Our quest for a world record line class brown trout began after a weekend of rain, high water, high flows, and reports of quality fish being caught. After following the weather all fall, we knew that it was time to pack up and head out to the western Lake Michigan tributaries. Every fall, after the Chinook and Coho salmon begin their accent into the tributaries, monster brown trout follow them into the rivers. The browns are also on a spawning mission, but they also enter the rivers to feast on the salmon eggs. The trip out to the western tributaries can sometimes be hit or miss, depending on a multitude of factors. We’ve had trips where we’ve caught one or two browns in a weekend and others where we’ve caught a couple dozen fish. This time of year can provide you with the opportunity to land the largest trout of your life, so when the river calls, you go.

We have been fishing the tributaries for quite a few years, most often in the spring in search of steelhead, but also in the fall for the lake-run browns. In the past we have caught some monsters, fish in the 35+ inch range and a couple pushing well over twenty pounds. We were aware that some of these fish may be world record line class brown trout, but we had never before set out for the sole purpose of trying to break any of the records. After ordering the record book from the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, we realized that we had a very good chance to break a couple of records, with 5 or 6 different line classes attainable.

Early Friday morning we arrived at one of the more popular rivers, just south of Milwaukee, hoping to stake out one of our favorite pools. The initial signs were good; the water was down, there was somewhat good visibly, and we had clouds overhead. We started off working a deep run, just below a shallow, gravel-bottomed riffle. I stayed down in the pool, while Jason went off to look for browns up on the gravel. There weren’t any browns around, but the kings were all over the gravel. We were able to find a few fresh ones and were on the board right away with some 35+ inch kings!

After the kings dissipated back to deeper water, we tried every trick we knew to locate the browns. We fished over two miles of prime water, only finding two or three browns in one shallow area we had never fished before. We each briefly hooked up, but were unable to land either of them in.

We decided to pack up and move to another river we had heard might have some fish in it. It was only a couple minutes after arriving when I spotted the first brown. To my surprise, the fish was a monster and was holding in relatively shallow water. The fish took my fly on the third cast, but I missed it on the hook set. Luckily, the fish stayed in the pool and gave me another shot. After a few more casts, the game was on. It was not until the fish rolled on the hook set, that I was able to see its true size.

I was fishing with 14LB tippet and knew the previous world record for this line class was only 27 inches. If I could get this fish in, it would break the record by a couple of inches. I was able to get the fish in fairly quickly and netted it while it was still in its initial shock of being hooked. After a measurement, the fish was 31 inches; we confirmed that it was a new line class world record. This was the start that we needed, and being the first pool we had checked, were hoping that this would be a sign of what was to come.

Well, the excitement died down quickly, as we walked about a mile of river, only to find more kings and Coho’s, but no more browns. We knew that there were some deeper pools that would likely hold some fish, so we kept on fishing hard. We were rewarded later that day with two more browns, with one of them measuring in at 29 inches. We had also located some fish holding down near the mouth of the river, and were hoping they would move up higher in the river overnight.

The next morning we returned to the same river to find that some of the fish had moved up in the river system. We fished the river hard all day, and were able to land another five browns. It was tough work to locate these fish, but their strength and size made the challenge worth it. With about an hour left of light I spotted a very large fish that I thought was in the 30 inch range. The fish was holding under a log jam, with only the front of its head protruding out from the logs. I was able to swing some flies in towards it, but it refused every offering. After a few minutes, the fish spooked down into a deeper pool. I moved back downstream, but wanted to stay in the area to see if it would come back. The fish would occasionally re-appear, but it was on high alert and just about any movement or cast towards it would spook it off into the deeper water.

With the sun fading into the horizon and only a couple more minutes left to fish, I had conceded the battle. I started working upstream when I saw the fish swing back to a much more favorable slot. I was able to put the fly right in front of the fish, and it took my egg on the fourth cast. The battle was just starting, as it first took off straight into the logs. I was lucky enough to pull it back out, and keep it in a manageable area. After a few minutes, and one more run into the logs, we were able to get the head turned into the net. The fish was much larger than I had previously thought; a massive 34 inch male brown trout. The fish was caught on 12LB test, also a new line class world record, beating the previous 30 inch fish. This was also my longest trout ever! After getting the fish in the net, Jason commented that he was sure glad I had landed the fish. When the fish first came up, he had thought to himself, “Wow, I’m pretty sure my entire head would fit in that fish’s mouth.”

The next morning, we returned to find a few smaller browns had moved upriver. Jason managed to land one surprise steelhead before we finally located two larger males holding in a run with a female. Jason took three casts and the largest brown took his fly and bolted off downstream. The fish had a nice deep pool to maneuver in; however, it was filled with roots on the far side and a couple of logs. Plus, it was taking Jason and his 7wt for a ride. This fish had more fight than any we had hooked all weekend. After a five minute fight, we had the 32 inch male in the net. Even though we didn’t find the numbers of fish we were hoping for, we were able to capitalize on some monster browns, which made the whole trip worth the drive. If you ever get a chance to chase these fish in the fall, I would highly recommend it.