Trout: 4 Secrets to Catching Trout in Cold Water

By Mike Bleech

When Snow Melt, Chills the Creeks. 

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In early spring, this small stream may still have snow in its headwaters. (Photo by Mike Bleech)

It was the kind of adventure that is best done when you are a kid. Pop-up camper trailers were a new thing, and I had never seen one before I camped in one with three old-timers. One guy worked for the gas company that owned the land where we would fish, and he had a key. That meant other trout anglers would have to get up early and walk an hour to get to fish, where we could just wake up and start fishing.

That was also a time when weather forecasts were less reliable than they are now, so it came as a complete surprise when we woke up on the opening day of trout season greeted by 10 inches of heavy snow. The air temperature was chilly at daybreak, but it rose while we fished, and the frigid snow melt run-off quickly filled the small creek. Fishing was terrible. The first few hours passed and I never caught a single trout, nor did anyone else I talked with, until late in the morning.

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A salted minnow might not look very appealing to a human, but to brook trout they are a very attractive meal, and deadly in cold water. (Photo by Mike Bleech)

#1 – One of My First
Fishing Lessons
To this day, I’m thankful for this good fishing lesson… I watched one fisherman catch several trout in short order. Fortunately, he was kind enough to share his secret with a kid. He showed me how to string salted minnows on a wire harness with a split, double hook. After demonstrating the rigging, he gave me a harness and several minnows. By the time I returned to camp for lunch I was proudly carrying a limit of trout. Three old-timers were pleasantly surprised to see that the kid had out-fished them.

The stream we fished that long-ago day had been stocked with brook, brown, and rainbow trout. All the trout I caught, and all that were caught by the gentleman who shared his secret with me, were brookies. The obvious lesson in this is that minnows are excellent bait for brook trout in frigid water, a truth I have confirmed many times since.

#2 – Remember, Trout are Cold Water Fish
Cold water conditions lower the spirits of many trout anglers who assume trout will not hit in cold water. This makes absolutely no sense because trout are classed as cold water fish and will strike readily under ice. However, trout do behave differently in frigid water than they do in warmer water. Baits or lures should be presented slowly and close to the bottom. That gives trout plenty of time to examine your offering, to see it and to smell it. It makes sense to add some sort of bait, or scent, to lures.

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If the water is warm enough to flow, it is warm enough for brook trout to be active. Never let cold water be your reason for not fishing. (Photo by Mike Bleech)

#3 – Use a Fat, Slow,
Spinner Blade
One time-tested cold water lure/bait combo is a spinner tipped with a maggot. Avoid the temptation to use a slender willow leaf spinner blade – although it’s easier to keep spinners of this type deep. Instead, use a spinner with a Colorado blade. The nearly round Colorado blade spins at a much slower speed than the willow leaf style, making it perfect for cold water presentation.

With this special presentation, the spinner is not actually retrieved, but instead it is held steady in the current where the spinning blade catches the eyes of trout, and the maggot tells its acute sense of smell that this is something good to eat. Manipulating the rod tip will move the lure back and forth across the stream, a very accurate presentation

This presentation can be used all through trout season for getting your offering into tight places where there is no room to cast. Slowly let out line, which makes the lure slip downstream into those tight spots. You will be fishing in places where no one else can.

#4 – Go for Brightness in Cold Water
Brighter treble hook dressing is generally best in cold water. One of my long-time favorite spinners has a gold, Colorado blade and bright orange or yellow dressing on the hook.

Many things we encounter while fishing are difficult to explain. The explanations anglers try to come up with are often wrong, which does nothing but cause problems. Simply accepting things as you learn, with the optimistic faith of a child, will not lead you astray. The preference trout have for bright or shiny colors when the water is cold fits this line of thinking is. The “why” matters not in the least. What matters is that you will catch trout when few others do. When you do, try to find a kid – and share your secret with him.

***

About Mike Bleech

mike-bleech-outdoor-writerMike Bleech has been a full-time freelance writer/photographer since 1980 with more than 5,000 articles published in more than 100 publications. He is the outdoors columnist for the Erie Times-News and the Warren Times Observer. Over the years he has become an expert at hunting the Allegheny National Forest and other public lands, and an accomplished trout fisherman.

 

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