Brown Trout Centerpin Fishing

Centerpin Fishing For Trout - An Adventure

A month or so ago we sent out an email asking for suggestions on some blog article content you might be interested in reading about.    Of the many suggestions, we received quite a few about Pinland fishing for trout with a centerpin setup.

Well the schedule freed up, and an out of town business meeting not too far from some nice rivers was all I needed to decide on taking a much needed solo fishing trip vacation.   

I loaded up the boat and ventured out of state to previously unvisited locations to test our centerpin float fishing techniques on some trout heavy waters.     This isn't meant to be a "go here, do exactly this, and catch a bunch of trophies" kind of article.    It's just a personal accounting of the planning, adjustments, learnings and success/failures of the trip.

The Setup

Prior to going on any non guided fishing trip takes some kind of planning.   I did the same things anyone else would do, scoured youtube, did some Google searches, that sort of thing.   I personally didn't know any guides where I was headed, and even if I did I am not comfortable pimping info and then beating a guide to the spot he told me to go to on a day he might be working.   I figured with some amount of basic information available online, and a jet sled, I could hit a river that I felt capable of getting into some fish.

I brought a couple of Pinland setups with our soon to be released 4.5" centerpin reel (at the time of this writing), some regular Skein Canes just in case I found some "big water" that needed to be fished, an 11'6" Ironhead baitcaster setup that was already in the boat (why not?) and a custom BF Trout rod with a size 100 baitcaster reel on it just in case I felt motivated.

Bait and tackle selection was all over the board.   I have a good selection of maribou jigs, a handful of smallish flies, and a ton of 6mm and 8mm beads.   I also included a dozen or so Acorn, Swallow, Swan and Loafer floats...assorted shot, size 14 trout hooks and some salmon egg spawn bags just in case.    I literally didn't know what I was walking into, so I thought it was better to bring too much then not enough.   10lb floating mono mainline on all the reels, and a couple of spools of 3lb and 4lb STS fluoro, and I grabbed a spool of 8lb just in case I thought I might hook into a 15lb brown trout.

The plan was two days fishing, no scouting per se.   The evening I arrived I checked out the launches.   One was super shallow and sketchy, nobody really launches there in such low water, but I felt like I really wanted to fish just down from that launch.   I did throw the waders in the boat with the thought that I might be dragging the sled over a gravel bar at some point due to my unfamiliarity with the water.   Honestly, that was my biggest concern of the entire trip was flying up some river in the jet with unknown amounts of water underneath it.    I am definitely comfortable running wide open in 3 inches, but without knowing how long or far I might have to run in that, or whether or not I could get out of there was definitely a concern.

Fortunately a local old timer happened to be at that launch at the time, he warned me of some pitfalls in the area, and suggested I launch much lower and run up as far as I felt comfortable.

Second launch further downriver looked good, so it was time to turn in for the night.

The Adventure

Dark thirty the next morning, radar app on the phone looked like a hard no.   A strong line of storms was about to nail my location, with plenty of backup behind it.   I have the gear for it, but running wide open in unknown waters in the middle of a typhoon didn't sound too appealing at the time.    

A quick scan of the area on Google Maps out of the storm vector drew my attention to a river I have always heard about, and wanted to fish, but was not on my previous planning agenda.   1.5 hour drive later on some questionable back roads and I was there.

The launch looked easy, there were a handful of trailers there, and a quick scan of the river told me instantly I picked a good spot.    A half dozen or so guides were working this stretch.   I sidled up to a tree so as not to stand out, and watched them for about 20 minutes.    And they all had jet sleds so I knew I was in the game as far as water levels go.

They seemed to be working a mile or so stretch of river, running up to the top, drifting down with oars fairly close to the bank.   Each had a client or two, all fly guys.   Once they got down to a certain point past the launch, they'd run back up and do it again.

Having once been an active guide/captain, what you hate to see is a googan move in and work his way into a rotation such as this and f it all up for everyone else.  So my plan was to slowly work my way up into the area, sitting on anchor where I could, check some depths, get my gear adjusted and then slide into the formation.

Launch was easy, water was crazy fast.    Where I fish mostly in Michigan, its slow to medium at best, this was flying...and shallow.

First spot I stopped was not quite up top where the guides started.   I found a slack seam and dropped anchor, it barely held.

