Tickled trout are said to go into a daydream – allegedly feeling like their bellies are being stroked by the weeds on the river bed. Of course that’s just a theory, and is probably a load of rubbish. Nobody knows what’s going through a trout’s mind when it’s being tickled. However, one thing is for sure – it works!
I have put this to the test myself several times, starting one summer’s day in England’s Yorkshire Dales. There was a small clear stream in which you could see plenty of small trout between a few inches long and maybe 1.5lbs at their biggest. The fish were scattered around a shallow glide, directly under a road bridge, where sometimes members of the public would stop and feed the ducks. It seems the trout, too, had developed a liking for jam sandwiches!
On one side of the stream was a slightly undercut grassy bank, under which I saw a few trout occasionally retreat: perfect, I thought, to try a spot of trout tickling. So, I removed my shoes and socks and, as softly as I could, waded across the shallows towards the undercut. This was the technique I used…
How to Tickle Trout
- The first thing to remember is that, before you can tickle a trout from a lie, you need a trout in the lie in the first place. Make sure you locate a lie that you can observe trout entering and leaving. If they use it for protection already, it’s highly likely they’ll use it for refuge when you approach.
- Don’t be too stealthy. There’s no guarantee that there will be a fish already in position. Ideally you need to scare a trout into the lie yourself.
- Approach the lie from the opposite bank and, if anything, head slightly upstream. Trout like to use the current to aid their escape and downstream they’re a lot quicker than upstream. If you enter the water from directly opposite the lie and you might scatter the fish in both directions, instead of into your target. Enter from upstream and the fish might decide that speed is a better defence that hiding and continue on past the lie. Approach upstream and the fish might realise that speed isn’t the best option and take, instead, to their favourite hiding place.
- Once you reach your goal, crouch down and reach slowly and steadily under the overhang.
- Keep your hands as far apart as possible. This will hopefully snare the fish between the ‘V’ shape formed by your outstretched arms, with your body forming a barrier against escape directly into the river.
- Keep your hands as close to the riverbed as you can, to avoid any direct contact with the head, tail or sides of the fish. Imagine you are holding the corners of a rug in each hand and you are trying to slide it under the fish.
- Now, still keeping your arms and hands pressed to the river bed, slowly bring them together. As you do so, stretch your fingers upwards, towards the surface of the water, mimicking (in your mind’s eye), fronds of weed gently floating in the current. The idea is to touch the trout very gently, so as not to alarm it, but enough that you can identify its position.
- If you’re lucky, you’ll make contact with a fish. Be as gentle as you can.
- If you want to stroke the trout’s belly, you can, but the overall idea is to steer the fish gently towards your other hand and into a position where you can grasp hold of it securely. Believe it or not, they generally seem quite comfortable in this state and you can usually take as long as you like, hence the term ‘tickled trout’.
- At this point, if the fish hasn’t escaped, slowly position your hands – one beneath the trout’s head and gill plate, the other at the wrist of the tail.
- When you’re ready, take a firm grip with both hands. Don’t squeeze the fish but hold it firmly enough that its inevitable wriggling doesn’t free it. Gently press your hands together, pushing the fish’s head and tail towards one another. This will help you secure your grip.
- This grip probably won’t hold for long, so as quickly as you can, get the fish out of the water and onto the bank.
Hey presto – a successfully tickled trout!
If you want a second opinion, check out this video: