How To Catch Trout: Trout Fishing 101
Fishing. Rainbow trout fish jumping with splashing in water

How To Catch Trout: Trout Fishing 101

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The water is cool and clear. The sky is slightly overcast.  You find the perfect place to set-up your fishing gear. You settle in near some structures at the stream.  The current flows and your surroundings are quietly calm.  Today is the perfect day to catch that trophy trout.  But, what’s the best bait, rod, reel and technique? Trout are fast and strong so you will need to know their behaviors, maneuvers and feeding patterns. We are here to give you the information needed on how to catch trout.  Trout fishing 101.  But, don’t be fooled by the name. We will also cover unique facts and tips that even experienced trout anglers will appreciate.

Freshwater stream with flowing current is perfect for trout fishing
Trout Fishing Streams and Structures

How To Catch Trout: North America’s Trout Species

The Rainbow Trout

Description of the Rainbow trout freshwater fishing
The Rainbow Trout

The Pacific Trout group includes the Rainbow and Cutthroat Trout. Rainbow Trout have a signature pink stripe on their side. They also have a wide square tail and multiple black spots along their body. Rainbow Trout are native to the Pacific Coast. However, they can now be found North into Canada and as far South as Alabama and East into Georgia. Subspecies of the Rainbow include the Steelhead Trout, Golden Trout and Redband Trout. Rainbow Trout that spend some of their time in the ocean are called a Steelhead. Because they have varying habitats the Rainbow Trout species also come in a multitude of colors and patterns.

The Cutthroat Trout

Pacific trout group the Cutthroat trout with red jaw line Salmonidae
The Cutthroat Trout

Cutthroat Trout have dark red slashes along their lower jaws. They were named Cutthroat because the red slashes resemble cuts or bleeding. Adult Cutthroat trout have a long body that is several times larger than their body width. This body shape helps them to maneuver around in complex currents. They are found in the Western United States as far East as the Rocky Mountains. Also, they have been introduced into South Canada and in the Northeastern U.S.. There are 11 subspecies of the Cutthroat trout found in the U.S. and each one is unique to a specific state, park and river.

The Lake Trout

Lake Trout Freshwater Fishing in Cold Water for Largest species of Trout
The Lake Trout

Lake Trout are actually a char species of the same genus as Bull and Brook Trout. They are a large cold water fish with cream colored spots on their bodies and have a deeply forked tail. They can be found in most cold water lakes around the country especially in Alaska, Great Lakes and in the Northeastern U.S.. Lake Trout commonly live to be 25 years old and have even been known to exceed 60 years old. They need a large clean body of water to satisfy their huge appetite and size. Also, Lake Trout can grow to weigh over 80 pounds. Young Lake Trout will primarily feed on plankton but after they reach approximately 3 pounds they begin to primarily eat other fish.

The Brook Trout

Brook Trouts are small Char species of fish with worm like markings
Brook Trout

Also Known as Brookies, are actually not a trout but are char. They are a small fish weighing in at an average of only 2 pounds. If you can catch a 14 inch Brook then it would be considered a trophy. They can be identified by worm like markings on their backs and white edges on their fins. They are native to North America and can be found in most lakes that with cold enough water. Brookies inhabit a wide range of water ways including large lakes and tiny streams. However, they do require clean cold water with good oxygenation. The Brook Trout is the state fish of nine different states and is sometimes also called the Speckled Trout.

Dolly Varden

Char Cold Water Fish Dolly Varden found in Alaska and Washington State
Dollies The Dolly Varden Trout

Dolly Varden Trout ( Dollies) put the word North into North America because they are found primarily in Artic Alaska and Northern Washington State. They are actually a char species of trout which puts them in the same family with Brook Trout and Lake Trout. The average size is 8 pounds which separates them from the larger Lake Trout and smaller Brook Trout. Adult Dolly Varden are silver with a faint green sheen and orange spots. When they head to freshwater the silver transitions to brown and the orange spots to red. Dolly Varden range in size from 12 – 28 inches with most adults length averaging in the 22 – 24 inch size. 

The Bull Trout

Rare Bull Trout Fishing for trout in the Pacific Northwest
Bull Trout Photo by Bart Gammet, USFWS on Pixnio

Bull Trout are rare and are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. They can only be found in the Pacific Northwest living in cold rivers and drainages. They can grow up to 41 inches long, weighing up to 32 pounds and without teeth on the roof of their mouth. Bull Trout have white leading edges on their fins and pale crimson yellow spots on a darker background. They require very specific habitats to spawn and survive. The water temperature needs to be below 55 degrees. They need deep pools, good cover, gravel beds and interconnected waterways to spawn.

