How to catch monster trout
Spectacular scenery, time with our friends and the joy wading a cold river are frequently rates as the main draws to fly fishing. Most avid fly fisherman are quick to comment that it isn’t really the size or even the number of trout caught that defines a great day but rather simply being away from the office and on the water. While landing monstrously large trout is not always the main priority for many fly fisherman, lets all fess up and admit that we wouldn’t mind a nice picture on the desk of a massive hook jawed brown whose belly sags over hour hands as we struggled against his weight to hold him for the camera. Every red blooded fly fisherman needs to catch at least one monster at some time in his or her life! Some of us get downright addicted to catching grandaddy trout and begin engaging in disturbing behaviours like throwing 10” streamers during a PMD hatch when all of your friends are catching fish left and right with their dry fly imitations. Since monster trout aren’t and every day occurrence it pays to target them if you want to get serious at making your friends jealous with your post fishing trip photo email. So how big is huge? This is obviously depends on person to person and region to region. Here in Southern Montana we consider any trout over 20” to be of serious consequence and is probably enough to make all of your friends back home envious. If you live in big trout country and all of your friends are fishing guides then you have to raise the bar even higher...a 23” brown will definitely be a nice fish but won’t generate much buzz in the local shops. To really light up the local conversations you need to shoot for the 25 - 30” range. If you are lucky enough to hang a 28 or 29” brute you will be forever enshrined with your grip and grin shot hanging behind the counter of at least one fly shop and your hog photo will go viral on email and facebook accounts around Montana!
1) Fish a lot
Hey, even a blind horse finds water sometimes. The more time you spend on the water the better the chances that you will stumble into the trout of a lifetime.
2) Fish in places that huge trout are common.
This is probably the best tip of all. Do whatever you can to fish rivers that commonly produce massive trout. I have only caught two trout in the 10lb range: a 28” rainbow in Kamchatka and a 28” brown in New Zealand. In places like New Zealand, a few Alaskan rivers, Kamchatka, and Tierra del Fuego trophy trout in this league are regularly caught. In the lower 48 fish of this size aren’t as common but can be found. In the West I would rate Montana and Idaho at the top of the list and Pennsylvania in the East. Some tail waters in Arkansas, Wyoming and Colorado also produce monsters just below large dams.
3) Fish big junk!
With the exception of some huge tail water trout that gorge on freshwater shrimp being out of a dam, most big fish eat big meals. If you spend every day on the water casting tiny dry flies you might have a lot of action but your chances of hooking a trout of a lifetime are slim to none. Monster trout eat sculpins, crayfish, big stoneflies and other trout. I fish a lot of really big streamers that I custom tie. Casting these 10” tandem hooked bunny fur contraptions will scar away most small dogs and make your arm fall off at the end of the day, but throw them often enough good things will happen! A more reasonable option is to dead drift one meaty fly like a zonker trailed by a smaller bead head nymph under a strike indicator. This keeps you in the game for big trout but also increases the odds of not going home skunked.
4) Fish when it rains
Big trout, especially large browns, prefer to eat under low light conditions. Since they are often eating large meals they often go long periods of time without feeding while they digest their last unwilling victim. Fishing at the crack of dawn or at dusk is a good bet. Cloud cover and especially a good rain will often trigger intense feeding in the middle of the day by big trout. When the skies turn dark I always grab for my streamer rod and swing for the fences.
5) Fish in the dark
This isn’t as popular here in Montana as it is in some places, but it can pay off. In my opinion night fishing most effective on rivers that get too warm during the day. Sometimes the best water temperature window occurs in the middle of the night and this is when large predatory browns do their feeding. I don’t do much of this anymore...the thought of waking up to three kids between the ages under the age of five after 2 hours sleep is enough to scare me straight. When I was in college in Pennsylvania this was a fun option on some of the limestone streams in the center of the state. The key to night fishing is to pick out 2 or 3 big runs that hold large trout and work them methodically with large bulky streamers that push a lot of water.
Brian McGeehan is a Montana fly fishing
outfitter and owner of Montana Angler Fly Fishing