26 Productive Trout Fishing Tips
This post will list 26 productive trout fishing tips. Trout fishing is extremely popular throughout North America and the world. The many trout species are all beautiful fish that fight hard and often leap out of the water. There are multiple species of trout that anglers can catch. They are found from the tiniest streams to the largest lakes. Many different techniques can be used to successfully fool wily trout.
There are several species of trout that freshwater anglers can pursue. Rainbow trout and brown trout are the most widely distributed species, with brook trout being a close third. Most trout caught these days are stocked, however native trout are available in many locations. Cutthrout trout, lake trout, tiger trout, bull trout, and Dolly Varden trout are other, less plentiful trout species.
While there are multiple species of trout found in streams and lakes, they behave in a similar manner in most instances. Therefore, they will all be covered together when discussing trout fishing tips, unless otherwise mentioned.
Special thanks to Bry Sims for the great pictures and trout fishing tips! Bry is an expert trout angler and trout and salmon guide in Alaska. You can book a trip with her HERE. Anglers can follow Bry on Instagram as well.
General trout fishing tips
There are some trout fishing tips that apply to all species in most waters and many different techniques. These will help anglers fishing for trout anywhere achieve more success.
1) Match the hatch
No matter where an angler is trout fishing, it is best to try and imitate the forage that trout are feeding on. This really applies to all types of fishing, not just trout. A lure, fly, or bait that closely mimics the available prey will often be the most productive offering.
2) Attractor flies and lures produce as well.
While it seems to contradict the previous tip, there are times when going with something larger and more conspicuous will fool a trout into taking the offering. Large attractor flies are famous for this, but the same applies to lures as well. If subtle presentations do not produce, try something else!
3) Stocked trout feed differently than native trout
This is a VERY important tip, one that many trout anglers overlook. It is good to know if the water being fished has native trout, stocked trout, or both. Stocked trout are used to feeding on man made fish food. Therefore, commercially available products are quite effective. Also, stocked trout often seek their food on the surface. This is not to say that traditional trout fishing lures and flies will not produce, quite the contrary. This is especially true the longer a trout has been acclimated it’s new home.
4) Understanding seasonal changes when trout fishing
One of the wonderful things about trout is that they are active all times of year and can be caught year round. Each season requires its own tricks and tactics. River temperature is a major factor in determining the activity level of trout. Very warm and very cold water can both make trout more lethargic and less likely to feed. Aquatic insects make up a large part of what trout feed on in river systems and the temperature of the river can make a huge difference in the number and type of insects hatching.
In summer months, trout may be feeding on both terrestrial and aquatic insects. Some Bry’s favorite fly combinations for river fishing in the summer are grasshopper or other terrestrial dry fly patterns with one or two wet fly droppers. In summer you also have a proliferation of hatching insects like salmon flies, green drakes, caddis flies, mayflies etc that may be used as your dry fly pattern or indicator fly.
Fishing dry fly/nymph combinations is extremely effective in the spring, summer, and fall. Spring and fall can also have the added bonus of being spawning seasons for many species of trout. Egg patterns are trout kryptonite when salmon and trout are spawning and fall is Bry’s personal favorite time of year. Fishing for rainbows and Dolly Varden in northern rivers with spawning salmon in the late summer and fall can be amazing! Fall is also a time when many river systems water levels and temperatures stabilize. Spring runoffs often create less than ideal clarity and often more water in general which disperses the trout.
Summer and fall tend to bring more crowds to trout fishing river destinations and fisherman in search of more solitude should not overlook the advantages of fishing for trout in the winter. Many trout freestone streams and rivers that hold trout will slow down in the winter months, but that is not to say that the trout are not still feeding. Concentrating on fishing with nymphs beneath strike indicators on warmer winter days can make for wonderful fishing. Tailwater sections of rivers that have stable water temperatures beneath dams can keep winter water temperatures consistent and fish may feed on hatching insects year round in these areas.
5) Ice fishing for trout
Trout are comfortable and feed well in cold water. This is particularly true for brook trout and lake trout. Therefore, ice fishing for trout can be very productive in both streams and lakes. Jigs, spoons, and live and cut baits will all be productive. Unlike many other species, trout remain active under the ice and often cruise around quite a bit and are found high in the water column.
Capt Jim has written several comprehensive articles on ice fishing for rainbow trout, brown trout, lake trout and brook trout. Click the links to read them!
6) Handle trout carefully!
Trout can be delicate and anglers should use as much care as possible when handling them for release. Smaller trout can be popped off using hemostats. Larger fished can be lifted briefly for a quick pic, but anglers should make sure to support the weight of the fish and revive it if necessary.
