Trout Fishing Basics

So, you’re ready to become a skilled Trout Fisherman?

Perfect!

Well knowing the basics to Trout fishing is going to the first step to success.

Trout possess many qualities that make them one of the most popular game fish in America.

They are beautiful, elusive, hard-fighting, and excellent table fare.

Most importantly, they are fun to catch!

Now I’ll be the first to admit, getting started with fishing can have a bit of learning curve.

It can be especially challenging if you don’t have someone to show you the way.

However, don’t worry, with just a little patience I’m confident that you and I can get to a point where you can catch one of these fantastic fish as well.

From start to finish, you’ll find everything you need to get started with trout fishing in this article.

If you don’t have the patience to read this article, but still want to catch trout then check out our latest trout fishing tips post.

Here’s a quick overview of what we’re going to be learning today.

  • Common Types of Trout
  • Where to Find Trout fishing spots
  • What do Trout Eat
  • Different ways to fish for Trout
  • Equipment you need for Trout Fishing
  • Fishing Poles for Trout
  • Trout Fishing Laws in the United States
  • Steps of getting licensed to catch a Trout
  • How to set up your fishing pole to catch a Trout
  • Catching a Trout
  • How to Handle a trout

Did we miss something? If you didn’t find it here let us know in the comments below!

Common types of Trout

There are many species of trout.

Forty-two to be exact.

To save us some time, we will be going over the top five species.

Depending on what part of the country you are from, you might have access to only a specific type of trout.

Fortunately for you, the method for catching trout is fairly universal.

There are some unique nuances, but those might be things you learn either in a different post, or through experience by fishing in your local waters.

Rainbow Trout

The first type of trout we learn about is the Rainbow Trout.

Let’s start with the name,

They get their name from the gorgeous rainbow-colored band that runs along the side of the fish.

Rainbow trout are smaller in size with an average weight of 1-5 pounds.

Rainbows live their entire lives in the same water they are born in. Creeks, streams, small rivers and inland lakes are some common habitat

Steelhead Trout

Steelhead grow to be much larger and can develop a chrome/steel color, hence the name.

Because of their habit to migrate throughout the year to forage for food and spawn. These fish might be only available to catch at certain times of the year.

On average, steelhead can be in the 5-8 pound range. However many avid anglers on the west coast and in the great lakes consider 20+ pounds to be the ultimate trophy size.

With a lot of trout species telling the differences between males and females is a fairly easy task.

Leading up to the spawn, males will develop a hook jaw known as a kype. Females on the other hand, will have a smaller, more rounded jaw during the spawn.

The steelhead diet is very similar to that of a rainbow trout. Their diet consists of small bait fish, eggs,  bugs, and crustaceans.

Brown Trout

Another type of trout that can sometimes be seen with steelhead, is the Brown trout.

Just like the Rainbow, The Brown Trout gets its name from its color. These trout are mostly brown or brownish-orange and have black spots with the occasional red spots mixed in. A characteristic of the brown trouts’ spots is they have a greyish-blue ring around them.  

These fish are very similar to the rainbow as some can stay small and live in small creeks or ponds, while others, like Great Lakes browns, can get quite large like the steelhead.

Brown Trout also feed on small bait fish, eggs, and bugs.

Lake Trout

Lake Trout, sometimes called Char, can mostly be found in larger lakes and rivers.

These are among the most popular trout in the Great Lakes Region along with Steelhead and Browns

Lake trout spawn in the fall, so their fishing season often comes last.

Lake trout are popular because they are the largest of the trout species.

A 25 pound fish is not uncommon!

However, massive size does come with a cost.

These fish take a long time to mature. Due to overfishing and parasites, like the lamprey, a strong school can be thinned out rather quickly.

That is why it is important to handle the fish with care when you catch one. Also be sure to practice safe catch and release, and avoid targeting them when they are not in season.

As an ethical angler, it is important to know your waters before you fish them.

A quick google search that goes something like “What fish are in the _________ river” should be a good starting point to ethical fishing.

Brook Trout

Brook trout are one of the most beautiful trout and happen to be the state fish for 9 US States.

It’s also the Provincial Fish of Nova Scotia for my Canadian readers. ☺

These are fairly small trout, weighing up to 6.5 lbs or about 3 Kg. Brook trout are found in smaller streams just like the rainbow trout.

