Trout fishing is a hobby enjoyed by millions of people around the world. Trout fishers have a rich shared history and hobby culture, which might make it seem daunting to get into. But anybody can fish for trout! This article will help you understand the basics of trout fishing, and how it’s done.
What Is Trout Fishing?
Trout fishing is any fishing done with a species of trout as the target. There are many different species of trout that thrive in freshwater around the world. Many anglers who pursue trout travel the world in search of the best trout waters, but it’s likely that you can find a trout stream or pond much closer to home.
What Is a Trout, Anyways?
The term “trout” doesn’t just refer to one kind of fish. In fact, this catch-all term includes some fish that aren’t even scientifically considered trout! The fish we call trout tend to live in cool water and usually stay around a foot or two in length. Even though they’re not huge, they put up a great fight when they’re on the end of your line, which is part of what makes them so fun to fish for. They feed primarily on invertebrates but will take minnows and other bait as well– these are predatory fish.
It’s important to note that while most trout stay fairly small, they’re limited by the size of their environment. Trout that live deep in the Great Lakes and in large lakes in Canada can reach enormous sizes; the record for lake trout, for example, is 102 pounds. These massive lake trout are atypical, however.
The three most common trout species to start fishing for are rainbow trout, brown trout, and lake trout. Steelhead trout is also popular with beginners, but steelhead trout are actually just a coastal variant of rainbow trout. To learn more about the different types of trout, we have a guide to all of the trout species in North America, including their ranges, average size, and record sizes here.
|All US states except AK, FL, HI, LA, and MS
|Widely distributed in northern North America
|Introduced nearly everywhere where temperatures are suitable
|Coastal North America
If you want to learn more about all of the trout species, read our full article here.
Trout Fishing Techniques
Because trout are so common, there are many ways to fish for them. The two most common are spin fishing and fly fishing. We have a detailed guide to the differences between spin fishing and fly fishing here if you want more information, but for the beginning trout fisher, here are the key things you need to know.
Spin or Bait Fishing
Spin fishing is also known as bait fishing. In this technique, you use a spinning reel with some kind of sinking lure to catch fish. The bait you use can vary widely; trout have a wide variety of diet, so lots of different bait, lures, and flies can catch trout. Bugs make up the majority of their diet, so insects like crickets and waxworms are a good choice. Bait can be real bait, like worms, but can also be lures that are retrieved and casted repeatedly.
When you’re spin fishing, you’ll most likely be in a boat or on the shore of a lake. Usually you spin fish on still water– you can spin fish on moving water, but most people prefer lakes or ponds for spin fishing.
Fly fishing is more complicated and difficult than spin fishing, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t start with fly fishing. It involves the use of a very small lure (fly( that either sits on top of the water (“dry fly”) or dips into the water (“nymphing”). The lures used in fly fishing are meant to mimic insects that the fish are eating, and the technique often involves a lot of line manipulation to keep the flies moving realistically.
Fly fishing is usually done from the bank of a body of water or actually in the water. It requires a great deal of space and movement and isn’t the best activity to try to do in a boat not designed for fly fishing for beginners.
If you are a beginner fly fisher, you’ll get a lot of value out of our beginner’s guide to fly fishing. No matter what you’re fishing for, you should start there if you’re new to the sport of fly fishing.
Gear Needed for Trout Fishing
You don’t need to buy the most expensive gear for trout fishing, especially when you’re just beginning. The gear you buy depends on the fishing style you’d like to learn.
Spin Fishing Gear
For spin fishing, pick one that’s about 6-7 feet long and made of lightweight, durable material. You can use a spinning rod and reel or a baitcasting rod and reel. You will also need a line to go on that reel. Most fishers use monofilament, but braided line and other types work well, too. You will need bobbers, swivels, sinkers, and of course, hooks. You will also need lures or bait. Soft plastic lures work, but live bait really is attractive to trout.
