How to Fish for Trout

Want to improve your chances of catching beautiful trout? In this article, Fishing Expert Rachel Hannan shares all of her trout fishing suggestions.

Someone holds a slender trout in their hands above a rocky streambed.

Photo by Mael Balland

I have been trout fishing most of my life and was exposed to fishing and the outdoors before I could walk. As a kid, I started out with the basic Snoopy rod—well, in my case, it was probably more like Ninja Turtles. Later on, my little Zzebco did catch me some fish, and as I got older, I started to use a "real" rod which is when I really started to catch fish. Once I transitioned to a spinning reel and pole and caught a lot of fish, I was hooked myself.

Getting Started

My most important rule is to always use barbless hooks. If you can’t find them, either cut the barbs off your hooks or squeeze them down with pliers. Nothing is more heartbreaking than to have a little trout go after something too large for it, costing it its life in the long run. Barbs are really hard to get out of fish, so it’s easier and safer for you and the trout to go barbless. Also, before you hit the water and start your angling adventures, make sure you get your fishing license and your local check fishing regulations.

There are a lot of different ways you can fish for trout, and I wouldn't say there is really one approach more right than another. It mostly depends on where you are fishing, such as ponds, lakes, creeks, and even some rivers. Some techniques can cross over in these different bodies of water and some will not, but we’ll dive into those differences below.

Bait & Lures

If you go to a pond to fish for rainbow trout, usually the best way to fish for them is pretty simple. These trout are usually fin-clipped and grew up in a fish hatchery, therefore they have been fed fish food pellets. Based on these feeding habits, baits like PowerBait usually work really well since the smell is very similar to the pellets that the trout grew up eating. All you have to do with PowerBait is take a nice little dollop of it and smear it on your hook, and make sure the end of the hook is still still exposed so you can set your hook. You will want to use this with a bobber, then cast your line into the water. Next step: sit back and relax!

The author's image of an older man holding a trout while sitting in a boat on a lake. He wears a hat and sunglasses.

Photo by Rachel Hannan

You can never go wrong with a good nightcrawler either. Trout just can't seem to resist that wiggle, the scent of a worm, and overall the live bait action! These days you can even buy hooks that are made for using worms as bait. These hooks are a little longer and have more room to really get as much worm as you can on the hook. This can be used with a bobber in a pond or even letting it drift down a river.

Personally, I love the Blue Fox, Panther Martin, and Mepps Rooster Tails. These are awesome lures and spinners that come in a large variety of colors, so you can always find a color suited to the season and water temperature. Overall, one of my favorites is the Blue Fox Classic Vibrax.

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Lures are multi-purpose bait and are useful in more than just rivers. You can toss them off a bank at a pond or lake and reel them back towards you to catch fish. Trolling can be effective with lures as well. When using a lure or spinner, you don't need to attach any split shot or lead to your line—the weight of your tackle will be more than enough to cast where you need to. I don't recommend using a swivel to attach these types of gear either; the break of weight in the line can cause casting problems. If you get snagged and your lure or spinner breaks off, it will break off even without the swivel.

Picking out lure colors for trout fishing is really dependent on the water temperature. The temperature determines how active, even aggressive, trout will be. In the colder months, they may need a little more color and flash, something that says, “Hey look at me!” Think of colors like silver, pinks, and chartreuse. In the warmer months, trout seem to be turned off a little by over-the-top color choices. Golds work really well with warmer water, and not just for trout—I'm looking at you bass fishermen! Plain gold, gold with a trout pattern, reds with black work best. Trout behavior can be aggressive, but they startle easily so figuring out the right color combinations in your artificial lures can be tricky at times until you find what works best.

Eggs are another great way to get trouts’ attention and get them to bite. Trout really like this option, but tend to slurp them right off of the hook, so keep an eye on your gear! Depending on the size of hook you use, you can put anywhere from 3-5 eggs on your hook. You can get creative here and add some PowerBait to your eggs, making a bait sandwich (just my expert tip and family secret!).

