Behind bass and possibly panfish, trout are among the most popular fish for anglers to target in North America. Trout always put up a good fight, are abundant by both stocking and natural reproduction, and are pretty tasty when anglers decide to keep them.
There are 3 main species of trout anglers chase, and they all have somewhat similar characteristics. The Rainbow, Brook, and Brown Trout are the most common variations. There is also the wildcard steelhead, which is classified as a rainbow trout that spends time in the ocean or Great Lakes before returning to freshwater or smaller tributaries to spawn. In doing so these rainbows gain a silvery tint to them, hence their name. This habit, most commonly seen in salmon, breeds a size and toughness in the normally smaller bows which makes them living legends among trout anglers.
Where To Find The Trout
Trout are most often found in cold water and often live in moving water as they run up and down rivers and creeks. They do also live in lakes (hence the term for another species, The Lake Trout), and they are of course among one of the more commonly stocked game species, where they can be dropped in streams, ponds, and anywhere in between.
As trout are one of the more accessible food sources for wildlife, you can likely find them in the woods where you’d also find bears, bobcats, and other fishing wildlife. The more remote the river or lake, the more likely you are to find some trout swimming through their waters. This makes trout fishing some of the more active gamefishing any angler can do, where it almost crosses a line into hunting or tracking.
Trout are also abundant deep in some of the great lakes, where they can grow to massive size and put up fights usually reserved for the ocean. These trout can be found feeding on smaller fish in the depths of the lake, or more commonly during the salmon spawn, raiding their beds. Finding out where trout are stocked is simply and easy, and a week or two after a stock is always a great time to try your hand.
What Fishing Gear To Use When Trout Fishing
Since rainbow trout grow to about 12 inches, you are safe even with ultralight tackle. A standard trout fishing rig would include a spinning reel, 4-8 lb test fluorocarbon line, and a light or ultralight action rod.
There are two big rules to remember when trout fishing:
1. Powerbait will only work on stocked trout (most likely)
2. Most trout over a foot long cut flies and insects out of their diet. These won’t make or break the bite, but they will affect the type of trout you hook into.
Powerbait (or trout marshmallows, or any dough bait substitute to imitate pellets) is simply not a good choice for natives. Stocked trout grow up in hatcheries and on farms where they are fed pellets. Dough baits like Powerbait are created solely to imitate those pellets in sight, texture, and scent. If you are fishing for natives, they likely have no idea what that glob of dough floating in front of them is. While you may get a bite out of curiosity, it is unlikely that they are conditioned to eat those pellets and will lay off your line.
If you’re looking for BIG trout (steelhead or larger adults of the bows, browns, and brooks), avoid fly, mayfly and tiny-haired imitators. While they may snack on zooplankton, flies or other tiny insects occasionally, they almost exclusively eat smaller fish, worms, shrimp, and larger insects when they are over 1 foot in length. To imitate those common trout meals when trout fishing, here’s what you should throw.
The Best Lures & Rigs For Trout Fishing
To imitate the creatures trout eat, there are a few main types of lures. If you’re going trout fishing, make sure to pack at least one of each of these. And, if you're looking to purchase a gift for a trout angler, consider these as top of mind:
Crankbaits may not be your first choice when fishing for trout, but big trout will hit a crank as large as 1/3 or eve 1/2 of their size. With sharp teeth like trout have, it doesn't take much to suffice for a snack for them, and they have no problem eating portions of a fish too big to swallow whole.
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A small hook rigged with live bait, realistic soft plastics, or artificial fish putty-like will catch you trout all day long, especially if you're targeting stocked on unpressured fish. To do this, rig a bobber mear the depth you think fish are feeding, and present your bait that wat. By suspending your presentation, you'll be able to catch fish roaming in the middle of the water. In shallow water, pinch on bobbers will do the job, but you'll need slip bobbers to effectively fish trout in deep water.
