As far as records can show, trout fishing extends back nearly a millennium to the streams, ponds and lakes of Europe. Their fight, flavor, beauty and willingness to jump earn trout a high ranking among anglers in general.
Though quite a prize to catch, they proliferate North America, Europe and even the mountains of South America. Often, a child’s first catch is a trout, mostly because it does not necessarily require sophisticated equipment and it can easily be planted in a stream, lake or pond.
A 5-foot spinning rod with a closed-faced reel and 8-pound-test line with a bobber to keep your egg or worm just off bottom can work wonders on trout. Planted trout are especially easy for a kid to catch.
- What Is and Isn’t a Trout
- Where Do Trout Live?
- When to Go Trout Fishing
- How to Fish River Trout
- How to Catch Trout in Lakes and Ponds
- Lake Trout Ice Fishing Tips
- Essentials: Rods and Reels Used for Trout
- Best Lines for Trout Fishing
- Common Trout Lures and Baits
- Sinkers, Swivels and Hooks
- A Few Tips for Beginners Seeking Trout Fishing Tips
- Finally, You Will Need a License
What Is and Isn’t a Trout
The trout is a member of a larger group of fish, the salmonid. It is a species of several coats: the German brown, rainbow, golden, cutthroat, steelhead, and Kamloops.
The Kamloops is a strain of rainbow that hosts a bit larger scales than rainbows and often redder meat when caught in its Canadian home waters.
Each type of trout features colors, speckles and other features that distinguish them from other trout. For the sake of following catch regulations if nothing else, it is important to note what a trout is not, despite inferences indicating otherwise.
Brook trout, lake trout (despite their names) and dolly varden are members of the char family, a different species than trout but also members of the salmonid family.
The char is distinguished most readily to the eye by a white strip that lines the front-side of its lower fins and its creamy or white (rather than black) spots, shaped almost like a meal worm.
Kokanee (sometimes called silvers) are not trout, but are landlocked salmon, remaining in freshwater their entire lives.
Where Do Trout Live?
Trout find home in stream, lake or pond.
However, any pond or lake that falls below the trout’s living standard of oxidization poses a threat to its existence. Essentially, the body of water must produce enough oxygen to allow the trout a healthy existence.
Most of the time, these water temperatures range roughly between 45 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
Usually, in lakes and ponds, this means that either a stream or underground brook must feed the lake, which must also be free of substances that either contain or convert to nitrogen, such as particular pollutants, including human or animal waste product.
When to Go Trout Fishing
Trout can be caught in all four seasons, including through ice. However, most anglers focus on spring, fall and autumn, especially fly fishers who depend on insect hatches to catch trout.
In streams, summer months are often better fishing than in lakes or ponds, which are more exposed to temperature extremes.
The summer doldrums definitely apply to fish, too. The trout becomes more sluggish as the water temps rise.
As for time of day, morning is the best bet in most cases, whether fishing streams, lakes or ponds.
As the sun rises, the angler must be aware of his or her shadow which can spook a trout. The angler must also look for sections of the water that provide shelter from the sun but at the same time a steady stream of food.
For example, an overhang along the bank can afford the trout a shady haunt but access to grasshoppers or other insects cruising by in the slot of the current just beyond the undercut.
Dusk and early evening also brings about the bite when it comes to trout, especially because insect hatches flourish at this time.
How to Fish River Trout
Where to Find Trout in Streams and Rivers
Because of their current and the current’s transmission of oxygen, streams prove ideal habitat for all kinds of trout.
From Northern California, to Montana’s blue-ribbon trout streams and Pennsylvania’s limestone creeks, trout need only to cruise the current to seek its food and when tired of fighting current, find structure in the stream that breaks said current, preferably protection fairly close to its source of food.
Look for trout just outside slots of current, in pools, behind current breakers such as large boulders or logs, and along undercuts of the stream side. These spots afford shelter from current while proximity to food.
Spawning trout gravitate to gravelly, shallow spots outside of the strong current.
