Josh Rouse: Opening morning produces nice rainbow trout at Lake Shawnee

There’s an old saying that fishing is just a jerk on one end of a line waiting for a jerk on the other end of the line.

 

For a few hours on the opening morning of rainbow trout fishing at Lake Shawnee, there we were — about 30 jerks sitting there, waiting for another jerk.

It was 6 a.m. and dark, with an overcast sky and a light haze casting a bluish-gray tint over the entire scene at the east boat ramp as anglers lined the shore and boats slid into the chilly waters in search of deeper fishing spots. Temperatures were in the mid-40s, but felt much colder as the light drizzle and chilled winds rattled our bones.

I started the day fishing on hook and bobber, baiting a #10 Aberdeen hook with salmon eggs on a dropshot rig. We sit there about an hour, when suddenly a young kid hooks into something and screams “I’ve got one.” Twenty-nine heads swing around to the commotion, only to find out it’s just a catfish.

It was pointless to even be out on the lake this early — the trout weren’t even moving yet.

As the sun rose behind the wall of gray clouds and the scene in front of us became visible, I saw the first signs of life in the sleepy lake — a big male trout, likely about 6 pounds, slinks out of the shallows to my left and slowly glides across the surface. I quickly reel in my line and toss my bait out in front of him — he just shrugs it off and keeps meandering through the shallow water toward the docks. He stops and floats there for quite some time — we thought he had died — before disappearing again.

The air begins to warm, and soon we can see schools of trout running in the calm shallows near the bank in front of us. They would sweep by, sometimes alone and sometimes in groups of seven or more, scouring the still waters for some breakfast. Several anglers near the docks start hooking into fish. They seem uninterested in my salmon eggs, however (maybe they prefer sunny-side up?), so I switch through a couple lures until I finally am able to get some trout to start chasing a blue and silver Little Cleo. The erratic action and the flash of silver as it staggers through the water make an attractive target for feeding trout, and soon I feel a strong tug on my line in the deeper water.

Fighting a trout is sort of like fighting a catfish — they don’t explode the way a bass does, they just try to dive and feel heavy on the line. I get my first ever trout to shore and am absolutely ecstatic. I weigh and measure him — 1.72 pounds, 15 inches long — and take a quick video before releasing him back into the water. I am sure to use gloves when handling the oily fish to keep the oil, which they need to survive, from coming off.

As I throw the lure out more, they become cautious of its once-enticing erratic action, and I decide I need something with a more steady retrieve that also has some swimming motion. I notice they love to chase baits but were mostly biting when the bait stops moving, so I decide to try a little jig fishing. I tie on one of my red Z-Man ShroomZ jig heads, but instead of the typical Ned Rig setup with the TRD, I put on one of the neon pink, curly-tailed GrubZ that I purchased from the lure company. The jig had a great swimming motion, even with a slow retrieve, and once I stopped reeling it would settle down on the bottom and stand straight up, like the Ned Rig, thanks to the buoyancy of the plastic the company uses.

I see a big school of trout run past me in the shallows, heading from right to left and toward the deeper water, and so I cast out the jig about 15 feet ahead of the group and slowly reel into them. A pair of larger ones fight over it, and when a third one misses the bait it hooks him in the side and I feel another big tug. I quickly reel the trout in and use my needle-nose pliers to pop the hook out. Because I was worried he might have been hurt, I didn’t take the time to weigh and measure it, instead just placing it in the water. It floated upside down for a minute, so I took my rod and turned it over and it soon started to swim away.

Cooking trout

A few days later, I got my first chance to clean and cook a rainbow trout. Cleaning the trout was a fairly easy process, as I filleted a pair of nice rainbows with my electric knife the same way I would a bass.

Trout are a little bonier than bass, with several little pin bones in the front of the fillet. Most of those are just cartilage and become more or less unnoticeable when you cook them. However, you can bend the fillet over a bowl so that the pins pop out and pluck them out if you’re worried about them.

After filleting them, I rinsed them and put them in a bag with cold water, salt and lemon juice to marinate in for the ride home.

I lightly oiled a cooking pan when I got home — trout are naturally very oily and don’t require much — and placed the fillets in the pan while pre-heating the oven to 350 degrees. I put more lemon and lime juice on the fish, then seasoned them with lime-cilantro seasoning, parsley, lemon pepper and black pepper.

Trout is a surprisingly firm meat — closer to chicken than fish — and ranges from white in color to a deep red like salmon depending on where they were raised.

I put the pan in the oven for 15 minutes and was thrilled with how they turned out. They have a slightly sweet flavor that works well with the citrus seasoning.

NFL Pick'Em
 

More