LOGAN — When Shaun Putnam heads out on the opening day of the deer hunt every year, he packs a fishing pole along with his rifle.
“The deer are harder to find in the middle of the day, so I like to do a little fishing until the sun starts to go down,” Putnam said after returning from a hunt over opening day weekend.
Now is the time of year when many Utah sportsmen put down their fishing gear and pick up their rifles, but many of them also know that fall is one of the best times of the year to catch fish — especially big brown trout.
“Fishing for big browns isn’t always fast,” said Ron Stewart, conservation outreach manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, “but having a chance to catch a five- to 10-pound fish is worth the effort.”
Almost every big reservoir in Utah has the potential to produce a big fish this time of year, Stewart said.
As fall progresses, cooler water temperatures make the water at all levels of a lake or reservoir more attractive to trout. The cool temperatures bring big fish to areas where anglers can catch them by casting from shore or trolling from a boat.
“These large predators are actively feeding, getting ready for winter,” Stewart said. “In the case of brown trout, fall is also when they spawn. That makes them even more active and willing to strike your bait or lure.”
Paul Birdsey, cold water sport fisheries coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, said October is his favorite month to fish, “and the beautiful fall scenery and the cooler temperatures aren’t the only reasons why.”
Around the start of October, lakes and reservoirs in Utah experience what Birdsey calls their “fall turnover.” Basically, the water mixes. As the water on the surface cools, it sinks to the bottom, pushing the water on the bottom of the reservoir up to the top. This swirling motion brings material from the deeper layers of the lake or reservoir into the upper layers.
All of a sudden, algae starts to bloom. As the algae blooms, zooplankton feed on the algae. Then, the zooplankton bloom, too. Suddenly, abundant food is available for bait fish and sport fish throughout the lake or reservoir. During this period, the fish go into a feeding frenzy, Birdsey said.
Because food is so abundant, fish will spread themselves across the entire body of water. They’ll be in shallow water near shore and in deeper water in the middle of the lake or reservoir.
Stewart said shore anglers should look for two places: An area where a river or stream enters the lake or reservoir, or an area that has underwater structure, such as ledges or rocks.
Streams that flow into a body of water really attract browns because that’s where they spawn. Rocky points are ideal because the fish will often follow the shoreline, and a point brings them in close to shore anglers. Graveled slopes are also attractive because browns will search these areas looking for smaller fish to eat.
Many anglers prefer to troll for browns from a boat. Stewart said there are several effective ways to troll for brown trout:
• Try a medium- to large-sized flatfish, Rapala, spoon or crankbait.
• Troll a flatfish or a crankbait on monofilament line, about 100 to 200 feet behind the boat. This technique is called long-lining, and it works in most waters. If you try long-lining for brown trout, the best times of year are just after ice-off and just before it freezes again. The ideal time frame is usually April to early May and late October to November.
• The time of day you fish also plays a role. Browns are most active around sunrise and sunset, when the light level is low. Some serious brown trout anglers even continue fishing after it gets dark. When light conditions are low, brown trout move into shallow water to feed on smaller fish.
• Troll a bit faster than you normally would. Trolling faster gives your lure more action, which can help fish see it in low-light conditions. It also might convince the browns that their prey is escaping, and they’ll likely hit the lure harder.
To most anglers, trolling means fishing from a motorized boat. But you can troll from a non-motorized boat too, said Ed Johnson, a fisheries biologist for the DWR.
“My son and I have caught some big fish trolling lures behind the kayak as we paddle along,” Johnson said. “We can also stop and jig, or cast toward the shoreline. I don’t think the kayak scares the fish as much as a larger boat with a trolling motor does.
“Not only do we catch some really nice fish,” he said, “we get some good exercise, too.”