With a striking variety of colors and habitat in scenic locations – trout fishing occupies an iconic status in American angling culture. Trout fishing conjures images of remote streams with fly fisherman, as if they are walking into a classic picture from Field and Stream. Trout inhabit a variety of habitat through the United States. Additionally, trout can be caught using varied methods such as live bait, small lures, and fly fishing. With the trend toward more and more trout stocking, even anglers in non-traditional trout waters are starting to get into the sport.
Trout consist of a wide number of closely related species in the Salmon family. Species in this family include salmon, all types of trout, char, and grayling. These fish vary tremendously in size and habitat. Anglers enjoy anything from fishing tiny flies for ½ pound brook trout to battling with large steelhead or Chinook salmon in the 30 to 50 pound range. However, the most popular form is traditional trout fishing, where anglers use light lures or baits to trick wary, colorful, and elusive trout. There are a few popular species that most fisherman will encounter.
Rainbow Trout – The rainbow is most common and popular species. The rainbow shines with silver and pink, mixed with a spattering of other hues – giving the fish its name. A variant of the rainbow is the steelhead. Steelhead are a sea run subspecies that spend a large period of time in the ocean or great lakes only to run up small rivers to spawn.
Brook Trout –Brook trout are dark with white specks and a deep red lower portion. They are a striking fish. Technically, they are part of the char family, and as such inhabit very cool and clear streams only. They often can be found in small elevated brooks and creeks.
Brown Trout – The brown is colored brownish yellowish with dark spots. The brown was originally a European trout that is frequently stocked by fish and game commissions. Browns now sustain breeding populations throughout the United States.
Lake Trout – The lake trout is a large, dark colored trout. Unlike most other species, it lives in larger bodies of water. The lake trout is also atypical of trout because it spends most of its time in deep areas.
Most trout fishing occurs in smaller flowing bodies of water. This includes moderate size rivers right down to the most narrow and shallow brook. Trout like cool, flowing water often found in wooded and remote areas. A secluded stream in a paradise like woodland or mountain setting is an ideal when dreaming of trout fishing. Streams are important to trout because they are typically sit and wait predators that look for floating prey.
Along the stream, anglers look for moderately deep and moderately fast portions. There needs to be some depth and cover, but still enough current to drag food by. Avoid fast rapids, extremely shallow riffles, or areas where the flowing water slows to a big pool. Pro Tip – try fishing eddys. Eddys are the slow circling current of water directly downstream of a rock. Insects may fall in the water and be swept into an eddy. There the trout finds a small slow moving circle of water with food to eat. Throw your fly there and see what happens! Similarly, any other place where you see currents swirling can be outstanding fishing.
Lakes and Ponds
Lake trout tend to be found in a far different habitat, deep down in a lake. A boat and fish finder can be needed for this species. Stocked trout of any species can be found in all variety of lakes and ponds. Most of these will be yearly fish that do not sustain a breeding population. They may or may not follow wild trout behavior or feeding patterns.
Trout Lures and Baits
Trout eat a variety for foods including insects, worms, leeches, crustaceans, fish roe, and minnows. Anglers usually try one of three fishing strategies – lures, live bait, or fly fishing. Below you will find the best lures and baits to try with your regular light action spinning tackle. Then read on to learn the basics of fly fishing, where the angler can simulate the favorite small insects and larvae that trout love.
Trout bait preferences are often linked to the size of the fish. Smaller trout, like a typical rainbow or brook trout in a small creek are often caught on small flies or small bait. Larger species hit worms, minnows, or somewhat larger lures.
Spoons or spinners – Aggressive trout do eat minnows and other tiny fish species. A small, flashy bait can get attention and cause a hard strike. Feathers or Bucktail on the end appear to be most effective.
Small jigs – 1/64 or 1/32 ounce jigs work well for smaller trout. Tip them with tubes that are larvae or worm shaped and avoid long curly tails.
Bug Imitators – Use poppers, small crankbaits, or other lures that mimic small prey. Trout seem to hit anything that looks like a grasshopper, water bus, beetle, or other assorted crawly things that fall into the water.
Trout can be finicky eaters, so live bait is also a key to a successful catch. Worms, fish roe, and pellet baits are typically used for trout live bait fishing.
