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The Ultimate Guide On How To Fish For Trout: Plus Trout Fishing Tips, Techniques & Tactics

how to catch trout

If you’re interested in learning how to fish for trout, then you’re in the right spot. The purpose of this article is to do just that...show you how to catch trout and have a good time while doing it.  

We’re going to go over all the trout fishing basics, so if you’re a beginner, then everything that you need is right here.

But even if you’re experienced in fishing for trout, I'm confident that I have some information below that may help you become an even more effective angler.  

Feel free to scan through at the table of contents and jump around to whichever section best helps you. Just need some quick trout fishing tips? Then head over to that section.

Though, if you want a crash course in trout fishing 101, then keep on reading! We have lots in store.


Introduction

I absolutely love fishing for trout. I’ve done it since I was a kid and I’ve picked up a lot of tricks along the way.  As a matter of fact, I’m teaching my 6 and 9 year olds how to fish for trout right now. I even have them all set up in the back yard with a lead weight on the end of their line so they can practice casting!

How to catch trout

My son with a stringer full of trout that he caught.

I'm telling you that because I have a lot of experience on this topic, and I want you to know that I'm speaking from experience.  And everything I teach you here are things that I’ve done myself. There’s nothing in this article other than first hand experience.


Why Learn How To Fish For Trout?

There’s a reason trout remains such a popular sport-fish around the world.  As a matter of fact, trout fishing ranks #4 in popularity in the United States! Coming in behind bass fishingcatfish and panfish; which all have much greater geographic distributions.

Some of the reasons trout fishing is so popular is because trout love to fight, they often live in beautiful mountain settings, there are plenty of them to be caught, and they're absolutely delicious table fare. 

Even if you don’t enjoy the taste of trout, you would definitely love the thrill of having a fat and healthy 16 inch rainbow on the end of your line, giving your ultralight gear a good run for its money. 

Many fish and wildlife management agencies are aware of the overwhelming popularity of trout fishing. As a result, these agencies have put a large emphasis on stocking local ponds, lakes and streams with legal size trout. These agencies manage both stocked and wild fish of all sorts of species, to cater to anglers of all interest and experience levels.

For example, my home state of Oregon stocks millions of trout annually for anglers to catch and enjoy in water bodies statewide. Additionally, they manage thousands of miles of streams and rivers for wild trout populations. Both native and non-native trout give anglers diverse fishing opportunities. 

A quick search should help you find out when and where your local Fish and Wildlife department stocks lakes and streams in your area. Additionally, local fishing shops, angling clubs, and sporting goods stores can be an excellent source of current and local fishing information.


Common Species Of Trout To Fish For

There’s actually a large list of different kinds of trout species. Many people may make it a goal to set out to travel and catch as many species as they can. However, for the average angler on most easily accessible waters, there are only a handful of trout species you would expect to come across.

Of all the trout species, the most common trout to fish for are the rainbow trout, brown trout, brook trout,  and lake trout. 

There are many other species that are also very popular such as cutthroat trout and steelhead, but for the purpose of this post, we’ll mostly just be highlighting about these 4 species that I mentioned, even though steelhead fishing is an absolute favorite of mine.

how to catch rainbow trout

Rainbow trout are extremely popular to fish for.

Rainbow trout fishing continues to remain most popular type of trout fishing, as there are widespread stocking programs nationwide. These are the trout species that are associated with most peoples first experience with trout. When you hear about a lake or a stream being stocked with trout, odds are, its rainbow trout that are being placed in that body of water.

So how do you catch all of these trout?  Keep reading to find out.

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How To Fish For Trout: Trout Fishing Basics

Trout fishing is not difficult, and it doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated.  With that said, trout fishing is one of those things that you get what you put into it.  

You can easily get started with all the trout fishing gear you need for $100 or less.  With that said, if you wanted to get into fly fishing for trout, then you can easily triple that amount.

But let’s just stick with the basics for now.  

So what kind of tackle do you need to get started fishing for trout?  Here’s what you’ll need.


Basic Trout Fishing Tackle

Here’s where you can find out more about some of the basic trout fishing gear you’ll need to get started. Just keep in mind that trout fishing is much like any other hobby...you can spend a little, or you can spend a lot. 

