How to fish for trout header image

Trout are among the best fish a person can fish for. You don't need a boat, a depth finder, a fancy radar, or any other pricey gadgets. All you pretty much need is a rod and some basic tackle. 

 

This article is going to be rather lengthy. If you are looking for a particular piece of information, I have included a table of contents for the different sections. Simply click links below to advance to that section.

 

Trout Species 

Equipment

Stocked Trout Baits 

Native Trout Baits 

Trout Lures 

Where To Find Trout 


 

Trout Species

 

        There are generally three species of trout people tend to fish for. Those species include  the rainbow, brown, and brook trout.

Rainbow Trout:

Rainbow trout being stocked
Image sourced from Missouri Department of Conservation

 

        Rainbow trout are easily the most abundant trout species. This is mainly due to the fact that they are a great hatchery fish and tend to do well in fisheries. However, not all rainbow trout are hatchery fish. There are plenty of native rainbow trout populations.

 

Average Length: 20 - 30 inches

Average Weight: 8lbs

Key Features: Rainbow Trout are typically blue-green or yellow green with a characteristic pink streak on their sides. They also have black spots on their back and fins. Rainbow trout color can vary depending on habitat and age. 

Range:  Rainbow trout have been introduced into 47 states in the United States alone. The fish also exists on every continent with the exception of Antarctica. While there are rainbows in the southern hemisphere, they have to be reintroduced every year due to the fishes sensitivity to warm water. 

 

 


 

Brook Trout:

Brook trout out of water
Image sourced from Missouri Department of Conservation

 

        Brook trout, aka "brookies", are native to the eastern Unites States, Canada, and the mid west. However, they have gained popularity in fisheries on the west coast as well.  Brookies tend to be smaller than their rainbow counterparts, but are still an excellent and delicious fish to catch. 

 

Average Length: 24 inches

Average Weight: 7lbs

Key Features: Brook trout are typically greenish-brown in color with marbled patterning on its sides and back. They also have red dots with blue circles on their sides and tail as well. The fins, tail, sides, and back of brookies tend to be a vibrant red color. 

Range: Brook trout typically range from eastern Canada all the way down to northern Georgia. These trout are very sensitive to their environment and require clean cold water to thrive. While they mostly inhabit the east coast. Plenty of fisheries have introduced them on the west coast spanning from Washington to California and as far east as the Rocky Mountains.


 

Brown Trout:

Brown trout being stocked
 Image sourced from Office of Water Information

 

        Brown trout are one of the more challenging trout to catch. They are a European native fish and were first introduced in North America by the U.S. fish commission in 1883. Browns tend to favor cool water but have been known to live in parts of northern Africa as well as Asia. This species of trout develop sharp teeth as they get older (so be careful when handling) and tend to be more predatory, feeding on small rainbows, frogs, mice, and even their own young. 

 

Average Length: 10 - 15 inches 

Average Weight: 4 - 5lbs

Key Features: Brown trout are usually orange-brown to olive-brown, often with a "brass" like appearance. Their sides grade from tan to yellow and are marked with olive-brown to black spots. These spots also appear on the fish's back as well. The brown trout shares a similar shape to that of the Atlantic salmon. Both the brown trout and the Atlantic salmon have a square-shaped tail and an adipose fin (the tiny fin between the back dorsal fin and the tail).

Range: Brown trout are native in Europe, western Asia, and northeast Africa. In North America they have been introduced in 44 states in the U.S. and most of Canada. They prefer cooler water in the 40 - 67 degree range. Brown trout do better in warmer water as opposed to the brook or rainbow, but only for short periods of time. 


 

Equipment

 

        To fish for trout there isn't much equipment you really need to have. Opt for a light or ultra light action spinning rod in the 5 ft. - 6ft range because you will typically be throwing lightweight lures and sinkers when trout fishing. Equip the rod with 4lb to 8lb test mono-filament line as well. Mono-filament tends to be a better choice for line as it is nearly invisible in the water. An interesting fact about trout, is they have excellent eyesight. Trout are able to see the same color spectrum we see as well as colors in the UV spectrum that even humans can't see. 

        Make sure to check your state's DNR website for fishing laws and regulations regarding legal bait and tactics when fishing for trout and other game fish.

