How to Fish For Trout: The Ultimate Guide

April 8, 2020

How to Fish For Trout: The Ultimate Guide

Trout is one of the most popular freshwater gamefish. But how do you fish for trout? Where are the best places to fish for trout? And what should you use for lures and bait? We’re here to help!

In this article, we’ll highlight the most popular ways to fish for trout, the most appropriate tackle to use for fishing for trout, as well as the different types of trout you can fish for. We’ve researched what trout fishing techniques are most effective for different situations, as well as the time of year that’s best for fishing for trout. Get ready to become an expert trout fisherman!

fishing for trout

Where and When to Find Trout

There are many types of trout that are prolific around the world. If you want to learn more about the different types of trout, feel free to scroll down to the bottom of the page. We go into detail on common types of trout you can fish for. 

As far as where trout can be found, their living habits are split into two categories: still water (such as lakes and ponds) and moving water (like rivers and streams). Both habitats need to have cool, clean water, an abundance of trout food (insects, crawfish, and smaller fish), and underwater structures to hide from predators.

Lakes and Ponds

In order for trout to find food in still waters, they need to actively swim out and search for it. Often times this means leaving the cover they’ve identified as a good hiding place from predators. It’s best to look for trout in the following locations:

  • Around underwater structures that are sticking out of the water, such as stumps, large boulders, logs, or near an inlet where a stream is flowing into the pond or lake. The inlets provide freshwater and will attract animals that trout like to eat.
  • Around or on underwater vegetation (like grass or trees)
  • In deeper waters. This works especially well in the warmer summer months when trout are looking to escape the warmer shallows.

Time of Year

The best time of year to fish for trout in lakes or ponds depends on the elevation/ambient temperature of the lake or pond. In higher elevations, the best time to fish for trout is in the transition months of April and May and September and October. These months the water is colder and the trout are more active. Many lakes and ponds are also stocked during these months. In the summer, fisherman will need to adjust their fishing style to the deeper parts of the ponds and lakes. Trout fishing can also be successful in the winter, but anglers must prepare for being out in the cold and dealing with the elements.

River and Streams

Trout fishing in rivers can also be very effective, especially if you know where to look. As mentioned above, looking around underwater structures or near rocks are often a good spot to start. Trout like to congregate in deeper “holes” that form behind rapids or rough parts in a river. The trout wait in these deeper parts of the stream for insects and other sources of food to wash past them in the stream. Look for slower pools where the river flow isn’t as intense as other spots. Some other places to look for trout in rivers:

  • Near steep banks or areas of erosion.
  • Behind large boulders or rocks.
  • Look for patches of water that bumpy (often a sign of underwater rocks).

Time of Year

Similar to lakes and ponds, the best time to fish for trout in rivers and streams is in the transition months. Both the spring and the fall are excellent times. In the summer, look for parts of the river where water is turbulent as this is where the water is getting re-oxygenated. Trout like these locations as they’re essential for their breathing. In the winter, look for trout in the slower parts of the river. They’re more sedentary in the winter and will be trying to avoid rough water.

Rods, Reels, and Lures Needed for Trout.

Trout fishing setups can range from simple, to complicated. For this article, we are going to focus on the more simple setups for catching trout. You’ll need a rod, reel, fishing line (low test monofilament is perfect), bobbers, lures, weights, bait hooks, and either natural or artificial bait. Here are our favorites of each of the above:

Ugly Stik Elite Spinning Fishing Rod. We also have an in-depth trout fishing rod buying guide here.

Pfleuger President Spinning Reel. We also have an in-depth trout fishing reel buying guide and best spinning reels under $50 as well.

Berkley 6lb Monofilament.

Panther Martin Spinning Lures.

Freshwater Fishing Hooks.

Assorted Bobbers.

PowerBait Trout Nibbles.

Assorted Split Shot Weights.

Now that you know where to look and have the appropriate tackle, let’s go over popular trout fishing techniques for both rivers/streams and lakes/ponds.

Trout Fishing Methods for Rivers/Streams

In river and streams, the water is moving – so you’ll need to account for that when casting and presenting your lure to the fish. 

  • Be sure to cast five to ten feet upstream of where you think the fish are, that way the current will pull your lure directly past them when you reel it in.
  • Don’t let too much of the line drag in the water. If the current is rough, this could disturb the action of your lure or bait which will scare the trout. 
  • Another option for slower currents is to cast bait with a bobber and some split shot upstream from the trout. This will allow the bait to slowly float past the trout and hopefully entice them into biting.
  • For deeper pools where the water is relatively still, you can use the above techniques and add your own action to the lure by reeling it in faster.

