I like fishing of almost every sort: freshwater, saltwater, bait fishing, spinfishing, or fly fishing.

It’s hard to go wrong when you’re fishing. Forty-six million anglers can’t be wrong. Heck, Jesus was a fisher. Of all the varied kinds of fishing, however, I have to confess that my favorite pastime of all is wading a stream fly fishing for trout. Unfortunately, under ordinary circumstances, stream angling usually produces smaller fish. There’s a lot of truth to the old adage “big water, big fish”. The good news, however, is that for every rule there is an exception. How would you like to catch a 24-inch trout in a knee-deep creek? It is possible, and I do it every year. That’s right; you stand a pretty good chance of catching a giant rainbow from 24 to 28 inches from a knee-deep creek.

About 30 years ago I discovered how to catch giant trout in a small stream. My secret stream flows into one of the many reservoirs that dot the eastern edge of California’s Central Valley. My dad and I discovered this sweet spot, and every winter I catch and release trout in the 24- to 26-inch range.

The largest fish I ever caught in that little stream was over 26 inches long, which is really remarkable from a knee-deep creek. Interestingly, the next time we returned to the little creek it was low and warm and all we caught were a couple small bass. Over the years we figured out a pattern that told us when we could likely expect large trout in the creek. Generally the stream will go completely dry in late summer. After the first good rain of the winter, the giant rainbows begin to move up into the creek to spawn. The trout will be in the creek for a few short months as the eggs hatch and the baby fry grow a little larger. By late spring the trout migrate back down into the reservoir as the water level drops and water temperatures begin to rise. That’s when the smallmouth bass begin to enter the creek as well.

So what does all this mean to you? Am I gonna tell you where my secret giant trout stream is? Heck no! But you can find your own secret stream with giant trout in crystal clear water. All you have to do is begin with one of the large reservoirs or lakes that are scattered everywhere. Then locate a small- to medium-sized stream that flows into the reservoir. Even if the creek dries up in late summer, it could still produce giant winter trout. Next, wait for the first big storm of the winter and then let about 10 days pass for the water to settle down. Generally the fish will be confined to a fairly short stretch of stream between the lake and the first sizable waterfall. You’re usually only going to find a mile or less of such miracle water. I have found that another way to ensure bigger and better fishing is to walk into a canyon that has no road or better still not even a trail. You’ll have to work for them, but it’s really worth it.

As I get older, it becomes increasingly difficult to hike into steep river canyons and even harder to walk out. An alternative for old buzzards like me is to take a boat across the lake in question and then get out at the creek mouth and fish upstream from there. Hunting for giant winter trout is very much like steelhead fishing, it’s feast or famine. If the big fish are up in the creek, you might just enjoy the best fishing of your life. If the fish haven’t arrived yet, you’ll be doing a lot of casting and catching no fish. You’ll have to decide if you think it’s worth it. I find it pretty darned rewarding.

When’s the last time you caught and released trout over two feet long? Just remember that these are spawners and the seed for our children’s future fishing. If you want to have a giant fish to mount on the wall, just take lots of photos and measurements and release the giant spawner anyway. A good taxidermist can make an outstanding trophy for your den or office, and you get the satisfaction of knowing that monster fish is waiting out there for you next time. Besides, if you release them, you can always lie about their size later.

What could be better than giant trout from a knee-deep creek?

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Image from Lori C. (loco's photos) on the flickr Creative Commons