Stocked Trout:

        Fishing for stocked trout versus native trout can be quite different. The reason for this is how the fish were raised. Stocked trout are raised in fish farms and are typically fed a brown pellet type fish food. Because they grew up eating this food, they will associate brown pellet shaped baits with food.  

        Once they are introduced to a stream, baits that simulate the food they were raised on work really well. This same strategy will work with native trout as well (using what they eat naturally as bait). Stocked trout are more naive due to the fact they do not know what is safe to eat and what isn't, making them an easier target for fisherman.

        With that said, after a few months, stocked trout tend to pick up what is safe and what isn't. Fishing pressure can have a lot of influence as well. A stocked trout that has been caught and released a few times will be more weary of the meals it chooses to eat. At this point I would suggest switching to native trout baits that are described below. Be sure to check your state's DNR website for when trout stockings occur to get a jump on the competition.

 

Suggested Bait:

        PowerBait: PowerBait is a doughy bait trademarked by Berkley that aims to simulate hatchery food, right down to the scent. This is often a great go to when fishing a lake or stream that has been recently stocked. Rainbows tend to respond to it very well. PowerBait is what is known as a float bait. As the name implies, the bait will float. So if you are aiming to fish the bottom you will need to add a split shot sinker about 6 - 8" up from your hook.

        Cheese: This is kind of a weird one for me, but I remember going with my father using Velveeta to catch fish (not just trout). It tends to work really well as it, much like PowerBait, tends to simulate fish hatchery food. Many other cheeses will work. Feel free to experiment!

 

Native Trout:     

image example of meal worms
Image sourced from main.gov

 

        Native Trout will eat a lot of different things, but rarely ever will recognize power bait. They may give your line a nibble out of curiosity, but they won't react to it the way a freshly stocked trout would. 

        Native trout tend to favor insects, fish eggs, and other fish. Because of this, there are a plethora of store-bought and natural baits you can try. 

Suggested Bait:

        Critters - Grasshoppers, crickets, meal worms, night crawlers, crayfish, salamanders, and frogs are all excellent choices when fishing for native trout. Meal worms in particular are a great trout staple. This larvae form of the darkling beetle will attract small and large trout a like.  It is important to remember that smaller trout (typically smaller than one foot in length) tend to eat insects while larger trout will move to bigger prey such as crayfish, frogs, other fish, and even mice.

        When looking for good live bait, try looking at your local pet store. They usually stock live crickets, meal worms, and several kinds of "feeder" fish (check your local laws when using store-bought fish as bait as some states have banned using goldfish as bait).

        Salmon eggs - Trout love fish eggs. It's really no secret that trout are very opportunistic feeders. While they're not as aggressive as say blue gill, that doesn't mean they won't take a free meal when they can get one. Trout tend to really love salmon eggs and they work best in the winter when food is harder to come by.

         A great fishing tactic for using salmon eggs is to take a number 6 hook and throw 3 or 4 salmon eggs on it. A hungry trout looking for a meal will basically inhale your hook.

 

Lures:

 

An example of an inline spinner and a spoon rooster tail lure

        The great thing about lures is that they will work for both stocked and native trout, and they are reusable (provided you don't get snagged). There are a few types of lures that have been proven to work really well for trout. One of the most important things to remember about lures is that they should make the trout believe that it is a natural source. This is true for any fish but especially for trout. Trout, while they are opportunistic feeders, can be very distrusting. So it is super important that the lures you use behave as if they were natural and not artificial.

        Spinners and Spoons - These work for most trout and are pretty much staples for any trout angler. Spinners and spoons create action in the water that can simulate a fish distress, or sometimes just entice a fish to bite out of pure agitation. When used correctly, you can pair spinners or spoons with other types of baits to create scenarios for the fish to make it think that there is an injured fish or another fish chasing a meal. As I said before, trout are very opportunistic feeders.

        Minnow Plugs - Minnow plugs are an awesome lure. These plugs are made for exactly what their name suggests: to imitate minnows or bait fish. Plugs tend to be a favorite as they are a relatively cheap lure, which means no breaking the bank and you can get a few different color options to try. A general rule for this type of lure, stay within the 2 - 5 inch range. This is due to the fact that these lures imitate a fish that trout will typically eat. Trout are not very large fish compared to some other game fish species such as bass or pike, so their prey is usually smaller. 

