Starter Gear Guide for Catching Trout
Trout, both wild and hatchery-raised, are present in every state and can be caught with rather basic gear. They provide a great opportunity for teaching kids to fish, as catching several fish in a day is normal, if you know what you are doing. Here I will go over the basic gear you will need to catch trout.
There are numerous cheap packages out there that won't survive more than a few days on the lake, and there are many expensive options with features that only make sense for the experienced angler. Therefore, I'll try to plan out a starter fishing package with budget in mind that still provides a very capable final setup. By the end, you will know everything you need to know to catch trout!
Choosing a Reel
There are three basic types of fishing reels: conventional, spinning, and spin-cast. (There are others—fly reels, mooching reels, electronic reels, and others—but don't worry about these now.)
"Conventional" reels can be further broken down into bait-casting, low-profile bait-casting, trolling, and ocean, all with different purposes. With a few exceptions, however, these are typically not used for trout.
"Spin-cast" reels, also known as "closed-faced" or "push-button" reels, are typically seen on many kids' fishing setups; in my opinion, however, the cons of these reels far outweigh the pros.
Therefore I will be suggesting a "spinning" or "open-face" reel for the task at hand. These reels have good line capacity and good casting performance, and are trouble-free when it comes to casting and line maintenance. Admittedly, their drag systems are not the best; however, for most trout fishing, this shouldn't be an issue.
Features to Look For:
- Line capacity of at least 100 yards of 4- to 6-lb test monofilament. This is on the low end; a little more is fine. For Shimano, think 1000 or 2500 series.
- Infinite auto reverse: This refers to how much backplay the bail has when rotating around the spool. Unless the reel has a "quickfire" tab, there should be no backplay.
- The more parts that are metal, the better, generally. Carbon fiber is great too.
- Smooth drag operation
- A spare spool is a nice bonus.
Suggestions: Expect to pay somewhere between $40 and $60 for a solid spinning reel that will last a long time. Shimano is one brand that has a reputation for reliable craftsmanship.
My No. 1 Spinning Reel Recommendation
Other brands of reels to check out are Daiwa, Abu Garcia, and Okuma (not my favorite though).
Choosing a Rod
As with reels, you're going to be presented with a lot of choices here. Most rods fall into one of three categories: spinning, casting, and fly. The classification of the rod simply refers to the type of reel that must be used with the rod:
- A spinning rod needs a spinning reel.
- A casting rod needs a casting or spin-cast reel.
- A fly rod needs a fly reel.
Matching the reel to the wrong type of rod will not only make you look silly at the lake, but it will also severely cripple the "fishability" of the setup. Since I recommend a spinning reel to start off with, I will recommend a spinning rod to complement it.
The Differences Between a Spinning Rod and a Casting Rod
There are two quick ways to distinguish a spinning rod from a casting rod:
- the eyelets
- the finger grip
On a casting rod, all the eyes all the way down the rod will be small. This has to do with the way the line feeds off a casting rod: generally in a straight line. On a spinning rod, the first eyelet (closest to the reel seat) will be large, with eyelets tapering down in size to the tip. The large eyelet, called the "gathering guide," helps "gather" the line as it comes off in wide loops off the spinning reel.
The second difference is the finger grip. Almost all casting rods (with the exception of some particular trolling rods) will have a finger grip for your pointer finger. This is because a casting reel sits on top of the rod, and the additional grip helps maintain control. A spinning rod will not have this grip, as the reel hangs below the rod, and the stem of the reel is its own finger grip.
So again: spinning reel to spinning rod, casting reel to casting rod. I can't stress this enough. If you are unsure when looking at a rod, look for these two things, or just read the rod: it will likely say on the rod or product tag.
What to Look for:
- A spinning-type rod
- Two-piece blank (four-piece if you plan on backpacking, although the good ones are pricey)
- A length of 6'–7', although personal preference and technique could affect this
- A test range of 4 lb to 10 lb is about perfect, but anywhere from 2-6lb to 6-15lb would be just fine. This will be printed on the rod itself, closest to the handle.
- Light to medium-light stiffness (this specification won't be printed on most entry- or mid-level rods)
- Medium-fast to fast action, although this again could be affected by personal preference and fishing style
- A sweet color to match the reel you bought, because everyone knows that style matters in fishing.