Trout Fishing Techniques for Rivers and Streams
Rivers and streams allow four approaches, basically, to catching trout:
- Let your line lie stationary on the bottom with bait (e.g., worms, eggs, Powerbait, hellgrammites, periwinkles and similar riverbed insects).
- Cast and retrieve lures through the pool or current.
- Bounce your bait and sinker along the bottom in the current (sometimes called ‘drifting’).
- Fish with fly imitations on top of the water, just under it or deep and near the bottom (mostly done with nymph patterns).
How to Catch Trout in Lakes and Ponds
Finding trout in lakes
Because a trout’s ideal temperature range is smaller than many other gamefish, an angler needs to bring bait or lure to the appropriate depth.
Shallows and shelves can be productive in early morning before the sun hits them. As the sun rays just begin to spray the water’s surface, a lot of insect activity occurs and trout will feast before the sun rises too high.
As the day wears on, trout will seek shelter from the sun and warmer water. Look for them just off of shelves, points or drop-offs where they wait for food to present itself along the edge of these structures.
In very hot weather, go deeper or around inlet streams. Some inlets, lined by trees and other vegetation, are deep enough to keep temps just right for feeding trout.
A strong insect hatch will again bring trout back to shallower haunts once the sun meets horizon, near dusk and later.
When spawning, trout will not be found deep but in the shallower water. For instance, rainbows will be found there around spring, when they normally spawn, while spawning browns and cutthroats seek the shallower shelves during fall.
All because trout continually seek the right ambient temperature, keep your search mobile; try different depths and features in a lake throughout the day.
Finding trout in ponds
Ponds pose different rules than lakes because, by nature, are much smaller than most lakes and usually void of inlet or outlet streams. Many are indeed stocked with hatchery trout, though so are many lakes.
For trout, a pond must maintain enough depth to keep the water temp below 60 degrees Fahrenheit or be fed by a brook, underground or otherwise.
Some manmade ponds feature oxygenation devices, including a pump that sprays water from the pond back into it—essentially simulating running water or an incoming stream.
Some private land owners charge anglers to fish for trophy trout in their ponds. Some of these even run resorts on such ponds. These ponds are especially managed to maintain enough oxygen and proper habitat for trout.
Generally, if a pond’s depth extends to 30 feet or more, trout are often able to live in it year-round, depending on the region and weather extremes.
A pond must offer trout refuge and a food supply as a lake or stream, given the limitations of depth.
In the mornings, insect hatches and shallower sections of a pond can be very productive, not unlike lakes.
Similarly, as the day wears on, the trout is likely to be near the middle or deepest sections of a pond.
Because of its smaller size, a pond does not offer trout as wide of expanse to seek food or refuge. Therefore, a pond is much easier for an angler to explore and find trout.
How to Fish for Trout in Lakes and Ponds – Best Techniques
Lakes offer a variety of options when it comes to methods for catching trout:
1. Casting and retrieving lures.
2. Still fishing with bait and sinker near or on bottom or with a bobber that keeps sinker and bait off the bottom.
3. Fly fishing on top of the surface, just under the surface or deep.
4. Trolling (dragging a fly or lure with or without bait behind a boat).
5. Jigging a lure straight up and down from a boat or pier.
Lake Trout Ice Fishing Tips
If fishing through the ice, a hole must be cut through the ice to allow your line to drop into the pond or lake.
Either still fishing with bait or jigging a lure straight up and down work best when ice fishing.
An automatic auger, manual auger or even an axe can be used to punch your hole in the ice.
Essentials: Rods and Reels Used for Trout
Whether fishing lakes, ponds or streams, you can either use spin gear (monofilament, spinning rod, spinning reel), a bait-casting reel and rod (closed-face or horizontally spooled reel and a rod with smaller line guides than a spinning rod), or fly-fishing gear.
If spin fishing, a rod of 5-6 feet in length suffices for most trout fishing. Some like to gain extra casting distance and rod strength by using a 6-1/2- to 7-foot rod.
Spinning reels (easily recognized by the semi-circular metal bail from which your line spools out on a cast) work well for casting lures, still fishing with bait or even trolling.
