I’ve fished for trout in the rivers and lakes of both hemispheres. Fishing for brown trout in Scotland’s murky streams created some unforgettable childhood memories, and now, my weekends are spent dangling a rod out of my kayak in search of rainbow trout in New Zealand’s waterways.
So, if there’s one piece of angling knowledge I think I’m qualified to share; it’s how to fish for trout.
Trout don’t go down easy and offer a fantastic fight to the very end, making them one of the best species to fish for in my opinion. However, they can be wary, offering little opportunity to strike, much to the frustration and disappointment of many anglers.
If this sounds like the boat you’re in, here are our top trout fishing tips.
First, Some Knowledge on the Species
Before you go casting your line, it pays to know a little about the species you’ll be hunting.
Trout can be found in Europe, North America, parts of China, and way down as far as Australia and New Zealand.
The trout diet consists of flies that land on the waters surface, snails, worms, crayfish, shrimp, and other small fish. Their varied diet makes them an excellent specimen for both spin fishing and fly fishing - In fact, fly fishing was primarily developed for catching trout.
They are most commonly found in cold (10–16 °c) freshwater lakes and rivers. However, some trout species spend a part of their life in the ocean and return to freshwater to spawn, just like salmon.
There is an almost endless list of trout species, and even experienced anglers can have difficulty identifying the trout they’ve caught. The markings, full-grown size, difficulty of catch, and even the characteristics of a hooked trout, vary with each species.
Most anglers are familiar with brown and rainbow trout as they are much more adaptable and, therefore, the more abundant of the species.
Brown trout originally hail from Northern Europe but have been successfully introduced into different ecosystems around the world, such as when English brown trout were brought to New Zealand in the 19th century (for which I’m grateful).
They have a brownish-yellow colour and a mixture of red, orange, and black speckles. Adult brown trout are around 14-18 inches in length and weigh around 6-12 pounds. But don’t get too excited as catching brown trout that are 2-4 pounds is the norm.
Browns are much more tolerant to warm waters and can be found in waters as high as 26 degrees celsius, although they much prefer 10-16 degrees.
Small aquatic invertebrates make up the diet of young brown trout, whereas large adults tend to feed exclusively on shrimp and fish, some of which are up to a third of their size!
Brown trout are the most difficult to catch of the trout family. They possess wariness and a seen-it-all-before wisdom that makes them unlikely to bite on any old bait.
Anglers new to fishing the species can quickly be convinced that there’s no fish in the water even though it may be teeming with brown trout that are reluctant even to offer so much as a nibble.
Browns prefer larger bodies of water with gentle flows, but can be found in narrow streams as well. If you cast you line near shadier and sheltered parts - such as near deep embankments, rocks, and logs - you’re more likely to get a bite.
If you manage to hook a brown trout, be prepared for a tough fight. They have a tendency to dive deeper in search of the safety and familiarity of rocks and deepwater when caught.
Rainbows have a spectacular pink stripe along their body and black spots throughout. They thrive in clear, cold freshwater rivers and lakes, but have been known to survive in murkier and warmer waters as well. They do well in waters less than 20°c.
Wherever there are structures - either man-made in the case of dams and weirs, or natural in the case of fallen trees and rocks - you’ll find rainbows hiding out. They seek shelter in deep, slow-moving pools, but you’ll also find them in the current during morning and evening feeding times.
Steelheads are a subspecies of rainbow trout that lives in the ocean for part of its life. Due to the diet and conditions found at sea, steelheads are often larger and stronger than lake rainbow trout.
Similar to brown trout, rainbows have a diet that consists of insects and small fish.
You’ll most likely catch rainbows that weigh a pound or two (hopefully more often using the below tips), but landing a rainbow of 3-5 lbs is also a common site.
The best thing about Rainbow trout is the fight. Get one on the end of your line and you’ll be treated to a spectacular show of acrobatics as the fish jumps and flips out of the water.
Our Top 14 Trout Fishing Tips
Now, with an understanding of the trout species out of the way, it’s time to get to the good stuff.
Our 14 trout fishing tips cover the basics for anglers who have never fished for trout, as well as providing a few field-tested, advanced tips for the old hands.
We hope our tips are as effective for you as they have been for us.
1. Play by the Rules
First things first. It is important to understand the laws that govern fishing in your area. Failure to buy a permit or comply with fishing regulations will mean you’ll come home with nothing but a hefty fine.
Fishing licences and guidebooks can be picked up from tackle shops and outdoor sports stores. Read through the guidelines and take note of the season start and end times, legal catch limits for size and daily quota, and restrictions on bait.
Some areas may not allow the use of live bait and only allow artificial lures as they’re much harder to catch with.
Following fishing regulations and restrictions helps to maintain trout populations and sustain a balanced ecosystem that can be enjoyed by everyone.
2. Pay Attention to Rod and Line
Selecting a line that’s rated for the size of trout you’re targeting will ensure you don’t have to deal with the heartbreak of a snapped line.
4-8 pound test line is sufficient in most cases, and it will allow you to throw small to medium sized jigs and spinners easily. If you’re going for big brown trout or salmon, you would want to be spooled with at least a 12 pound test line.
My recommended setup is 6 pound line on a lightweight spinning rod. The rod should be long so that line drag is reduced and the bait moves quickly along the riverbed.
3. Know what’s on the Menu
If you’re using live bait, a neat little trick is to research the creatures that live on the shores around the waterway. If there are mayflies around, then getting the fly fishing rod out may yield better results.
If that seems like too much effort, you usually can’t go wrong with bait casting using nightcrawlers, or other worm species.
Minnows, crayfish tails, salmon roe, and even corn, are good non-live bait options.
