A Complete Guide to Fishing for Trout

Updated on April 6, 2018
huntnfish profile image

HuntnFish has spent many years on the water fishing and has caught nearly every species of fish in Washington State.


Fishing for Trout

The first fish I ever caught was a trout, and I'm certain that many veteran anglers would say the same. Trout are a great target species for many reasons. For one, they are available in all 50 states, in both wild and stocked populations. Also, the gear and experience necessary to get started is minimal. Trout put up a solid fight, are apt to bite nearly year round, and taste delicious.

Brown Trout

Brown Trout I caught on the Gallatin River
Brown Trout I caught on the Gallatin River

Species of Trout

Admittedly, there are actually hundreds of kinds of trout. Some of the most common are: Rainbow trout, Brown trout, Cutthroat trout, and Brook trout (not actually a trout). From these, there are hundreds of cross-bred species and sub-species, some particular to single rivers or streams. For the sake of simplicity, I'll be using the term "trout" fairly loosely, as much of the same information pertains to all species.

Trout Identification Guide


Rods and Reels for Trout Fishing

While you won't need to shell out the small fortune many anglers pay, you will need some basic gear when fishing for trout. When I outfitted new anglers at the fishing shop, I advised them to expect to pay around $150 for a quality set of all required fishing gear, not including license. It may seem like a lot of money to go fishing, but believe me, quality gear makes all the difference. A fishing trip with cheap or defective fishing gear is going to ruin the experience, and likely catch fewer fish.

All of my gear suggestions are simply that, suggestions. They will provide the best trout fishing experience, but if you find a great deal on a slightly heavier rod, or slightly smaller real, feel free to fudge my suggested numbers a little.

  • Rod: 6 - 7' Medium-Light Weight, Medium to Fast Action
  • Reel: Spinning Reel, 4 Ball Bearing minimum, 100 yds 6lb test minimum
  • Line: 4 or 6 lb Monofilament, enough to fill the reel spool (Often the team at a sporting goods store can spool your reel for you, and if you are buying a new rod and reel from them, ask if they'll throw in a spool's worth of line for free. It'll usually work.)

Those are the basics. As far as brands go, everyone has their favorites. You can't go wrong with Shimano reels. For a more in depth look at beginning trout set ups, check out my guide on Trout Fishing Gear to Get You Started.

An impressive rainbow trout
An impressive rainbow trout | Source

Trout Fishing Tackle

Next you'll need some basic tackle. For bait fishing you'll need:

  • Egg Sinkers: 1/4 oz
  • Split Shot: Size 6 - 8
  • Swivels: Size 10, barrel or snap
  • Leader Line: 4 lb Monofiliment
  • Hooks: Size 10 single egg
  • Hooks: Size 6 baitholder
  • Bobber or Float: 1" round, or comparable foam float
  • Bait: Powerbait, worms, salmon eggs etc. For more information, check out my guide on Top 5 Best Trout Baits.

So that's all for bait fishing gear. If you plan on using lures you'll want a variety of choices. Some favorites are:

  • In-line Spinners
  • Rapalas
  • Flatfish
  • Spoons
  • Wedding Rings

For a complete run-down of my favorite top producing trout fishing lures, check out my Top 5 Best Trout Lures.

Finally, some last little things that you'll need:

  • Fishing License
  • A copy of your local fishing regulations
  • A tackle box or tray to organize your gear
  • A net for landing fish (helpful but not necessary)
  • Polarized Sunglasses (Reduce glare allowing you to see fish underwater)

My Number One Recommended Trout Spinning Rod

Fenwick Eagle Spinning
Fenwick Eagle Spinning
My number one recommendation for a first trout spinning rod-- Fenwick Eagle. These spinning rods outperform numerous higher priced fishing rods. They are constructed out of quality graphite, have durable cork handles, stainless steel eyelets, and a 5 year warranty. You can't find a more responsive, higher quality rod for the money.

Trout Fishing Rigs, Baits, and Lures

If I felt so inspired, I could carry on this section for an entire book, and maybe someday I will, but for now, I'll try to keep it concise. I'll summarize trout fishing techniques in three categories: Bait fishing, Lure fishing, and Trolling.

Bait Fishing

Bait fishing refers to static fishing. You present the trout with a bait, either live, dead, or artificial, and wait for a strike. If you know where the fish are, it can be very productive. If not, you may not get a nibble all day.

Bait fishing for trout can further be simplified into two more sub categories: Floating baits and sinking baits. In general, all natural baits sink. Moreover, assume all baits sink unless it is specifically labeled as floating bait (only artificial baits generally). If your bait sinks, suspend it under the surface using a float or bobber. See Sinking Bait Trout Rig. If the bait you choose to use floats, suspend it over the bottom. See Floating Bait Trout Rig. The type of bait and presentation you choose to use is vary much subject to the conditions. A general rule is: Use sinking baits near the surface during the early morning and evening, and floating baits deep during mid day.

