My friends and family members are making me envious. Yesterday, my friend, Greg, showed me photos of a couple steelhead he caught in Wisconsin on streamers. Both were about 20 inches. Last week, on the same day I enjoyed catching an 11-inch brown on a size 20 dry fly in the Wisconsin Driftless, my son, Luke, sent me a photo of a 22-inch rainbow he caught on a tiny Zebra Midge.
Gazing (with envy) at those photos reminded me how challenging it is to land large trout. I’ve landed my share of trout over 20 inches. But I’ve lost a lot of them too. Here are some practices I’ve learned for landing larger trout. If I had used all of them sooner, who knows how many more big fish I would have caught!
Use a stronger tippet
I’ve landed 20-inch rainbows in Montana’s Madison River on 5x tippet. But a 5x tippet is only 4.75 pound test. Going to a size 4x increases that to 6 pound test, and a 3x tippet increases is to 8.5 pound test.
Using a stronger tippet with streamers is a no-brainer. Admittedly, it’s a bit more challenging with tiny dry flies or nymphs.
When I’m fishing with nymphs, I will typically use a 3x tippet on my lead fly if it’s large – like a size 8 or 10 stonefly. Then, I’ll use the 4x on the smaller dropper—such as a size 18 Copper John. In most cases, the increase in size doesn’t spook the fish. It’s helpful, though, if there’s a bit of color to the water.
Pull the fish from side to side
Gary Borger taught me several years ago that pulling a fish from side to side tires it out more quickly than simply pulling it in straight. Pulling it from side to side works the fish’s muscles. So point your fly rod to the side when you’re trying to land a large trout.
If you’re using a stronger tippet, then you can be a bit more aggressive and land the fish quicker. That’s a win-win situation. The trout will be less stressed than if you prolong the fight. You’ll also have less opportunities for a trout to run on you and snap the line on a rock or submerged branch. I’ve had both happen.
Use a long-handled net
The net I carry when I have a chance to hook into large trout has an 8.5-inch handle. The extra length extends my reach. That can make all the difference when trying to land a monster. I’ve had the frustration of getting a large trout almost within reach but needing an extra 2 or 3 inches.
A long-handled net cuts down on that frustration.
I don’t always catch large trout. But when I do, I have a much better chance of landing them when I’m practicing these three tips.