Spin fishing gear for trout is generally a lighter weight rod, and lighter weight line than what is used for other species. Generally line is 4-6 pound test as trout can sometimes be spooked by thicker line, and rods meant for smaller fish will give you a bit more of a fight, and therefore a bit more fun.
Fly Fishing Gear
Fly fishing requires a fly rod, fly line, and flies. A 5-weight fly rod is perfect for beginners because it’s so versatile for trout fishing. Fly rods often don’t come with reels, so you’ll need to find a reel that works with your rod, or you can choose a beginner-friendly rod and reel combo.
Fly line is more complex than spin fishing line. There are three pieces to your fly line: the leader, the tippet, and the fly line itself. The fly line is then attached to the backing, which is a clear, less technical line that adds length to your fly line. The size and type of the leader, tippet, and fly line depend on the size of the fly you’re using.
You may want to equip your rig with a strike indicator to make it easier to see when a fish has taken your fly. Accessories and tools like clamps, fly boxes, tippet holders, clippers, and fly floatant will also make your foray on the water a lot easier.
Generally, trout fishing means that you are fishing on a lighter rod, a 5 weight or less, lighter line, and small tippet compared to other species. Using 4x-7x tippet is common for trout.
Regardless of fishing style, there is some safety gear that all anglers need. You’ll want a pair of polarized sunglasses to make it easier to see the fish, and if you plan on getting in the water, you’ll want some waders or wet wading gear. You’ll definitely want a tackle box or a fly box for different lure options, and you’ll need a rubber landing net to bring your catch in safely. You will also need a way to transport your fishing gear, and you’ll likely want a fishing backpack to tote your supplies to the boat or the water.
Once you have all that, it’s time to go looking for trout!
Where Are Trout Located?
In the US, trout can be found in many types of freshwater fishing locations. They live in lakes, streams, ponds, creeks, and rivers. Even in locations where trout aren’t natively found, many states have stocked them so that people can enjoy fishing. Additionally, stocked fisheries are often “put-and-take” fisheries, where the waters are stocked with fish of an edible size that anglers take away with them instead of doing catch-and-release.
If you’re just starting out with trout fishing, a lake might be your best bet. You can fish from a boat or the shore, and lakes are frequently stocked with trout, making it easy to reel in some fish.
When you’re on the water, different species of trout like different bottom conditions. However, all trout like to be in the shade during the sunniest parts of the day, so look for overhangs and shady spots in the water that are protected by logs or other barriers. These are great places to find trout.
Finally, especially if you’re brand new to trout fishing, consider hiring a local guide who knows the water well and can show you the best places to find trout. This is going to be the fastest way to learn, and also likely will guarantee success on the water.
When Should I Fish For Trout?
Trout aren’t always feeding, which means they aren’t always biting. Trout like cool water, so a shallow lake in the middle of summer isn’t going to be your best bet. Instead, think like a fish. When do the bugs come out? Bug activity patterns often mean that mornings and evenings are good times to fish for trout. Trout are most comfortable feeding when the water temperature is between 34° and 67° Fahrenheit, and they often get more active for every degree above 40° F.
Rules and Regulations
No matter where you’re fishing, there are local rules that must be followed. Unless you’re fishing on privately-owned bodies of water, you’ll need a trout fishing license. This often comes as an add-on to the regular state freshwater license called a trout stamp. This not only varies from state to state but on different bodies of water within the state– so make sure that you pay attention to all trout regulations!
Trout Fishing Regulations By State
Not all states have native trout fisheries, but even states without native trout frequently have developed trout fisheries. Rainbow trout in particular have been introduced to almost every US state– even Hawaii has trout fishing. We’ve put together a chart of all the fishing regulations in the United States; be sure that you’re following the rules wherever you choose to fish.
If you’re trout fishing internationally, you will need to find the specific rules for your destination. This may include both national and local regulations. The internet makes it relatively easy to find the trout fishing regulations in the destination of your choice, but if you want to double-check, you can always find a fishing shop wherever you’re going and ask them.
