How to fool holdover trout



Some states have a tra­di­tion that dates back gen­er­a­tions: Watch the trout-stock­ing sched­ule, hus­tle to the stream, and stand side by side with dozens of your fel­low an­glers. If it goes well, you might bring home a limit.

Trout fish­ing in many parts of the United States is all about freshly stocked, hatch­ery-raised, pel­let-fed fish and streams as crowded as a mall on Black Fri­day. Dozens of states have pop­u­lar trout-stock­ing pro­grams, even places that don’t sup­port wild trout. In most cases, those fish are put in a stream or lake so an­glers can catch them and take them home.

Many an­glers do, which is why you’ll see a com­pletely dif­fer­ent scene when you visit a put-and-take wa­ter a few days af­ter it was stocked. The an­glers are gone, con­vinced that fish­ing a stream three or more days af­ter it was stocked is point­less. Fished out, they in­sist.

“We hear that all the time,” says Vir­ginia Depart­ment of Game and In­land Fish­eries district fish­eries bi­ol­o­gist Steve Reeser. “It’s true that a lot of stocked trout do get caught the first cou­ple of days, but based on creel sur­veys and some elec­tro-fish­ing work we’ve done, we know there are plenty of fish still there for the tak­ing. You can catch trout long af­ter they were stocked.”


Plenty of hatch­ery-raised trout are suck­ers for a gob of yel­low dough their first day in new wa­ter, but it doesn’t take long for the sur­vivors to adopt at least some char­ac­ter­is­tics of wild trout. Most no­tably, they learn where to hide.

“We find them in the same places we ex­pect to see wild trout, like un­der root wads, un­der­cut banks, and boul­ders,” says Reeser, who has used elec­tro-fish­ing gear to find trout af­ter they were stocked. “They like over­head cover. They don’t lie out in the open, which is why you don’t see them.”

They of­ten don’t stay in the spot they were stocked, ei­ther. De­pend­ing on the size of the stream, they re­lo­cate any­where from a few yards to a few miles away, of­ten within a day or two of stock­ing.

“They will move up or down. There doesn’t seem to be much science to where they go, other than they seek out the best habi­tat they can find,” adds Reeser. “They are prob­a­bly more likely to move down­stream af­ter a rain event, but that de­pends on flow, habi­tat, and stream size.” Don’t as­sume you need to hike for miles to find those re­main­ing trout. But Mark Swann, an en­vi­ron­men­tal tech­ni­cian from Black Moun­tain, North Carolina, agrees it is im­por­tant to find new wa­ter. He of­ten waits for the crowds to clear out be­fore tar­get­ing hatch­ery trout. His first bit of ad­vice? Avoid ar­eas with easy ac­cess and heavy fish­ing pres­sure. Swann also seeks out places most an­glers over­look. Small, unas­sum­ing pock­ets within a long and fast run, nar­row seams along the bank, and dark ar­eas un­der over­hang­ing limbs all de­mand a few casts.


“I work it all,” Swann says. “I don’t just go from pool to pool. I’m fish­ing ev­ery spot that might hold a trout, and I keep mov­ing. I take chances. I put my lure in places other an­glers won’t.”

Equally im­por­tant? Stop treat­ing th­ese fish like they were stocked two hours ago. What was a sure bet yes­ter­day is now one of the most dif­fi­cult fish you’ll ever try to catch.

“They wise up pretty quickly. You have to ap­proach them like you were fish­ing for wild trout,” says Swann.

Plod up to the stream bank and start fish­ing? That won’t work. Cast a shadow over the wa­ter? Any trout within sight will dart un­der a boul­der or race down­stream, never to be seen again. Plop a lure on their head? Not a chance. One wrong move and you can for­get a din­ner date with any trout in the area.

Swann works his way up­stream, keep­ing a low pro­file as he makes long casts with a va­ri­ety of lures tied to 4-pound monofil­a­ment. “That's the main thing for me," he says. “I al­ways try to be stealthy.”

If other an­glers are sling­ing lures, nymphs turn trout on.

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