Informational Guide

How To Catch Trout (Tips for Anglers)

Want to catch one of the most sought-after fish for anglers worldwide? We discuss the best trout fishing tips and ways how to catch trout of all types.

by Andrew

Informational Guide

How To Catch Trout (Tips for Anglers)

Want to catch one of the most sought-after fish for anglers worldwide? We discuss the best trout fishing tips and ways how to catch trout of all types.

by Andrew

by Andrew

One of the most sought-after catches for anglers worldwide; trout come in various species and sizes all across North America.

From rivers and streams to ponds and lakes, trout can be found in multiple seasons and situations. This article will discuss where to look for and how to catch all types of trout.

Main Types of Trout

Identifying trout is difficult for inexperienced anglers. The larger fish are a bit easier, but small or juvenile fish are a bit tougher. When identifying trout, color variations will be the most telling features.

Different species have various color combinations and striping or spots. These colors are sometimes dependent on the habitat the fish live in, as well as the season in which you are targeting the fish. Below are some distinguishing features to look for on your next fishing adventure.

  • Rainbow trout
    Oncorhynchus mykiss- These fish most often have a silver, often referred to as “chrome” skin with a rose stripe along their side and green-colored back. The distinguishing feature of these fish is black spots on a light background.
  • Cutthroat trout
    Oncorhynchus clarkii- The same genus as rainbows, dark spots on a light background, but usually a more brown fish than their chrome cousins. Also, the spots on these fish are more concentrated toward the tail. Cutthroats have red slashes along their jawline, which is where they get their names.
  • Brown trout
    Salmo trutta- brown and yellow, green-colored backs, always have black spots and sometimes have red specs, but never blue halos. These fish have white inside of their mouths.
  • Dolly Varden trout
    Salvelinus malma- A variety of char, this species has a green-colored back and a white belly. They also have pale pink or yellow spots. These look very similar but are much smaller than Bull Trout.
  • Brook trout
    Salvelinus fontinalis- part of the char family, brook trout are very small. They are green with a red or orange belly. They have black inside of the mouth and have light spots on a dark background. Easy ways to identify these fish are by their red speckles with blue halos or their worm-like patterns along their backs.
  • Bull trout
    Salvelinus confluentus- part of the char family, these fish have light spots on a dark background with no spots on their dorsal fin. Their name comes from an abnormally large head. These fish are larger than their close relative, the Dolly Varden Trout.
  • Lake trout
    Salvelinus namaycush- a species of char that has a brown body and white belly. These trout are known for their forked tail and have light spots on a dark background. These fish are the largest of the char family.
  • Golden trout
    Oncorhynchus mykiss aguabonita- A subspecies of the rainbow trout, goldens are brown or yellow with black spots concentrated toward the tail like a cutthroat, but with a rose stripe down their side and no slashes under their jaws.
  • Tiger trout
    These are hybrid trout of a brown trout and a brook trout. They have blended markings from either fish, but are known for the worm-like markings found on a brook trout's back, covering their entire bodies. Very rare to find in the wild.
  • Arctic Char trout
    Salvelinus alpinus- a close relative to both salmon and lake trout, these fish have a dark brown back and sides with a bright orange or red belly. The spots of this fish are red or orange, and the lower fins have a white outline.
  • Splake trout
    Splake are a mix of a male brook trout and female lake trout. These fish look similar to a brook trout but usually have the forked tail of a lake trout. They also have orange outlines on their lower fins.
Trout Fishing Tips

What Do I Need for Trout Fishing? (Trout Fishing Essentials)

Rods

Rigging is probably second in importance to finding where fish live. The equipment and the way you set it up will change based on location and target species.

If you are fishing with a fly rod, you will most likely want an 8 weight rod in about an 8’-9.5’ length. For a spinning rod, look for a medium-fast rod in roughly the same length. Check out our assortment of rods for trout fishing here.  