Should I Keep My Trout?
The question of keeping your trout or practicing catch and release fishing is one that all trout fishers have to think about. If you’re a spin fisher using live or real bait, you should probably keep your trout. The reason for this is that when trout hit that kind of bait, they often swallow the hook and it gets stuck too deep to remove safely. There’s no point in releasing a trout that won’t make it. If you’re a spin fisher, you should plan on taking your trout home and eating them so that they don’t go to waste.
On the other hand, if you’re a fly fisher and you’re using barbless hooks, you can catch and release your fish. Catch and release still has an environmental impact and does cause stress to the fish, but it’s less of an impact than if all caught fish were kept.
There’s also the question of what you’re actually doing to the local trout population. Some natural trout streams with native populations are overfished and only allow catch and release. Other waterways are known as “put-and-take” water. The fish in put-and-take waterways are meant to be kept because they’re stocked by local wildlife authorities. Check your local trout maps and local regulations to find out if you should keep the trout you catch or let them go.
Trout Fishing Terminology
Sometimes it seems like anglers speak their own language! This is a non-exhaustive list of fishing terms you’ll hear thrown around the trout fishing hobby.
- Action: A rod’s action is a physical property of the rod; a fast action rod bends mostly at the tip and quickly becomes rigid as you move down the rod, while a slow action rod bends from the tip all the way to the end of the rod.
- Barbed/Barbless: This refers to whether or not a hook has a pointed spur on the end that makes it stick in a fish’s mouth more firmly. A barbless hook is often used in fly fishing or for catch and release fishing.
- Bobber: A small floating object, often red and white, that’s used to suspend a bait or lure at a specific depth. Can also be called a “float.” This is also called an “indicator” in fly fishing.
- Creel Limit: The amount of fish you’re allowed to keep– the term “creel” refers to the traditional wicker basket used to store fish.
- Fly: A tiny lightweight lure resembling an insect or other prey animal.
- Drag: The part of the reel that allows fish to pull out line that can be adjusted based on how strong the fish is fighting. Most drags consist of a combination of pads and washers between the spool and the reel’s frame or pinion. They may be adjusted with a knob, lever, or star.
- Guides: When referring to a fishing rod, these are the eyes (eyelets) attached to a fishing rod where the line runs through.
- Landing Net: A net used to bring a hooked fish into a boat or up onto the shoreline.
- Leader: A length of line, usually heavier than the main line, used to connect the lure or hook to the main line. Always used in fly fishing, sometimes used in spin fishing to reduce visibility or prevent bite-offs from toothy fish.
- Sinker: A small metal weight added to the line to make the lure sink deeper or more quickly. This is also often called “split shot” or “weights”.
- Strike: When a fish bites the bait or lure.
Trout Fishing Checklist
Do you think you’re ready to start trout fishing? Make sure that you know the answers to all of the following questions!
- Know if I’m starting with spin fishing or fly fishing?
- Have the right rod, reel, line, and lures for the type of fishing I want to do?
- Know what water I’m fishing in?
- Know what kind of trout I’m fishing for?
- Have my fishing license and trout stamp if necessary?
- Have a plan to either release or keep my trout depending on what regulations say and my own plans for the fish?
- Do I have the proper safety equipment if traveling on a boat or wading in the water?
Once you can answer these questions, you’re ready to start trout fishing!
Max DesMarais is the founder of hikingandfishing.com. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor adventure, travel, and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. Max grew up hiking all around New Hampshire and New England. He became obsessed with the New Hampshire mountains, and the NH 48, where he guided hikes and trail runs in the White Mountains. Since moving out west, Max has continued his frequent adventures in the mountains, always testing gear, learning skills, gaining experience, and building his endurance for outdoor sports. You can read more about his experience here: hikingandfishing/about