Like many trout streams in Southeast Minnesota, Tamarack Creek does not look like blue trout water. It’s pretty as it meanders through lush green pastures and cuts along wooded valley bottoms, but you won’t find fly-casters on drift boats or resorts with mountains in the background.
What Tamarack does have, however, are excellent numbers of naturally spawning brown trout, wild fish that are alternately shy and aggressive, depending on the conditions and the skill of the angler fighting for them. Which makes Tamarack Creek the perfect place for Mike Jeresek to test out some of the latest jigs he’s ridden and a chance for me to follow along.
A retired teacher and trainer, Jeresek is an avid trout angler who has fished browns, brookies and rainbows throughout their range. “I started with bait in the 1960s,” he explained as he drove his vehicle down the windy gravel road to Tamarack. “I got fed up and learned to fly fish. Later I noticed that my brother, who was casting Rapalas with spinning gear, was catching better fish than me, so I changed again.
Jeresek then spoke to another trout angler who was doing well with jigs of the same type that most people use for walleye and crappie. “He talked about their versatility, and what he said made sense to me,” Jeresek told me. “Of course he also mentioned that the world record brown trout was jigged. It didn’t hurt either.
Lightweight jigs are very versatile for trout fishing
When Jeresek first started casting jigs for trout, he was the home improvement chair for his local Trout Unlimited (TU) chapter, so he knew all the best places to try out his new lures. “I found out in a hurry that the guy I told about the jigs was right,” he said. “What I love most about them, other than the trout hitting them like crazy, is that I can control the action of the bait. Most spinning lures work at a single speed, but I can work a jig at any speed and give it any action I want. I’ve caught browns by ripping a jig through a hole, drifting it with the current, casting it downstream and working it, or swimming it close to the surface. I even had trout cruised and picked up a jig at the bottom. That’s the beauty of it; you can tailor your presentation to the behavior of the fish that day.
After getting ready, I followed Jeresek as he followed the wooded banks of Tamarack Creek downstream. We both carried ultralight spinning rods made by local trout angler Jim Reinhardt, a retired math teacher and Hall of Fame high school football coach. Its rods, 5 feet long, are the fly fisherman’s answer to a 4 weight fly rod – very sensitive at the tip but with enough spine to fight a big brown. Our open face reels were spooled with 4 pound mono for the backing and 20 yards of 4 pound Nanofill at the tip. Ultra-strong but thin in diameter, the nano “casts a mile but doesn’t tangle, and the trout don’t see it,” Jeresek said.
After a 30 minute walk along the trail by the creek, Jeresek finally stopped at a pool with a slight bend and a gurgling current. Casting a 3-inch Berkeley Powerbait Minnow that he had cemented to a jig hook with Gorilla Glue, Jeresek was in a thrilling brown on his third cast. The 14 inch Trout used the current and structure to provide all the fight my partner wanted before coming to hand. Jeresek smiled, released the fish and landed two more on successive casts. “Your turn,” he said, motioning me forward. My first cast was a little long, but bounced off the bank nicely and slid through the water. I had only done two cranks on the reel when I felt a strong hit that turned out to be a rock, but on the next cast – a bit more precise this time – a smooth but rambling brown slammed my lure. “Atta boy,” Jeresek said in his best retired coaching voice.
An easy-to-make and super-efficient jig
I had fished with Jeresek before and noticed the Berkeley Minnows were a new twist. “I just like to experiment and found it to be effective, fun and simple,” he told me. “I tied my own jigs with marabou and other materials for a while. I used tube jigs and other plastics, and finally settled on these, at least for the I can make them up so fast; I just slide a body onto a jig hook, glue it to the head with glue, and hang it upside down to dry overnight. I can make it a dozen in minutes, and it’s as simple as it gets. A while ago, the TU chapter was going to have a night of fly tying. I wanted to show up with my little box of gear and say, ‘Where should I go? I settle down?’”
It took us a little over two hours to get back to the truck, but the action was constant the whole way. Jeresek caught 33 trout along the way, and while none were huge, he landed two others at least as big as the first. And in a gurgling run full of structure, he caught and landed five browns on consecutive throws. I’ve handled about a dozen fish but settled for just straight downstream retrieval with the same bait. During this time, my mentor was constantly changing jigs and mixing straight recoveries with jerky tugs and breaks. Like most experts, he seems to quickly sense that something has changed that makes the fish need or want a different look, speed, or size.
That and, like other experts, he’s just not afraid to experiment. While backyard anglers like me are content if a lure draws the occasional strike, true aces ride the wave for a while and then seem to ask “Well, if they liked that, what about this side?” Which is why, of course, Mike Jeresek decided to leave the comfortable world of baits, flies and spinners in the first place and give jigs a whirl. And haven’t looked back, at least not yet.