The Brown Trout

Brown Trout European invader non native Easy To Identify Trout
The Brown Trout

Brown Trout are native to Germany and can live up to 20 years. Despite their name they are not always brown. Depending on their location they may also be gold or silver in color. Regardless of their color, they are an easy trout to identify. They have reddish orange spots on their bodies that have silver circles around them. You can find Brown Trout from Ontario Canada south into Georgia, California to Colorado and in the Great Lakes. They can spook easily and will often spend alot of time hiding under overhanging cover. They average size for Brown Trout is between 14 – 18 inches. However, they are also commonly caught at 25 inches.

How To Catch Trout: Prepare For The Catch

Fly Fishing Or Spin Fishing

Now that you know the various types of trout found in North America it is time to hook one. You will first need to decide if you will be fly fishing or spin fishing. Fly and spin fishing are completely different styles of angling. The only real similarity between the two is that the ultimate goal is to catch trout.

How To Catch Trout: Spin Fishing

Spin Fishing For Trout Catching Larger Quantities
Spin Fishing For Trout

Spin fishing can also be used to catch trout and is preferred when you are fishing for quantity. It is typically used while fishing still water ways like lakes, ponds and reservoirs but it also works well in moving waters. Spin fishing imitates bait fish and the set-up allows for quick and easy depth changes. The spin rods use the casting of a weighted hook and lure to propel the line towards a target. A huge benefit of spin fishing trout is that the casting requires less room around you for than fly fishing does.

How To Catch Trout: Fly Fishing

Fly Fishing for trout techniques equipment baits
Fly Fishing For Trout

Fly fishing is typically used while fishing moving waters because it allows for an stealthier upstream presentation of bait. Most trout prefer insects so when you fly fish be sure to use dry flies, nymphs, emergers and streamers. These styles will closely imitate their natural food source and increase your chance for a bite. Rods for fly fishing are lightweight and require using very specific casting techniques. Fly fishing takes practice, practice, and more practice but once you have learned to fly fish it can be a whole lot of fun. The basics of fly fishing gear is that it uses the weight of a tapered fly line and leader to propel forward towards the target.

How To Catch Trout: Location Location Location

Shallow Streams Clear Clean Freshwater Current
Shallow Steam

Trout is the 4th most common U.S. game fish. And, they can be found in most bodies of water that are clean, clear and well oxygenated. Most trout prefer water temperatures that are between 50 and 60 degrees. Lakes, ponds, rivers, streams and other bodies of water with structure protection and an abundance of food sources is their ideal habitat.

Finding Brook Trout

Brook, also called Brookies, are smaller than the Rainbow and Brown species of trout. Their small size enables them to live in very shallow water. You will find Brooks in smaller steams occupying the pools and riffles. In the smaller streams they hide from predators in the waters vegetation. However, in the larger streams they will stay close to the headwaters and springs. Brook Trout need alot of oxygen and water temperatures of 53 degrees or colder. Throughout the year they will migrate up and down rivers in search of the perfect living conditions.

Finding Rainbow Trout

Rainbow Trout live in cool well oxygenated shallow freshwater rivers and streams. When Rainbow Trout live in saltwater they are called the Steelhead Trout. However, the Steelhead will return to the waters of their birthplace to spawn. An ideal water temperature for Rainbow Trout is between 50 and 60 degrees however, they can adapt to changes in their environments quite well. So, they will still thrive in temperatures between 35 and 70 degrees. Look for them in habitats that have gravel bottoms and plenty of natural covers. Other than Antarctica, the Rainbow Trout is located on every other major continent. Alaska is home to some of the largest native Rainbow Trout in the world.

Finding Brown Trout

Brown Trout are found hiding in deep pools but will move into the shallow waters to feed. They reside in freshwater and are found in streams, lakes, rivers and dams. Brown Trout need plenty of overhanging cover so they are able to stay hidden and safe. They will feed at night and then hide in the shadows during the day. Because of their size and diet, they will often push out the Brook Trout in areas that they both inhabit. They will dominate the waters and put the smaller Brook Trout on their dinner menu.