The Brook trout can be identified with their color which is primarily green with yellowish spots, and iconic red fins that look like they have been dipped in white paint.

Where to Find Trout

You’ll find trout in small streams and creeks.

The water should be cold, and the creek shouldn’t reach depths of 20 feet or more.

Trout will move between shallow and deep pockets of water throughout the day.

This happens for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, to protect themselves from predators such as birds and bears.

They also move to deeper water for better water conditions.

The lower water column is often colder and richer with worms and other small creatures.

Something to keep an eye out for is massive boulders, logs, and rockpiles (also known as structure).

The structure provides two benefits;

First, it positions the trout to ambush their prey.

Second, it provides protection from their predators (like the lamprey).

If you can find pockets of deeper water or good structure, the next thing to explore is the food sources.

What do Trout Eat?

Trout will feed on many things such as crayfish, salmon fry, minnows, fish eggs, worms, aquatic insects, caddisflies, stoneflies, mayflies, (that’s a lot of flies!), ants, crickets, and finally, but not limited to, beetles.

Throughout the season certain lures outperform others in the tackle box. Check this out to see which ones work best.

Ways to fish for Trout

There are several methods for trout fishing.

The end goal is the same with all of them.

Present a bait or lure in front of a fish that will entice a fish to strike.

Spin fishing for trout

Spin fishing, where you use a standard fishing rod and spinning reel.

It’s the most common fishing method and here’s why:

Are you looking to get started with trout fishing right away?

Are you looking to spend the least amount of money on your gear?

Are you looking to use your gear for other species of fishing as well?

The spin fishing techniques can check yes to all of these questions.

We recommend something cheap and reliable for starters. The combo from Pflueger is perfect for anyone looking to get into the sport of fishing.

Buying a combo (Rod & reel sold together) is a great way to get started. It also doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

Some other methods to explore with trout fishing are Fly fishing, Centerpin(Float) fishing, Spey fishing, Trolling, and Tenkara.

There’s a lot to review with different fishing methods and they will have to be covered in a post of their own.

types of fishing reels

Rods and Reels for Trout Fishing

As covered in the previous section there are different fishing styles and means to catch trout.

When it comes to selecting rod there are couple common characteristics to look for in any rod designed to catch trout.

Light weight graphite rods work best. They’re very sensitive and will allow you to feel when a fish bites your line.

You also want the rod to have a medium to fast action. Action defines where the rod bends.

Trout have a habit of taking your bait and spitting it back out. With a fast action rod if you set the hook when you feel the bite the “hook set” will be transferred to the end of the line “fast.”

This will allow you get hooked more.

Length should be at least 6 feet. With a longer pole you can cast further as well as “fight” a fish with more flexibility. (I.e. fish jumps or makes a run; longer pole will bend more to compensate for slack line)

The best trout fishing rod for beginners is the Fenwick HMG.

For a reel you should start with a spinning reel. Bearings are important, usually more the merrier, but it’s the quality that’s most important.

For a reel you should start with a spinning reel. Bearings are important, usually more the merrier, but it’s the quality that’s most important.

If you want to learn more about bearings Angling Authority sums it up nicely in their fishing reel post.

Our number one choice for fishing reels for beginners is the Pflueger President:

Why?

It’s affordable, it reels in smoothly, its simple and durable.  

However, if you’re looking to spend a little more money and get the best reel out there then try the Shimano Stradic HG.

Simply put – It’s constructed of some best materials on the market, has a 6.0.1 gear ratio (you can reel in fast), its designed to have less tangles in the line, and it will probably be the last reel you buy!

When it comes to catching trout, both reels will get the job done. The Shimano will keep you in the water longer with less line tangles and time spent out of the water.

More time fishing = more fish.

Equipment you need for Trout Fishing

The best part about fishing is that you don’t need much to enjoy the sport.

There are easy upgrades you can make to not only make you more comfortable on the stream side, but also help you catch more fish.

Here are some essential pieces of equipment you should consider investing in.

You will always use your equipment; you will not always catch fish.

Equipment is one place to spend a little extra money for quality.

You want your gear to last a lifetime.

Fishing rods are easy to upgrade.

Plus having an extra rod or reel around might come in handy later on.

Unlike rods and reels, a cheap net or tackle box is likely to end up in the trash.

Equipment you need for Trout Fishing

The best part about fishing is that you don’t need much to enjoy the sport.