Lure Fishing

Lure fishing involves casting a trout lure out into a stream or lake and reeling it back in. Different lures exhibit different behavior in the water, meaning it is good to have a variety to target fish in their various moods. Lure fishing is effective for covering a large amount of water in a small amount of time. It is also more active that bait fishing, and personally, more fun. Most lures are heavy enough that you do not need any additional weight. Simply tie one one, cast, retrieve, and repeat until you have a fish. Since each lure behaves differently in the water, experiment with retrieval speeds until you find the sweet spot for the lure, you'll know it when you see it.


The third and final technique of trout fishing is trolling. Trolling is a bit of a compromise between bait fishing and lure fishing. Trolling involves casting a lure behind a boat, and then pulling the lure through the water with the boat, either with a motor or by paddling. Trolling is often done with electric motors, but canoe and kayak trolling can be especially effective as well. Once the lures are in the water, just drive/paddle around the lake until you get a bite. A word of caution: Trolling Strikes often hit hard, so either use a rod holder or make sure the rod is in your immediate possession! When fishing on a new lake, trolling is often the best method to locate where on the lake the fish might be holding.

Sinking Bait Trout Rig

Powerbait Trout Rig

Works for other floating baits as well
Works for other floating baits as well

Lure Rig

Split shot are optional, either to get more casting distance or to sink the lure deeper. Be aware adding split shot may affect the lures action.
Split shot are optional, either to get more casting distance or to sink the lure deeper. Be aware adding split shot may affect the lures action.

My Number One Recommended Trout Fishing Lures

Panther Martin Best of the Best Kit.
Panther Martin Best of the Best Kit.
I can't say enough about Panther Martin spinners. If I had to bet a trout fishing trip anywhere in the country on one purchase, it would be the Panther Martin Best of the Best Kit. They have caught more trout for me than any other lures. "If there's trout in a stream, the Panther Martins will catch them."
A seriously impressive Brown Trout. This one's worth bragging about!
A seriously impressive Brown Trout. This one's worth bragging about! | Source

Where to Go

So you have your gear, and you know what you're doing, but where will you go? Well, the resources here are limitless. If you happen to live in Washington State, just ask, and I'll give you some personal suggestions. If not, your two best resources are your local fishing store and your state's Fish and Wildlife department. As far as the local fishing store goes, the guys know where the fish are but the amount of insider information they are willing to give is likely directly proportional to the amount of gear you are buying, at least until they know you. So grab a few lures and then ask questions. As for the Fish and Wildlife Department, they are generally a fair bet year round. Other options include asking around at work if you know any fishermen, or Googleing fishing forums for your state.

Fortunately, as mentioned before, trout thrive in every state in the country, so chances are you have a lake not to far from where you live that has a decent trout population.

When To Go

First off, make sure the lake you plan on fishing is in season. Most states have a general fishing season. That being said, most states also have fisheries that are open in the off season, and fisheries that are open year round. To check the season for the lake you plan on fishing, either call your state's Fish and Wildlife office, or read your state's fishing regulations. If the lake you were planning on fishing is currently out of season, inquire about local lakes that are in season. Fortunately, there are many year-round trout fisheries across the country.

So that sums up the time of year to fish, but what about time of day? In general, Morning and Evening are best, although trout can be caught all day long. Additionally, often Midweek is better than weekend, as the lower angler presence will have fewer of the trout spooked, and a spooked trout rarely bites.

A reader sent me this photo after a successful days floating the Manistee River in Northern Michigan.
A reader sent me this photo after a successful days floating the Manistee River in Northern Michigan. | Source

Trout Fishing Tips

Ok, so this is where I get to list off all those little things that will help give you an edge on the lake!

  • Talk to the Locals: if you are polite, respect their space, and come across as genuinely interested, another angler will almost always lend advice. Even better, compliment their catch and pad their ego a bit, fisherman are a proud breed, and if you make them feel good about themselves, they will likely help out.
  • Go Often: Reading this will get you started, but is no replacement for actual experience
  • Learn Your Knots: A few good ones will do, just don't tie crappy knots, you'll lose fish and lose motivation
  • Sharp Hooks: Sharp hooks keep fish on the line
  • Know the Regulations: Nothing puts a damper on a fishing trip more than a ticket.
  • Fresh Bait: If you choose to use bait, the fresher the better
  • Use Scent Liberally: and then add a little more.
  • Keep Your Line in the Water: Time spent re-baiting, untangling a knot, or worse yet, making phone calls and texting, is time you aren't fishing. Make the most of the time you have and keep your line in the water.
  • Buy Good Gear: Fishing gear really isn't something you want to go bottom-end on. You don't need top of the line, but be willing to spend a little.
  • Don't be Fooled by Ridiculous New Product: There are a lot of gimmicky fishing products, don't bother with them, they don't work. When I worked at the fishing shop we would always say, "Lure companies don't build lures to catch the fish, they build lures to catch the eye of fisherman!" don't fall for the gimmicks, it's a waste of time and money.
  • Read More: When you can't be fishing, read up: books, articles, magazines, reports etc. You never know where you'll pick up a new tip.
  • Take a Friend Fishing: Not only will you have someone to bounce new ideas off, but another rod in the water increase your chances of catching fish.
  • Adapt: If what you're doing isn't working, switch it up. Don't drown worms for 4 hours straight if you aren't getting bites, try something new!
  • Ask Questions! Feel free to leave comments or questions in the comments box, or click the 'Contact the Author' link at the top of the page. I promise I will get back to you. And if you have a successful trip, I'd love to hear about it!

