If you want to learn how to catch trout, and assuming that you already possess the desire and commitment (both key elements unto themselves) to catch fish, there are many aspects of trout fishing that you must gain an understanding of to be successful. Here are ten:
- Go Where the Fish Are
Obvious? Perhaps, but whether your main goal is to enjoy trout fishing as a spring ritual with buddies, for consumption, or for year-round enjoyment, then you'll increase your odds if you review the website of your state's agency that oversees its trout stocking program. Trout stockings, or plantings as sometimes called on the west coast, occur in every state except Florida (Mississippi, Louisiana, and Hawaii trout anglers encounter limited options). Websites vary in the information supplied, but you can most likely learn when and where stockings occur in creeks, rivers, ponds, and lakes. Some states designate catch-and-release (C&R) or Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only (DHALO) sections if you require elbow room from the stocked trout put-and-take crowd. If you're fortunate enough to live in a state where native and wild trout reproduce naturally, some state websites also offer these locations.
- Time of Day/Time of Year
You can catch trout morning, noon, and night during all four seasons. Is any single part of the day better than the other? Yes, no, maybe, and it depends are the answers to that question. Water temperatures, conditions (clear/murky/muddy/high/low), and discharge rates are factors. Food availability is key. Fishing for trout early or late in the day when the light is low often is the most productive time when the wiser and larger fish feel secure. Then again, when the weather turns cold, the best time may be only a few hours at mid-day after a full sun warms the water to a magic temperature that turns sluggish trout into active feeders.
- Water Temperature
Trout are cold-blooded creatures but that doesn't necessarily mean that they are more active as temperatures rise – increasing temps can be downright dangerous to their survival. Generally, all trout species are most happy and feed in cold water when the temp is between 45° and 65° F. Get a stream thermometer and check the temps hourly as the weather turns warm in late spring.
- Learn How to Read the Water: Ponds and Lakes
If you're bait fishing a pond or lake for trout, know that fish choose to suspend themselves at different depths based on sheltering/feeding lies, water temperature, and food sources. This information is especially useful if you use a boat and can access such knowledge with fishing electronics. Many anglers can only fish from the bank, however, and when fishing with bait or lures for trout from the bank of a smaller lake, cast diagonally into the water to gain the attention of roaming fish, estimating depths and distances. When you start to get bites, note where the fish are hitting and target those points. Live bait is often better under a bobber if the pond is on the small side. If the lake is larger, it isn't necessary to cast bait at a 45° angle – hurl it into the water. Hungry fish will find you.
- Learn How to Read the Water: Rivers and Streams
If you fish the holes at bridges where the stocking truck often stops to unload fish, then use the same principles as a small pond. However, many successful trout anglers fish the moving water. Look for hiding areas where trout feel protected from predators behind boulders, under logjams, overhanging brush, and undercut banks (a favorite hiding spot for big brown trout). At the bottoms of deep holes on bends in the creek or river is another place where trout feel safe. Because moving water flows faster the closer it is to the surface and slower at the bottom (friction is the reason), the streambed offers relief from current, which any trout needs. Boulders, logjams, and cut banks provide the same reprieve, especially during high water events. While these sheltering, or holding, lies are important for trout, they also prefer easy access to food that requires minimal effort. A close read of the water will reveal the current lines that funnel food to trout. These feeding lies include riffles, front, sides, and current seams behind protruding and submerged boulders. Undercut banks are extremely close to the current, making it simple for trout to feed from these sheltering lies, darting out when enticed and then returning to safety. Trout feed from logjams for the same reason. Another great place where trout feed is a convergent current, where two or more currents meet. In pools, feeding trout typically place themselves where the current enters and then again as it leaves (the tailwater). Two more feeding lies are the edges of weed beds and the foam lines, where the air bubbles line up showing you the current and where food collects. Learn to read the water for places that look fishy, cast your line where trout food flows, and you'll increase your odds.
Everything mentioned previously won't do any good unless you approach fishy-looking places undetected. Trout are notoriously spooky creatures. If you want to catch more trout, then don't plunge into a pool or wade in the middle of a creek sloshing along recklessly. Just because you're wearing waders doesn't mean you have to be in the water. In fact, stay out of it as much as possible. Unnatural ripples on the water's surface or vibrations in the water can knock feeding trout down immediately. If you must enter the water, approach your target area slowly and quietly. Wait a few minutes for the waters to calm. Trout pick up on the vibrations of your footsteps on land, too. Remember that undercut bank? If you walk above it, you can alert fish that possible danger is near. Stealthiness is an art and even the better trout anglers overlook it from time to time. Consider your apparel, too. Trout see reds, greens, blues, and ultraviolet (the last fades after two years). Dark red appears as bright red. Make sure that your fishing apparel blends with the background: trees and brush, semi-arid landscapes, or blue skies.
- Slow Down
Casting non-stop with the same lure/bait/fly to non-biting fish that you can see is the trout fishing definition of insanity. For the most part, if you can see the fish, the fish can see you. If you disturb them with constant splashes from above or they are flat-out bored by what you're presenting, then it's time to try a new tactic. Let the water rest, so to speak. Step back. Reposition yourself. Think about your approach, what you might be doing wrong, and how to improve before casting again. How you present the lure or fly is often more important than the lure or fly itself. Make sure you're stealthy.
- Start Fly Fishing for Trout (nymphing in particular)
Trout eat aquatic insects in each life cycle stage. A lot of them. Some estimates believe that nymphs or the larval form of aquatic insects make up 80% of a trout's diet! Terrestrial bugs and insects are on the menu. Yes, worms, baitfish, leeches, crustaceans, fish eggs, and other foods fill their stomachs as trout are opportunistic eaters and show territorial aggression. In lakes, baitfish can make up to 75% of a trout's meals. However, if you want to expand your trout catching abilities for rivers, creeks, and streams, consider purchasing a fly rod and reel outfit and learn the fly game!
- Be a Sponge
Soak up as much knowledge from as many sources as you can find if you want to improve your trout fishing skills. Read, watch, and listen. Ask questions.
- Put in the Time
Articles, videos, seminars, and guides can all help accelerate the learning curve. The right fishing gear is important. Yet, spending the time on the water to learn what works for you and what doesn't is crucial to figuring out how to catch trout. You'll gain a greater awareness of your surroundings and make mistakes from which you will learn. Practice, practice, practice.
Pay attention to these 10 aspects as you're fishing, and odds are that you'll catch more trout.