If you intend to use power bait, make sure the trout you are trying to catch is farm raised and not wild. Power bait resembles the pellets stocked trout were fed, but look and smell too foreign to interest a wild trout.
A hook size of 5-8 will work well for most bait options.
4. Get Your Spinner Right
Trout have great eyesight. As such, it’s important that you choose tackle that is not only suitable for river conditions, but also not alarming to the fish.
Always opt for light tackle options when fishing in lakes or streams. The only exception is fast-moving water which will require a heavier spinner.
5-6 gram silver spinning lures work great for rivers with moderate flow. This is my go-to choice, but I’ll have a selection of spinners of various shapes and patterns if I’m having no luck with “the old faithful”.
Rigging up your line with a barrel swivel will allow you to quickly change spinners without having to cut line and tie knots.
If you need some help with selecting a lure, here’s a great video that talks you through what to look for.
5. Float Your Bait
It’s advantageous to have your bait slightly lifted off the riverbed and out of stone crevices and vegetation. Float fishing with a bob will keep your jig off the bottom and give clear signs of when you get a bite.
But if you’re looking for something a little more inconspicuous, tie a split shot weight to your line about two feet away from the hook and use a commercial dough bait that floats or place a small marshmallow on the hook just after the bait.
The split shot method also allows better line casting as well as providing control over the drift of your bait.
6. Understand the Current
Knowing how the current carves out the rivers features will make finding trout much easier.
Riffles are created by strong flow over shallow water and are good places to fish in the morning and evening when the trout are feeding.
Runs occur when the water is deeper, but there is still decent flow. They make good fishing locations almost any time.
It will most likely be young troutling you’ll find in these runs, and if you’re aiming for that elusive, BIG brownie, look for dark patches that indicate deep pools of fairly stagnant water.
7. Look for Shelter
When not feeding, river fish will seek shelter in deep pools and shaded areas. Deepwater out of the current and near steep banks and covered by the canopy or other vegetation provide ideal shelter for resting trout.
Be on the lookout for banks that overhang the river, overturned trees, rocks, and man-made structures.
If you’ve fished a pocket of a lake for several hours with no bites, it may be worth moving on. Trout tend to swim around a lot in lakes.
8. Target Water with Plenty of Oxygen
The oxygen content of the water is dependent on several factors; of which, temperature and the presence of current are major influencers. It may sound a little “science-y”, but it’s worth paying attention to as trout prefer oxygen-rich water.
But no need to get bogged down, here’s some simple advice to keep in mind.
When fishing in warm waters, target the fast currents or riffles because the levels of oxygen will be higher there.
On the other hand, if you are fishing in cooler waters which are usually oxygen-rich anyway, simply target the slow-moving pools or current edges as that’s where trout will be feeding.
9. Know the Best Times to Fish
Although trout fishing can be done at any time of the day, it’s best to fish in the morning or evening as that’s the natural feeding periods.
These times are also when the temperature is lower, and the levels of oxygen are high, creating the perfect feeding environment for trout.
Flowing water that provides a food source are good to target during morning and evening feeding times, and deep pools where trout are likely to be resting make good midday fishing spots.
10. Tread Lightly When Approaching the Fishing Area
Trout are extremely sensitive to pressure changes caused by footsteps both in the water and along the bank. Try not to wade through still bodies of water, dump equipment down on the shore, or paddle like a maniac if you’re kayak fishing.
11. Cast Upstream
Casting upstream will make your bait appear more natural as it mimics the path of food sources that flow down the river.
Also, since trout face into the current when feeding, you’ll most likely be behind the fish and less likely to be seen.
12. Rest the Hole
Fish can be spooked by loud noises, unusual activity in the water, or from an unsuccessful strike. If you feel you’ve done something to spook the fish, “rest the hole” for 20 minutes or try another location before fishing the same spot.
The same 20 minute rule applies if you catch a trout in a smallish stream.
13. Protect the Fish
Whether you intend on keeping your catch or not, you should always aim to minimise the pain and damage to the fish when handling them. Here’s a couple of best practice catch and release tips to follow:
- Wash Your Hands. All fish have a protective outer slime layer. Holding the fish with dry hands removes this layer. Before you touch the fish, make sure to dip your hands into the water first.
- Choose Safe Net Material. Use nets made of cotton or soft nylon as they are less damaging. Always wet the netting before landing the fish.
- Handle Hooks with Care. Using your fingers or a pair of pliers, grab the hook at the curve and ease it out the same way it went in.
- Know When to Cut. If the fish has swallowed the hook, it’s best to cut your line rather than risk damaging the internal organs of the fish. It’s always best to use bronze hooks for this reason as they dissolve faster than steel hooks.
- Don’t Squeeze. It’s crucial that you don’t grip the body too tightly as this can create internal bleeding.
- Release Gently. When releasing your trout, first hold it in water to provide stimulation to the gills, and then allow it to swim away on its own when ready. Never throw or drop the fish from height as you risk bursting the air bladders.
14. Talk with Local Anglers
The simple and most effective of all fishing tips is to ask local fishermen what they’re doing.
A two minute conversation can yield local knowledge that’s hard to beat. You’ll find that most anglers are happy to share where the fish are biting and what bait and techniques they’re using – if they don’t see you as competition anyway.
Depending on your knowledge and preparation, trout fishing, like all fishing, can either be an enjoyable and fruitful experience, or a very frustrating one. You don’t need to catch every time for fishing to be enjoyable, but it certainly helps if you’re not coming home empty handed all the time.
We hope you learned a thing or two and our knowledge has helped to increase your catch rate. If you’ve got any more tips for catching trout we’ve not mentioned, please share them in the comments below.