Natures finest… The Rainbow Trout.
The beauteous rainbow speaks for the highly-prized trout family because it is the most popular member and boasts the widest distribution. It’s a solid striker, colorful leaper, vigorous fighter, and looked upon as choice table fare.
Adaptability is an outstanding characteristic of the rainbow trout and it thrives in both streams and lakes, and tolerates a much wider temperature swing than its soft-finned kin. From its once limited range on the West Coast from Alaska to Mexico the rainbow now is enjoyed by anglers throughout most of the United States and Canada. It thrives in many deep southern reservoirs, both above dams and in outflowing rivers, because these impounded waters are cooler.
Average size rainbows run from one to three pounds in streams, but Lake Michigan’s salmon bonanza also has proved a boon for raising the biggest rainbows, including the steelhead phase after migration growth. Ten of the top 15 world-record rainbows have come from here, all on the south and west shores, ranging from 11 pounds to the all-tackle record for landlocked rainbows — 27 pounds, 3 ounces. The all-tackle mark for sea-run rainbows, or steelheads, is 42 pounds 2 ounces, and was caught in Alaska.
Tactics vary from lakes to streams, so let’s examine the impoundments first. From the vast waters of Lake Michigan to the man-made reservoirs of Bull Shoals Lake in Missouri and Arkansas, quality rainbows abound. In Lake Michigan the majority of bigger rainbows are taken by trolling spoons and spinners, at depths indicated by sensitive sonars.
In southern impoundments, a surprising number of big trout are taken while fishing at night, at 40 to 60 foot depths, using jigging spoons and live minnows. For your initial trip on any big body of water, it’s wise to hire a guide to show you where and how, then try it on your own.
In many of the fast waters below dams lunker rainbows are caught on much simpler tackle. Spinning, spincasting, baitcasting and fly tackle are used to present a fairly simple selection of lures. Spoons, spinners and jigs account for the majority of artificials, and there are several hangouts where the majority of the larger rainbows are taken.
One is in what fishermen call “the slot.” This is where fast downstream water rubs against eddy currents which move upstream. Position yourself slightly above this slot and work lures along this obvious line by drifting them downstream then retrieving slowly and deeply.
One of the most productive rainbow streams over the past quarter century has been the White River below Bull Shoals dam in Arkansas. This state has an extremely successful hatchery program and a number of state and world record trout have come from here, including browns.
And, hold on to your hat, two of the best producers in rivers are whole kernel corn and small marshmallows, fished behind a small weighted spinner. These are cast slightly upstream into fast runs and drifted into deep holes, then retrieved s-l-o-w-l-y over bottom rocks.
Country boys use native savvy to outsmart big rainbows, and here are two tactics they use successfully. One I fished with in Colorado had both a fly reel and a spinning reel permanently taped onto an eight-foot spinning rod. Early morning and late evening he fly-fished home-tied ants to match pismire activity. During the day he rigged up the spinning reel and fished deeper holes with tiny spoons and spinners, when trout were hanging in midstream holes.
And the other homespun tactic is to rig a six-pound mono line with a 2/0 hook, cover this with red worms, add enough split shot to hold it down, then bottom-bump it through deeper runs close to shore cover, like brush, dead-falls, and overhanging weeds.
Since these are wary characters you need to be conscious of your line visibility. Always use premium quality line. Be sure to also wear felt-soled boots; sure-footedness is a requirement to success.