My first order of business was to get my depth dialed in on my float rod.    The sounder said four feet, but I estimated the current to be about 10 knots, so I am thinking about 6-8 grams of shot and about 6 feet of line from my float to my jig.

The evening prior at River 1, I did stop by a local fly shop and got some local hot jig and fly colors.    I tied on a black/black 1/32 ounce jig, and up from that about three feet I tied on a tiny scud style fly with a tinge of green (later a mistake).   

First drift through I knew I was too shallow.   I always start shallow in unknown water and slowly adjust my float until I bump bottom every once in a while.   My choice of using an Acorn float was spot on, as the run I was fishing was fairly turbulent up top then flattened out with no real seam at the bottom.   Any narrower of a float in the top water and I probably would have submerged, the fatter Acorn style was perfect.

A couple more drifts and float adjustments and I started hitting bottom.  I might have added a shot or two to help, I didn't want 10 feet of line below my float to hit bottom in 4 feet of water at that current speed.

The next drift, the bottom head shook, I was hooked up.    A nice rainbow, nothing trophy size, but it nailed the jig.

A few more drifts, another fish.   I was pretty happy so far with my results so I decided to push my luck and work my way into the guides float rotation.   I wasn't fly fishing, so hitting the bank in 2 feet of water wasn't my game, but my plan was to fish the same line they were, but on the opposite side of the boat towards the middle of the river.

Up top it was shallower and slower.   I actually put the trolling motor down and worked a slow drift, picking up a fish, but not the action I was looking for.

I pulled out the trolling motor and I decided to free drift down the guides line and just fish on the fly at the speed of the current, no oars.    There appeared to be some boulders so slowing or directing my angle of drift with my trolling motor was not an option.

The first drift went well, the boat held, I missed a boulder, I didn't hook a fish but I was bumping bottom along the route as I had hoped.

The next hour was back up top and down again, hooking here and there, but not great.   The fly guys were doing good fishing towards the bank, there was something I wasn't getting.

Storms moved in and everyone beached at the launch to ride it out, I did the same.   A friendly conversation with some guides worked out well and when the storm passed we were all back out.

After that it was game on.   The water had come up a few inches and it was probably more a factor of fish moving up rather than me dialing it in.   I made a few adjustments from my earlier setup but for the most part the program stayed the same.   The one adjustment I did make that paid dividends and even moreso on Day 2 back on River 1 was changing up the scud fly.    The light green I had on never took a bite, it was all the bottom black jig.   I made the change to a solid grey scud fly on top and it was just like double bead rig fishing steelhead back were hitting the top and bottom baits.

The local fly guides definitely noticed the centerpin setup and made some thumbs up, one even said he couldn't believe he doesn't see more of that on this river.  I couldn't agree more!

The day ended great, no trophies, but plenty of action.  I ended up drifting further down each time at the end into deeper water around 7-8' and thought I was catching a nicer class of fish down there.

Day one was a shoaling on a gravel bar, flipping the boat on a boulder, messing up the guide rotation or jack knifing the ramp...and plenty of fish were caught.    The Pinland rod worked great as usual..I am always surprised after steelhead fishing with it, that it still actually bends right over in a loop even on small rainbows...such a fun rod.

Day two back on River 1 was going to be interesting.   Though I had actually done research on this river, I still didn't know where fish were going to be, nor how deep exactly I was going to be fishing or running the boat through.

I knew the top was sketchy shallow, but it just looked so awesome.   Gravel bars, few boats (everyone seems to have props here).   I was really not sure what to expect.

I waited until after daylight to launch so I could work my way through boat traffic and see where everyone was fishing.   Right after launching I knew something was up.

The sounder was reading 15-17' deep, there was virtually no current, the river was socked with fog, and every three minutes either a pontoon boat or bass boat came flying by at 20mph.    This sucked.   I stayed off to the side of the channel working my way up slowly, checking the sounder and looking for boats actually fishing.

Finally I found them.   About 10 guide boats sitting on trolling motors in 20 feet of water with families of four or five jigging about 10 feet from each other.   This really sucked and I about pulled the plug right there.   

I took off the float, dropped my jig to the bottom and slowly worked the area above and below the "pack" catching one brown in the process.    Not a trophy, but it was a fish.

