Different fish species call for different angling tactics, and few fish command such a diverse repertoire of presentations than trout. To this end, trout anglers have a wide-ranging list of needs, all revolving around a host of unique trout species, strains, and opportunities scattered across the planet. While it’s true that most trout live in streams or rivers – anything from tiny, brush-covered spring creeks to the mightiest of flows – they exist in lakes and coastal areas, too. Some eat tiny insects while others eat rodents. Some eat everything in-between, but only at certain times; indeed, trout are known to be highly selective feeders. All these truths combine to make gearing up for trout a unique challenge.
This is why any dedicated trout bum of the Rocky Mountain, Eastern, Great Lakes, Alaska, or High Plains variety – pick one – requires a rack of versatile, high-performance rod options; tools for every conceivable presentation that perform in a variety of trouty environments and tasks. The task of finding one-size-fits-one, technique-specific, and situation-specific trout rods can be a real challenge.
Enter handcrafters of the Best Rods on Earth®; for nearly 75 years, St. Croix Rod has existed to provide all anglers with the fishing tools that elevate performance and angling experiences – including trout anglers who are often as selective as the fish they pursue.
Consider St. Croix’s popular Trout Series. Introduced in 2013, the light-line centric collection answered the call of passionate anglers demanding rod choices designed with the lengths, powers, and actions that combine to support unique trout presentations with St. Croix performance at a great value. For 2022, St. Croix has improved and expanded its popular Trout Series, making them stronger, lighter, and even more comfortable, while adding new lengths, powers and actions that support an even wider range of Western and Eastern trout techniques, including new three-piece models in the Trout Pack Series.
In the Northwoods of Wisconsin, talented multispecies master, Blake Tollefson, tackles trout in a variety of stream conditions near his home in Chippewa Falls. “There’s literally hundreds of miles of stream accessible to anglers, and much of it is all different,” says Tollefson, who targets trout with a veritable kitchen sink of traditional freshwater lures typically utilized for crappies and smallmouth bass. “I’ll throw soft plastics, small jerkbaits, and inline spinners like much of the rest,” Blake says. “But no matter what lure I’m fishing, it has to fish fast.”
Tollefson ranges far and wide, having no problem walking long stretches of a stream only to give up on it entirely. “If one river or creek isn’t producing, I’ll just load up and head to the next one,” says Tollefson, noting that his approach is to wade and walk as quietly and smoothly as possible. “Trout in my neck of the woods are quick to spook, so I try to be as stealthy as possible.”
Tollefson sneaks up and down the bank with a 6’6”, light power, fast action Trout Series spinning rod (TFS66LF2). “The light power is ideal for most trout I encounter, which range from eight to 15 inches or so,” he says. “Most of the streams involve pretty close-quarters casting, so the shorter length is good for fishing thick stuff. The multi-piece rods are my preference, as they pack down and are super handy to leave in the truck so I’m always ready.”
Inline spinners are a favored, staple lure for many trout anglers, but Tollefson prefers to present small plastics. “Small paddletails like the Eurotackle B-Vibe have put more trout in the net for me than any other lure,” he says. “I like to slow-roll these baits rigged on a 1/32-oz. or 1/16-oz. jig and find it extremely effective in nearly all the streams I fish.” He typically opts for natural-colors like black, white, olive and gold.
Tollefson says lazy or soft hooksets are the most-common cause of lost fish, and that the fast and extra-fast actions of St. Croix’s new Trout Series rods facilitate fast, secure hookups. “Quick hooksets are key, and these actions are perfect for that along with steering fish away from trouble spots like boulders and timber, which are fairly common where I fish,” he says. “These are crisp, powerful, accurate casting rods, not buggy whip rods. On top of that, I like how balanced and lightweight they are. The handle configurations allow for casting both overhand and underhand when needed to put lures in tight spots.”
For rigging, Tollefson is a fan of 4-6-pound micro braid as mainline, both for castability and toughness, paired with 4-6-pound fluorocarbon leaders. “1000-size spinning reels pair nicely with all of the rods in the Trout Series lineup. I prefer lightweight reels that don’t kill the great balance and feel of these rods.”
