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How to Fish for Trout: Top Tips for Beginners

Trout are one of the most popular freshwater angling species in the US with 7.8m US anglers fishing for trout a year according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Fishing for trout in the cool-water lakes and river waters in which they are found – whether that’s with a lure or fly or natural bait –  is one of the great angling experiences.

In regions where populations are sustainable, and the regulations allow it, they are also a good eating fish.

They are a very beautiful fish with a variety of different hues and markings and once hooked, they put up a decent fight.

It’s fair to say though, trout aren’t always an easy fish to catch and fooling the larger specimens requires stealth, patience and intelligence – along with the right lures, bait, rods and reels.

If you are interested in learning how to fish for trout, we are providing all the info an angler needs to learn about trout fishing for beginners and how to catch these fish in their local waters.

trout fishing tips
A nice brown trout preparing to sip an angler’s fly off the surface

How to Fish for Trout: A Comprehensive Guide

In this article we take you through:

  • Where trout are found in the US and beyond
  • How to target different types of trout
  • Basic techniques for fishing for trout
  • What gear you need for trout fishing (including fishing licenses)
  • Whereabouts in ponds, rivers and streams you will find them

Fishing for trout in the US lakes and rivers

These fish are found in clean, clear and cool (50–60 °F or 10–16 °C) lakes, rivers and streams. That typically means northern and southern latitudes well away from the tropics, although they can be found in the very highest mountain regions closer to the equator, such as in Ecuador or Peru.

The US has excellent trout fishing throughout from the Rockies to the Pacific Northwest and even in California and Nevada. There’s also great trout fishing in the northeast in New York, Vermont, Michigan and New Hampshire and right down into North Carolina. A little further afield, Alaska is a top destination for wild trout and salmon fishing.

Check out this interactive fishing map to find some spots that are good for trout fishing and see some recent reported captures.

Top trout fishing states and a signature water or two in each are listed below:

  • Montana (Bighorn River, Blackfoot River)
  • Idaho (Henry’s Fork River)
  • Michigan (Ausable River, Manistee River)
  • New York (Ausable River)
  • Colorado (Frying Pan River)
  • Utah (Green River)
  • Wyoming (Green River)
  • Pennsylvania (Yellow Breeches Creek)
  • Arkansas (White River)
  • North Carolina (French Broad River)
  • California (Truckee River)
  • Alaska (Russian River)
  • Nevada (Truckee River)
  • New Hampshire (Connecticut River)
  • Vermont (Connecticut River)
  • Oregon (Deschutes River)

Other top countries for trout fishing

Along with our top tips – which we’ll get to shortly – I wanted to include some top destinations for trout fishing outside North America too:

New Zealand

The best place in the world to fish for trophy sized brown and rainbow trout. 

Australia

The island state of Tasmania has some of the finest brown trout fishing in the world in remote lakes and rivers

Argentina/Chile

Patagonia in South America (which straddles both countries) is one of my favorite regions to fish for them. All of the Andean region offers good fishing: from the footsteps of Mount Aconcagua to Tierra Del Fuelgo, cool clear rivers and lakes teem with willing rainbow trout and brown trout, as well as the occasional brook trout.

Europe

France, Spain, Slovenia and Italy all offer excellent brown trout fishing in the more mountainous regions.

Japan

The northern Island of Hokkaido offers excellent rainbow trout fishing as well for sea-run char and taimen, and Pacific salmon species

Russia

Kamchatka and Siberia offer excellent – if expensive and remote – fishing for trout, taimen and Atlantic and Pacific salmon species

Scandinavia

Norway, Finland and Iceland offer brilliant fishing for salmon, trout and char

Fishing tips for different types of trout


Depending where you want to draw the line between species that are quite similar, there are more than 30 species of trout.

For those wanting to learn more about how to fish for trout, and about a fair chunk of these species, I can’t recommend fly fishing author and friend Greg French’s book The Last Wild Trout highly enough.