Expect to pay between $30 and $70 for a rod that works well. Personally, if cost is an issue, I would advise paying a little more on the reel, and holding back a little on the rod. While a good rod is invaluable, a less expensive rod (assuming it doesn't break) still gets the job done. A cheap reel, on the other hand, is just a recipe for tangles and frustration. Any rod that fits the above criteria and retails for more than $30 is probably a good fit.
Some rods in particular to check out are the Fenwick Eagle GT, which has great action and a five-year warranty unbelievable for the price, and the Shakespeare Ugly Stik Lite rods, which are known for their indestructibility.
My No. 1 Spinning Rod Recommendation
Another must-have. If you buy your gear at a local retailer, chances are they have the equipment to spool line onto your reel spool very quickly. In fact, if you buy the rod and reel there, most retailers will do it for free, assuming you don't request an outlandishly expensive line type.
What to Look for in Fishing Line:
- 4 to 8 lb test
- Color is up to you
- Lower diameter
There are lots of good choices here, and even some of the best ones are still reasonably priced. Just don't buy anything too cheap; you'll be disappointed. Any line from Trilene (Berkley), Stren, P-Line, or Maxima would be solid choices. My personal favorite is P-Line CX in the moss color, but I'm not saying it's necessarily the best; I haven't tried them all.
You should have some basic terminal tackle no matter what type of fishing you will be doing. As far as trout fishing goes, you won't need the snazziest brand; Danielson will save you some money and do just fine for most components. For hooks, Gamakatsu is well respected for a very reasonable price. Hooks are no place for skimping.
- Egg sinkers, 1/8 and 1/4 oz
- Split shot, various sizes
- Snap swivels, size 8 or 10. Barrel swivels will do, but ball bearings are overkill at this point.
- Hooks: Size 8 or 10 single-egg hooks, and size 6 or 8 bait holder
- Hooks: Size 8 Open Eye Siwash hooks (highly recommended)
- Leader Line, 4 to 6 lb test. Fluorocarbon would be nice, but not necessary.
Some spinners, some spoons, a Rapala, just a variety. In a perfect world, lures would still be a dime a dozen, and you could get one of every color. Truth is, most color schemes are meant to catch the fisherman, not the fish, so remember that, next time the "Crystal Watermelon Assassin" spinner catches your eye (and yes, that is a real lure).
Your best course of action is to ask around. Depending on the time of year, local water conditions, and other factors, what works here for me will probably not work for you. The best I can do is send you to an article I wrote on lures, where I pick some time-proven winners that should produce anywhere.
If bait is more your style, you can't beat the real thing. I love fishing with nightcrawlers, red worms, crickets, etc., however, these must all be purchased the day of, as they don't keep well. For bait that will keep, Powerbait would be my first choice. I haven't used it since I was a kid, but orange, rainbow, and red were some of my top-producing colors way back when. Other options would be scented marshmallows or salmon eggs. In a pinch try Velveeta cheese. Just as with lures, the most effective bait will differ from one body of water to the next.
So if you've got everything up to this point, you're good to go. Almost everything else here is just nice-to-have extras.
- A FISHING LICENSE
- A copy of your local fishing regulations
- Tackle box or tackle trays. I organize my gear in trays and put them in a backpack.
- Scent. I like Smelly Jelly, mostly just to get your scent off the bait or lure: anise, garlic, anything really, I don't really think it matters.
- Stringer, if you plan on keeping your catch. The chain-link type is far nicer than the nylon-string type.
Other things to keep in mind:
- Life vests if you will be in a boat
- A camera
- Bug spray
Let Me Know How It Goes!
I would love to hear your feedback. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments section below, I'd be glad to help!
Gabby on April 03, 2019:
I have caught my share of fish but I think this article will boost my game a little this season. I haven’t really tried catching other fish but trout are still one of my favorite kind of fish to catch and I haven’t used much of anything other that regular live bait ; worms and other grubs and things of that nature and I’m ready for a change of bait so thanks for the article!
Erin on October 14, 2017:
Thanks so much for this article! I'm going to be unemployed for the winter and want to get back into trout fishing but I haven't done it since I was a kid. I was looking for an inexpensive rod and reel suggestion and some tips to get going, you covered all the bases. Cheers!
huntnfish (author) from Washington on July 07, 2017:
Daniel I really hope you get out and go fishing! I've been fishing my whole life and its led me on some awesome adventures. If you have any further questions feel free to ask either here in the comments section or in the 'contact the author' link on the top of the page. We'll get you set up!
Daniel on July 06, 2017:
48 years old and never fished. The time is now and reading this will really help given my complete lack of knowledge on the subject.