It might not be for everyone. Many will call it hard core. Spouses will think you’ve lost your marbles when the alarm is ringing at 5:00am and the mercury is still in the 20s. But, for those hardy anglers who wish to extend their season and target trout in Round Valley, winter is the time to really “clean up”. And there’s no better way than to “sweep” of course.
Mike Perone – Golden Trout | Bob Olsen- Lake Trout | Mark LaPrete – Brown Trout
When I first arrived on the Round Valley scene in the early 80s I noticed many boats trolling along the shorelines starting in autumn. I recall seeing one vessel even had a machine connected to a rod holder. The rod was moving forward and back automatically. Later I learned the owner cleverly converted a car’s windshield wiper mechanism to automate the jerking. Sweeping and Jerking are interchangeable terms to describe the technique of slow trolling baits along the shallow banks of a lake. Minnow type lures and or flies are long-lined back 100 feet or more with little or no weight in 8 to 18 feet of water. The angler will then impart erratic action to the bait with forward movements or “jerks” of the rod and then let back – continuously repeating the process. The rod is swept forward to make the lure dart and dip. Each outing we must experiment with the sweeping speed and distance until we find what the trout want that day. Some days they want it violently jerked, and some days subtly twitched. If you get tired of sweeping, or need a coffee break, place your gear in a level set rod holder pointing out one side. This dead sticking will also produce a fair share of hits. However, it is the hand held jerked rod that seems to always generate more strikes.
Personal preference will determine whether you go the spinning or baitcasting route. Since I was a kid, a spinning rod has always felt like a natural extension of my arm. But for this kind of fishing we find the baitcaster to be a better fit. We deploy a low profile, small level wind matched to a 6.5′ or 7’ medium action graphite rod. Can’t really pinpoint reasons other than it just feels right for this method. We load the reel with 12lb mono and top it off with 150’ of Fireline or Powerpro braid and end with a rod’s length of 10lb fluorocarbon leader. The braid is attached to the backing mono using a blood knot. A quick Google image search will give you a ton of sites that describe the knot. The braid to flouro union is done with a #10 micro sized Power swivel. The hit will most often occur on the forward part of the sweep. That’s where braid’s zero stretch properties comes into play and offers good hook setting power despite the bait’s great distance from the boat.
To keep it simple, beginners can start with two basic lures, the stick bait and the tandem streamer fly.
Rapalas known as the straight F-7 and F-9 models, Jointed J-7 and J-9s and Husky Jerks in size 8 or 10 are all producers. Similar sized Rebels, Storms, Yo-zuri’s etc will all fit the bill too, as long as they run true and track well when jerked. Before letting out the full length, set it back 10 feet or so and watch it swim normal and observe its action when jerked. Hot colors patterns can vary from year to year and day to day based on cloud cover, water clarity, wind speed and levels of sun. The same normal color rules apply as anything else you do. Safe bets are the classic silver and black or perch and firetiger patterns along with the deadly blaze orange. Don’t ask what hatch the orange is trying to match but for some reason lures with some orange have consistently been takers of trout in the valley in all methods of trolling.
Tandem streamer flies are those that are longer in profile and will have 2 hooks – often in a 1 up / 1 down configuration. (see photos for examples) When using flies, we typically attach a small split shot above the power swivel just to get the fly down in the water column a few feet. We’ve had success using a ton of color patterns in flies. Keep a variety of Greens, Blacks, and Chartreuses on hand as you never know what will be preferred that day. Check out Dumond Flies of Maine at http://www.dumondflies.com and click on Streamer flies in the left menu. They make a quality, reasonably priced streamer in a mind blowing variety of patterns. Locally, Efinger’s in Bound Brook stocks a limited variety of tandems which will only be found if you ask for them behind the fishing counter. We’ve also had some fun and success by tying some of our own.
Late in the fall and through winter, when the water temps get down in the mid 30’s to mid 40’s, all three types of trout will be caught sweeping. Funny how some days with no rhyme or reason, we’ll see mostly browns or mostly rainbows with a mix of lakers too. There are days when there is a mix of all three, but we’ll scratch our heads sometimes, saying “where’d all the rainbows go?” Lake Trout are a strange breed. We often catch lakers sweeping the shallows and then that same day can go and jig them in big numbers near the bottom in 70 to 100 feet of water. We’re not complaining though. Don’t be surprised either if you come up with a hefty tiger or a golden trout. Our good friends at the Round Valley Trout Association and the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife stock a number of these each year.
Extra caution and common sense are an absolute must when winter boating. Before taking your trailer in the ramp area, get out and walk down to the water to inspect the conditions. On real cold mornings, the trailers launching ahead of you may have left a nice streak of black ice when pulling up. Sometimes it is even present from the previous group of anglers who finished up at dusk the night before. As a courtesy and for the safety of others, our practice is to take a few extra minutes and let the trailer drain at the water’s edge directly into the lake prior to pulling out. Freezing boat decks from spray over the rails and also netted fish is a concern as well. Bring extra towels to layout on the deck while running from spot to spot. If you do not intend to keep fish, don’t even use the net. It will help minimize the amount of water on the floor. This is a best practice tip anyway for a safer release. Rainbows and browns are especially fragile and should not be handled for any extended period or photo op. Keep them in the water and use a pair of pliers to gently unhook them.
Well there you have it. That’s a quick introduction to get you started in the land of sweeping. The dreaded mid-winter cabin fever will be spreading soon enough. Be extra careful, dress extra warm, and get out and try this exciting method at Hunterdon’s magnificent Round Valley Reservoir. Feel the bone jarring strike and see a rainbow make a 3 foot leap 100’ behind the boat and you’ll quickly be hooked on jerking too.
John F. Korn