Bait-casting reels and rods work well for trolling, casting or still fishing as well. A lot simply depends on personal preference when choosing between spinning or bait-casting gear.
A child often starts with a closed-face reel and short bait-casting rod because knots do not develop as easily as with other gear.
Best rods are generally made of either fiberglass or graphite, the most popular because of its lighter weight—without compromising strength—when compared to fiberglass.
Cork handles keep the rod light and more buoyant should it slip out of your hands or the boat and land in the water. Though many rods include a tiny metal loop just above the handle for securing the hook while you are on the move, cork handles also allow a safe bed for a hook.
Fly fishing requires rods in the 7-9 foot range, depending on the size of trout you seek and how far you wish to cast. Reels are usually single action (1:1 ratio of retrieve) and seated at the extreme butt-end of the rod, but for larger and stronger trout—such as steelhead—some fly reels feature higher ratios of retrieves, similar to those found on spinning reels.
To ensure optimal casting and retrieving, make sure your reel’s size and weight matches those of the rod. Stores often sell the two together to guarantee a proper balance.
Anglers who catch trout through ice often use conventional rods, but also specialized rods of only a couple feet in length with a reel seat.
Best Lines for Trout Fishing
Whether spin-fishing or bait-casting, monofilament serves as the predominant line when fishing for trout. When trolling, some anglers use braided line or leaded line, both easily found in outdoor retail stores and tackle shops.
These lines do not twist up as easily as mono when dragged behind a boat or through underlying currents.
The chosen fly line of depends on the depth or location of trout in the stream, lake or pond of choice.
A floating line presents insects that either blow onto the surface of the water, spun by dungs (winged mother insects), drop off of vegetation lining bank or shore, or swim from bottom during larval and pupal stage to become buoyant as an adult on top.
Some fly lines feature sinking tips which leave the last 10 yards or so beneath the surface while the balance of the line floats.
Other fly lines sink. These range from high-density sinkers to get near the bottom to intermediate sinkers, generally fished in 10 to 20 feet of water or at those depths.
Fly lines come in basically three designs for casting or trolling: torpedo (a weightier final 10 yards for longer casts), double-taper (a lighter landing that still gives the last 10 yards some density for casting) and level (no taper whatsoever, on either end of the line).
Common Trout Lures and Baits
Mostly, trout fill their bellies with insects. Shrimp, crayfish and other freshwater crustaceans compose a portion of their diets while minnows, leeches and terrestrials such as worms, ants and beetles fill out their regular menu.
Spinners, in still or moving water, prove excellent trout catchers, as do spoons. A spinner revolves rapidly around a shaft with a single or treble hook attached.
A spoon gains its name from its concave nature. It is oblong and most often painted, but also comes in solid silver or brass colors. Instead of spinning on a shaft, it wobbles on its own when retrieved or trolled.
Jigs can be effective when detecting trout at a particular depth in a lake or pond. These leaded heads with hackle (feathers) and hook built into it imitate a wounded swimmer or minnow when you can find docile enough water to present a straight, up-and-down jig with rod tip.
A fly fisher can choose from thousands of different patterns (tied flies) in trying to match the hatch. Some patterns are intended for sinking line while others for floating line.
Trout anglers usually put bait on their hooks when still fishing, but sometimes tip the ends of lures with a bit of worm, eggs or Powerbait. Some trollers use a spinner rig with leader at the end which hosts a hook and bait.
Productive trout baits include trout or salmon eggs, commonly bought off the shelves of outdoor retail stores; earthworms and maggots, also found in tackle shops; minnows, though check your local regulations because some jurisdictions ban live minnows; grasshoppers and crickets.
Sinkers, Swivels and Hooks
When still fishing, sinkers for trout range from bell, to sliding, to split shot and oblong, rubber-inserted sinkers that crimp the line between rubber and lead.
The latter can also work for slow trolling on or near bottom. Depending on current and depth, these sinkers range from 1/8th ounce to an ounce or more.
