Like many southeastern Minnesota trout streams, Tamarack Creek doesn’t look like blue-ribbon trout water. It’s pretty as it winds through greening pastures and cuts along the wooded valley bottoms, but you won’t find any fly casters on drift boats or log-cabin resorts with mountains soaring in the background.
What Tamarack does have, however, are excellent numbers of naturally reproducing brown trout—wild fish that are alternately shy and aggressive, depending on conditions and the skill of the angler vying for them. Which makes Tamarack Creek the perfect place for Mike Jeresek to test out some of the latest jigs he’s tied—and a chance for me to tag along.
A retired teacher and coach, Jeresek is a passionate trout angler who has fished for browns, brookies, and rainbows across their range. “I started with bait, back in the 1960s,” he explained as he steered his vehicle down the windy gravel road leading to Tamarack. “I got tired of that and learned to fly fish. Later, I noticed my that brother, who was throwing Rapalas with spinning gear, was catching better fish than I was, so I switched again.”
Jeresek then talked to a fellow trout fisherman who did well with jigs of the same sort most people use for walleyes and crappies. “He talked about their versatility, and what he said made sense to me,” Jeresek told me. “Of course, he also mentioned that the world-record brown trout was caught on a jig. That didn’t hurt, either.”
Lightweight Jigs Are Highly Versatile for Trout Fishing
When Jeresek first started pitching jigs for trout, he was the habitat-improvement chair for his local Trout Unlimited (TU) chapter, so he knew all the best places to try his new lures. “I found out in a hurry that the guy I spoke to about jigs was right,” he said. “The thing I’ve come to like most about them–beside the fact that trout hit them like crazy–is that I can control the action of the bait. Most spinning lures work at only one speed, but I can work a jig at most any speed and give it the action I want. I’ve taken browns by ripping a jig through a hole, dead-drifting it with the current, pitching it downstream and working it up, or swimming it near the surface. I’ve even had trout cruise by and pick a jig up off the bottom. That’s the beauty of it; you can adjust your presentation with how the fish are behaving that day.”
After gearing up, I trailed Jeresek as he followed the wooded banks of Tamarack Creek downstream. We both toted ultralight spinning rods crafted by local trout angler Jim Reinhardt, a retired math teacher and high-school Hall of Fame football coach. His rods, at 5 feet long, are the spin-fisherman’s answer to a 4-weight fly rod—highly sensitive at the tip but with enough backbone to fight a big brown. Our open-face reels were spooled with 4-pound mono for backing and 20 yards of 4-pound Nanofill at the tip. Uber-tough yet thin-diameter, the nano “casts a mile but doesn’t tangle, and trout don’t see it,” Jeresek said.
After a 30-minute walk along the streamside trail, Jeresek finally stopped at a pool with a slight bend and gurgling current. Pitching a 3-inch Berkeley Powerbait Minnow he’d cemented to a jig hook with Gorilla Glue, Jeresek was into a pulsing brown on his third cast. The 14-inch trout used the current and structure to provide all the fight my partner wanted before coming to hand. Jeresek smiled, released the fish, and proceeded to land two more on successive casts. “Your turn,” he said, waving me ahead. My first cast was a tad long, but bounced nicely off the bank and slid into the water. I’d only made two cranks on the reel when I felt a strong tap that turned out to be a rock, but on the next cast—a little more accurate this time—a sleek but scrappy brown smacked my lure. “Atta boy,” Jeresek said in his best retired-coach voice.
A Go-To Jig That’s Easy to Make and Super-Effective
I’d fished with Jeresek before and noted that the Berkeley Minnows were a new twist. “I just enjoy experimenting and found these are effective, fun, and simple,” he told me. “I tied my own jigs with marabou and other materials for a while. I used tube jigs and other plastics, and finally settled on these—at least for now. I can make them up so fast; I just slide a body on a jig hook, cement that to the head with glue, and hang it upside down to dry overnight. I can do a dozen in a few minutes, and it’s as simple as can be. A while back the TU chapter was going to have a fly-tying night. I wanted to show up with my little box of gear and say. ‘Where do I set up?’”
It took us a little more than two hours to fish our way back to the truck, but the action was steady all the way. Jeresek caught 33 trout en route and, while none were huge, he landed two others at least as big as his first one. And in one gurgling run full of structure, he caught and landed five browns on consecutive casts. I managed about a dozen fish, but stuck with a simple, straight retrieve downstream with the same bait. Meanwhile, my mentor was constantly switching jigs and mixing up straight retrieves with jerky tugs and pauses. Like most experts, he seems to sense quickly that something has changed that makes the fish need or want a different look or speed or size.
That and, also like other experts, he is simply not afraid to experiment. While garden-variety fishermen like me are content if a lure is drawing the occasional strike, true aces ride the wave for a time, then seem to ask “Well, if they liked that, how about this?” Which is why, of course, Mike Jeresek decided to leave the comfy world of bait and flies and spinners in the first place and give jigs a whirl. And hasn’t looked back—for now at least.