Worms – Trout feed on worms so readily that small crawlers are often called “trout worms”.
Salmon eggs – Trout like to feed on the roe of various fish. Hook up a few juicy red salmon eggs and lightly drift them around the bottom.
Power baits and various pellets – These are a supreme bait for stocked fish. These pellets mimic the hatchery food. However, native trout will almost never hit the unusual offering.
Fly Fishing for Trout
Fly fishing exists in order to present very small and light lures that may not work with conventional spin casting gear. Fly fishing for trout uses large rods and fly line to float flies that imitate the trout’s favorite larvae and insects.
Though there are probably a million different fly styles, all of them fit into three main styles. Each one imitates a slightly different type of trout prey. The size, depth, and retrieve differentiate each. Some anglers even tie their own flies to exactly match local subspecies of insects and larvae.
Dry Flies – These flies are very small. They float on the surface and look like the small insects that may float on top of the water. One popular pattern imitates the midge fly. try slowly drifting a dry fly over a riffle toward a deeper pool.
Nymphs – These flies sink below the surface. Nymphs imitate the larval and other developmental stages of aquatic insects. These are among the trout’s most favored food. Anglers try to match the nymph to the hatch, meaning the particular larvae that is active at any given day.
Streamers – These are larger flies that also sink or suspend in the water column. Streamers often look like minnows or other larger bait. They are fairly popular for saltwater fly fishing, too.
Trout Fishing Gear
Fly rods come in sizes from 0 – 14. Most trout can be caught using a size 2-6 rod. If you are beginning, a size 3 to 5 is about right. Fly rods in the 5 -6 area are good if you want to dabble in multi-species angling and perhaps hook a bass or two. Of course, if you are going for large steelhead or salmon, you may need up to 7-10. The tighter the shoreline brush, the shorter the rod you should use. 6-8 feet is great for tighter areas while you can go with 8-10 for more open spaces. You will also need a reel and perhaps a rod case. Match these to the rod size. Though there are infinitely complex and expansive options, great fishing can be done with reasonably priced choices, as matching the fly to the hatch is much more important for your success.
Fly anglers also experiment with two line styles – floating and sinking line. Both kinds are frequently used for trout. Floating line sits on top of the water and is best for presenting dry flies. Sinking line has quite a bit of variety. There are different weights that sink flies at different speeds.
Most non-fly trout fishing can be accomplished with light to ultralight spinning tackle. The line should be quite light as well, with 4lb monofilament being a common choice. The baits are small, so the rod and line must be able to cast 1/64th ounce without too much loss of performance. If you are going for large steelhead, salmon, or big lake trout you will need medium or heavy action rods and matching gear.
Tackle backpacks and/or fly fishing vests are often helpful when trout fishing. Remember that huge list of effective baits is also subject to the very finicky biting habits trout have. To match the hatch, you have to bring a lot of options. Pro tip – look like a true trout master by attaching a bunch of flies on a patch on the vest!
Waterproof waders are a common accessory, especially when using flies. Since many trout habitats are quite shallow, it is possible to walk out and cover the entire area. Pro tip – always take a friend when you are wading, all it takes is a slip on a rock or a surprisingly deep pool to cause danger.
Cooking and Eating Trout
Trout are great for eating and have a unique taste and texture. Interestingly, trout seem to be popular in every setting from a shore lunch to an upscale restaurant. Trout taste more flavorful than mild white fish, with an earthy or nutty flavor. The consistency is softer also, making the taste most somewhat like catfish.
Trout can be prepared as fillets, but are usually simply cleaned and thoroughly washed out, with the head still on. Trout can be bony, but the meat will fall off the many small bones when cooked. Grilling, broiling, baking, and pan frying are all common. Season the trout lightly, perhaps with just salt and pepper, and maybe some lemon. Trout has traditionally been smoked for a different eating experience as well.
With scenic locations, beautiful fish, and the tradition of fly fishing – trout angling has a special place in American outdoors culture. Since trout are fun to hunt, catch, and eat it is no surprise they remain so popular. With an extreme variety of species and fishing techniques, trout angling is still one of the iconic fishing adventures.