cast with a weighted Woolly Bugger (lead wraps inside it or some split shot a foot above it) across and downstream, into the open, main current below you. If the cast is short, let a little more fly line out. Then steer that Bugger with big mends toward the tangle and by pointing your rod tip at it. Let the Bugger swing just in front of the logjam.

Then put your rod tip on the stream surface and twitch and short-strip that Bugger just upstream from the branches. “Call out the trout” to come up and smash your streamer. If your tip’s on the water, the fish will hook itself. But if you hold your rod high, the fish will just pull on your loop of loose line and you’ll miss the strike. Just use heavier tippet so that it doesn’t snap upon impact with your shark. When hooked, then sidearm that trout away from the snag and toward the far, clean bank.

Sometimes those fish can be short-striking or picky. Nail the short-strikers by a) using a smaller Bugger or b) taking out your scissor/clamp and trimming your marabou tail a bit shorter. Picky fish can be convinced in several ways. First, try a double Bugger rig. Tie on a small Bugger first and then put a slightly larger one behind it as your dropper fly. The double Bugger rig will look like one baitfish chasing a smaller one.

If that doesn’t work, then trade out that back dropper. Tie on thinner tipper and a small, soft hackle wet fly (ex: Pheasant Tail) as your rear offering. If they’re still shy, ditch the Bugger, risk the breakoff, and swing one wet fly in there on light tippet. You’ll hook more than you land, but you WILL be in the game.

Good luck untangling trout from the trees this spring!