7) Local knowledge is invaluable
While there are quite a few aspects of trout fishing that can apply anywhere, there is no substitute for local knowledge. This is especially true for fly anglers looking to match the local hatches and forage. Anglers can visit local shops and get some great advice while making a few purchases to support these small businesses.
8) Hiring a guide is a great investment
A guided fishing trip can be expensive, depending on the financial situation of the angler. However, in most cases this is money well spent. Anglers may learn more in a few hours with a good guide than they might fishing alone in a year. It can really steepen the learning curve!
9) Tailwaters are terrific trout fishing spots
Tailwaters are the rivers below dams. These are fantastic spots for trout and many other species. The water flow and temperature can be controlled, often being tailored to ideal trout fishing conditions. Some of the top trout fishing spots in the world are tailwater fisheries. Anglers need to be careful and heed safety warnings as waters can rise very quickly.
Trout fishing in streams and small rivers
Many anglers associate trout fishing with streams, and for good reason. Smaller streams and rivers are perfect habitat for most trout species. They also are accessible to anglers without a boat.
10) Light lines catch more stream trout
Trout in creeks, streams, and small rivers are usually quite spooky. The water is often clear as well. Lighter line and leaders will catch more fish. Many anglers are amazed at how many more strikes they get when going from 4 lb line to 2 lb line. The same applies to leaders for fly anglers.
11) Fly anglers should use longer leaders and floating lines
In a similar vein to the previous tip, trout in shallow, clear water can be fussy. While fly anglers do not need to make long casts, a longer leader, up to 12 feet long, will definitely produce more strikes. This is especially true when fishing for brook trout in the tiny mountain creeks. While there are many line options, a floating line will be fine for this application.
12) Spinners are the best river fishing lures
There are several types of artificial lures that will be productive when trout fishing in smaller streams. These include spinners, spoons, jigs, and plugs. However, in most cases, a small spinner is the best choice. Small spinners are light and land softly. They also snag the bottom less. Finally, they catch fish! Several manufacturers offer spinners with single, barbless hooks to comply with regulations and aid in successful releases. A 1/16 ounce spinner with a gold blade and brightly colored body is an excellent all-round choice.
Click to read more about fishing with spinners
13) Fly choice for trout fishing in smaller streams
Trout in small streams tend to be very aggressive feeders as they often receive less pressure than fish in larger rivers do. Small streams tend to give trout very good access to terrestrial insects living along the river bank. Grasshoppers, ants, crickets, beetles, spiders, and a host of other tiny insects will often fall into streams and make excellent patterns for trout. Small streams also have plenty of aquatic insects that live in the stream. Mayflies, stoneflies, caddis flies and midges are just a few examples of insects that spend their larval stages growing and feeding in streams before hatching and mating at the end of their life cycle.
Using combinations of terrestrial and aquatic insect patterns in small streams can be deadly. Deeper pools in small streams can also be ideal locations for using streamer patterns as large fish in streams can become major fish eaters, often eating many of their cousins and even there own kind. Other stream resident minnows like sculpins, dace, and trout fry can be imitated with a variety of streamer patterns and can be extremely effective in streams.
Fish in streams tend to be wary and fly choice can be important when considering how to not spook your quarry. Bry often uses a highly visible dry fly when trying to make a delicate cast and presentation to finicky stream trout. It is hard to beat a good old fashioned grasshopper or ant pattern when stream fishing for trout. Favorite patterns for streams include Dave’s Hopper, prince nymph, hare’s ear nymph, and brown sculpin.
14) Trout holding spots
Locating trout in big and small rivers is based on several important factors. However, the most important component is a spot where can the fish access the most food while expending the least amount of energy. Feeding trout in both large and small rivers will often hold behind gravel bars, rocks, undercut banks or island seams where faster water is bringing food into breaks in the current. This allows fish to expend very little energy fighting the current while still having access to food that is drifting downstream.
Fish in small rivers will often hold in deep slow pools and runs below rapids. The bigger trout can usually be found in the very best pieces of structure that provide them with the first opportunity at food in a pool. Savvy anglers look to the head of the pool or riffle for the biggest trout. One exception to this rule is in shallow rivers where big trout need bigger, deeper pools and structure areas to feel safe from predators.
Big river trout that have started consuming large quantities of other fish will often reside in deep pools, moving into the shallows of slow water sections to hunt for minnows along the river banks. Winter trout will often move into slow moving water in the winter to conserve energy when less food is available.
15) Keep a low profile when fishing for trout
Anglers fishing the smaller streams and creeks should always be aware of how their presence will affect trout. They should walk quietly and avoid casting any shadows over the pool that is to be fished.
