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Approximately 135 million stocked adult and juvenile fish are released in the United States every year. The term stocked refers to fish that are born and raised in hatcheries then released into the wild. It is approximately 15 – 20 months, from egg to juvenile, before a trout is released into the wild. And, at release, they are usually 10 inches or larger. Stocking fish has multiple benefits. It provides an abundance of recreational fishing along with a boost for local economies. Trout fishing is one of America’s favorite pastimes and an estimated 35% of all anglers specifically fish to land a trout. This article covers tips and techniques on how to catch stocked trout. For the purpose of this article, we will consider trout that is released in the last 6 months to be considered as a newly released fish.
Stocked Versus Wild
How can you tell the difference between stocked trout and a wild trout? It’s actually easiest to determine this by their fins and gills. Sometimes, when a stocked fish is released into the wild it will have a clipped tail fin. Authorities clip their fins for identification, habitat statistics, survival rates and quality of health. Also, trout that have spent their lives in a hatchery will often have rough worn down underbellies and gills. This is due to living in concrete raceways (basins or canals with an inlet, outlet and continuous water flow) rubbing their bellies along the bottom. In contrast, the fins of wild trout are usually in pristine condition without any divots. Finally, stocked trout will often be less colorful than a wild trout. Above photo is from the Virgina DWR.
Stocked Trout Behaviors
Stocked trout usually swim in schools and after release tend to stay close to the shoreline. Learning these behaviors in the hatcheries, they school because they grew up in large communal populations. They seek the comfort of shorelines because it resembles the hatcheries raceway edges. Stocked trout can usually be found hanging out 2 feet above the waters floor or 2 feet below the waters surface. This is because, in hatcheries, they are accustomed to living in 3 feet of water. So, this is where they are most comfortable. Stocked trout will typically stay in the same area of release for a week before venturing out.
Top Baits To Catch Newly Released Stocked Trout
Hatchery trout are fed fish meal pellets all their lives. And once released, they will look for similar types of food. It takes several months before stocked trout completely adapt to eating natural food sources in the wild. For this reason, fishing for newly released trout versus adapted released trout is very different and is important information to know before choosing the best bait.
Newly Released Stocked Trout: Dough Bait
Dough baits closely imitate the pellets fed to trout while in hatcheries. They are made to resemble the fish meal pellets in texture, scent and appearance. Dough baits are available in a multitude of sizes, colors and scents. They are easy to use, easy to store and (most importantly) they work. Our top pick for dough bait is the Berkley PowerBait Natural Glitter Trout Dough. It offers a highly visible Crystalina glitter that reflects light. PowerBait is pliable and can be shaped to closely resemble fish meal pellets and is ideal for newly released trout.
It floats. This allows you to keep it over the water’s bottom and above any sunken debris. Because it floats, it is best to use a sliding sinker rig to hold the line down. The key is keeping it at the proper depth so the fish are able to see and smell the bait. We recommend using a bobber to signal a strike so you wont miss a great catch. For more information on using dough baits for trout read our article on How To Fish PowerBait For Trout.
Newly Released Stocked Trout: Salmon Eggs
Salmon eggs can attract a wide variety of fish including newly stocked trout. Fish them in lakes and ponds off the bottom or under a fishing float. The Pautzke Balls O Fire works great because they are made with pure salmon egg juice which naturally attracts the trout. Use ultra light gear and small hooks to increase the strikes. However, since they are so light be sure not to cast to aggressively or you will lose the bait. Angler’s top complaint about using eggs is that they have trouble keeping them on the hook. So, to keep them on we suggest using a smaller 10 – 14 size hook. Stack 2 or 3 salmon eggs on the hook and try drifting in shallow water without any added weight.
Top Baits To Catch Adapted Stocked Trout
Stocked trout are genetically different and never become truly wild. They feed more aggressively than natural wild trout and, if they survive a year, will become larger than wilds. In hatcheries they eat quickly because they have to compete with the masses for their food. Wild trout view us as predators and any shadow will signal for them to hide. Unlike wild fish, when stocked trout spot a shadow of a person above it can indicate its time to eat. However, in time, stocked trout will usually adapt to their surroundings and learn to hide from shadows above. Natural instincts will also kick in letting stocked trout know their need to migrate upstream to spawn. In a short time frame they will adapt to eating worms, bugs and crustaceans instead of pellets. This change in feeding habits will determine the type of bait best used to catch the adapted trout.
Adapted Stocked Trout: Floating Mice
A floating mice tails combines two baits in one. It carries both the shape of a worm and also a salmon egg. Rainbow Trout are opportunistic feeders so use floating mice tails with gentle natural action. However, for Brown Trout try jigging because they like to hit fleeing bait. We highly recommend trying the Berkley Floating Mice Tails. Berkley has used two different colors on their mice tails to provide a contrast underwater. The egg section helps it float and balance out the weight of the hook. Use a 1/4 ounce bullet weight plastic bead and a small swivel. We recommend monofilament line because it is lighter when compared to other types and won’t sink. Size 12 hooks are the ideal size when using mice tails. Pierce the hook through the middle of the worm and pop out the hook behind the egg.
Stocked trout are eager biters and fun to catch for both beginners and novice anglers. The required gear is simple and affordable. Spin fishing for trout is fun, easy and often productive for kids while learning how to fish. Always keep your tackle simple. Since trout have excellent vision, use a light 4 pound mono to help hide the line. Use treble hooks between sizes 12 and 16 with barrel swivels between 12 and 14. Finally, a 1/4 ounce egg sinker and a brightly colored bobber will give you an excellent stocked trout set-up. The High Altitude Brands Telescoping Rod is ultra light, compact and small enough to take anywhere. This rod is also a great choice for handicap persons & people in wheelchairs. It is lightweight, easily accessible and can be hung on a chair.
Tips And Techniques To Catch Stocked Trout
As the saying goes, the earlier the better. They actively feed during the early morning hours to avoid sunlight and the warmer afternoon water temps. Trout are happiest in temperatures between 40 and 60 degrees. Morning fishing helps to avoid trout spooking afternoon shadows cast from above. Sunset and evenings can also be good options when the mornings don’t fit your schedule.
Overcast and rainy days are the jackpot of conditions for stocked trout fishing. Trout notoriously hide from predators (and also hide as the predator) and require low light and cover to do this successfully. Cloudy skies provide the low light conditions to allow the trout to feel comfortable enough to exit hiding spots. Clouds and rain signals to them that it’s a good time to feed. They know that with rain comes an abundance of food sources falling into their waterways.
Stocked trout are easy to find. Most ponds, lakes and streams across America receive deliveries of stocked trout several times a year. Lakes in the mountains are stocked by helicopter or plane while bodies of water that are easily accessible are stocked by truck. Most states have a trout stocking schedule so check with your state and local officials for the specific areas and times they will be released.
Stocked trout are distributed all across the United States and are found in most bodies of water that are cool, clean and have cover. When they are in ponds and lakes trout will stay close to cover and cruise to find food. While in rivers and streams they tend to remain in one area awaiting food sources brought to them by currents. Knowing their behavior and having the correct gear ensures an exciting stocked trout fishing adventure. Have your gear ready, know your local trout release schedules, grab your fishing license and capture those stocked trout. Tight Lines!