How To Catch Trout: Must Haves

Before you head out trout fishing there are a few basic items that you will need in addition to your fishing gear. Most states do require an angler to hold a fishing license. However, this varies greatly not only by state but by cities and counties with-in the states. Your local sporting good stores and bait shops will have the information you need and often times they will even sell the license. Also, make sure to bring plenty of bug spray. Trout are most active at dusk and dawn which is also the same time the bugs are biting. Sunscreen and an outdoor specific first aid kit are must haves. Bring plenty of water and easy to carry snacks. Finally, a fully charged cell phone with a battery back-up power bank in case of emergency. A first aid kit we recommend is the AMK Sportsman 100 First Aid Kit.

How To Catch Trout: Fishing Gear

Trout fishing gear rods reels line bait
Trout Fishing Gear

Fishing Rods Reels And Lines

Trout spook easily, so to avoid spooking them you need to use an ultralight set-up. Use a rod that is between 5 1/2 and 6 1/2 feet long and is rated for a 4 – 6 pound line. If you fish smaller areas like streams, then choose a smaller rod length (under 6 foot) for shorter and easier casting. Because you are casting with lighter lures, needed for trout, make sure your rod is considered to be a fast action rod. Ultralight fast action rods are more sensitive and accurate for catching smaller and lighter fish like trout. For a compact heavy duty ultralight rod be sure to check out High Altitude Brands Telescoping fishing pole.

If you prefer a one piece rod instead of a telescopic we can recommend the OKUMA Celilo Graphite Lightweight Ultra Light Trout Rod.

Recently, spinning reels have become the choice of anglers when fishing for trout. They are the most versatile of all reels and that is one of the reasons that we recommend them. When using your ultralight fast action rod to catch trout use a 3000 (30) class reel. The reel sizes should always be a match to the size and type of the rod. Also, it needs to be capable of handling the size of the line you will be using. A top rated trout fishing reel that we really like is the KastKing Sharky III Fishing Reel. Keep your fishing line light by using a 4 pound line. Your odds of spooking the trout increase for ever pound you add over a 6 pound line. We suggest trying the Trout Magnet S.O.S. Fishing Line, 350yd (2lb, 4lb, 6lb Test).

How To Catch Trout: Baits

The entire purpose of bait, whether it is alive or artificial, is to catch fish. Be aware that a trout has specific feeding habits based upon their actual location and environment. If you are unsure what they are eating, check the banks and under structures to find their current food source. If you like to regularly change-up your fishing spots then be sure to carry a variety of baits prepared for the feeding variations. The absolute best bait is always the bait that best imitates their natural food source.

How To Catch Trout: Live Bait

Live baits are extremely effective because trout are already familiar with their textures, odors and colors. They are an easy no frills presentation to the trout and will increase your chance for a strike. Just make sure your live bait reflects the current natural food source in that specific location.

Minnows

Minnows and chubs are a go-to bait for many trout anglers. They are readily available, easy to catch and often very effective. If you are unable to catch any in the wild then just head on over to your local bait shop. Minnows are typically hardy and can handle multiple cast. They work extremely well when fishing for trout in most lakes, rivers and creeks. Chubs baits under 3 inches will almost always grab the attention of trout. The best way to catch chubs and minnows is to run a dip net through the current.

Worms

Trout Fishing With Worms Live Bait Redworms and Nightcrawlers
Use Worms For Catching Trout

Grasshoppers And Crickets

Grasshoppers and crickets, also called hoppers, are on the top of the list of favorite foods for trout. These insects are constantly falling into the water and trout are always naturally on the look-out for them. They are abundant and easy to find along the lining of the banks of streams and ponds. Live hoppers are a bait that moves freely bouncing along the water surface. They will almost always grab the attention of a trout.

Using Live Grasshoppers To Catch Trout
Use Live Grasshoppers To Catch Trout

Crustaceans

Larger trout love their crayfish and freshwater shrimp. You will find crayfish crawling around most stream banks when you flip over logs and rocks. To make crustaceans most effective when catching trout, hook them through the meaty tail section. This helps to avoid hitting their vital organs and keeping them alive for casting. Steelhead trout will tear up shrimp bait and they don’t even care whether they are alive, cooked or raw.

Using Crayfish Crustaceans to fish for trout
Freshwater Crayfish

How To Catch Trout: Artificial Lures

Trout will swallow live bait but they usually will only bite into lures. For this reason, artificial baits may be a better choice than live bait in some situations. The advantage of live bait is that it’s the natural food source of trout. The theory has always been that live bait out performs artificial lures however, that is not always the case. Lures made today closely mimic live baits and have no problems competing with the live critters.

