Friday, February 3rd, 2023
Friday, February 3rd, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Don’t give up on trout-stocked lakes

By Vic Attardo
Contributing Writer

was “letting my fingers do the walking.”

For those of you who have only ever had a cellphone, you might not recognize that phrase. But for anyone who grew up with land lines, it was the advertising slogan for the legendary and biblical “Yellow Pages.”

Look it up, it’s history.

I wasn’t using the phrase to locate a phone number when I told my boat mate we were fishing “here,” a nondescript space in open water; it was because my fingers were walking in the water, by the side of the boat.

I’d just detected a sudden coolness, indicating, or so I hoped, a spot where an underwater spring was strong enough to lift some cool water to the surface. 

I tossed out a hand buoy and watched it spin on the surface of Hamilton Lake as the weight pulled the cord to the bottom.

Fifteen yards off I twisted the tiller on the electric motor and made a wide circle away from the buoy. Then we threw out two lines, my own with a jig and paddle tail grub and my buddy’s with a suspending minnow. 

By the time we intersected with the marker the lures were working 10 to 12 feet below the surface. 

Hamilton Lake in Tioga County is stocked by the Fish & Boat Commission with rainbow trout three times for spring fishing and another stocking for the fall. Like so many trout stocked lakes not all of those fish are caught on time. 

Just because it was now early July didn’t mean there weren’t trout left from the spring stockings. In fact, I was counting on it. 

This is not shoreline fishing. Any holdover trout, and often there are quite a few, aren’t going to sit in the hot shallows. But they are in deeper water, along deep drop offs, on the shady sides of lakes, often down by a dam and, of course, by the fountain springs. 

Fancifully, I call these July 4 trout. 

Study the trout stocked lakes in the state’s northern tier, at least above I-80, and you can find similar conditions. Beechwood Lake is another Tioga County July 4 lake with holdovers.

Back to our Hamilton outing, I steered the boat slightly away from the buoy – no use disturbing what the sonar showed me was 17 feet below – then zigged slightly so the line skirted close to the buoy marker. Too close for one line I regret. 

The treble-hooked suspending minnow caught on the buoy chord and the orange float veered to the side. Estupido! But my trolled line with the jig and grub must have dipped into the honey hole because my rod thumped and I got to set the hook. 

What was on the end battled hard, making several arcs and staying deep. 

I was patriotically pleased when it turned out to be a trout – and a fine 18-inch rainbow that had achieved some red, white (and blue?) body color not inherent to its initial stocking.

We made another pass by the buoy, keeping the lures deep, and again my jig connected with another rainbow, this time a pretty 15-incher.

But honestly, that was it for holdover trout here except my buddy did stab something deep. And from its strike and bulldog fight on his diving minnow, it had to be a trout. Unfortunately the fish found its freedom in the shade of a shoreline drop-off.

After that we turned to catching largemouths and bluegills, which required different lures and presentations.

If you find yourself on a trout-stocked lake during this holiday time, you could do worse than spending a little effort, with the family, trying to catch a holdover trout.

However, the first thing you’ll have to do is get the boys and girls up early. These trout aren’t likely to strike much past 11 a.m. or when a bright sun hangs over the kids’ heads like a high-intensity lamp. 

Also as the sun warms the lake surface all day, you’re not likely to see an evening rise at this time of year. Get into mid-September and that’s a different story.

Importantly, you’re going to need to fish deep. That’s why I prefer a jig, either a flat-sided head, a ball jig or a bladed jig. I recommend a ¼-ounce jig so it stays deep on a long trolled flat line.

Trolling speed is important, and the best test is to lower the lure and grub a few feet down off the side of the boat and watch the tail’s action. 

If it acts like the overly excited version of your pet dog’s tail, that’s probably too fast. Trout won’t take a blur. But if there is action and clarity, go with that speed.

Also, I like to bounce the jig, lifting it lightly as I troll and letting it fall back, not introducing slack.

The bottom line is you’re not going to catch a dozen trout at this time of year, but little Johnny or Mary will never forget getting their picture taken, with a prized trout, over the July 4 vacation.

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