If cost is a factor, don’t believe anyone that tells you that you need to spend a lot of money to get started trout fishing.  You can easily get going with a basic trout fishing setup for even under $75. 

Here’s more info on what you’ll need as part of your basic trout setup.


Basic Trout Fishing Rod

Your basic trout fishing rod is going to be something that’s lightweight and light to medium action, much like the Ugly Stik Elite Spinning Rod. You can usually pick up one of these trout rods for around $50.

Personally, I don’t like to use a rod for trout fishing that’s any longer than 6 feet in length.  Unless of course you’re targeting large lake trout or steelhead. But for smaller sized trout, 18 inches or less, you would do well with a lightweight rod like the 5’6” light Ugly Stik.

Another popular choice of rod for trout fishing are ultralight fishing rods. Ultralight rods make trout fishing an absolute blast. And if you want a rod that’s solely dedicated to trout fishing and catching other small fish like crappie and bluegill, then an ultralight rod is a good choice.

However, for an all around rod, I like something that’s just a little bit more versatile, just in case I decide to toss a jig to a smallmouth bass. Ugly Stik makes a great ultralight rod too. I prefer the 2 piece 5’ ultralight rod. You can check it out here.


Basic Trout Fishing Reel

Your basic trout fishing reel is going to be lightweight and strong. There’s a ton of trout spinning reels you can choose from, but I really have become a fan of the Okuma Ceymar Lightweight Spinning Reel. It’s an excellent balance of quality and price and can be picked up for around $40.  

You can read my review of the Okuma Ceymar and get much more in depth information about this awesome and affordable basic trout fishing reel here, The Okuma Ceymar Spinning Reel (Best Spinning Reel Under $50)


Fishing Line For Trout Fishing

For trout fishing, you won’t need to put any heavier line on your reel than 6lb mono, or the equivalent if using fluorocarbon line. Therefore, a small and smooth reel will do the job.  Something with a capacity of line that the reel holds should only need to be a minimum of 70 yards with 6lb monofilament line.

You can learn the more about the differences between mono and fluorocarbon fishing lines in my post, Monofilament VS Fluorocarbon Fishing Line (5 Surprising Differences), or read more about what I've found to be the best fishing line for trout.


Other Basic Trout Fishing Gear

On top of your fishing rod setup and trout lure on the end of the line, there are a few more items that will be still be significantly helpful.  Again, these things aren't absolutely necessary to learn how to fish for trout, but they WILL make it a lot more enjoyable!

1. Fishing Line Clippers 

First off, a good pair of line clippers will save your teeth from biting through line. A simple pair of nail clippers should easily do the trick.  

But Rapala also makes a pretty cool pair of clippers that are fastened to a lanyard you can place around your neck for easy access. These are the same ones I use on all of my fishing trips. You can check them out here.


2. Fishing Pliers or Hemostats

Another tool I appreciate for trout fishing is a pair of pliers or surgical hemostats. A pair of needle nose pliers is a versatile tool that can be used for all sorts of jobs.

However, they come most in handy when trying to remove the hook from deep in a trout’s mouth, particularly if you intend to catch and release.

3. Landing Net

A landing net may also be a great tool for trout fishing. While not always necessary, certain applications prove it to be an essential piece of equipment.

Fishing nets serve a purpose of reducing the loss of fish at the critical moment of landing if you intend to take it home for the table. If practicing catch and release, nets are a critically valuable tool for safe landing of fish and overall reduce stress and wear on the fish, particularly larger trout.


Trout Fishing Techniques

Trout fishing can be hard, or trout fishing can be easy. Many new anglers are often discouraged after an unproductive outing or two. Though these same people may have been taught completely incorrect methods for effectively catching trout, thus reducing any likelihood of catching one.

But the fact is, that if these same people stick with it, and perhaps change a few of their tactics, they can turn those skunked days into "limited out" days. 

Trout can effectively be caught through a variety of fishing techniques. However, there are many  fishing techniques that will be a very poor choice for trout fishing.

With a little background, understanding and knowledge, you'll be able to best improve your odds at putting fish in your creel.

To choose effective baits and fishing rigs, you should first have a general understanding of trout behavior and feeding patterns.

