Stop thinking like a Brown Trout and Start thinking like a Smallmouth

How to catch big brown trout in the driftless region of Southwest Wisconsin

Personal Best Driftless Brown Trout - 2019

Hypothesis(More or Less):

If you want to consistently catch big browns in the driftless region of Southwest Wisconsin, then you have to stop thinking like a brown trout and start thinking like a smallmouth bass. Too many times have I been told to use a pink squirrel or a scud from trout anglers that I have spoken with over the years; something I like to call the small brown trout mindset. By the time you finish this article, my hope is that you will get out of the small brown trout mindset of nymphs and start thinking about big streamers and more specifically, big crayfish patterns.

In the Beginning:

When you first start trout fishing, catching a brown trout in an outing is a success.That was me five years ago. I still remember my very first brown trout adventure like it was yesterday. I have written about this many times in the past, so I will keep it short. The most important skill I learned from my very first adventure was that of reconnaissance; Hackers and fly fisherman have a lot in common, a story best told another day. After throwing almost every fly in my box without any luck, I came across a gentleman who was having great success. Naturally, as a good hacker would, I use my social engineering talents to extract some information. Come to find out, he was tearing a worm in half and bouncing it off the bottom. I looked in my box and the only fly I had that was similar was the San Juan Worm. Needless to say, my first brown trout adventure finished with eight cookie cutter brown trout to hand; a huge success in my book. For the first couple years, I was only getting up to Southwest Wisconsin six or seven times per year, so eight to ten cookie cutter browns each trip was gratifying. As I made more adventures to Southwest Wisconsin, I started having the urge to hunt for bigger browns.

Beautiful Medium sized driftless brown trout

Transition to Streamers

In order to find the big fish, I knew I had to gather more intel. I started researching and extracting info from connections I have made to learn higher quality fishing spots. I listened to stories, watch videos about streamer stripping on the White and other locations, and started switching things up. I naturally gravitate towards chucking streamers and it all started with the wooly bugger. Wooly buggers for brown trout or smallmouth for that matter is nothing new. I started picking up that thirteen inch brown here and there which led me to start looking at other streamers.

The wooly bugger transitioned into the sculpzilla junior. With higher quality streams and a change in tactics, naturally trips produced many more browns per outing. I was moving bigger fish with the sculpzilla junior and landing the occasional fifteen to seventeen inch brown.

The sculpzilla jr. transitioned into the full size sculpzilla. After shifting to the bigger streamer, I started landing more and more quality brown trout. I recall one morning, I beat my personal best brown trout twice! (The biggest being eighteen and three quarters inches.)

Most important, was the fact that I had fished this water many, many times before trying to move large browns without success. What does that mean? The evidence would suggest that I passed the many nymphs and small streamers over the top of big browns without inducing a strike. It wasn’t until I shifted to a larger fly that I finally started having some consistent success moving big brown trout.

Beautiful Eighteen Inch Driftless Brown
Beautiful Big Northern Illinois Smallmouth

A Shift in Behavior:

Big brown trout become piscivorous, knowing this shift in feeding behavior is important when making your fly selection. If big brown trout shift eating habits to primarily feed on other fish, it only makes sense to start throwing bait fish-like patterns. The big Sculpzillas experiment provided hard evidence, to me, that this is indeed true. We fished the 1 Fly tournament this year and Dave used a really large Sculpzilla he tied. While he only caught two fish they were both over 17 inches. It was funny, at the after party someone was chuckling about the size of Dave’s fly but it’s that out-of-the box mindset that set new trends.

Listening to the Lore and Taking a Page from Smallmouth Fishing:

Over the past years, I have made many great friends in the fly fishing community, all of which have taught me something. As an aspiring cyber security professional, you are taught to pay attention to the littlest of details. Listening to all the stories over the years, I would pick up little clues about catching big brown trout. One of these “aha” moments happened when I was giving a tying demo one evening at the Rock River Fly Casters. The fly chose to tie was the HighTail craw, one of my favorite smallmouth flies. A gentleman approached me and asked for the fly I just tied, an icebreaker that led to a great conversion. He had grown up in the driftless area in Southwest Wisconsin and when he was young he would use live crayfish to catch big browns. Now he wanted to try out the HiTail on big brown trout. That was a pivotal moment that led me to start comparing behaviors of big brown trout and smallmouth bass. Fast forward a few years and I am throwing a size two TeQueely and catching big brown trout every trip. Big shout out to Tim Holshlag for his ingenuity and sharing of the crayfish hop. The very same technique I use to catch smallmouth works very well on big brown trout.

Another Big Driftless Brown

Final Thoughts:

I hope you enjoyed this article and will take the risk to test the hypothesis put forth. Next time you are chasing brown trout, think big and think like a smallmouth. See what happens. Can't hurt. Most importantly, don't be a Dan and downsize. (Inside Joke!)

I look forward to continuing to explore the similarities between brown trout and smallmouth bass. As I refine my research and make new discoveries, I will post my findings. Please check back soon for more articles. Until then, happy hunting.