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The Browns of Fall
Fishing Rapalas for brown trout on Diamond Fork

By Dave Webb

Brown trout fishing is good right now on many of our area streams and it will probably get better as fall progresses. With temperatures cooling, the browns are very active and aggressive as they prepare to spawn. They feed on a wide variety of critters; minnows are a favorite meal and so they can be caught readily using fly patterns or lures that imitate minnows.

Rapalas are particularly effective at this time of year. Rapalas are precision-manufactured to be realistic-looking minnow imitations and are perhaps the most versatile lures ever developed. A fisherman could use one small Rapala on various Utah waters and catch a wide variety of fish including perch, crappie, smallmouth and largemouth bass, trout, walleye, tiger muskie and lake tout.

I fished Rapalas on the Diamond Fork River on Oct. 15 and did exceptionally well for browns running from 12-15 inches. I fished above Three Forks and my best action was just below the confluence of Fifth Water Creek. I saw fish chase my lure in almost every hole and I had solid strikes in most of them.

One missed fish was particularly memorable. I was working a hole on the far side of the stream, casting right up against the bank. I angled a cast so the lure would come along a rock near the bottom of the hole, figuring it may shelter fish. The cast was right on target and, sure enough, I saw the shadowy form of a fish following my lure. I caused the lure to pause just before it would have entered the current and the fish hit.

The strike was stronger than expected. I raised my rod and the fish came up out of the water, dancing on its tail. That’s unusual for a brown — they usually fight to stay deep. The maneuver worked in favor of the fish and it threw the hook. I stared in amazement as it disappeared into the dark water. It was a good 17 inches long and would have been my biggest fish of the day.

I’m sure there are bigger trout in the river. Diamond Fork has become a good brown trout stream and it is fun to catch them on Rapalas.

Glen Solt, an old friend, taught me how to fish Rapalas effectively. Take a look at his tackle box and you will notice it's full of Rapalas. Look a little closer and you'll see that it contains nothing else - and that all the Rapalas are the same style and color, in just two different sizes. His whole box is full of black and gold G-5 and G-7 floating Rapalas.

Glen fishes often and the Rapala is the only lure he uses. He catches fish - big fish - out of little streams and big rivers all over the West. "Why should I use anything else when the Rapala works so well?" he asks. "It's easy for my wife and kids to know what to get me for Christmas or my birthday. They all know I'd love to get a Rapala." He goes through a bunch of them every year. He loses a few to snags, and a few more when big fish break off his six-pound leader. But he sometimes fishes for days without ever changing lures.

"I give a lot of them away," he said. When someone sees him pull in big fish after big fish, they come over to see what he's using. They often can't believe he's doing so well using a Rapala. "I show them how to fish it, and sometimes I give them one."

Glen was raised in the Salt Lake area and he loves fishing the Weber. "People are amazed at the number and size of fish I get out of the Weber," he said.

He often fishes the famous waters in Idaho and Montana, and the Green in Utah. Everywhere he goes he converts people to his Rapala method. He's had great days on the Green, but also catches fish on small Utah streams. "Some of my biggest fish have come out of small streams," he said. "I fish streams the most; I don't do much lake fishing.

Do the Rapalas work on lakes? "My sons and brothers troll with them at Strawberry and they do well most of the time. I don't like to troll. When I'm too old to walk the bank then maybe I'll fish from a boat. But for now I walk and cast. I tried casting a Rapala behind a bubble at Scofield last year and I didn't know there were so many big fish in that lake."

A Rapala behind a bubble? "The bubble adds weight so I can cast farther. That's also why I have two sizes of Rapala. The number five will always catch more fish, but the number seven is almost as good and I can cast it farther," he said. "It doesn't matter what state or what stream, the Rapala works. I catch fish in all of them."

Glen was raised in a fishing family and has enjoyed the sport from the time he was a small child. He discovered the Rapala on his own and perfected its use by trial and error. As a young man he often fished the Weber and did quite well, but never caught any of the browns he knew inhabited the water. He experimented with different baits and lures. An old timer showed him how to thread a worm up his line and he started to catch browns when he fished it along the bottom.

"One day I saw a Rapala and decided to give it a try. It worked so well I became an instant convert. It's almost the only thing I've used for the past 15 or 20 years," he said. It's not hard to learn to fish the Rapala, Glen said. "I think anyone that will take time and work with it will catch fish."

The key is to let the lure move with a natural motion. Glen uses 6 or 8 pound test leader, depending on the size of the stream and the fish that inhabit the water. Heavier leader changes the way the lure moves. If you troll Rapalas you may want heavier line, but for casting on streams light leader is best.

Glen ties the Rapala directly to the leader. No swivel, because that would also add weight and change the movement. He uses the Rapala knot (tying instructions come in the box with the lure). The knot suspends the lure from a loose loop, even when pulled tight. The loop allows the lure to move freely and that's important, Glen says. "If the knot slips and tightens around the eye, I don't do as well."

Sometimes a Rapala will not track straight. It will turn onto its side or move with some other undesirable motion. "If that happens you have to tune the lure by bending the eye slightly," he said. "Natural movement is the key." Test each lure before fishing with it to make sure it tracks straight.

On larger streams he will wade into position so he can cast to likely spots. He casts up and across the river, above holes and runs. "Cast right into the bank," he advises. Cast into water just inches deep, or even up onto the opposite shore. When the lure enters the water next to the bank it looks like a minnow fleeing for cover, and that often attracts a savage hit. On smaller streams he casts downstream, or just drops the lure into the current and lets it drift down, then he reels it in so it comes alongside likely spots.

"I think it is mostly knowing where to fish," he said. "Some parts of the stream I just walk on by. I catch most of my fish at the tops of holes, at the bottoms, on the edge of eddies or under overhanging brush." The speed of the retrieval is important. In swift or shallow water you want to move the lure slowly, so it stays just an inch or two below the surface. The faster you reel, the deeper it will go. In still water you can reel very slowly, pause and then reel again. You can often watch and see what the lure is doing. "Play with it; let it stop and then start again. Let it go deeper and then pop it up."

Rapalas are somewhat expensive, compared to other lures or baits. Some anglers are reluctant to cast them into brush or against the opposite bank because they fear snags. But that's where the fish are and a lure isn't worth anything if it doesn't get to the fish. "I've swam in after a Rapala many times," Glen said. A Rapala becomes even more valuable when it's your last one and you don't want to stop fishing. He keeps his tackle box full, and still drops hints that he'd like a 5-pack for his birthday.