Fishing & Boating News

Behemoth Browns of Fall

Finding the finest gravel for their next fling may be what all big browns are all about this time of year, but they're still feeding voraciously

by: Mitch Eagan,

Photo by Mitch Eagan
Photo by Mitch Eagan
(Sep. 29, 2011 - ) Rarely does the fall season just settle in. Instead, it tends to make an abrupt appearance. The sudden switch from hot and muggy to cool dry days often gets anglers thinking first ice. However, the cooling waters are triggering fish migrations at this very moment and there are fish to cast to before the waterways harden. In short: There's one heck of a bite going on now.

Take brown trout, for example. Throughout the country, they're feasting before the urge to spawn overtakes them, and they're gorging on baitfish to build up fat reserves for the mad dash upriver to breed.

Heading upstream to find the finest gravel for their next fling is what all big browns are about this time of year, whether they are migratory Great Lakes brutes or year-round thugs residing in the flowing rivers of the Midwest, West and Arkansas. And no matter where they are in a system, they feed voraciously all fall long.

But targeting these trophy trout takes a different mindset than the norm. This is the time of year to forgo the ultra-light spinning gear and wispy fly rods and, instead, cast large lures and flies. Big bodybaits, crankbaits and giant streamers are what I'm talking about here, as well beefed up gear to handle both fish and offering.

A little wiggle when you walk
When a big a trout eats, it would rather feast on large prey over the dainty. Whether lure or fly, it's the minnow imitation with an exaggerated wiggle that trips a river brown's triggers best. And they can be fished slowly in cold water, which is often needed later in the season.

Like all fish, trout are cold blooded and their body temperatures drop along with the water's. This means their muscles tighten and fish are unable to chase down prey that is moving too fast. Besides that, the prey's bodies are colder, too, and it's unnatural for them to be swimming quickly. Retrieve a lure or streamer too rapidly and it won't look natural and predators won't give it a second look.

Presentations are always in order
Proper presentation isn't important when it comes to the fickle feeding habits of big browns... it's imperative. Unlike an in-line spinner or spoon that's cast up and across stream, bodybaits, crankbaits and streamers should be cast with a slight across and downstream angle, and then retrieved so that the lure crosses up current slightly less than a 45-degree angle.

"Healthy forage swims upstream, while sickly fish move downward with the current", says Michigan river guide Russ Maddin. "And big browns like their meals lively." Both fly and lure should be reeled in at a medium pace, enough to give the offering a vigorous look without pulling it too fast.

When using a bodybait or crankbait, you'll want to be certain the lure runs true and has an enticing wobble. Bodybaits such as 3 1/2-inch Bomber Long A's and size-9 (also 3 1/2-inches) Rapala Original Minnows are all around good choices. Crankbaits like the CD15 Cotton Cordell Grappler Shad and size-9 Rapala Shad Rap?the latter the very lure used to capture the world's largest brown trout ever recorded, which was landed in the Big Manistee river the fall of 2009?take their share of large trout, too.

Streamers, as well, should be larger than the norm, with flies tied in the 4 to 5 inch range a good choice.

Out of the box
The strike and fight of a brown trout in cold water is one not to be reckoned with. "The strike's like a shark attack and you need gear that you not only achieve a good hook set with, but you need the muscle to pull these bad boys in," adds Maddin. Anglers need to think outside the normal trout gear and use equipment that can take the punch.

Monofilament line that can stand up to abrasions from wood and rock is a must. Ten-pound-test Silver Thread AN40 and Sufix Siege both hold up extremely well. Spool it onto a spinning reel combined with a fast-action medium-action rod of 6 1/2 feet and you have a combo that can take all a big brown can muster.

Big streamers need to be cast on stout fly rods, as well. St. Croix manufactures the Bank Robber series, which has been designed by big brown aficionado Kelly Galloup?also inventor of the Sex Dungun and Butt Monkey streamers, both tied with brown trout in mind. The 9-foot 7-weight Bank Robber is a great choice for casting fall browns.

Overall, streamers are fished on short fluorocarbon leaders (up to 9 feet), in comparison to lure casting on monofilament, and big brown trout can put the hurt to them in a heartbeat. To curb the expense as well as lost fish, avid fly anglers have been tying an InvisaSwivel in line with their leaders. Because it's made of Fluoro-Clear?a fluorocarbon-based material?it blends into the fly tippet in both weight and density and won't impede a cast.

Don't miss out
Whatever you do, don't let the last of fall's open water fishery go un-fished. Cast a bodybait, crankbait or streamer for big river browns. Give your offering a cast slightly downstream, and work it back like it's about to be attacked. And if you work it right, it will be.

Mitch Eeagan is an outdoor writer who lives off the land in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Photo by Mitch Eagan