Trout fishing techniques can be grouped together into 3 different methods.  Those techniques are:

  1. Bait Fishing For Trout
  2. Lure Fishing For Trout
  3. Fly Fishing For Trout

You can easily learn to fish for trout using any one of these methods. Let's take a closer look at each of these different trout fishing styles.

Bait Fishing For Trout

For the most part, wild trout persist on a diet of aquatic insects, terrestrial insects, and baitfish. Trout feed at all levels of the water column at one time or another. However, it is up to you to determine where the trout may be feeding for your particular outing.

Fishing for trout with bait is a tried and true method spanning ages. Bait fishing is usually considered a “passive” fishing technique. Meaning you cast out, then sit and wait “passively” for a trout to take your bait. Maybe offering you some much needed rest and relaxation on the waters edge.

Bait fishing for trout is generally achieved with either a bobber or sinker setup, of which we'll discuss below.

Fishing with a bobber can be an exciting visual way to bait fish for trout. It requires little work on the part of the angler other than waiting for that exhilarating moment when your bobber begins to dance on the waters surface.

Trout Bait

Here's a short list of some of the best trout bait you can use. All of these have been proven to work time and time again. 


Insects

Trout in the wild persist primarily on a diet of insects. And these insects can be some of the best bait to use for trout, hands down.  If fishing in a stream, capturing a grasshopper and placing that on your hook can also be a great way to mimic a natural and abundant food source.


Aquatic Worms

Aquatic worms are present in many streams, rivers, and lakes across the world and are a natural food source for trout. The old tried and true worm on a hook continues to be effective trout fishing bait.


Powerbait and Salmon Eggs

Powerbait and salmon eggs pre-packaged in jars continue to be a very popular bait for catching trout. These types of baits can be highly effective on hatchery-raised trout that were raised on a diet of round pellets. They are less effective on wild fish that may have little understanding of this as a food source.

A great tip for Powerbait is that it is naturally buoyant. This makes it works very well with a sinker setup as it floats enticingly just above the lake bottom where trout may be cruising.

Corn

Did you know you can even use corn as trout bait. I've caught many rainbow trout using corn and know first hand that it works well. You can learn more about fishing with corn in this article I wrote.


Lure Fishing For Trout

On top of aquatic insects, which may compose the vast majority of a trout’s diet, baitfish represent a high-energy food source for trout. For some species, such as large mature Brown Trout, baitfish may compose the majority of their diet entirely!

Trout are very attracted to a large easy meal. They will rarely waste their time chasing large schools of baitfish, unlike bass, which will push baitfish into large boils on the surface. Instead, trout are going to look for a lone easy meal. A wounded minnow or small baitfish being tossed down a turbulent river is exactly the kind of easy meal a trout is looking for.

And that's exactly what a trout lure does.  These lures mimic the kind of baitfish that a trout is going to eat.  

Trout Lures

Small lures have long been used to entice trout, particularly wild trout. Trout are very much attracted to shiny and flashing lures. These flashing, spinning and wobbling acrobatics that these type of lures perform indicate an easy large meal to trout.

Spinner baits have been a long used tried and true lure for trout fishing. Spinners like the Rooster tail and other small lures with a shiny spinning blade are excellent at eliciting an attack response from trout.

On top of spinners, other small shiny spoons such as Kastmasters (a personal favorite of mine) are effective on trout of all types and sizes. You could be fishing a creek, lake, river for all sorts of species of trout with shiny lures. Another benefit of these small metal lures is that they cast very well with ultralight trout setups. You can lob them way out into a lake or flick them under a branch overhang on a creek with ease.

Baitfish style crank baits are also an effective lure against more predatory trout. Larger lures may be less effective on hatchery-raised fish, but can be deadly on big wild trout looking for a hefty meal. The Rapala Countdown continues to be a favored trout lure do its its ability to sink at a predictable rate of 1 foot per second, allowing you to reach down to hiding trout. Other jointed type lures that mimic a wounded baitfish can also be deadly against trout.

For most beginners, in the end, I would recommend utilizing small spinners such as Panther Martins, Roostertails and Kastmasters for trout. These lures continue to be highly effective on a wide range of trout. Try varying your fishing depth, retrieve style, and retrieve speed to determine what it is the trout are wanting.


