Trout are prone to focus on a plentiful food source to the exclusion of all other tasties. That's why fly-fishermen like to match the hatch. There are days when nothing but a bug will take a trout. A few days later, it could be another bug or an egg or a crayfish that is on the menu.
Where does that leave the spin-fisherman, the bait angler, the gear guy? For the angler with a penchant for plastics, there are a lot of options.
We are closing in on that time of year when most fishermen have tired of the water. By September, the ones with archery and rifle tags have forgotten about trout. And by October, when fishing can be at its best, the lakes can be all but empty of boats.
In the absence of a major hatch, trout are opportunistic. In August and September, hatchery trout are on the hunt for anything that might represent potential protein. Baitfish and frogs, if they stray too far from cover, are likely to end up in a trout's gullet. Crickets and hoppers are targets of opportunity. Errant jumpers and the victims of a fickle breeze end up kicking in the surface film.
Crawdads are found in the high lakes, but they make themselves scarce when the sun is high in the sky. That's when a small plastic craw can pay off.
Today's soft plastics look good enough to eat, and the new generation of baits are impregnated with scents that can entice a trout to hold on just a little bit longer. That's why, at least here in Oregon, soft plastics are considered bait.
They come in jars that look like bait, packed in the oils used to flavor the faux grub or bug. Packaged like single eggs, Berkley's Gulp! Alive! comes in little green jars molded into 1 1/2-inch hellgrammites and 1-inch crickets come in various shades of the spectrum.
The Texas-based Crème Lure Co. has made an art form of the soft plastic insect. A quick check of the website shows a bee, a black ant, caddis and mayflies in various life stages, a dragonfly nymph, stoneflies, salmonflies and more.
Crayfish are oft imitated with realistic lures that detail claws, tails and antennae, but such detail is lost on a hungry trout. Some of the best plastic lures are suggestive, like the plastic skirted tubes from Outlaw Baits that can be baitfish when they are halfway up the water column; crawled across the bottom they are crayfish caught in the open. Best colors are white, orange and brown.
From laboratory to bait shop, the emphasis is on finesse. The trick is to put the artificial where the fish expect to find the real deal. There are as many ways to rig plastics as there are ways to present live bait.
For minnow and crayfish presentations on the river, use a jig head and a tube and just enough split shot to put the bait in the rocks. Hold the rod tip high and feel for the tap of the weight as the rig bounces on the bottom.
In a lake, use a sliding sinker on the main line. At the swivel, tie on two to three feet of four pound fluorocarbon leader and terminate at a light wire hook. Dependent on the major food sources, slide a plastic bug on to match the hatch.
When the fish are feeding high in the water column, run a bug three or four feet below a small Thill float like the Gold Medal Bite Strike. Pinch on a tiny split shot about 12 inches above the plastic bait.
A clear, plastic casting bubble is another good choice for fishing close to the surface. Slide the bubble on the mainline. At the swivel, knot on three feet of fluorocarbon and a light wire hook. To get the rig to cast farther and sink deeper, fill the bubble with water.
We used these setups on a mountain lake one morning in early August. A trail led around the shoreline and where the ground sloped sharp toward the water, I called a halt. Here the lake was a deeper green and rainbows fed close to the surface.
Moments after she began, our friend Grace Semchuck hooked a fish and lost it. She threw toward each swirl, and brought each cast back with a slow, start-and-stop retrieve. During that time, my daughter Mikayla and I landed a couple of fish and then, when we were almost finished, Grace hooked one and battled to shore her very first trout.
This fall, when the rest of the world is back to school and back to work, take some time and stalk the shore of a mountain lake or the upper reaches of a river. There are trout to catch and hatches to match.