Reels

For a fly rod setup, look for a medium-size reel, a 6-8 size will normally do the trick. You want to be able to keep the rod and reel completely balanced while keeping the rod light enough to hold all day.

As for a spinning rod, a size 35 should be plenty; even a 25 size reel will work for most applications.

Fishing Lures/Bait

The first thing that always pops up in an internet search for trout fishing is a small spinner with a shiny spoon and a feather tail.

Search a little harder, and you will find that trout love to hit on egg sacks or even worm imitations. Dry flies are also great, match the hatch with these, and you are bound to get bit.

Hooks, Sinkers, and Terminal Tackle

The best size hook for a trout is the one they will bite. Depending on water clarity, sometimes trout will see larger hooks, forcing anglers to throw a size 6 hook. Other times, you can get away with fishing a large jig head and size 7/0 hook.

The most common way to stream fish for trout with conventional tackle is to have a 40-50# braid mainline. That gets tied with a blood knot to a 12# monofilament buffer. On the buffer, place a sliding bobber stop, a float, and a barrel swivel.

The swivel gets ties to a 3' leader of 12# fluorocarbon, which has a size 6 or 8 hook and a glass bed or egg (spawn) sack. Some people like to run a split-shot or inline slip sinker between the float and swivel, but that will depend on current strength. 

Tackle Storage

We have a whole section on tackle boxes or bags, along with a buyer’s guide for choosing what is right for you.

Remember that fishing for trout usually involves hiking to spot in waders or hip boots and being waist-deep in water for most of the day. So, a backpack-style tackle bag is best in most situations.


Where to Catch Trout & Their Habitats

1. Catching trout in lakes and ponds

Lakes are a great place to troll for trout. In the Northeast, we troll in the spring of the year for brown trout. For late summer trout trolling fishing tips, I would say to troll cowbells on the bottom to entice the fish to bite. Low and slow is the way to go.

In the spring we troll shallow water, about 8-10 feet, with Rapalas. As the water warms up, we move to trolling with spoons right near the bottom in about 120 feet of water. Lakes are a little trickier.

The trout in lakes feed on small bugs and minnows. They like cooler water, so you will find them in shadows or down deep. Fishing with a spinning rod and a trout spinner will give you the best results.

2. Catching trout in rivers and streams

River fishing is what most people think of for catching trout. So, how to catch trout in a river and streams? Well, In the spring of the year, trout will move into tributaries from larger bodies of water.

Here is where wading in streams with a fly rod and glass bead will be very effective. For river trout fishing tips and float fishing, check out our rigging section above for the how-to on a float setup.

3. Catching trout in the sea

How to catch sea trout, the same way you would catch a brown trout. Look for shallow water and tributaries and fish with large flies on a spinning rod or fly rod.

Sea trout are just brown trout that have access to the ocean or saltwater. Look for areas where tributaries are flowing into the saltwater. Cast upstream and retrieve toward the open water, as if your bait were a bug that landed in the stream and was being washed out to sea with the current.

4. Catching trout in creeks

Small streams are one of the most challenging areas to catch trout. The trout can see predators and anglers, so they are unlikely to bite if you are standing close or wading in the water. Tips for trout fishing in creeks are as follows.

First, stand back and spot fish before casting. Next, wear earth tones or camouflage to stay hidden. And lastly, use lightweight line and tackle. Creek fishing is challenging and rewarding all at the same time.


How to Catch Trout (4 Trout Fishing Techniques)

1. Drift fishing

This method involves casting your line upstream and letting the current or flow of the water to drift the bait past the fish you are targeting in the most natural presentation possible. Powerbait is great for this method of trout fishing. The fish are used to feeding on items that drift by in the current, which makes them strike quickly.

2. Float fishing

This is a great method for catching trout in a river system. We explained the float setup in an earlier section, and the technique is similar to drift fishing. You cast your bait and float indicator upstream and let the current do the work from there.