Driftless Browns and Rainbows
A native of the Upper Midwest’s storied Driftless Region, fishing teacher and promoter, Joel Nelson, grew up fishing big-woods and open-pasture muddy-water brown trout that live beneath the thickest hiding spots. “We’re after some bad fish that hunker down in root wads and full-sized trees on the hard outside bends of these streams,” says Nelson. “As a kid, we’d frequently hook up with… and typically lose… browns over 24 inches. It was a frustrating experience to say the least.”
Now, with kids of his own, Nelson enjoys teaching the trout game to his sons Isaac (age 16) and Micah (age 13), who are learning how to approach and catch these fish that live in their backyard. “It’s been fun watching how excited they get when seeing fish at the edge of a pool,” Nelson says. “They spooked a lot of fish at first, but they are getting better at it, and that’s what trout fishing is all about. It’s still a learning process even for me.”
Nelson, who guided for a short stint in Yellowstone National Park, notes how different trout scenarios can be, from stream to stream, and state to state. “That variation in water, species, and forage means a swiss-army-knife-style rod often won’t cut it. You need to specialize in order to have consistent success targeting trout in the specific waters where they live.”
Joel fishes standard-fare spinners for most of the spring, opting for small hair jigs during the course of the rest of the year. “They’re harder to fish than a spinner, but small, 1/16-oz. and 1/32-oz. hair jigs – depending on the current – really yield big results,” says Nelson. “I can drift these things down in various parts of the hole, and I often carry two rods with two different sizes, one heavier for the front and faster end, and one lighter for the back and sides.”
For his home waters, Nelson loves the 6’6” medium-light power, extra-fast action Trout Seriesspinning rod (TFS66MLXF2). “I can’t tell you how happy I was to see this rod settle into the lineup,” says Nelson. “Trout rods of old were whippy ultra-lights that served literally zero purpose in the trout game. Pitch a spinner and you’d never feel the bite, even if you could see it. Drift a jig and they spat it before you could send it. That’s why dedicated lengths, powers, and actions in this Trout Series are such a big deal. Pick the rod that’s made for you and the way you fish.”
Power isn’t just a preference when it comes to the muddy, spring streams Nelson fishes, it’s a priority. “I’d probably go overboard and have them make a medium-heavy power model if they’d let me,” says Nelson. “Too many tough memories of big browns that rush out in to the open to grab a bait, then turn and burn to a jam full of oak trees, only to break off as fast as they grabbed it. Medium-light is a great combination of the power and flexibility needed to fling small spinners, especially when spring melts subside and the water slows down.”
Nelson says trout anglers can’t fully appreciate the actions on these new Trout Series rods without experiencing them personally. “I’m used to instant-gratification hooksets on jigs for walleyes with the extra-fast actions in St. Croix’s Legend-X and Legend Xtreme Series rods, and the extra-fast Trout Series models follow in that same vein. I can snap-set to the side as soon as the spinner blade even hiccups, and as long as I reel to follow that set, I’m not missing fish,” says Nelson, who also cites the added casting accuracy and control throughout the retrieve that these extra-fast actions deliver. “I throw small jerkbaits, too, and when navigating anything with trebles around cover, precision is the name of the game.”
Even on home waters, Nelson has to put on some miles to find the best locations year in and year out. “I’ve always been a fan of the two-piece rods that St. Croix puts out for trout,” he reports. “They’re extremely portable and practical but I don’t feel like I’m fishing a two-piece rod. Now St. Croix is offering additional two-piece options in the Trout Series and even three-piece options in the new Trout Pack lineup. The new TFS66MLXF3 means I can fish the length, power and action that best fits my water with the added convenience of a three-piece design that still fishes like a one-piece rod. I can put it in the soft case and head through heavy brush without worrying about it, or I can just keep it in my truck and it’s ready in case I see something that looks trouty.”
Wherever your trout waters may be, they’ll soon clear from springtime runoff, once again revealing their wonderfully unique anatomy for you to dissect and probe in any way you prefer. St. Croix’s extensive collection of all-new Trout Series and Trout Pack spinning rods exists to make that process as easy and rewarding as possible, helping you to make effective presentations that target trout in any lie.
Time to gear up and get after it.