        Flat Fish The flat fish lure is an interesting one. It was created in 1933 by Charles Helin who hand carved over 1,500 different lures before he made the lure that would become the flat fish. Flat fish lures have been being used ever since. If you have never used one chances are your dad or grandfather have. These lures produce an action that is irresistible to predatory fish. Meaning this lure will work on trout but will also work well for bass, salmon, or pike. The greatest thing about this lure is that at almost any speed you reel in or "retrieve" your lure, it will still provide a great action that fish are responsive to.  These lures usually have a banana type shape and come with a pair of treble hooks.  They also come in a variety of sizes and colors. Large flat fish lures will hook large trout but may limit your overall catch. 

 


 

Where To Find Trout

image example of meal worms
Image Credit: Matze Scheel

 

        There is a saying among anglers, "fish where the fish are". This seems like such a simple saying, but in reality it's actually a lot more complex than it seems.  The saying basically says look for signs of fish or know where fish like to hang out. For instance, trout are a cold water fish. On a hot summer day trout will be on the bottom where the oxygen content is richer. 

        Fishing pressure can have a lot to do with locating fish as well. A lot of fisherman will find a fishing hole and continually return to it. There is an old adage that says "familiarity breeds contempt".  Anyone who spends as much time in the woods or on the water as much as I do will know that areas change from season to season, and those changes can sometimes be quite drastic. Where fish were in the summer may not be where they are in the winter. Below I have outlined a few good places to look for fish that will hopefully land you some success. 

Weather:

        Weather will play a big part of where to look for trout. In the summer during the heat of the day, fish will be driven into deeper water. As stated above trout tend to prefer cooler water. Cooler water allows for a more oxygen rich environment. While it is easy to predict where fish will likely be in the summer, winter is not so easy. Winter allows for colder water in general, thus more oxygen rich water to be passed over a trout's gills. Winter weather requires more experimentation than summer weather. In general, the best times to find trout is either early in the morning or right after dusk when the temperatures are lower. These are usually prime feeding times for trout and most other game fish as well.

        Another important factor to pay attention to is the moon cycle. When the moon is full, trout will often feed throughout the night when there is enough light to hunt by.

 

Breaking Down Sections of the River
Source: Fix.com Blog

Read The Stream:

        Knowing how to read a stream is critical. Key places to look for trout include: in front of or behind boulders, around downed trees, undercut banks, eddies, and pools of water. 

  •   Undercut Banks - Trout love undercut banks as it offers over head protection from predators. However, this works in your favor as it will also hide you when approaching (remember, trout have very good eyesight). To fish an undercut bank effectively, use an inline spinner or spoon, and standing on the other side of the stream cast upstream and let the current drag your line into the undercut bank.
  •  Eddies - These are circular motions of water cause by obstructions in the stream or the joining of two streams. These eddies can pull up nutrients and foods from the bottom that trout love. Trout can hold positions here fairly easy. For them it is an easy place to get a meal as the natural motion of the eddy will bring food directly to them.
  • Pools - A pool is where water basically comes to a stand still. They are pretty much a staple water for trout. They love this kind of water because it is slow moving and they can easily grab food as it is washed down stream past them. However, trout in pools are not always actively feeding so this can prove to be a challenge. But it is well worth the reward if you have a little patience and just work the pool a little.

 

Trout are worth the effort if you choose to fish for them
Image credit: Louden County

        Trout are very fickle and catching them can be easy or it can be a challenge. However, a challenging trout can be the most rewarding. I've spent my fair share of days fishing for trout with nothing to show for it, while other days I have been blessed with great success. Keep in mind that this post is not the be all end all of trout fishing, but a tool to help beginners get their feet wet (no pun intended).

        I've learned from many failures over the years and wrote this guide with what I've found helpful in my adventures. I won't guarantee these tips will help you always catch trout, but it will give you a leg up on your prey and the competition.

        If you found this guide useful drop a comment down below or leave a post on our facebook page, or if you have a tip or trick you'd like to share leave a comment as well so we can all learn together and become better trout fisherman. 

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All of my life has been focused on the outdoors. From the days of fishing with my father when I was young, to learning more advanced outdoor skills through the Boy Scouts of America; you could say the outdoors is pretty much my life blood. I enjoy a wide range of activities including camping, survival, fishing, hunting, and bushcraft. I have spent most of my life learning these skills and now I want to pass on my knowledge and hopefully learn even more in return.

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