Fly Fishing For Trout

The traditional method for trout fishing involves mimicking their natural food source, small insects. Trout spend much of their life eating the tiniest of aquatic and flying insects, so they must eat a lot to sustain themselves.

Fly fishing is a method that uses a specialized gear set to be able to cast the tiniest of insect replicators, ever so delicately, to awaiting trout. Fly-fishing uses a long flexible pole and heavy fishing line to propel fishing flies to trout.

Fly fishing is a method that is equally at home in creeks, rivers or lakes. The gear is a little more expensive and the learning curve a bit higher than conventional spin fishing. Though the rewards that many people get from fly fishing are worth all of the extra work.

For a complete and in depth guide on how to get a jump start on learning how to fly fish for trout, take a look at my post, The Ultimate Guide To Fly Fishing For Beginners!

Trout Flies

The benefit of fly fishing is being able to mimic the true natural prey sources for trout. This can be essential to fool well-educated wild trout. While bait fishing anglers could fish one hole in a creek all day with Powerbait, there could be a large brown trout at the bottom watching it roll past every time.

However, for the educated angler who knows, dragging a large fly to imitate a crayfish or baitfish down near the big Brown trout may be greeted with the battle of the day.

Dry Flies

When most people thinking of a fishing fly, they imagine a delicate floating fly to imitate a small flying insect. These so called “dry-flies” are a traditional and iconic method of fly fishing. It gives anglers the thrill of watching a giant 18-inch trout rise to the surface to take your fishing fly, no bigger than your pinky nail.

Nymphs

Aquatic insects, often the larval form of flying insects, also compromise a majority of a trout’s diet. Flies that imitate this type of food are called “nymphs”. These are fished below the surface in both stillwater and moving water.

Streamers

Trout flies also imitate baitfish and larger prey, such as crayfish. These larger flies are designed to be fished below the surface. These types of flies are collectively referred to as “streamers” and are a fun active way to entice some larger fish out of hiding.

Fishing flies are made in all shapes, sizes, and colors into what are referred to as different “fly patterns” to imitate anything from a swimming mouse down to a mosquito larvae. However, there are methods to use fishing flies with out a fly fishing rod. By using what is known as a “casting bubble” some flies, particularly streamers, can be used with a spinning rod setup.


Trout Fishing Rigs

Catching trout can easily be accomplished across a wide range of conditions with only a few simple rigs. These are tried and true methods for trout fishing and the only three you will find me rigging up on my pole if I am going fishing for trout.  They are: 

  1. Sinking Bait Trout Fishing rig
  2. Floating Bait Trout Fishing Rig
  3. Lure Rig For Trout Fishing

Let's take a closer look at each of these trout rigs.

Sinking Bait Trout Fishing Rig

During warm days when trout descend to the bottoms of the lake to seek the colder waters, a sinking bait rig is the ticket. All that you need for a sinking bait rig is a slip sinker, swivel, hook, and bait.

To rig a slip sinker, first slide the eye of a slip sinker on the end of your fishing line. Then tie a swivel to the end of the line to prevent losing the sinker. On the other end of the swivel, attach a 12-18” piece of fishing line and attach your hook. Ideally a fishing line that is a slightly lesser pound test than your main line, that way if your line breaks, it is only on the very end of your rig.

With this setup, a trout will be able to take the bait without feeling resistance of the sinker. With this setup, you also don’t have a visual indicator on the surface. Therefore, it is best to keep a finger on the line to feel for any bites. You can also closely watch the fishing line to detect any movement.

Floating Bait Trout Fishing Rig

For a more visual form of fishing, try the excitement of fishing with a bobber. Nothing quite beats the exhilaration of watching your bobber begin to dance and then quickly be pulled under the water's surface by the force of a trout.

While a slip bobber rig takes a slightly more work than a clip on bobber, it is a much more versatile and effective rig for trout fishing. This is particularly the case with deeper lakes. However, in a shallow stream or river, a clip on bobber could be just as effective for less work.

