Spoonfeed harbor brown trout and steelhead!

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Monday, November 18, 2013
by Mike Pehanich

Anglers who live within reach of the Great Lakes have incredible late season opportunities to catch world-class brown trout and big steelhead long after fellow fishermen have called it quits!

Each fall, trophy brown trout and “steelies” follow spawning coho and Chinook salmon into harbors and river mouths in a staggered progression that offers spectacular action with tackle-busting fish for three months or more. Anglers willing to put in their time and follow the action commonly catch browns and other trout and salmon specimens that would make the “bucket list” of most anglers. 

Best of all, many harbors offer superb bank-fishing opportunities that make these trophy trout and salmon opportunities accessible to the everyday angler!

Proven spoons

Brown trout and the rest of the salmonid family will bite a wide variety of lures. But the bread-and-butter bait category of harbor trout anglers is the casting spoon.

An effective spoon has a tantalizing swimming action. What’s more, it will give off the kind of flash that a baitfish projects when light catches its flank.

Three of the best known spoons for harbor casting on the Great Lakes are the Kastmaster series, the K.O. Wobbler, and Little Cleo. All offer the key ingredients of any effective harbor spoon – action, flash and casting distance!

Uncle Josh Bait Company’s recent acquisition of Acme Tackle Company brings these three staples of trout and salmon anglers and other popular spoon brands to a new home in the Upper Midwest. The purchase guarantees fishermen throughout the Great Lakes region of not only a bountiful supply of these legendary products but the promise of even a wider range of colors and sizes suited to trout and salmon of these trophy waters to come!

The Acme line-up brings more than 1,000 different spoon types, sizes and color combinations to anglers targeting panfish, smallmouth bass, musky, walleye, pike, and pickerel as well as trout and salmon. Other spoon brands that move into the Uncle Josh stable with the acquisition include Kamlooper, Need-L-Eel, Side-Winder, Thunderbolt, and Trophy Spoon.

Spoon-feeding harbor trophies

Multiple strains of brown trout inhabit the Great Lakes. Thus, even though browns are fall spawners, the period of their pre-spawn and spawning activity extends from late summer to early winter, giving anglers plenty of time to get in on the action.

Steelhead are spring spawners, but many move into harbors and rivers in fall to feast on the abundant salmon and brown trout eggs that turn harbors and river sections into food factories.

Once you have armed yourself with the proper spoons and tackle, it’s easy to get started. Fall brown trout frequently betray their presence with leaps and boils as they move shoreward.  Scan the harbor for signs of trout activity. Though big browns and steelhead are often on the move, key areas commonly congregate them – particularly the big browns!

1)   Piers, beaches and jetties -- Fish begin their shoreward move by roaming the big water outside harbors and river mouths, making some stretches of beach, piers, jetties, and points always worth attention. These areas will be crowded early in the run. But many anglers desert them as the run tapers. Smart anglers return to these areas when wind and water conditions are right, for they can replenish with fresh movements of fish throughout the fall and even the winter and following spring.

2)   Current areas –River current calls browns and steelies in. But bridges and other pinch areas within harbors have current, too. And don’t ignore the current of run-off pipes entering the harbors. Time your fishing well, and you may feel like you are catching fish from a barrel!

3)   Corners, points and pockets. -- Look at the harbor layout as if it were natural structure. Even these migratory species will set up temporarily in key areas. More importantly, the harbor design often sets up natural migration routes. Harbor experts frequently find fish in familiar corners and even the back ends of harbors.

4)   Docks – Floating docks that extend outside heavy human traffic can be key areas, particularly when they are within casting distance of current, a main channel, or other fish-attracting feature.


Long casts can be extremely important when fish are moving well beyond the reach of bank anglers. Make sure you use a quality line that casts well and is highly manageable. Fluorocarbon line sinks and transmits strikes well making it the preferred choice of many harbor anglers. But some prefer the “forgiveness” of monofilament line when dealing with the strong runs and surges of these mighty fish.

After the cast, watch your line as the spoon descends to pick up any sign of a strike – which may be little more than a pause during the fall!

Vary your retrieve speed and mix in a bit of stop-and-go until you discover the presentation that triggers the most strikes.

Cast parallel to the harbor walls every now and then, too. Often fish use the walls themselves to guide their harbor travel.

Just do it!

Few anglers realize how accessible trophy trout and salmon can be to the average angler. Gear up with quality tackle and a selection of Little Cleos, Kastmasters, K.O. Wobblers and other spoons from the Uncle Josh/Acme family.

In no time, you will be catching trophy fish that many anglers spend tens of thousands of dollars on trips to dream destinations to catch!

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