The brown trout were stacked up in the hole and we were catching them every couple of casts. It was a perfect run, with a long riffle leading into a deep corner hole. Every once in a while you would see a fish flash and they were eagerly taking our flies. We had each caught maybe 10 fish when it happened… My fishing friend was landing a nice trout when the beast emerged from the depths and grabbed the fish on his line. He took off downstream with the brown t-boned in his mouth before dropping it near the tailend of the pool. Stunned and not quite sure what to think, we proceeded fishing the hole, only to have the beast return about 10 minutes later and take a swipe at another fish.

This scene with the beast played out all summer long, as it was a battle of wits between us and this magnificent fish. We did our best to outsmart him, casting every streamer we had in our boxes; dangling unassuming trout in the current; throwing huge musky-like flies in the darkness, all with hopes to lure him from the depths. It wasn’t until five months later that the beast finally was out smarted, and took a large sculpin pattern near the end of the trout season. He was a monster for this river, a 25 inch hook-jaw male, and he had been thriving off the smaller trout in the pool.

A fish of this size would be more common for one of the scenic rivers out west, or a tailwater in the south, but fish of this size are caught every year in the streams of the Midwest. The Driftless Region has over 2,000 miles of trout streams, many of which hold some monster trout. The river the beast resides in is less than an hour from the Minneapolis area, with neighboring rivers known for holding even larger fish.

While many of these rivers are rich in aquatic life, the trout typically can’t eat enough bugs to sustain growth to large sizes. The largest trout in the Midwest are meat eaters and feed almost exclusively on creek chubs, suckers, and smaller trout. The majority of fly fisherman in the Midwest target trout with nymphs, emergers, soft hackles, and dries. These strategies are all successful for catching smaller trout, but you have to change up your game if you want to go after the big boys.

One of my favorite rivers to fish in the Midwest is a well-known and popular river in Minnesota. The majority of anglers that fish it struggle and leave wondering where they went wrong. The trout in the river feed primary on creek chubs, so unless you are throwing something large, you would never even see a trout in a day of fishing.

When hawg hunting for monster browns, throwing large streamers is the key to producing fish. Wooly buggers, slump busters, clouser minnows, rabbit zonkers, and larger sculpin patterns are all favorites. There are a variety of ways to fish these flies, but casting them downstream at a 45 degree angle, swinging the fly across the current, and then stripping it back upstream has proven to be deadly. Casting it across stream or even upstream, and dead drifting the fly before stripping it in, has also proven to be effective. The key is to keep slack out of the line and stay tight to the fly. This will allow you to feel the fish take the fly and get a solid hook set on it.

When searching for larger fish, location is the biggest key to success. Often a river only has a couple of “big fish” spots, so spending time getting to know the river you are fishing will pay dividends. You may have to walk a mile between holes, but skipping some of the marginal water to hit key spots can pay off. While moving between spots, keep your eyes on the water, as you can often visually locate large trout. Look for trout chasing baitfish, sudden movements back towards deep water, large shadows, and sometimes a big “v” downriver. Note these spots and make sure to come back to them later in the day or during low light conditions.

There are a couple key ingredients to be aware of when trying to locate big fish spots. The first is locating baitfish or smaller trout, their main food source. If you are nymphing and you are catching smaller creek chubs, it’s reasonable to guess that a large fish may be nearby. Look for deeper water or a pool nearby that has the depth to hold a larger fish. A nice deeper bend or undercut bank will often hold a large fish. See if there is moving water or a riffle leading into the hole, as they prefer some water movement vs. a slow still pool. Broken or faster water at the heads of pools provide great ambush places for a larger trout and are also areas they may move up into to feed. If you find these key things and it’s one of those places that “just looks good”, chances are that it is. Spend some time fishing it thoroughly and you will be rewarded.

Midwest trout will often remain in the same general area throughout the summer months. If you can locate a monster early in the season, chances are good it will stay close to where you saw it. Some of the largest fish in the river will return to their same summer haunts year after year, likely because of the key ingredients of these spots. This gives you time to experiment with different flies or presentations on a located fish and you may have an entire summer to try catch to him.

My favorite time to target larger fish, especially browns, is at low light times or at night. I have always been amazed how holes that produce no fish during the day, turn on fire at night. You can’t go too large with flies at night. I’ve caught 14 inch trout on 6 inch streamers, and it’s not a stretch to believe the larger browns in the pool are feeding on the same 14 inch fish. The darkness of night is more forgiving and the fish don’t spook as easily. You can fish a variety of flies and at certain times of year the top-water bite can be outstanding. Spending time pounding the banks and the deepest pools are the best ways to produce trophy fish.

Early fall is one of the best times of year to target monster browns. The fish will start moving for pre-spawn and seem to be more available. They move up out of their holes and can often be spotted visually on the move. They will begin to stage in deeper water adjacent to gravel spawning areas and will start feeding heavily. They also become very aggressive and will readily strike just about any streamer thrown near them.

Fishing during the winter season can also be very rewarding and was the time of year that I landed my largest Midwest brown. The fishing pressure is low and the fish are again hungry, coming off of the fall spawn. The majority of the fish will relocate to the deepest holes, making them easier to find and target. The rivers are also flowing at lower levels, revealing runs and lays that may be more difficult to find when the flows are higher in the summer. These spots are jewels and can often produce when other spots fail later in the year.

If you find yourself in the Midwest hoping to land one of these monsters, force yourself to throw streamers for a day. You may not catch quite as many fish, but you may surprise yourself with the size of some of the fish you do.