Some anglers fish small split-shot or drop-shot rigs near the bottom with light-powered spinning rods at stocked ponds. I met an angler in Arizona fishing this exact method one time, he thought that stocked fish eat pellets, and while most pellets get eaten right away, a few might sink to the bottom and just lay there until a trout gobbles them up. He cast out small putty-balls made from trout dough deep into the middle of the pond and caught most of his keeper fish that way.
Split shotting 1-2 small weights about a foot above a small Aberdeen hook rigged with live bait is a great way to fish trout in current. Cast your rig out and slowly bring it back with the current while hopping your bait along the bottom. Keep the rod tip high, and don't let the bait rest on the bottom for too long to prevent snags.
Trout are the most targeted fish that fly anglers chase after and their love for catching rainbows, browns, and brook trout has created its own unique culture, industry, and overall look. Fly anglers often fish wadeable creeks, rivers, and streams in the pursuit of fish, and in these places, their ability to subtly present lures oftentimes will outproduce the tools that a conventional angler might carry. Post Fly is a fishing company that provides a monthly fly fishing box to help anglers get better equipped for chasing fish in their area. It makes fly fishing for trout approachable and fun!
Spinners and rooster tails are the bread and butter of trout anglers nationwide. Easily changed in and out on a swivel, they get bit anywhere in a lake, but their flapping blades are suited to add flash to a river current.
Learn More: Inline Spinners For Trout
4) Soft Plastics Bugs & Crickets
Grasshoppers, beetles, crickets, and other larger bugs end up falling into the rivers and streams of trout all the time. They're used to seeing them as easy snacks. Try drowning live grasshoppers or using imitators to float in the current.
Tubes or grubs imitate zooplankton and other easy snacks all fish snack on. Truth be told they don't look much like anything swimming in the water. But truth be told they get bit a LOT. So, keep them in the tackle box.
Trout love to feast on smaller baitfish, especially bigger trout. The best way to trigger strikes when they are up feeding on baitfish is a paddletail swimbait that can disrupt the column.
Obviously, live worms get bit by just about every fish and this is one of the most simple trout catching techniques. Some downsized soft plastic worms are great choices for trout. Bright colors that can be detected in moving water are a plus when fishing rivers.
When we talk about crankbaits for trout, it is not the same traditional form of crankbaits you would throw at a bass. While bass fishing with crankbaits, you are imitating common forage of baitfish such as shad, bluegill, or perch. Lipped baits you would throw while trout fishing can imitate anything from minnows and baitfish to creatures such as crickets, grasshoppers, or beetles. These are the types of bugs that fall from branches and bushes into cold water creeks and streams, where trout are lingering for an easy meal.
More: Trout Fishing Spoons
Flashy spoons, especially those tipped with feathers and sometimes even wax worms, are effective for trout all year long. They thrive, however, in colder weather when the bite slows down. Their flashiness can annoy and entice into a bit bite.
7) Powerbait & Salmon Eggs
Essentially any dough bait will be called "power bait" by a trout angler, just like every tissue is called a kleenex and every disc is called a frisbee. If there are stocked trout anywhere in the vicinity, it's worth having a few colors of power bait to ball up onto a hook and give it a go.
Trout are notorious scavengers, raiding spawning beds of other fish constantly to feed on their eggs. Cut one belly open and you'll see tons of roe. Thread a few onto a size 6 hook and they will treat it like a buffet.
Trout Fishing World Records
Brook Trout: 6.57 kg (14 lbs. 8 oz.)
Cutthroat Trout: 18.59 kg (41 lbs. 0 oz.)
Bull trout: 14.51 kg (32 lbs. 0 oz.)
Rainbow trout: 21.77 kg (48 lbs. 0 oz.)
Lake trout: 32.65 kg (72 lbs. 0 oz.)
Brown Trout: 19.08 kg (42 lbs. 1 oz)
Updated March 15th, 2022 at 8:43 AM CT