The best part of float fishing is watching the indicator be sucked under the water, meaning a fish has taken your bait. The float inking indicates a bite makes this method great for beginners. The length of the leader beneath the float positions your bait perfectly in the water column.

3. Fishing with jigs

Jig fishing is the easiest! While it may seem elementary, jig fishing is super effective for trout. Hair jigs or soft plastics can be cast and bounced along the bottom in multiple retrieval intervals to land a hungry trout.

To jig fish, you can cast from a bank or a boat. Floating stationary is effective, and vertically jigging spoons work well in deep water for lake trout. Jigging is also the preferred method of ice fisherman.

4. Tight lining

My personal favorite, tight lining is by far the most challenging method of trout fishing. For this, you will be using a fly rod and reel with a monofilament setup. The trick with tight lining is to keep all of your line, including the leader (preferably colored) out of the water.

The tippet and fly are the only elements of the setup that are touching the water. You drift your fly with the current, and as soon as the leader material begins to move in the wrong direction, you set the hook. Practice and experience are the keys.

How To Catch Trout

Bonus: Seasonal Trout Fishing Tips & Techniques

The best season to catch trout is when the fish are biting. Sometimes finding where the fish are biting is more important than when. Seasons like spring and fall are traditionally better for trout fishing because the water in streams is usually flowing better at these times of the year.

The faster the water flow, the less time a fish has to decide on whether or not your bait is food or not. This drives them to instinctively strike quickly. Summer is a great time to fish deep water, and winter finds fish like lake trout very active.

1. Summer trout fishing

Fishing in the summer months for trout can be very rewarding. In the heat of the summer, focus on fishing deeper water where the thermocline is present.

This is where the warm surface water meets the cold water from the bottom. Trout love water that is  55-degrees Fahrenheit. Use your electronics to find this and you will surely find the fish.

2. Winter trout fishing

Winter is a great time to ice fish for trout. If you get the chance to get out on the hard water, use a combination of minnow and jig fishing tactics to draw the trout in.

Trout love cold water and are their most aggressive in this season. A tip for winter trout fishing is to find where fish are present before setting up completely. Trout are not moving great distances to find food, so if you can find the fish first, you will have a better chance at catching them.

3. Fall trout fishing

When the leaves begin to change and the fall rains engorge tributaries, run to your local trout stream. Fall trout feed on eggs of other fish, so spawn sacks or glass beads are what you will want to use as bait. This time of year is great for catching rainbows early in the mornings before the sun has had a chance to warm up the riverbed.

4. Spring trout fishing

Spring trout fishing is my favorite, and arguably the best time of year to catch these fish. As the snow melts, the rivers begin to flow. This brings trout into the tributaries from the larger bodies of water. They are attracted to all of the bait being washed downstream that had recently been trapped in the ice and snow.

Bugs are beginning to hatch, and the trout are in full predation mode. This allows anglers to throw flies, spoons, and hard plastics. The fish are hungry, and the fisherman are happy!


People also Ask (FAQs)

How fast do trout grow?

Trout are a slow-growing fish. If you find a trout, especially a lake trout that is 15-20 pounds, there is a good chance that the fish could be 40 years old. These fish should always be released.

How cold is too cold for trout?

There is almost no such thing as too cold for trout. If the water is in a liquid state, trout will be found swimming in it.

Is trout a healthy fish to eat?

Trout is safe to eat. If you plan to eat your catch, make sure to eat medium size fish. Small fish do not provide enough meat to justify keeping, while large fish are the breeding population.

Do trout bite humans?

Trout are predatory fish, but they will not bite humans. Some trout do have large teeth and should be handled carefully when hooked so that the teeth do not cut you.


Conclusion

Trout fishing is a great pastime and one of my personal favorite things to do. Because there are so many species of trout and so many methods of targeting them, trout fishing never gets old. Grab a friend and grab some gear, then try your luck using the tips you have learned from this article.

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