Like many trout streams in southeastern Minnesota, Tamarack Creek does not look like blue-ribbon trout water. It’s beautiful as you wind your way through lush green pastures and clearings along wooded valley bottoms, but you won’t find any flywheels on motorboats or log cabins with mountains towering in the background.
What Tamarack does, however, is an excellent number of naturally reproducing brown trout – wild fish that are alternately shy and aggressive, depending on the conditions and the skill of the angler competing for them. That makes Tamarack Creek the perfect place for Mike Jeresek to test out some of the latest game he’s hooked—and a chance for me to tag along.
A retired teacher and coach, Jeresek is an avid trout angler who has fished for browns, brookies and rainbows on their range. “I started baiting, in the 1960s,” he explained as he drove his vehicle down the windy gravel road that leads to Tamarack. “I got tired of it and learned to fly fish. Later, I noticed that my brother, who was throwing Rapalas with spinners, was catching better fish than I was, so I switched back.
Jeresek then talked to another trout angler who was doing well with the same kind of gear most people use for walleyes and shrimp. “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 caught on a jig. That didn’t hurt either.”
Light jigs are very versatile for trout fishing
When Jeresek first started trout fishing, he was the habitat improvement chair for his local Trout Unlimited (TU) chapter, so he knew all the best places to try his new lures. “I quickly realized that the guy I talked to about the jigs was right,” he said. “The thing I’ve liked best about them — besides the fact that the trout hit them like crazy — is that I can control the action of the bait. Most spinning lures only run one speed, but I can work a jig at any speed and give it the action I want. I’ve gotten browns by digging a hole in a hole, submerging it with current, lifting it downstream and working it up, or swimming it near the surface. I also had a trout outing and got a jig off the bottom. That’s the beauty of it; you can adjust your presentation to how the fish are behaving that day.”
After getting ready, I followed Jeresek as he followed the wooded banks of Tamarack Creek downstream. We both picked up ultralight spinning rods created by local trout angler Jim Reinhardt, a retired math teacher and Hall of Fame high school football coach. His 5-foot rods are the spinning angler’s answer to a 4-weight fly rod – very sensitive on the tip, but with enough backbone to fight a big brown. Our open-face wraps were wrapped with 4-pound mono for support and 20 yards of 4-pound Nanofill on top. Uber strong but thin in diameter, the nano “casts a mile, but it doesn’t tangle and the trout don’t see it,” Jeresek said.
After a 30-minute walk along the streamside path, Jeresek finally stopped at a pool with a gentle bend and gurgling current. Casting a 3-inch Berkeley Powerbait Minnow, which he had rigged on a Gorilla Glue hook, Jeresek was on a pulsating brown on his third cast. The 14-inch trout used the current and structure to provide all the fight my partner wanted before it came to hand. Jeresek smiled, released the fish and proceeded to land two more on consecutive casts. “Your turn,” he said, motioning me forward. My first cast was a little long, but it bounced nicely off the bank and glided into the water. I had only made two tackles on the reel when I felt a hard hit which turned out to be a rock, but on the next cast – a little more accurate this time – a sleek but chipped brown hit my lure. “Atta boy,” Jeresek said in his best retired coach voice.
A Jig-To that is easy to make and super-effective
I had fished with Jeresek before and noticed that the Berkeley Minnows were a new twist. “I just like to experiment and I found these to be effective, fun and simple,” he told me. “For a while I tied my jigs with marabou and other materials. I used pipe tubes and other plastics, and finally settled on these – at least for now. I can make them so fast; I simply slide a body onto a hook, cement it to the head with glue, and hang it upside down to dry overnight. I can make a dozen in minutes, and it’s as simple as can be. A while back, the TU chapter would have a fly tying night. I wanted to show up with my little toolbox and say. ‘Where can I settle?'”
It took us a little over two hours to fish our way to the truck, but the action was steady the whole way. Jeresek caught 33 trout along the way and, while none were big, he landed two more at least as big as the first. And in a gurgling run full of structure, he caught and landed five browns on successive casts. I landed about a dozen fish, but stuck with a simple, direct pull downstream on the same bait. Meanwhile, my mentor was constantly switching gears and interspersing live comebacks with odd pulls and pauses. 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, also like other experts, he is simply not afraid to experiment. While garden variety anglers like myself are happy if a lure is pulling the occasional strike, real aces ride the wave for a while, then seem to ask “Well, if they liked this, how about this?” Which is why, of course, Mike Jeresek decided to leave the cozy world of bait, flies and spinners in the first place and give it a whirl. And there’s been no looking back – at least for now.