Trout Fishing 101: Everything you Need to Know About Freshwater Trout Fishing

As one of the most underrated freshwater species, trout can be super fun to fish for. Whether it be in one of the Great Lakes or a remote stream in the middle of nowhere, trout is a fish that can supply some incredible fishing memories.

We will be talking about trout fishing 101. This encompasses everything you need to know about targeting trout and how you can make the most out of every time you try your luck.

Types of Trout

Knowing the types of trout you can fish for will give you a good idea of how to specify your approach. There are a few unique subspecies that can be found in freshwater waterways.

Brown Trout

Although brown trout are not always brown, they have gorgeous coloration and can be a blast to catch. With colorful spots and plenty of fight, these are very popular to target. These can be found in streams and large lakes while getting to pretty big sizes.

Rainbow Trout

Rainbow are favorites amongst anglers as they are gorgeous and tasty if you would like to harvest them. You can pick these out because of the bright pink lateral lines that make a rainbow-like look when compared to the rest of the body.

Brook Trout

One of the more unique types you can catch is the brook trout. These are pretty small but are beautiful and considered a bucket list catch by many anglers.


Probably the biggest of the bunch is a lake trout. This is a fish that can get very big and loves to live deep in big lakes. Especially through the ice, catching these can be a wild ride. They have a large, forked tail, and spotted design that makes them stick out pretty easily.

Trout Feeding Habits

Although the specific habits will vary based on the subspecies, trout, in general, do eat certain things and have certain routines.

Trout eat a pretty good range of food options. These options include insects, leeches, small fish, and worms. We will get to baits and lures later, but it is important to know that trout love natural, moving baits. If you are going with an artificial lure, matching the hatch is key. When you can imitate what the trout naturally eat, you are in good shape.

In addition to knowing what trout eat, understanding the time of year and common feeding habits  

is crucial. A big part of the year is the hatch. The hatch is a period where flies and insects are hatching and becoming super active. Although this is a time that fly fishers hammer it hard, whenever trout are more active, all of the bites will improve.

Rod and Tackle

Having the right gear for the job is super important for putting yourself in an optimal position. This starts with your rod, reel, and tackle.

Best rod and reel

The rod and reel industry can be very crowded and overwhelming. Especially for beginners, there are so many options and brands that it can be an intimidating start. Knowing what is best for you can simplify the process and kickstart your fishing journey without a hitch.

Some of the top brands include St. Croix, Lew’s, and Fenwick, among others. To see a more in-depth look into rods, check our our list of the 6 Best Trout Rods.

Reel type

There are three types of reels in the trout fishing world. Casting, spinning, and fly reels make up the market and are options for you to choose from. Each one has a different skillset and knowledge base, even with a bit of crossover.

Anyone can learn to use any of the three reel types. But in my experience push button casting reels are best for kids, spinning reels are common for intermediate anglers, and fly fishing is for folks who want to take their fishing game to the next level.

A typical spinning reel works great for trout fishing

Rod length

The length of your rod is also important, although it will vary because trout fishing is on a wide spectrum. If you are targeting giant lake trout in a huge body of water, you will want a longer rod. If you are fishing for small rainbows in a stream, you can downsize a bit.

A 6ft or 7ft rod will be versatile enough for most situations.

Rod power and action

Similarly to length, the power and action of your rod will also be based on the subspecies being targeted. For the smaller trout, having a light action will keep your rod sensitive and let you feel out the subtle bites. For larger fish, you need a heavy power to have a setup strong enough to handle the fight.

Best Line

Having the best line for the job is important in any area of fishing. The three variables to understand are weight, type, and visibility.

Line weight

The weight of your line is a rating to determine how much strength it can handle before snapping. For most trout, you may only need 6-8 pound test. For some of the larger options, it will be beefed up quite a bit. You may be using a 10-12 pound line for some of the other subspecies.

Line type

In trout fishing, monofilament and fluorocarbon are the two mainline types to choose from. Monofilament is the most popular and widely produced. It is also the cheaper of the two. This is the steady option that will last a while and remain strong.

Fluorocarbon is the fancier option as it is more expensive and is of a stronger material. However, this means there is almost no stretch and is a bit stiffer. Berkley has a nice article explaining the different types of line with pictures.


How clear your line is an often overlooked variable. Especially when you are taking on deep, clear lakes, your line has to be clear. If you do not take this into account, there is a good chance you will miss out on more bites than usual.

Make sure you check out our list of the best line for trout before you buy.

Best hook for trout

The piece of tackle that is doing the most work is the hook. Having a good hook can be the difference between landing that trophy and letting it get away. Having the right size and type is the most important part.

The best size hook for trout is a size 10. However, because the subspecies are so different in size, the range can be 8-14. If your hook is too small, the trout can unhook itself easily, and if it is too big, they won’t bite in the first place. So, finding the perfect medium is the way to go.

