An important thing to remember when presenting sub-surface lures in runs—or anywhere in the stream for that matter—is to think in three dimensions. Your lure moves toward you as you retrieve, vertically as it dives or sinks, and to the side as it’s pushed by the current.
That means that you could cast to the same spot four consecutive times, yet bring your lure back along a different path each cast. It all depends on retrieve speed, how long you let the lure sink before starting your retrieve, the angle of your rod to the surface, the amount of bow in the line when the bait hits the water, and other variables.
Factor these in to precisely place baits and lures in every subtle trout-holding spot within a run, but really keep them in mind when you’ve reached this stage and are essentially fishing blind. In fact, it’s best to cover a run at least twice using different retrieve speeds to ensure you’ve hit every potential spot.
The same baits, lures and flies that catch trout in classic stream spots bust them in runs, too, but some produce especially well.
A small suspending jerkbait is my go-to lure in runs with enough depth and where current is moderate enough to let it work like the lure should. I find these baits inherently catch the biggest trout, which tend to feed more heavily on baitfish than aquatic insects.
Experiment with retrieve styles until trout respond. Speaking from experience, you’ll see a lot fish follow the bait without striking. As frustrating as that is, you can use rejections like that to your advantage. Often, incorporating a longer pause or simply adding another jerk in the cadence is enough to make these fish commit. Sometimes a straight retrieve works best, but this usually results in more follows. Throw in a hard jerk followed by a long pause near the end of the retrieve, and you’ll convert many of these reluctant fish.
If trout are aggressive and the run is deep enough, swimming a curlytail jig of 1 to 3 inches
in length is also effective and it’s something trout usually don’t see. Plus, you can fish them on bottom to imitate crayfish or larval insects.
Of course, it takes just the right balance of depth, current, bottom content and jig weight to make this work. If you use too light of a head or a grub body that’s too bulky, your bait will just tumble downstream, never achieving the swimming action needed to work effectively. If you go too heavy, you’ll spend all day pulling jigs out of snags, or you’ll be limited to burning it back on the retrieve.
In-line spinners are, of course, among my top lures, as they are with most stream trout anglers. But be sure to consider blade style and size and match them to the run’s depth, current and fish behavior. These factors trump color and overall appearance.
For example, offset blades like those on Panther Martin in-lines spin like crazy, throwing a tremendous amount of flash and vibration. Only catch is that those qualities also produce a lot of lift, which means the baits can be hard to keep near bottom, especially in deeper runs. On the other hand, they’re deadly for working baits slowly when current allows and trout are sluggish or when high, muddy water limits visibility.
Slender blades mounted on a clevis produce little lift, so they’re better for working near bottom, especially if you need to keep them there while picking up the pace of your retrieve.
When using fly tackle, I like to fish streamers in runs as opposed to nymphs or dries—even when a hatch is on. Theywork much like hard jerkbaits, throwing a big, flashy profile. They also cover water, which is the name of the game when there’s not much in particular to cast to. Plus, as minnow wannabes, they attract the biggest trout.
I strip streamers—Muddler Minnows, Wooly Buggers, Black Ghosts and Mickey Finns are my top picks—back toward me in sharp pulls with one- to two-second pauses, just as I would a suspending jerkbait. As they near the downstream end of the drift, I hold the rodtip at a 45-degree angle to the surface and let the fly swing in an arc as the current pulls the line and leader straight downstream. Fish often hit when the fly speeds up and changes direction.
Closing The Deal
Runs can range in depth from inches to several feet depending on the river, but in either case, there’s little if anything between you and the fish, so using stealth is critical, especially in shallower stretches with clear water.
To make the most of a given spot, I fish from a kneeling position at all times and keep a low profile should I need to move to a different casting location. I also wear drab or even camouflage clothing to further reduce my silhouette.
Precautions like these can pay big dividends, because if you recognize these underfished pockets of water and pick them apart without busting yourself in the process, you’re going to catch trout most other anglers miss.