How to Free-Line Live-Bait Minnows to Catch Shy Brown Trout

Yesterday morning in about two hours, I caught more large brown trout than ever before in one day of fishing. It was just crazy. In addition to the 7-pounder I'm holding in the photo, we also caught and released a brown of 8.5 pounds and a third that weighed in at 5 pounds.

I guess that's bragging of a sort, but mostly I share all this so I can then explain just how it was done. In a nutshell: Free-lining live-bait minnows.

So here was the deal. A small local lake had become infested with alewives, a non-native species introduced by accident. Some years back, the state started stocking brown trout here, hoping the browns would help to control the invasive alewives.

The browns have grown like pigs. They are also shy, as brown trout are, and very hard to catch. I had caught a few smaller ones by trolling in years past, but had never done as well as I thought I should. Fortunately, I found a fanatical local angler willing to help me out. (I'm not giving the name of the lake, or the angler's name, which might also give away the location.)

So we motored out on the calm water early yesterday, marked some fish deep on the sonar, and anchored in about 50 feet of water. My friend rigged some spinning rods spooled with 8-pound mono, tying a small bait hook to each. Then a lively minnow was hooked through the nose and cast to about 40 or 50 feet away.

Note, especially, that we used neither sinkers of any sort, nor were there any bobbers. Because the minnow was hooked in the front, it tended to swim downward--into the inky depths where the big trout lurked. Then we set the rods down, leaving the spinning-reel bails open so that a taking fish could pull line without feeling any resistance.

When line started running quickly from the reel, it was time to close the bail and set the hook. This overall method was so simple and so incredibly effective that I feel really dumb at not having thought of it myself.

I am probably not going to switch to a live-bait career. I'd rather do fly- or plug-casting. But damn, that was fun.