The most popular swivel is the barrel variety, distinguished by two rings, situated at each end of a swiveling barrel, for tying on your line and leader.
Some come in black while others come in silver or brassy colors. Some trout anglers insist on black for its stealth—it doesn’t reflect light as much as the other varieties.
Hooks usually consist of single (for still fishing with bait and sometimes at the end of a lure) and treble (usually at the end of lures). When permitted by regulations, trout angler sometimes use two or three single hooks on their leader for bait fishing. Most often, only one is used.
Treble hooks ensure the snaring of a trout’s mouth better than a single hook but can also leverage one of its opposing barbs out of a trout’s mouth, unlike a single hook. Single hooks also allow a less harmful release of a trout than a treble hook.
The size of a hook is enumerated.
A size 16 hook, usually found on small fly patterns, can fit inside the cuticle of your finger.
Sizes 6, 8 and 10 are most often used with bait when fishing for trout. Very large trout, especially steelhead, require hooks sized 0 to 4.
Pay attention to hook requirements in your regions fishing regulations. Because trout are not the hardiest of species after being hooked, many lakes and streams call for barbless, single hooks only.
Such restrictions are especially applied to those lakes, ponds and streams labeled as “quality” or “fly fishing only” waters.
A Few Tips for Beginners Seeking Trout Fishing Tips
The best way to start out trout fishing is to just keep it simple. Use the spinning or bait-casting reel that feels most comfortable to you and holds 100-200 yards of 6-8 pound test monofilament line. Choose either a graphite or fiberglass rod of 5-6 feet. Graphite is usually more expensive than fiberglass.
Buy your sliding sinkers, swivels and barbed hooks already snelled in size 8 or 10. Don’t overthink your bait.
The earthworm or nightcrawler will attract any gamefish on the planet. Start with it. If that fails, go to salmon eggs or some of the manufactured baits such as Powerbait and specially scented marshmallows. Sometimes even corn proves an effective default.
Also, start on a lake, pond or river that is stocked for opening day and be sure to fish on that day or within the first few weeks of fishing season.
If you aren’t sure whether trout fishing will be a yearly obsession for you, wait until free fishing day in your state and give it a test run.
Just be warned: You will probably get hooked on trout.
Finally, You Will Need a License
Almost anywhere you fish for trout, you are required to buy and possess a fishing license. Steelhead will sometimes require a permit or punchcard to record how many of these sea-going trout anglers take in a season. These cost extra. Some blue ribbon trout streams—a la Montana—require an extra fee as well.
Are Trout Always Red- or Pink-meated?
No. The meat in many hatchery raised trout is whitish or opaque. Trout that feed on a lot of shrimp or other crustaceans are more likely to feature red meat than those that don’t.
Do Trout Bite Because of Hunger or Agitation?
Both. Spawning trout are especially defensive and will bite from mere agitation.
Steelhead are especially wont to bite because of a territorial instinct. Otherwise, trout will usually bite because they want din-din.
How Big Do Trout Get?
Legal-sized trout will range from the length of your hand to the realm of 20 pounds and even more in the case of Kamloops or the geographically confined Beardslee trout.
Usually, trout tipping the scales at 6-10 pounds are considered lunkers or wall hangers. You will often find that smaller trout taste better than older, larger trout, however.
Can Trout Overpopulate a Lake or Stream?
Yes. In some habitat- and food-rich waters, trout can crowd out not only other gamefish but non-sporting fish as well. This usually occurs in small ponds or lakes, however.
How Can I Tell if I Catch a Hatchery or Planted Trout?
There is no steadfast or sure way to tell. However, if your trout features some nicks on its tail fin, whitish meat and coloration that fails to pop out boldly, it may likely be a hatchery fish.
You can’t necessarily tell by the fight. Some native trout can fight more sluggishly than a hatchery or planted trout and vice versa.
Can I Chum for Trout?
Chumming consists of throwing bait in bunches near your fishing line to initiate a feeding frenzy. In virtually every jurisdiction, you cannot chum for trout, but check your local fishing regs to be sure.
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