A slip-bobber rig works similar to the aforementioned slip-sinker rig. To begin, take a bobber stop that is included with most slip bobbers available and thread it onto the end of your fishing line. This will serve as an adjustable point to stop your bobber. By sliding this up and down the line, you can fish your bait suspended in the water practically as deep as you want. After the bobber stop, slide on your bobber and tie on a swivel to stop it from sliding off your line. Just like the sinker setup, tie on 12-18” section of fishing line and attach your hook. When you cast, you'll only be dealing with your bobber and this short section of line, despite actually fishing your bait much deeper to the point of your bobber stop.

Lure Rig For Trout Fishing

This may be the simplest rig of all! There are not nearly as many components to worry about as the bait fishing rigs. When fishing with a lure for trout, you can keep it as simple as tying the lure directly to the end of your line if that is all you have. However, due to the lures inevitable spinning action, this may put twists in your line that could potentially reduce the breaking strength.

The preferred method of attaching a trout fishing lure is to tie a clip swivel to the end of your line and attach your lure to that. Not only will this reduce line twists, it will also allow for a more realistic presentation and make it easier to switch out between lures. By quickly rotating through lures, you can quickly determine what the trout will prefer to eat at that given time.

To make the lure rig even more effective, you can tie a 18" to 24" leader to the lure and tie a loop at the end of the leader.  You can then simply attach the loop to the clip swivel.  This can help, especially with trout, because you can tie a much lighter leader compared to your main line.  This lighter line will be much less visible to trout, which can be very line weary, especially in very clear water.


Where To Fish For Trout

Many species of trout have evolved and adapted to a wide variety of specialized local conditions. From big deep water Lake Trout to high mountain stream and tiny Brook Trout, trout can be found in creeks, rivers, and lakes across the world.

how to catch trout in rivers

Trout thrive in cold water streams and lakes.

Though trout can be found in a wide variety of habitats, there are a couplerequirements necessary for all species of trout. These trout water requirements are: 

  • Cold temperature water
  • Clean water

First and foremost, trout are considered a cold-water fish. No matter where they live, they thrive on colder temperatures. For many species of trout, temperatures above 70 degrees are highly stressful and 80 degrees or more can be lethal.

In addition to cold water, trout require high quality clean water. This is the type of water generally found in high mountain streams. However, trout can still be found in murky water. 

What trout need it the water you cannot necessarily see. It all comes down to the chemistry of the water down to the elemental and microscopic level; and anything off from normal, can be highly stressful to trout.

Though trout have generally similar habitats no matter the water body, there are certain techniques you must understand to best target trout in these different habitats.


How To Catch Trout In A Lake

Sitting on the edge of a lake and watching your bobber for indications of a strike is a timeless and classic image of trout fishing. All across the country, different lakes and reservoirs contain healthy populations of trout. Whether these trout are wild or stocked trout vary widely.

Regardless, lakes and reservoirs offer an excellent opportunity to fish for trout. For people around the country, waterbodies around them are managed specifically for trout fishing. Even in urban cities, you can find opportunity to fish for trout, sometimes in the most unlikely of places.  A quick google search of "Trout fishing near me" will often times give you some awesome leads on trout fishing locations.

The best trout rig and best trout fishing method are going to vary greatly.  As I mentioned earlier, bait rigs with a sinker or bobber are a fun and effective way to fish for trout. With a slip bobber, be sure to experiment with different depths. Sometimes trout may be almost all contained to a slim column of water that offers the best conditions for them, it is up to you to find it. Slip bobbers make this a highly effective way to do that.

In lakes, you can often see trout feeding at the surface during dawn and dusk hours. These are times when insects are hatching in the water and trout feed voraciously on them. This could be a great time to target trout with a fly rod. If you aren’t into fly fishing yet, using a bobber and bait rig near the surface might be a good way to catch these feeding trout.

If you're fishing a body of water that has a stream flowing into it or out of it, these are excellent areas that concentrate trout activity, and are some of my favorite trout fishing spots.  If I was fishing in a lake with a stream coming into it, you would likely find me fishing with lures near the inlet of the stream. This moving water carries a large amount of food into the lake, which the trout sit and wait for.