Questions & Answers

  • I know that trout have very keen sight. I’ve seen them break over a foot out of water for a mosquito. I like to use an 8 lb test line when fishing a trophy trout steam for larger 2 to 10 lb fish. I would like to use a smaller diameter line but don’t want to lose a hog due to line breaking. The stream has rainbow, brown, golden and a few brook trout. What would you suggest?

    A lot of trade-offs to be made with line selection between visibility, casting range, and line strength. In your situation, I have a few suggestions. If you want the absolute best strength to size ratio, it's going to be a braid. Braided lines fish a lot differently than monofilament since they have near zero stretches, so it takes some getting used to, especially when fighting fish. If you want to try a braid, I'd check out Berkley Nanofil. You'll be blown away by how small the line is. It's also thermally fused after winding so it's a lot smoother than traditional braided lines you may have used before. The biggest downside of braid it that while they are very small in diameter, they actually show up fairly well underwater due to how they interact with light. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of braid for spinning gear for trout, but it might be worth a try.

    My second recommendation would be P-Line CX monofilament, which runs small for diameter. An 8lb test P-Line is about the same size as most other 6lb test monos. It's cheap, casts wonderfully, holds good knots, and last a long time. This is my go-to spinning real line in most situations.

    A final option would be P-Line Floroclear, which is a fluorocarbon coated copolymer line. Fluorocarbon is nearly invisible underwater in any line diameter because light hardly bends when it passes through the line. There are 100% fluorocarbon lines available, but most are very expensive, stiff, and don't cast very well. By coating a monofilament in fluorocarbon, you get a softer more fishable line that feels more like a traditional mono, but has the nearly invisible properties of a fluorocarbon line.

    Option four which just popped into my head would be to just use your favorite monofilament main line and then tie on the longest fluorocarbon leader you feel comfortable casting. This is how fly fishermen are able to catch very wary trout while casting a giant bright orange or green fly line. Three or four feet of fluorocarbon leader will almost certainly be enough to hide your main line from a trout in even the clearest water.


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    • Mike Kubilius profile image

      mike kubilius 

      5 years ago from Williams Lake, British Columbia


    • Edward J. Palumbo profile image

      Ed Palumbo 

      6 years ago from Tualatin, OR

      Thoroughly enjoyed your writing! I recently retired and my priorities are changing. Thank you for adding fuel to my fire; it's time to dust off my ultralight spinning tackle and get out there again!

    • jimmar profile image


      6 years ago from Michigan

      Great hub. Well organizd and lots of good information. Should I assume the focus is on fishing lakes or larger rivers? I've fished brook trout in tiny streams.

    • profile image

      Edwin Brown 

      7 years ago from Oregon, USA

      Ling cod, wow! I have caught a couple from the rocks or jetty near Newport, Oregon. Takes a bit of practice to find and lure them. My brother and nephew go and do quite well in their "secret" spots. I know what they use for bait, and I know where they go. I want to hook up with them sometime and get one of those babies for bragging rights. Great eatin', too.

    • huntnfish profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Washington

      Natural baits that are part of the trout natural diet are always a great call, plus I just feel better about natural baits than those plasticky thing haha. I'll fish just about anything, I think the next hub is going to be on Lingcod fishing, its a pretty niche fishery, but one of my favorites! (My profile pic ) No doubt we would find lots to talk about!

    • profile image

      Edwin Brown 

      7 years ago from Oregon, USA

      Huntnfish, great hub. It is clear you really have a passion for trout fishing, one I too can appreciate. You have covered quite a bit of territory in your hub. Good basic information.

      I have caught trout on all kinds of things, but I have always been partial to drifting bait for trout. I like using naturally occurring bait already in the stream, like crawdad tails (peeled) and caddis larvae, not to mention the old standby, worms. Also, in August, small grasshoppers are dynamite.

      I think you and I could have a great conversation if we were able tosit down together and swap stories. Best of luck to you in your trout pursuits.


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