The light spinning rod flexed and a wisp of spiraling four-pound-test monofilament arched above the open water. I feathered the drop with a ready index and the tiny Super Duper spoon landed with a soft plop.
The gold lure settled several feet then began a wobbling, fluttering retrieve. A smart smack dipped the rod tip and a 10-inch rainbow trout jumped. The little fish scurried right and left, sawing the line across the calm surface, then jumped again.
I paced along the shoreline, pumping and reeling, then flipped the flapping trout onto the bank. As rainbows go, it wasnt much. But it was the first of a five-fish limit I caught last winter from an urban pond 30 minutes from my home in Houston.
And, you know what? The trip was fun.
I am an Urban Trout Rustler (UTR), a five- or six-year veteran of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Departments put-and-take rainbow trout program. The project, which primarily targets urban ponds across the state, begins in November and, for practical purposes, runs through February.
It is a winter fishery mainly because the cold-water trout cannot tolerate summer heat--at least in the urban ponds.
Approximately 100 sites are used and about 200,000 hatchery-reared trout are released. The numbers vary from year to year, but thats close. To repeat, the daily limit is five. No size limits are imposed.
Most of the rainbows are between 8 and 10 inches in length. An honest foot-longer is exceptional (select smaller ponds are marked for staggered releases of 12- to 15-inch trout).
The crown jewel of the states rainbow trout program is, of course, the Guadalupe River below the Canyon Reservoir Dam. The "Guad" stockings started in the late 60s and the tailrace is a legitimate trout fishery with carry-over populations. And certainly larger fish.
But thats a different story; as a certified UTR, I am concerned with the quick and easy neighborhood potential.
The sites in the southern tier of the state usually are stocked during January and February (to insure cold water). This is put-and-take fishing; its supposed to be easy.
The goal is for the public to utilize (read, "pan-cook") as many of the tasty trout as possible. The banks and docks of urban ponds are open, making them excellent sites for family-type outings. Water clarity can vary and I vastly prefer clear-green venues to mud holes.
Regardless of venue, the small hatchery trout are gullible and hungry. Hatchery officials normally do not feed the fish for a day or so prior to trucking; this is not so much to make them easier to catch, but to clear their systems to keep the tank transport water from polluting during the long hauls.
So, the trout hit the water ready to eat. The stocking schedules vary, but one thing is constant: The first two weeks or so (weather permitting) get the best of it. Worthwhile fishing might last a month or more but the "ice cream" action occurs following the arrival of the truck.
Photo: Joe Doggett
The exact spot of the release can be excellent for a day or two, then the fish disperse. They often move in schools (probably a throwback to the massed rearing ponds). If action slows, the savvy UTR scouts for telltale signs of concentrated activity. The rainbows often are surface-oriented, occasionally riffling, swirling, even free jumping. A gang of greedy cormorant birds also can point the way.
Pay attention and dont be reluctant to relocate. Yesterdays hot bank can be todays old news. Also a tip, afternoons can be good on cooler days, expanding the window for an after-work or after-school session.
Various tackle options are available--but all are (or should be) on the light side. Not only is light gear most effective, it allows the typical trout to fluster and bounce around for a few moments.
The go-to bait for kids and beginners (or anyone who wants to maximize potential on a slow day) is one of the small scent-impregnated egg- or nugget-type morsels you buy in a jar. Berkley Fishing Tackle makes some of the best products. Whole kernel corn also works, especially when soaked in vanilla extract.
Spool a spinning or spin-cast rig with 4- to 6-pound mono and a small (No. 10 or 8) short-shank single hook and a small pinch of weight, cast out, and wait for a bump. Incidentally, the split-shot rig seems more effective than a cork, especially in deeper water off a pier.
Being a world-class pro (Sure, Old Timer, have another two fingers of aged rum), I prefer lures in green water with decent sub-surface visibility. Frankly, I prefer a light spinning outfit to a fly rod.
A 4- or 5-weight fly rod is excellent, especially when the trout are ganging near the surface or cruising along shallow banks; the best offering probably is a small, sparse nymph-type wet fly with a bit of sparkle.
Use the smallest in-line spinners and spoons you can find. If you need more payload for casting distance, add a pinch of split shot about 18 inches up the line.
The annual rainbow trout stocking program is a great opportunity for quick and productive fishing trips, and during a time of year when other angling opportunities can be limited. Hit it right, keep things in perspective, and have fun on the water.