How To Catch Trout In A River

For many of the trout species out there, moving water in streams and rivers is their true and native home. On top of that, fishing in a trout stream can be a quintessential activity of nature. Watching the water rumble amongst the boulders as it has for the last set of eons brings a certain level of serenity to most anglers.

how to catch trout in rivers

Wild trout I caught in an Oregon river.

Trout fishing in streams and rivers can present a new set of challenges for some anglers. However, the strategy involved can be what appeals to many other anglers.

When fishing in a stream for trout with a spinning rod, your best bet for fishing is a small lure, spoon, or spinner of some sorts. Casting these lures into water likely to hold trout can be highly productive. 


Because the food trout eats is constantly flowing past them rapidly, they often don’t have time to get a good look at their food. So eliciting a strike in these situations can be easier than in a lake.

Alternatively, you can “dead-drift” bait such as worms. A dead-drift could be as simple as a hook and split shot sinker clipped onto your line and letting the current fish the bait. Cast upstream and let your bait drift down on past you.

When fishing smaller streams and creeks, trout fishing is all about selecting good habitat. When fishing a smaller sized piece of flowing water, it is best to plan on covering ground hiking up and down its banks. By doing this, you can continually target new water upstream or downstream where trout may be holding.

In most moving water, trout are going to really prefer larger and deeper pools. Often times they will concentrate at the beginning or end of the pool. Casting lures in and around these slower and deeper pools is a good place to start.

Undercut banks also present a great hiding hole for a hungry trout. These are areas where the current has chewed away underneath a bank, leaving an overhead covering of soil and roots. Casting a lure or bait upstream of these undercuts and letting it drift closely by it is a good bet for catching trout.

Fishing near velocity barriers, or big boulders the trout can hide behind, can be a good way to target trout. In flowing water, trout want to conserve energy when possible. Often times to do this they will sit on the downstream side of a big boulder to reduce the flow of the current they have to compete with. From this position, they can quickly strike out at food as it comes by in the current.

In larger river systems, it can be much harder to target trout habitat. A big sheet of flowing water doesn’t lend itself well to precisely identifying trout habitat. However, you can still anticipate where trout may be. Look for things like velocity barriers in the form of a gravel bar, boulder or eddy. Areas where the river is deeper are likely to hold some fish in them. In a big river system, most fishing will be done by casting far out into the current and doing a combination of drifting and retrieving lures. You can also drift a bobber and bait setup in a bigger river system. Large and heavy spoons that you can cast far into the current will be a good bet.


Conclusion

Trout fishing remains a popular and in demand sport fish because people of all walks of life enjoy getting something out of fishing for trout. Whether people catch trout for the food it provides, the thrill of the catch, or simply the serenity of it all; trout fishing as something to offer for everyone.

No matter what type of trout you are fishing for. Whether you are going to fish streams, rivers, or lakes. The information contained in this guide should give you a solid foothold and knowledge set to have good odds at catching trout. While there is still technique to be learned through years of practice, the basics contained here will undoubtedly catch you trout if you do your homework.

In most areas of the country, people have access to trout fishing within an hour or two away from them at most. If you are interested in trout fishing but are not sure where to go, a quick call or visit to your local wildlife and fish management office or even a fishing shop should provide you with much needed information.

Armed with a little knowledge and a small arsenal of gear, you could have years of enjoyment from trout fishing to come. The learning curve is fairly quick and the satisfaction level is high. Good luck out there on the water, have fun, and stay safe.


Related Posts:

1. The BEST Trout Lures Of All Time! (Top 8 Trout Fishing Lures) 

2. The BEST BAIT For TROUT (Reviews) + How To Use Each Trout Bait

3. The Best Spinning Reel For Trout (Top 5 Reviews)

4. Rippin' Lips With The Best FISHING ROD FOR TROUT

5. The Best Fishing Line For Trout: Catch More Fish With The Right Line


Article Resources:

1. Oregon Department Of Fish And Wildlife

2. Fly Fisherman

3. Game And Fish

ultimate guide to trout fishing

About the Author

When I'm not bass fishing or looking for steelhead in my home state of Oregon I can be found working on house projects dreaming of my next fishing adventure. I started this website to share just some of the things I've learned along my fishing journey, and the many things I'm still learning. Enjoy!