But for simplicity’s sake, we can basically deal with five main species groups:

Brown trout

The smartest, largest and arguably most sought after trout species

Rainbow trout

Athletic, beautiful and comparatively easy to catch

Cutthroat Trout

Prolific and aggressive species found through the Rockies and certain other regions

Char

A diverse group including Bull Trout, Lake Trout and Brook Trout and char species

Taimen

The world’s largest trout species found in remote regions of Asia such as Mongolia, Russia and far northern Japan

trout fishing basics
Me with a big New Zealand brown trout

Trout fishing tips: tackle, times and techniques

Having looked at different waters, types and where trout are from, it’s on to the actual trout fishing tips including:

  • Behavior
  • Best times to catch fish
  • Best lures
  • Food
  • Preferred structure for trout
  • Rods, reels, line and other gear for trout fishing

Best seasons to fish for trout

Spring, Summer and Fall are the best seasons to target these fish. Although they can be caught throughout winter, their metabolism slows and they are more tricky to catch

When to fish for trout

Periods of low light – i.e. dawn and dusk – are the best times to target them. This is a top trout fishing tip. Further to that, on last light the fabled evening rise occurs on many waters where they come to the surface to feed on hatching insects – it’s a dry fly fisher’s paradise. However, in blue-ribbon sight-fishing waters in New Zealand, Tasmania and other clearwater fishing destinations its vital to have the sun overhead to spot the trout.

What do they eat?

Their diets are very diverse ranging from aquatic invertebrates such as caddis flies, stone flies (which can be imitated with nymph fly patterns), damsel and dragonflies and mayflies right through to snails, worms, shrimp and other fish. Other prey items including terrestrial insects (grasshoppers, ants, cicadas etc) right through to mice. They can feed very selectively at times honing in on one particular food. The key to success is giving them what they want at these times – whether that’s the natural bait or an imitation in the form of a fly or lure. That’s where the trout fishing tip “Match the Hatch” is a good one. It comes from fly fishermen having to precisely imitate the size and type of insect that is hatching from the water.

Where do trout like to live?

Keys for a trout’s holding location are access to food, shelter (deeper water or structure), oxygenated water and a suitable water temperature.

Feeding patterns and behavior

The interesting thing about this fish is they are really opportunistic feeders. Depending on the prevalence of different types of food source, they will behave in different ways.

We’ve seen them herding bait fish into the shallows with fins poking out of the water in one waterway, whereas in another lake they might be hugging the bottom looking for crustaceans.

Some days they’ll feed off the surface on tiny midges and another day all they want is big terrestrial insects such as hoppers or cicadas.

And on other days they’ll be more governed by aggression and respond best to a big lure or fly being dragged past them at close quarters.

As a trout fisherman or woman you need to be closely attuned to how the they are behaving and what else is happening in the environment to be successful.

These fish will be governed by getting the best food they can for the least energy spent while preserving their safety – use that knowledge to decide which areas to fish, where to cast your fishing line and how to work your lure or fly.

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Tackle for trout fishing

As they are not the largest nor the strongest fish around, trout gear tends to be light tackle – small reels (usually spinning reels as opposed to baitcasting reels), shorter rods and light lines. It’s a finesse form of fishing. Fly fishing (my favorite form of trout fishing by far) is a very successful and popular way to target trout and utilizes specialized fly fishing tackle.

how to catch trout
Fly fishing gear is specialised but it’s the most effective way to target trout

Rods and reels for trout

Rods

The typical outfit for trout is a 6-7 foot spinning rod with a spinning reel. If you are fishing for these fish in smaller rivers and streams, then an ultralight rod paired with an ultralight reel is a good choice. If you are fishing in streams with overhead canopy or lots of snags, then a shorter rod is a good choice. If you are flicking heavier jig heads and lures over longer distance in lakes and ponds, then 7 feet is a better length.

Unless they are up in the 7lb plus range, they are not tough fighters compared to many other types of fish, so light rods will get the job done. And having some sensitivity in the tip is a good thing for detecting takes and ensuring the your lure is operating with the right action.

