7 Tips for Chasing Stocked Trout
In early spring, most states in the mid-atlantic begin the painstaking process of stocking hundreds of thousands (and in some states, millions) of trout into our local waterways. To me, this process sometimes seems comical (stocking trout to subsequently be harvested in a days time), and other times it is quite frustrating (stocking trout in streams with fishable wild and/or native trout populations). But, every spring I find myself pounding the muddy banks of a local stocked stream, often teaching newcomers to the sport of fly fishing with the help of the willing 'stockies'. And, at the risk of being ribbed by some friends, I actually enjoy it!
Mostly I see stocked trout as a way get a quick fishing trip in with a much shorter drive. For me, the closest stocked trout stream is an 8 minute drive from my house. The closest fishable population of wild trout is an hour away. In Maryland, the state stocks primarily rainbow trout. However, some of their delayed harvest and catch and release waters do get brown trout. These stocked trout differ entirely from wild trout in how they act, how they feed, and how the look. For a wild trout angler, these differences can lead to a frustrating day on the water. So, for all of you trout fisherman out there (no matter the state), here are a few tips when targeting stocked trout!
1. Find the Hatchery on the River: Most stocked trout were born and raised in a concrete raceway at a local trout hatchery. If you've ever visited a trout hatchery (and I recommend you do), you'll see that these raceways are a uniform depth, have a slow but consistent current, and are long and linear (with trout often congregating at one end). When you're on a stocked trout stream, specifically if it is within a few weeks of stocking, look for runs and pools that mimic a hatchery habitat. Look for a uniform bottom, slow currents, and deeper runs and holes. The trout will stack up here.
2. Know the Stocking Date(s): I find that stocked trout usually stay put for up to two weeks after they are stocked. That means if they are dumped by the bucket load into the deepest corner pools and under bridges, they will stay there for a while in large groups. However, once acclimated to the stream, stocked trout will usually swim up to a mile downstream in search of better habitat. Rainbows tend to move farther than browns in my observations. As the season moves on, look for the best and deepest spots well downstream of major stocking points. Stocked trout will usually congregate in these areas.
3. Dust off the "Trash" Flies (early in the season): Newly stocked trout have no clue what to eat. Think about it, they have been hand fed trout pellets for their entire lives. So, they resort to trying a little bit of everything. This means it is time for bigger and bolder flies, which will get a stocked trout's attention and convince them to give it a try. I like bold/bright streamers (on the smaller side), egg patterns, worm patterns, black stone flies, and other big and buggy nymphs for newly stocked trout.
4. Keep Moving Until you Find Fish (and then stay put for a while): A successful day of stocked trout fishing starts with finding the fish. This often means walking downstream and looking into the water from the bank, casting only into the best and deepest spots. Once you find a fish or get a hit, know that there will likely be several more hanging around the same hole. Stay put and catch a few before moving on.
5. Turn off your Wild Trout Brain: Stocked trout, especially those new to the river, are hardly ever feeding in lies where you would typically find wild trout. Skip the beautiful riffles and rocky runs, with the current seams that are calling your name. To catch stocked trout you need to start thinking like one and relying on your ability to mimic the hatchery environment on the water.
6. Wear Polarized Glasses: This applies to all fishing in my opinion, but for stocked trout a good pair of lenses will help you spot stocked trout from a pretty good distance away. Sadly for these trout, their colors are often pretty dull and don't camouflage well like a wild trout. For these reasons, stocked trout stick out very prominently against the stream bottom. Your glasses will help you find them.
7. Change Everything Late in the Season: All of the above tips apply mainly to newly stocked trout (trout stocked in late winter or early spring and fished for during the spring season). Once a stocked trout has survived in the river for several months, they begin to act more and more like wild trout (even though they never loose their stocked trout roots). Holdover trout - trout that survive more than one season in a stocked waterway - will begin to feed on more of the natural forage including small minnows, nymphs, and even dry flies. If you know a specific waterway has both newly stocked and holdover trout, you can feel more comfortable fishing those classic trout water types (riffles, runs, boulders, etc).
Please know that here at Surf to Stream we believe stocked trout add a valuable recreational resource to urban and rural streams which otherwise would be void of trout. However, we strongly disagree with states who stock trout over existing and healthy wild trout populations. This happens in almost every state in the mid-atlantic and we strongly encourage states to end this practice. You should encourage them too!
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