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Go-to lures can only go so far

It's an iconic image - an angler standing alone, thigh-deep in a rushing stream, pondering the contents of a fly box, a lure box or a bait bucket:

"Hmmm. I wonder what they're biting today?"

Anyone who fishes much at all has been there, done that, and got the T-shirt.

The very best anglers seem almost clairvoyant. They take a glance around, maybe dip their fingers into the water for a moment, and tie on exactly the lure the fish are biting.

Most of us lack such uncanny talent. We're average fishermen, and we use what has worked for us in the past. Nine times out of 10, we select one of our "go-to" baits and hope the fish like it.

There are exceptions, of course. Let's say a Kanawha River bass angler's go-to lure is a black jig-and-pig combination. Effective as the lure might be most of the time, that angler would be foolish to use it when hybrid stripers surface-feed on schooled-up shad.

A good fly fisherman might catch hundreds of trout each season on a Royal Wulff dry fly, but he'd likely go fishless if he used the Wulff during a hatch of small sulfur-colored mayflies.

I've been a trout fisherman for a long time, and experience has taught me when go-to lures work and when they don't.

Fortunately for me, most of the time they do work - at least to some extent.

I prefer to fly fish for trout, but when conditions dictate I will happily use lures or bait. After all, the idea is to catch fish.

When I break out the spinning rod, I have two go-to lures and two go-to baits.

My go-to lures are a 1/16-ounce gold Panther Martin spinner and a black marabou-tailed jig.

When water temperatures are moderate and the fish seem active, I use the spinner, casting it straight upstream and retrieving it just fast enough to turn its blade.

In colder water, I usually go with the jig - again, casting it upstream and allowing it to drift with the current, twitching and teasing it so that the marabou tail wiggles and dances in the current.

In high-water conditions, I go with bait. A lot of anglers use salmon eggs or putty-like prepared baits, but I prefer worms or minnows.

I cast the worms (plain old garden worms, not night crawlers) upstream and "dead-drift" them near the bottom, trying my hardest to keep them from moving unnaturally. Light line helps. Four-pound test is as heavy as I ever use for trout.

Minnows require a more active approach. I prefer fathead minnows 2 to 3 inches in length, and I use a large needle to thread them onto a size 8 double hook. I cast them up and across the current and allow them to sink deep. The current bellies the line a bit, which pulls on the minnow and causes it to spin. Most of the strikes come just as the minnow ends its drift and starts to spin and swing across the main current.

Fly-fishing is a little more complicated. You need to decide if your go-to pattern is going to be a dry fly, a wet fly, a nymph or a streamer.

Personally, I like nymph fishing. In most streams, under most conditions, trout feed on nymphs much more consistently than on dries, wets or streamers.

So when I wade into a stream and prepare to tie on a fly, chances are it will be a size 16 Copper John nymph or a size 14 Soft-Hackled Hare's Ear. Sometimes I rig up a two-fly leader and fish them both.

Call me wishy-washy. Call me indecisive. But hey - even when a fellow has go-to lures, he can still hedge his bets.


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