Reels

Spinning reels are the pick here – most trout lures are too light for baitcasting reels to become a serious options. A good quality spinning reel in the 1000 through to 2500 sizing is a great choice. See our article on the top ultralight spinning reels for some options – my fave is the Shimano Stradic.

The other option for reels is going with a spincast reel – this is the closed face variety of reel which has a push button line release rather than a bail arm. They are great for firing out casts one handed in tight little streams. However, these reels are not as durable as a spinning reel and don’t have as smooth a drag system.

Best type of fishing line for trout

They are vary wary fish, so fishing with light line makes sense. Fish with the lightest you can get away with – most often that will be 6lb or 8lb at the most.

You can use either monofilament line or fluorocarbon line for trout fishing, noting that fluoro has slightly better abrasion resistance and is almost invisible underwater. Where mono excels, though, is with its suppleness and that counts for a bit when trout fishing because it is easier to tie good knots with. And knot quality matters when you are fishing with tight lines. Check out our YouTube channel for some tips on preferred knots and how to tie them.

Braided lines are useful for trout fishing as they allow your to cast a long way with light lures. A braided main line and a mono or fluoro leader is a great combination for trout fishing.

Check out this article that details our best choices of fishing line for trout.

Best lures

A variety of purchased or homemade lures including spinners, spoons, soft baits and plugs, swimbaits, minnows and crankbaits and can be used to target trout, as well as topwater lures.

Keep lure sizes small at under two inches in length and in lighter weights of 1/20 of an ounce or so.

Walking the banks or wading is a very successful way to catch these fish in both lakes and rivers. Always use your eyes and ears to detect the movement of the fish you can target with a quick and accurate cast.

Sometimes in lake fishing a boat, kayak, float tube, pontoon boat or other type of aquacraft can be a real advantage to get you to the right spots, especially if you have an electric motor (sometimes called a trolling motor) for stealth. A fish finder can also be a help on larger waters.

While not the most exciting method of catching these fish, trolling can be very effective.

trout lures
Suitable lures for trout

Fly fishing for trout

The other main sport fishing technique for catching trout, fly fishing, is harder to learn by virtue of the casting motion and the complexity of it. But for those who persevere it is the most effective, diverse and enjoyable way to target these fish by a big margin.

Fly fishers use artificial flies – usually constructed using feathers and natural and synthetic threads/yarns and other fly tying materials – to imitate particular aquatic creatures or insects that they are feeding on at that particular time.

These are divided into two types – wet flies and dry flies. Wet flies sink and are subsurface imitations. Dry flies float in the surface film and imitate insects that are hatching out of the water (mayflies, caddis etc) or have fallen in (grasshoppers, beetles, bugs etc).

Because these imitations typically weigh very little, fly fishers use a long graphite fly rod and a thick opaque fly line to cast their flies. The weight is contained in the line itself, to which is attached a transparent monofilament section known as the leader that prevents spooking fish in the immediate area where the fly lands.

Check out this video for the rhythmic form of casting required to deliver the fly to its target.

Regulations and licenses for trout fishing

At Tackle Village we are all about encouraging sport fishing. That doesn’t always mean catch-and-release fishing, but in many waters it does.

It really means only taking what you need and only keeping fish in waters where there is either sufficient natural recruitment or stocking to maintain a stable trout population. And it means always following fishing regulations and obtaining the correct fishing license.

Click on our fishing license page to find out how to get a license and what it will cost you in any state. Note, you can also get a fishing license in Walmart in almost every state.


Final thoughts on how to fish for trout

So, welcome to the world of trout fishing. Hopefully this article has given you a run down of learning how to fish for trout, as well as some useful trout fishing tips. Trout fishing is a great way to make family activity and a way to get children as young as preschool age excited by nature.

To put it simply, these fish only live in beautiful places and fooling them is rarely easy but always engrossing.

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