Trout Fishing Methods for Lakes/Ponds

There are many ways to fish for trout in lakes and ponds, but we’ll highlight the most popular and easy to implement.

  • Cast a spinning lure towards where you think the fish are hiding. Cast your lure ten feet or more past where you think the trout are hiding, then reel the lure in so it goes right past them. Be sure to let the lure sink for a few seconds before reeling in as this will get it closer to where the trout are in the water. You can also add action to the lure by softly jerking the rod forward in a rhythmic manner. Look for areas where fish flies or mayflies are near the surface.
  • Fish with bait off the bottom. This is the most simple way of fishing for trout in lakes and ponds. Simply attach a piece of bait to your hook and add a split shot weight about two to three feet up on the line, then cast to where you think the trout are hiding. Be sure to pay close attention to the tension on the line, as a trout may bite and you’ll need to set the hook.
  • Fish with bait and bobber. Similar to the above technique, except you add a bobber another three feet up on the line from the split shot. This will keep the bait suspended in the water, and is better for deeper locations where you might not be able to reach the bottom. As with the bottom fishing technique, pay close attention to the tension on the line and give it a firm jerk if you feel any bites.
  • Trolling from a boat. If you’re lucky enough to own a boat, trolling trout lures is most likely your best option. Troll them at 1.5 to 3 mph and use a fish finder to get your depth correct.

Types of Trout

Now that you’re ready to fish for trout, let’s look into some of the most common types of trout you can fish for.

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow Trout are the most common freshwater trout in North American. They can be identified by looking for a pink stripe on their sides, accompanied with many brown and black dots. Rainbow trout often grow to 4 or 6 lbs, and live in both rivers and lakes. They prefer clear, cold water and enjoy eating various insects and small aquatic life.

Brown Trout

Brown trout are not native to North America; they were introduced in 1883 and enjoy living in deeper lakes and water inlets. Brown trout often grow to be larger than rainbow trout, sometimes up to 20 lbs in big lakes. Brown trout have a varied diet, but will go after common spinning lures and PowerBait.

Cutthroat Trout

Cutthroat trout are named after the orange/red highlights they have on the bottom of their jaws that make them easily identifiable. Cutthroat often live in rivers or streams near the coast, and enjoy swimming into estuaries or other outlets to the ocean. Larger Cutthroat will often spend most of their time in the ocean, only coming into freshwater to feed on smaller fish. Cutthroat often grow to 4 or 6 lbs.

Brook Trout

Brook trout are rarer than the other types of trout, but are just as much fun to catch. While technically not a trout (they’re actually a type of char), their size and living location is very similar to trout. Brook trout are often found in alpine lakes and high elevation streams and rivers. In rivers and streams they often only grow to be several pounds, however, in lakes they have been known to grow to around 10 lbs. Brook trout eat all they same insects and foods other varieties of trout feed on.

Steelhead Trout

Steelhead are actually the anadromous form of rainbow trout – which means they live in the ocean and go upstream in freshwater rivers to spawn. They have a very similar coloring to rainbow trout, however, they are able to grow much larger (8 to 11 lbs). In rare cases, they can grow over 20 lbs! Steelhead are very athletic fish, as they often have to swim over intense obstacles to get to their spawning grounds. Steelhead are native to North America and reside west of the Rocky Mountains.

Fishing License and Keeping Fish

We also wanted to highlight the legality of keeping fish and where you can buy fishing licenses. Many states require fishing licenses to fish, so you should check this website to determine what you need to buy to fish.

Another topic we wanted to cover is how to properly set free a trout you caught. If you’re planning on cleaning and cooking your caught trout, awesome – just be mindful of leaving enough fish for others to enjoy! For those looking to release a trout they caught follow the below steps.

  • Before even starting to fish for trout, consider using barbless hooks. It makes catch-and-release much easier.
  • Try and land your trout quickly. The more you fight it the more the fish will tire and be vulnerable to predators.
  • Get your hand wet before handling the trout. This reduces the damage you’ll do to their skin when holding them.
  • Try to not remove the fish from the water. If you want to take a picture, do it quickly!
  • Use needle-nose pliers to remove the hook from the trout’s mouth. If you don’t have one, consider buying our favorite pair we’ve used over the years. If the hook is stuck in deep, cut the line near the hook and let the fish go. The hook will rust away after some time.
  • Let the fish “catch it’s breath” for a bit in the current before releasing it.

Final Thoughts

That’s pretty much all we had for you for trout fishing! You now know the different techniques, places, and fishing gear needed for trout fishing. Feel free to leave any additional tips you might have in the comments, and looking forward to hearing your stories on catching trout!

Happy Hunting!

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