We picked our three favorite trout hooks so you can be sure you’re using the best.

Best trout bait

What you use to get the trout to strike is probably the most important part of the entire setup. If you cannot get the fish to commit, none of the other pieces matter. This is why the best bait has its section and will require a bit of thought.

Bait should be designated through three different jurisdictions. There are live bait, bait imitations, and lures. Each one is a bit different and has different attributes. Live bait includes minnows, nightcrawlers, and other living things. Bait imitation is your Powerbait and other mass-released imitations. Lures are man-made and artificial devices that try to best imitate natural feeding options. Here are the best baits and imitations for trout.


Corn is an underrated trout bait as it is natural and has a serious pop in color. Especially when fishing lakes are stocked, trout already are used to the corn flavor as it is used in many meals feeds. When you tap into that familiarity, you can increase bites. Check out our guide to trout fishing with corn.


Worms might be the most classic offering there is in the bait world. Nightcrawlers specifically have the right amount of plumpness and scent to fire up some trout. You can buy these at the store and even just dig them up in your backyard.


Powerbait is a super good option as this company perfected this style of bait. Powerbait usually comes in jars and has strong scents and colors. This will surely grab the attention of a feeding trout.


Some of the other good trout baits include Gulp imitations, fish eggs, and many other local options. If you’re fishing for rainbow trout specifically, check out our list of the best bait for rainbow trout.

Best Lures

If you are going with a more man-made approach, you need to know what lures are the best options. The best lures for trout imitate natural feeding patterns and can be fished repeatedly with no issues.

Here are the best lures for trout!

Worden’s Rooster Tail

The Rooster Tail is one of the most iconic trout lures in existence. This is a subtle presentation that focuses on using the right color and providing good action. This is technically a spinner. But the name comes from the skirt over the hook. This added action is very enticing.

Worden is the original brand that developed the Rooster Tail, and there have been tons of variations since its inception in the 1950s. There are hundreds of colors and many different sizes and variations.

Other than the Rooster Tail, there are plenty of great lure options on the market. Others include spinners, spoons, swimbaits, and more. The key to using an artificial lure is reeling it in at just the right speed to make it seem as natural as possible.

The guys from Addicted Fishing have a pretty good video showing how to use lures to catch more trout.

Other Equipment You’ll Need

We listed the major items you need, but some others are necessary for trout fishing successfully.


Trout, more than most freshwater species, have a very important slime coat that needs to be protected. This coat keeps the skin safe and the fish healthy. When you use a net, the fish does not have to come into contact with the ground and be harmed.


Another tool to keep trout safe is pliers. These are used to take out hooks without tearing up their mouths. Not only will you keep the trout safe, but you will lose fewer lures.


If you are going to ethically and legally keep your catch, you may want a stringer. This is a way to store your fish all in one place while keeping them fresh until you leave.

Tackle Box

Finally, you need some way to store all of your tackle. Having tackle boxes and storage bags is perfect for keeping everything organized and where it needs to be.

Trout Fishing in Lakes and Ponds

Trout fishing traditionally is done in flowing streams and picturesque rivers. This is a great place to go, but there is an emergence in lakes and pond fishing for trout. This is mostly due to governmental bodies and private owners stocking lakes and ponds with trout.

If you only fish for trout in rivers, you are probably missing out on some great stocked fishing options. The key is finding a lake or pond that is known to have trout. Whether they are stocked or not, you should target areas that have trout to catch. All this takes is a bit of research and can yield amazing results.

The best trout fishing ponds and lakes in the United States are in the northern states. From Alaska to Vermont, there are fantastic stocked ponds and natural lakes that harbor trout. Whether you have a boat or just are going from the bank, there are great options out there for you.

Read more about fishing for rainbow trout in ponds.

Trout Fishing in Rivers and Streams

This is where a lot of the action happens. Trout love flowing water, so targeting those areas is really important. These areas are found in the same states that have good trout lakes, so the northern states are great areas to target.

The key to fishing in a flowing body of water is reading the current and targeting eddies and slacks in the water. This is where trout will sit to eat. Especially going in the evening and the morning, you can get the full trout river fishing experience.

3 tips for trout fishing

Wet your hands before handling the fish

The slime coat on a trout is super important for the fish’s overall health. A key thing you can do to preserve the trout’s health is wetting your hands before picking up the trout. When your hands are wet, the water acts as a barrier between our harmful oils and the fish’s skin.

Use a leader when you can

Depending on the type of line you are using, it can be fruitful to use a leader. Leaders are ultra-clear strands of line that connect the mainline to the hook. When you use a leader, you can ensure that the rig is as invisible as possible.

Stick to stocked lakes when using Powerbait

Powerbait is a fantastic bait for trout, but it works best in stocked lakes. This is because those stocked fish are used to eating a similar ingredient in the stocking farms. If you decide to use Powerbait in natural areas, the trout may not even look at it as it does not make up the natural diet.

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