After the unending annoyance of boat traffic, yelling and cigar smoke, I pulled my gear and got on the tail of a bass boat flying up river and followed him.

After winding through endless groups of rentals and guides, running and then no waking for what seemed to be an hour, I finally got far enough up river where I saw something I liked.

Some nice seams were showing, a couple of gravel bars, guys with fly rods from shore and a hell of a lot less boats.

I tried to set up on a seam and the current blew me right off anchor (75lbs).   I finally worked over to a narrow slot where only a jet sled like mine could get into...nobody was there.

It looked fishy for sure, so I beached the boat and put on the waders.     After doing my depth checking ritual, getting my shot pattern and float positioning dialed in it was game on!

Fish were stacked in this slot, they were swimming at my feet, it was a perfect setup.    Lot's of numbers here, nothing huge, but more importantly I wasn't pinned in the boat weaving through traffic for the rest of the day.     

A few nice browns were landed, lots of rainbows.   Bottom jig and top fly were both getting bit, but I would definitely say the top scud fly was the star of the show.  I didn't realize why until I looked at some underwater footage I filmed during fishing breaks in this spot.

The raw footage is uploaded here on youtube.  I am not sure who has any interest in watching three minutes of rainbow trout feeding, but I can say by watching this it was eye opening.   I took quite a bit more footage and have looked at it pretty closely, definitely some interesting feeding habits and thoughts about leader lengths, shot patterns and fly presentation under the float for the next trip to this river.

Of course I couldn't diagnose it until later that evening as to how the fish were feeding and why the scud was getting bit more often.    But based upon the footage I definitely noticed a few trends.

When I first started working through this spot, I noticed maybe two or three fish in shallow right by my feet, 2 or so feet of water.   I figured okay there's at least a couple of fish here, but no way I could fish them right there at my feet.    What I didn't realize until later that there was probably 50 or more "other" fish in the same spot just out slightly further that I could not see.    These fish weren't colored up, and the water was gin clear, but I literally could not see them from above water at all.    But there they were..

The Post Mortem

The takeaways now looking back and after watching the footage are the following.   Definitely the majority of the fish I hooked up were not colored up fish.   Maybe one or two out of 30, the rest were silver fish.   Based off the footage, these brighter fish were obviously in deeper water where I was fishing, but they also seemed to be more willing to move vertically and laterally in the water to pick off food flying by, as compared to the colored fish who for the most part hugged the shallows tight to bottom, exerting little if any effort to feed.  The "food" looked exactly like my top scud fly.

They did also seem to feed in spurts.   It seems like maybe I would hook three or four and then no bites.   The fish obviously stayed right there, but just didn't want to feed.   I would back off to the boat, grab the camera and film for maybe twenty minutes, then go back to fishing and start getting bit again.    I am not sure why this happened or what it means, just an observation.   But those fish literally stayed right there all day, and so did I.

At the end of the day getting closer to dusk, I did notice that the smaller colored up rainbows in the shallows at my feet had left, and a couple of 20+ inchers had moved into their place.   I didn't fish for them, but left wondering where they had been all day.   It seemed like a very similar sized class of fish was there feeding while I fished the spot, but they moved out and bigger fish moved in towards dusk.

All in all, a great trip.   Some unexpected happenings and alot of unknowns but I definitely have unwavering confidence in centerpin fishing for trout.    My previous experiences are in much much slower waters, more finesse style, wading through mosquito infested bogs to stand in mosquito infested log jams to try and catch trout.    This was definitely a much easier and comfortable situation with a boat.

Experience gained, theories and tactics proven, well established base of knowledge for the next trip to the area.    That's one of the benefits of just getting in the truck and going.   Take your skills, basic knowledge of an area, be willing to make adjustments, and figure it out as you go.

I hope to do more of these posts in the future on some random "no knowledge" un-guided trips.   We do have one coming up in June for Alaska...again, no guides, no clue, some basic info, and the willingness to just figure it out.

Comments are appreciated, please no "where were you fishing" or "sounds like River X" etc.   Just take this as a roadmap for your own centerpin trout fishing journey!

Random pics and videos from the trip will pop up here and there on our social channels in the coming weeks.   Check them out @bloodrunfising on Insta and FB.





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