TIP: When you are fishing trout for catch and release choose artificial lures. Live bait, because it is often swallowed, can gut or throat the fish. With artificial lures the trout is likely to be lip hooked allowing for a healthier and safer release.

Plugs

Plug baits mimic small fish and are available in a large variety of shapes, colors and sizes. They are also known as minnows, divers, and crankbaits. To choose the right plug you need to know the types of bait fish, in the area, that the trout are feeding on. Our number one choice is the Rapala Original Floating Minnow. The Original Floating Minnow is one of Rapala’s first produced lures, and it has been refined over the years to become a fish catching machine. Check out our article Best Fishing lures For Trout for more information.

Spoons

Trout Spoons are designed to imitate speedy minnows flashing and darting. Cast your spoon upstream and retrieve it faster than the current. This gets the spoon moving just above the bottom where the big trout are holding. 1/4 ounce spoons work great in all water conditions. However, if the water is high go ahead and scale up the size and weight. For trout fishing, we like the highly rated Acme Little Cleo Classic Spoons. Our article Different Types of Fishing Lures For Freshwater Fish will give you more details about lures.

Spinners

The motion and vibration of spinners attract trout like a cat to a mouse. They have small blades that will spin and flash while you reel. The blade of a spinner moves around a wire that is attached to a hook. They are available in a variety of sizes and colors to easily match the species of fish you are after. They are effective for trout because they move very aggressively and trout find them hard to resist. Our fist choice of spinners is the Panther Martin Trout Spinners. To see our other choices for spinners read our article Best Trout Fishing Lures: Top 5 Spinners.

Jigs

A popular choice for bass and crappie anglers has always been jigging. However, using jigs has been gaining in popularity among trout fishermen. A jig is basically a small hook with a lead ball near the hooks eye. They will commonly have feathers, eyes, legs and tinsel. When you are trolling streams and lakes jigging for trout is effective and easy. Just drop the bait and let it drift. I use the Trout Magnet Jig Kit, it is excellent.

Powerbait

When fishing for stocked trout try using some powerbait (also called dough bait). It is a great choice for beginners and kids because it’s easy to find, easy to use and is affordable. Powerbait floats so you will need to use a split shot approximately 1 foot above the hook to help weigh it down. Sinkers will hold the line down while the powerbait floats in the water column waiting for the trout to strike. However, a drift rig will work better when you are fishing in smaller streams. For more information and tips on using powerbaits make sure to check out our article How to Fish PowerBait for Trout: Fishing with PowerBait. You will also notice in that article that our top pick for powerbaits is the Berkley PowerBait Trout Fishing Bait.

Flies

Fly fishing is different than spin casting primarily because it uses different equipment and techniques. Flies are artificial imitations of insects found in natural trout habitats. They only weigh a few grams and are made with feathers, fur, thread and tinsel. Because they weigh close to nothing, the casting is more complex than spin rods with artificial baits. An absolute favorite of ours is the Flies Direct Elk Hare Caddis Trout Fishing Flies.

How To Catch Trout 101: Tips And Techniques

We have covered the various species of trout and where they can be located. We have covered the recommended fishing gear and supplies to take with you. Now, let’s go over the top techniques, tips and suggestions when trout fishing.

Casting

Anglers Casting For Trouts
Casting For Trout

Trout have elliptical eyes allowing them to see food and predators simultaneously. Their eyes are on the sides of the head and they also have a great wide angle view. For anglers this can make it tough to sneak up on them. However, they are not able to see behind them, this is their blind spot. So, take advantage of that by casting upstream behind them. The blind spot camouflages the angler and bumps up the chances for a trout catch. Try wading, it will allow you to cast farther and into hard to reach spots like under structures and in between foliage.

TIP: Use a strike indicator placed 3 feet above your bait. Because you are casting upstream, a line indicator will help you spot the subtle strikes you may otherwise miss.

Feeding

Wild trout and stocked trout feed differently. Wild trout are finicky and not easily fooled by artificial baits. To get the attention of wild trout you will need to present them bait that closely resembles their natural foods. They prefer worms, insects, minnows and crustaceans. Stocked trout will feed on a larger variety of food sources. When using live bait, keep it fresh and small. When the bait is sluggish or too large the trout will pass on the bite.