Where to Catch Trout

Now that we got some of the important bait options out of the way, it's time to talk about my favorite way to fish for trout! I love fishing in rivers for them. It’s always fun because you can use so many different types of baits and techniques that you never get bored. One of my favorite things to do when I get to a river is to walk around a little. I look at how the river flows, what kind of rocks are in the water, and if there are tree limbs or lots of vegetation. I also really keep an eye out for big boulders that make a nice pool and resting spot from the current. In the summer, you will want to utilize the shaded areas. The fish like to get out of the sun, and you are more likely to hook a trout in these types of areas.

After you have scouted out the river and found a spot that looks good, even if it is just a nice flowing section of water without boulders or limbs, try it out! Pick out a lure, cast out and downstream just a little, and reel back towards your rod at a smooth and easy pace. Don't go too fast or this will either scare them away or just not pique their interest. This is a common mistake new trout anglers often make. I don't suggest adding the extra gentle reel jerking technique like you see in bass fishing as the river will already give your lure some great movement. However, if the water is more stagnant or slow, then try out that little extra movement since there will be less water flow to give your lure that extra action.

If you find a nice hole where there is a big boulder blocking the flow of the river, you might want to rig up a few eggs and attach it to a float bobber—not one of the little round red and white bobbers. You want to try to catch the current that comes right next to that boulder and run the tail out of it. If there is a fish sitting in it resting from the current, running bait can grab their attention. Areas like this are great spots for trout to be lurking. This also works really well for steelhead and even salmon. You will want to use the smallest float bobber available though and only do this if the water isn't shallow. If you want to use the round red and white bobber, then put a nightcrawler on the hook and cast out right into the middle of that calm water, letting it just sit on the water.

Trolling

The author's image of an older man holding a larger trout while sitting in a boat on a lake. He wears a hat and sunglasses.

Photo by Rachel Hannan

Trolling can be another effective way to fish. You will need to, at the very least, have a general idea of how deep the water is where you are fishing. If you have a depth or fish finder, it will tell you how deep you should be trolling at, so if you can afford one, I highly highly suggest snagging one. A Curated Expert can give you recommendations! First thing is to figure out the depth of the fish. Then decide what to bait your line with—you can use lures, spoons, or even corn (yes, corn)! You can do this with artificial baits too, like soft plastic worms and minnows. Once you get your line out, set your trolling motor to a nice pace and start making your way around the lake!

You will want about 30 feet of line. If you don't have a line counter on your reel, your arm span works well as a pretty accurate measurement guide. If you spread your arms out, from one tip of your middle finger to your next is roughly as long as you are tall. So my arm span should be pretty close to 5'3” since that’s my height. So if you put your reel in the middle of your chest and pull your line out as long as one arm can pull, that is roughly half of your height. So mine would be about 2’5”. With my arm span, I need to do this about 10 times to get to 30 feet, give or take a few feet.

Reeling It In

There are so many ways to fish for trout, and honestly, it does take some trial and error with different tactics. It can be a little frustrating at times but will be worth it once you figure everything out. Never be afraid to switch up your baits and try something new! When you get all of these basic tricks figured out and you become a master at catching rainbows, brooks, and cutthroat trout, try using some dry flies and nymphs. You don't need a fly rod to fish this way, though it does make it easier! Using a conventional setup is harder, but can make it more fun!

If you are needing any gear for your trout adventures, then reach out to me or another Fishing Expert here on Curated. If we aren’t on the rivers ourselves, we are always down to help others find fishing gear!

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Written By
Hi! I have been river and lake fishing for trout my entire life. My father is an avid outdoorsman and took me fishing and hunting as soon as I could walk! I have been steelhead and salmon fishing for 12 years! I ocassonally fish for bass but I really crave a tug on my line from a chromer!

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