There are easy upgrades you can make to not only make you more comfortable on the stream side, but also help you catch more fish.

Here are some essential pieces of equipment you should consider investing in.

You will always use your equipment; you will not always catch fish.

Equipment is one place to spend a little extra money for quality.

You want your gear to last a lifetime.

Fishing rods are easy to upgrade.

Plus having an extra rod or reel around might come in handy later on.

Unlike rods and reels, a cheap net or tackle box is likely to end up in the trash.

Tackle box for Trout Fishing

You should look for something that is lightweight, has heavy-duty zippers, a waterproof tackle storage box (you don’t want rust), and easy to carry while wadding.

The tackle box pictured below has everything you would ever need for trout fishing.

It’s what I personally carry when I’m on the stream and here’s why:

Its durable, comfortable, has plenty of storage, its easily accessible, and stays up high above my waste so it doesn’t get wet.

Trout Fishing Nets

Any experienced angler will tell you that having a net can make or break your ability to land fish.

More importantly, if you practice catch and release a net is a non-negotiable to keep the fish safe.

You should look for a net the has a rubber coated mesh. These nets not only keep the fish safe, but also help prevent your lure or hook from getting tangled in the netting.

The nets that are made of string with knots will do more harm than good. These remove the fish’s protective coating and can even pull off scales, which will harm the fish.

A net like this one is a good start.

The last thing you want is to lose a trophy catch moments.

Nets like the one pictured above, come in clutch on the stream-side. It has a magnetic release allowing you to access it quickly. This is so helpful when your focused on trying to reel in your fish.

Keep in mind the size of the fish you are going for.

The one above is too small for huge lakers or steelhead.

This type of net would be better for larger fish.

Waders for Trout Fishing

Waders are a waterproof boot that extends from the foot up to the chest. Most of them are made out of neoprene or different forms of rubber.

They are a great addition to your gear because they keep you dry while standing waist-deep in trout water for hours at a time.

Often times you will find trout in water that is difficult to access.

Waders are an important piece of equipment for trout fishing because they allow you to go places that may only be accessible through shallow water.

These are a few good options to start with:

Frogg Toggs neoprene wader is everybody’s first set of waders.

They’re not winning any beauty pageants. But, they get the job done.

Neoprene waders are warm, comfortable, and more durable than the standard plastic/vinyl waders.

However, if you have the money and you’re ready to take the sport seriously.

Waders by Simms are a great investment.They last longer, and provide more comfort as you start to go on longer treks.

Trout Fishing Laws in the United States

In the United States you will find that each state has its own set of laws and regulations regarding fishing.

As a sportsman or sportswoman, it’s important to have an understanding of what the rules are in your state.

The rules are in place to protect you and the wildlife.

Here’s a list of state websites with their fishing regulations:

Trout Fishing License

With most states you can buy your fishing license through the links listed above. Some general fishing licenses are even available at your local WalMart.

However, if its the law you need to have one before you head out fishing.

Why?

Firstly, You have to follow the rules and regulations for the waterways you will be fishing.

More importantly, you might end up with a hefty fine if you don’t follow the rules.

Another reason Fishing licenses are important, is because the money used to purchase the license goes back into conservation.

Conservation efforts are critical to the longevity and preservation of the amazing natural resources that all of us have access to.

How to set up your fishing pole to catch a Trout

  1. Start by assembling the pole
  2. Next attach the reel
  3. Set up the reel with tying on the line
  4. Tie the line to lure
  5. Set your drag
  6. Cast and enjoy

Catching a Trout

  • When the trout bite, set the hook, and keep the rod tip up.
  • Try to keep the fish in the water.
  • Keep tension on the line.

How to Handle a trout

If you are planning on harvesting your fish kill it right away, good whack to the head with a rock or stabbing it in the brain does the trick.

Otherwise keep the fish wet

  • Remove the hook with hemostats or pliers
  • Don’t put the fish on grass or rocks if possible
  • Avoid touching the gills
  • Never use gloves while handling a fish
  • Allow the fish to recover before sending it off. Just hold the fish in place with a lose grip until its ready to swim off. Don’t move the fish back and forth in the water that’s not how gills work. If anything, point the fishes head back into the current.

Well there you have it.

That should be everything you need to get started with trout fishing.

If you have any questions please feel free to ask in the comment section below.

The purpose of this post was to set you up for success on the water and guide you in the right direction to good fishing practices.