Tactics for Winter Brown Trout
Written by Keith Shisler - Educated Angler Field Staff   
Sunday, 28 January 2007 11:09

For those of us who have small to mid-sized outboard powered boats our trolling season can be extended to most of, if not all, winter. I am fortunate to live near a coal-fired power plant, namely the Oak Creek power generating station in southeastern Wisconsin, there is a nice launch nearby at Bender Park with piers that stay in year round.  Many of you may be aware of this fishery but I thought it might be interesting to describe the baits, setups, and tactics that are used to catch these winter Browns. I have learned a bunch from seasoned fishermen experienced in this specific fishery and have developed a few tactics of my own over time.

Once the Browns bunch up by warm water discharges around the lake in winter, the action can be fantastic! For those who are brave at heart and not stopped by cold, great times can be had all winter long.  My go to setup used while trolling around the power plant are mono rods with crank baits using inline planer boards, specifically I use the TX-6 board by Church Tackle.  The TX-6 is a great way to pull crank baits without adding an inordinate amount of drag while fighting the fish. Favorite baits include:

  • Yozuri Crystal Minnow floaters in the black back/silver color 3 5/8” and the 4 ¼” inch sizes.
  • Bass Pro’s XPS Minnow in a color we call smelt.
  • Glass Shad Rap and Husky Jerk in “ghost”
  • Floating Rapala in jointed or straight in a variety of colors
  • Reef Runner Rip Stick in a variety of colors.

I also add spoons running behind mini divers or jet divers to the mix; on occasion downriggers with long leads might be deployed.  Spoons used include: 

  • Raider Chicken Pox and Bloody Death are perennial favorites
  • Stinger Scorpion in Watermelon
  • Fuzzy Bear Buffalo Bill

The water depth is between only 9 and 15 feet when trolling near the break wall, smart anglers will stay in the warm water or around the edges of it. There are days when you must nearly bump the rocks with your planer boards to take advantage of the warm water.

If the water has been rough and remains mixed and muddy, the fishing is often best and lures with loud rattles may do the most damage. These are the times where the waves may have torn up bunches of weeds and it is a good idea to use a small split shot a few feet above your lure to collect them before they can foul the bait. Heeding this little tip will buy you a bit more trolling time before cleaning your baits. Still you should pull lines often to be sure you are not fishing dead lures.

If the water is very clear fishing is often tough.  Use longer leads and get your boards as far off to the side as possible, within reason given traffic constraints.  Days like these it may better to go north toward the sewage plant and fish the deeper water there.  Many times baitfish are present in the area around the “boils” which is where the treated water discharges from the sewage plant. The bait is not always right at the boils but can usually be found in the general area.

Here is where we break out the lead core rods, 2 and 3 color cores work well as the water is deep enough for them. The same baits we use near the power plant work with a greater number of spoons in the mix. The fish may be right in the boils and other times they are as much as a mile away, troll the area and find them.

If you’re lucky enough and the fish are holding in the boils then vertical jigging can be a great producer; this particular pattern is really a blast when the fish are hanging tight.  Mike “Screamin' Minnow” Richow showed me how, just put a blade bait on a lighter weight trolling rod with a line counter reel. Lower the blade to the bottom, reel up the slack, note the counter setting and bring the bait up a foot or so. Then just give the bait a rip of approximately 2 feet and let it settle keeping the line as tight as possible on the fall. There is nothing like the feel of a 10 to 15 lbs. brown whacking your lure only equaled by a really fun fight.

I have found it pays to start the day with a mix of stick baits, body baits (like shad raps) and spoons. It seems to me that when the fish are highly aggressive they want spoons more, if they are a bit less aggressive then the shad type baits are better and if they are not very aggressive at all then the stick bait shines. If spoons are going well and then the bite dies down some I will switch some lines out to shad rap type baits, if that doesn’t work get out the stick baits.

Start doing the planning now for a likely target area near you that may present these winter conditions as this type of fishing is not exclusive to my particular area.  While you might not have a power generating plant and a waste treatment plant in proximity to each other you may have access to one or the other.  If you have warm water discharges that are legal to fish (remember exclusion zones around nuclear power plants), a way to get your boat in the water, give these areas a try...you might be pleasantly surprised.  If you keep a close eye on the weather and look out for pack ice, safe productive fishing can be had all winter.  Come on in the water is fine!

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