Gazette Article - How To Properly Handle Trout!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How To Land A Big Fish In Small Water

Colorado has been building a reputation with anglers acrossed the country as a prime fishing destination and for good reason. We have amazing tailwaters, spectacular stillwater fisheries, and freestone rivers galore. However, what we call rivers here in Colorado most people from other states call streams or creeks. The South Platte River is a prime example of what we call a river versus what other people call the same. Make no mistake our small water does not limit the size and quality of the fish we catch in our great state.

To catch big fish first you must find big fish. There is a common misconception amongst anglers that the really deep pools in our favorite rivers that seem dead must have a massive alpha male world record trout of our dreams swimming somewhere in its midst. Why else do we not see an entire school of fish feeding in that crystal green pool of perfection? It is because fish hang out together in schools or pairs even in rivers, and most of the time big fish enjoy the company of other often times smaller fish.

This underwater photo of paired up trout was taken after a client of mine
landed three from this exact same spot. All three landed fish were smaller
than these two.

Trout are predators so it makes sense that a trout with a mouth large enough to eat another would want to be where the food is at. There are exceptions to that rule like when fry congregate in schools along banks, or when there is an occasional man eating brown trout staking claim in a deep pool that is potentially scaring off anything that stands to get eaten. Water temps play a big role in where you will find fish. Brown trout are a sturdier fish and can handle warmer conditions and stagnant water better than other trout species. The truth is that the majority of trophy fish I've landed were hanging out with an entire school of fish half their size. In some cases the trophy fish are either a short distance up stream or down stream in the same run as their smaller counterparts, or they were staying closer to the bottom directly underneath the school.

Once you have figured out where to find big fish, and have figured out how to fool big fish, then it becomes time to do what is necessary to land big fish. One of the advantages to going after fish in small water is that there is limited space for the fish to run.  Large rivers and lakes provide plenty of room for fish to go as they please giving them the advantage during the fight.

Let me paint you a picture... A second year flyfisher hooks and looses the fish of his dreams which is something he has done a few times up to this point. Losing the fish of his dreams is something he will continue to do for the rest of his life. Every fish that manages an escape and is rarely seen during the fight will always be the fish of a lifetime.

After setting the hook the angler has the big fish on and the beast attached to the end of his line makes a mad dash up river ripping line off the now stunned and completely stationary sophomore rookies reel. The fisherman tries to put pressure on the fish in an attempt to slow it down during the middle of the first explosive run. The line breaks. The angler adds copious amounts of water to the river in the form of tears. Knees still locked and legs shaking he is totally defeated but instantly ready for round two because flyfishers are notorious gluttons for punishment.

A few more years of due paying later lets paint a different picture... The five year angler has added a few new tricks up his sleeve which he has picked up from years of having his butt handed to him by big fish, and by reading articles full of helpful advice in magazines and blogs such as this. My first tip for landing big fish is to do two things after the hook set. Give the fish line while it runs, and do your best to stay with the fish. If it runs up river you run up river and vice versa should it run down. If you are staying parallel with the fish and keeping steady pressure you're well on your way.

When the fish makes another run give line and go where it goes playing catch up until your back on top of the fish. Do not stand there and let the fish run. The point I want to hammer home is that it is very important for you to be loose and mobile the moment you feel weight on your line. Trust me there is a learning curve to this. It is not easy after years of standing in one spot trying to horse the catch to you to change it up and start running with the fish right after the hook set. Note: You will fall on your face. You will get wet. You might even take a branch or two to the eye. It is worth it.

Now you have survived the first couple of runs so the next step is to get yourself into a position downstream from the fish where you can do two things. First, have easy access to the bank in case you need to be mobile again if the fish runs. The second thing that is equally as important is that you find a place to land the fish without any obstacles close by for the fish to snag you on (such as logs and undercut rocks).

It is very important that you stay directly behind the fish as you are fighting it from down stream. The purpose to fighting the fish from this position is to use the current to tire it quicker. Another very important reason to fight your catch from a downstream position is that when trophy fish get tired they turn down stream as a last attempt to get free using the same current you were just using as leverage against you. If you're fortunate enough to have that happen while you are ten feet or closer down stream and are lined up directly behind the fish your odds of landing that trophy increased two-hundred percent.

Try to keep the rod tip up without jerking the rod. When the trout turns it will hopefully be head up without much fight because it is trying to catch its breath. Before the fish turns and it attempts a last run down stream it's a good idea to have the net in the water and in position. The motion of putting the net in the water after the fish has turned will spook it and cause it to change direction which means you're chasing it down to try again.

Here's your recap... To catch big fish you have to go where fish are and look for big fish. Run where the fish runs. Once the fish gets tired position yourself downstream and directly behind the fish so that it is fighting you and the current, but also so you're in postition to net the fish head first when it turns down stream.

When it comes to fishing there are very few things that I guarantee except this. Spend a lot of time on the water looking for big fish where there are other fish, and have faith in these tips and techniques and your average fish length will increase with every big catch. Without question there is something special about catching trophy trout out of water most people wouldn't expect to hold big fish. Most important don't forget to bring your camera so you have plenty of pictures or video to show non believers. "You landed an 18 inch rainbow out of upper fountain creek?!" It happens to somebody. Tight Lines!


  1. What happens to the fish when the rivers freeze? Do they migrate to Florida or do they Hibernate with the Bears???

  2. Im thinking they turn to fish statues...


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