Trout are lazy opportunistic feeders. Your options for bait are vast however there are specific meals that they prefer. What they eat depends on locations and seasons. But we have some suggestions that most any trout will eat. Midges, Caddis and various fly species are usually available year round and they are a good bait for smaller trout. Medium sized trout enjoy grasshoppers, crickets, worms and beetles. And, the freshwater crustaceans that they love to eat include crayfish, snails and copepods.

Weather

Trout Fishing 101 Rain Weather Conditions
Trout Fishing In The Rain

On clear days, dusk and dawn are typically the best time of day to catch trout. Their eyes are sensitive to light so on cloudy days any time will work. However, during the colder months you should wait until late morning to allow the water temperatures to warm up. When targeting trout, take full advantage of fly hatches (when insects pop on the water’s surface and then fly off). During colder months fly hatches will occur during the warmest part of the day.

As with most fish, trout will feed before an incoming storm. Take full advantage of rainy days and pre-storm conditions and don’t hesitate to get out there to fish. Rain has a positive effect on the willingness of fish to feed. Because rain oxygenates the water it increases both the fish and their baits activity levels. Clouds help camouflage anglers and your bait will likely mimic the insects getting washed into the water. When fishing for trout in the rain be sure to use baits that simulate beetles, ants, worms, and grasshoppers that are washing into the water.

TIP: During the summer months, trout head for deeper cooler water. Be familiar with where the deeper holes are and you will find the trout hiding.

Spawning

Spawning Sea Trout form of Brown Species Anadromous
Spawning Sea Trout Anadromous

Knowing the spawning habits of trout will help you to catch more fish. An adolescent trout is called a fry and after a year or so they are called a parr. After the parr stage they are then considered a smolt and this is when they prepare to spawn. They spend a few years eating and growing before they head off to spawn. Some adult trout migrate to larger bodies of water while others will just head up stream. The larger the body of water, the larger their growth. And, unlike salmon, trout don’t die after spawning.

Rainbow Trout spawn earlier than other trout at roughly 2 years of age. They spawn in the spring and early summer along with the Cutthroat Trout. Brown and Brook Trout will spawn during the fall season and Lake Trout will spawn during the autumn months. Spawning season is a GREAT time to fish for trout because they are hunting for ample food supplies to help increase their energy levels needed to spawn.

Avoid The Redds

When fishing during spawning season, please do the right thing and stay away from the redds (the gravel area where they drop eggs). Trout are under tremendous stress while spawning and disrupting their space can be detrimental to their reproduction success.

Wading

Wadding is an excellent technique to help get you to hidden spots otherwise missed. Trout are sensitive to vibrations and can actually distinguish between anglers wading and natural wildlife wading. So, wade slowly in the shallow waters to avoid spooking them. If you need some waders check out the Dark Lightning Fly Fishing Waders for Men and Women.

TIP: Use a wading stick to help you balance and identify solid ground before stepping forward. The MAXIMUMCATCH Maxcatch Folding Wading Stick is our recommendation.

How To Catch Trout: The Extras

Use polarized sunglasses to see the waters with greater clarity. Don’t already use polarized glasses? Then you will be in for a huge surprise when you can actually see what you’ve been missing. Sunglasses can be very expensive. But, our favorite pair is under $30 and are excellent to use while fishing. If you need an affordable pair check out these Fisherman Fowey Polarized Sunglasses with AcuTint. You can also read our review of these glasses on our website here.

Use a rubber trout net. They are a one piece seamless molded thermoplastic mesh bag and expand to fit a fish’s size and weight. A flat bottom panel supporting the length of the trout will help reduce their stress and number of deaths of released fish. We use the SF Landing Net Rubber Mesh Trout Catch and Release Net.

When you are not keeping your catch please practice safe catch and release. Trout are important to the ecosystem and deserve the respect from anglers. Now that you know how to catch trout, get out there and catch the new world record. Tight Lines!

How To Catch Trout: Fun Facts

Trout Fishing World Records: Recorded By The International Game Fish Association: Brown Trout: caught in New Zealand 2013, 42-pounds 1-ounce. Rainbow Trout: caught in Canada 2009, 48-pounds 42-inch. Brook Trout: caught in Canada 1915, 14-pounds 8-ounce Cutthroat Trout: caught in Nevada U.S.A. 1925, 41-pounds Lake Trout: caught in Canada 1995, 72-pounds

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