16) Live bait can be effective in streams and small rivers
While most anglers opt to use either lures or flies when trout fishing in these smaller bodies, live bait, where legal, can certainly be used. Generally, bait works better in slightly larger streams and smaller rivers. Nightcrawlers and minnows are the top baits.
Trout fishing tips for larger rivers
Larger rivers provide anglers with some excellent trout fishing. However, they pose a few challenges as well. These trout fishing tips will help anglers be successful in larger waters.
17) Safety first!
Large rivers will hold some trophy trout. However, they can unfortunately be deadly. Strong currents and deep water result in a dangerous situation. This is especially true for anglers wading. A PFD should be worn when wading big water. Anglers should also avoid fishing alone in these big rivers. Anglers in boats should exercise more caution as well.
18) Beef up the tackle a bit
Anglers fishing these larger rivers can go heavier on the tackle than those fishing in smaller streams. The water is usually faster and not quite as clear. Anglers will need the heavier tackle as well when a big fish is hooked in the fast water. A 7′ medium light spinning rod with 8-10 lb line is a good combo. Fly anglers will do fine with a 7wt to 8wt outfit.
19) larger lures produce in big rivers
Anglers will find that larger lures work better in the big rivers. These heavier lures can be cast farther, covering more water. Also, larger trout generally prefer larger meals. Larger spoons cast a mile and are very productive.
20) Streamers fool big trout for fly anglers
Streamers are very effective on trout in larger rivers. They can be tied to mimic bait fish, crustaceans, and insects. The Wooly Bugger is a classic streamer that will catch trout anywhere on the planet. Streamers are fished across and down current.
Anglers can read more about streamer fishing for trout in this article!
21) Bait is productive in larger rivers
Natural bait becomes a better option in larger rivers. Live baits such as nightcrawlers, minnows, and crustaceans are effective. Eggs are deadly, particularly in rivers that experience salmon runs. Rainbow trout grow fat and happy gorging on salmon eggs.
22) Trolling and drifting produces trout in large rivers
Trolling is very productive for trout in large rivers. It allows anglers to cover a lot of water in search of fish. The same applies to drifting, which in a fast current is a similar thing.
Trout fishing tips in lakes
Anglers certainly catch a lot of trout in lakes as well. In most cases, these are the largest specimens. Trout can grow large on the abundant forage. The primary challenge when fishing for trout in lakes, unlike streams, is that there is a lot more water for them to be found in.
23) Trolling is the top fishing technique for trout in lakes
Most trout caught by anglers fishing in lakes are done so by trolling. The reason is simple; it is a very efficient technique. Trolling allows anglers to present multiple baits and different depths in search of fish. This can be as uncomplicated as pulling a spoon behind a small Jon boat or trolling in the Great Lakes with downriggers. Spoons and plugs are the top lures used.
24) Trout in lakes are constantly cruising
Unlike trout in rivers, which tend to hold in certain spots due to current, fish in lakes tend to constantly cruise in search of forage. Often times, they do so high in the water column. Many freshwater fish species relate to structure. For the most part, trout do not. However, they will hang near schools of bait fish.
25) Fly fishing can produce trout in lakes
Fly fishing can be an extremely effective method for taking trout in lakes. Like trout in rivers, aquatic insects are often a very important source of food for trout living in lakes. When fishing in a lake you may see trout on the surface, actively feeding on emerging or mating insects. On warm summer evenings the dry and dropper approach used on rivers can be extremely effective on lakes.
It is important to note that the majority of trout feeding that takes place in lakes is beneath the surface and identifying the primary food source in any given lake is critical. Fresh water shrimp, snails and a host of other aquatic insects and fish can be imitated effectively with hundreds of fly patterns tailored for catching trout in lakes. Fishing with stationary nymphs below a strike indicator is a sure way to fool even the wariest trout in a lake. A more aggressive and highly effective approach is to slowly strip streamers and large nymph patterns at the depth that trout are feeding.
Fly fishing a lake has the advantage of allowing a fisherman to present very small insect fly imitations that are often the primary source of food for resident trout. Starting with big attractive flies and then gradually reducing the size of the offering until a productive pattern emerges is an excellent strategy. This is particularly true on unfamiliar lakes.
26) Live bait works well in smaller lakes and ponds
Many ponds and smaller lakes have been stocked with trout, particularly rainbow trout. As mentioned earlier, stocked trout are raised on man made food and respond very well to commercially available baits as well as eggs and live bait. Worms and nightcrawlers are quite productive.
In conclusion, this article on 26 productive trout fishing tips will help anglers catch more of these terrific freshwater game fish!