Everyone has their favorite fish to pursue and for me it’s the big brown trout that haunt my dreams. Brown trout are fierce predators especially when they grow large and older. They’ll oftentimes switch from feeding on nymphs and aquatic insects and focus more on eating smaller fish.
I’ve even seen them on occasion with 12 inch rainbow trout in their mouths before. There’s nothing more exciting to be reeling in what you think is a small rainbow only to have it furiously attacked by a big brown lurking in the depths. Catching a big brown trout takes some time and patience.
The best time to fish and catch big browns is when the water is off color and rising. The older more wise fish will come out from their undercut rock and feed on the disoriented bait fish. I like to throw big streamers that imitate wounded fish which make for an easy meal. I know an excellent streamer fly fisher that throws streamers that look like a squirrel and he catches huge browns as a result.
With all that said there are exceptions to the rule depending on the time of year and water conditions. During heavy mayfly hatches in the spring, big browns will take advantage of the abundant food source and you can catch them on a dry fly. During the summer they’ll switch to feeding on terrestrials such as grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, ants, and even bees.
When the water is low I like to ease up and down the banks carefully scanning every inch of water looking for the dark shadow of a big brown. I’ll walk slowly and stay low as brown trout can be easily spooked. Never wear light clothing as I’ll make fun of you if you fish with me in a white, red, or orange shirt. I treat it almost like hunting and stalking prey.
Once a big brown is spotted you’ll only get one chance most of the time as he’ll either eat, spook, or deny your offering. They tend to pick out the best spot in the river and stay there. Once you find where they live you can go back each trip and check on them.
This year I found a big brown trout’s home and have been determined to catch that fish. It started back in February during a black stonefly hatch. I was fishing a black stone dry fly imitation and working my way down a big long hole. As I neared the back of the pool and calmer water, a huge fish exploded on my fly. I wasn’t ready for it and missed as I quickly pulled the fly out of its mouth more out of reaction from the aggressive take.
It was then I took note of where the big boy lived. Every trip to the river I made sure to go check on the big brown but came back empty handed. I saw him on several occasions but just couldn’t get him to bite. In June when the trout switched to summer mode and eating terrestrials I had my second encounter with the beast.
I was throwing a black foam cricket pattern and catching several fish. I decided to fish down river and eventually check on the big brown. Once I made it to his hideout sure enough there he laid. I threw my cricket out and as it drifted towards him he quickly shot up, hit my fly, and then went back down. He looked like a dolphin porpoise. It happened so fast that I once again missed.
So last weekend we decided to hit the river and guess which hole I went to? Tara was fishing below me when she informed me that the big brown was in front of her. She tried casting to it but the big boy went back to the bottom and under a rock. I continued fishing and after about 15 minutes or so I worked my way down to where Tara saw the big fish.
At first I didn’t see the bruin so I stopped and took a break and watched Tara fish for a few minutes. When I looked back in the river in front of me there he was. The big brown wasn’t 3 foot off the bank. Tara was walking towards me and I told her to stop. I was in the process of tying another fly on and I told her to wait a minute that the big brown was right in front of me and I was going to try this fly.
After I tied the fly on, I calmed myself down and concentrated on a perfect cast. I knew I’d have to get it right on the first cast in order to catch it. Sure enough my fly hit the water and started sinking heading right for the fish. As the fly drifted towards the trout’s mouth I readied myself in case it took.
All of a sudden in almost slow motion the brown opened its mouth, and then closed it, and my fly disappeared. “He ate it” Tara said as she watched the whole thing. I raised my rod tip to set the hook and the fight was on. Once the big brown felt the hook he took off towards the middle of the river head thrashing the whole way.
I knew I’d have to wear the big trout down and took my time fighting it. I let it run when it wanted to run, and gained line when he came my way. Finally after a couple of tense minutes I worked the fish into the bank. Only half of it fit in the net as Tara slid it under him and then grabbed its tail securing the monster.
We hurried and took a couple pictures and a quick measurement before sending the brown back to its home. The big brown taped right at 24 inches and had a beautiful golden hue to its belly. I admired the fish and felt a sense of accomplishment as it disappeared under its rock. There’s always the one that got away, but not this time. I sure do love catching big brown trout and fishing our West Virginia waters.