Trout 101: A Challenging Fish That Requires Real Skill

Trout Fishing Basics

Are you an experienced fisherman who is looking for a challenging game fish to target? Well, I have a treat for you. Trout are one of the most popular species in North America, and that’s due to hard fight that they put up, and the challenge involved in getting them to bite.

If you’re used to spinning and baitcasting reels, you’ll enjoy learning how to use a fly rod to properly catch these impressive fish. You don’t have to, but it makes the experience a lot more enjoyable.

What Are Trout?

Trout are part of the salmon family, and they’re some of the most popular fish in North America. There are a few different kinds of trout, but they all tend to exhibit the same core traits.

They’re known for being quite delicate, and they need to be handled properly. Despite being more fragile than other game fish, trout put up some of the hardest fights, and they require a bit of finesse to get them to actually bite in the first place.

They don’t tend to enjoy excessively large lures like bass do, and their finicky nature requires fishermen to have a lot of patience, and a willingness to consistently change up their approach.


There are many different types of trout, but fishermen mostly target rainbow trout, brown trout, and brook trout. Rainbow trout is usually the preferred species to target.

These fish tend to hang out in cold mountain streams and creeks that split off from those streams. That makes it more difficult for fishermen in certain parts of the country to get to waters stocked with trout, but it’s well worth the trip that those fishermen will have to make.

Species that fall into the lake trout category can get quite large due to their extended lifespan. That makes them favorites of fishermen that aim to catch the biggest fish possible.

However, rainbow trout tend to taste better, and they’re a challenge to catch consistently. That’s why the majority of seasoned fishermen prefer to target rainbow trout.


There’s only one type of saltwater trout that I know of, and it’s not technically a trout. The speckled trout is extremely similar in appearance and behavior to the freshwater species I mentioned, and it’s a popular species around the coastal regions of South-Eastern North America.

While it’s not technically part of the salmon family like other trout are, the speckled trout is widely considered to be a trout by fishermen that aren’t worried about scientific facts, and that’s why I’m including it in this article.

Where Can I Catch Trout?

Trout are found all over the United States, and they’re most common in mountainous regions because they prefer colder water temperatures. They live in the streams, creeks, and mountain lakes in those regions.

You don’t have to climb a mountain to catch trout, though. They can be found around the bases and in the valleys where the cold water travels down from the mountains. You’re not very likely to find them in warmer climates, though.

Speckled trout are an exception to that rule. They’re not a real trout, and they live in Gulf of Mexico and along the eastern shores. They can get to be pretty large, and they’re more robust than actual trout species.

When Can I Catch Trout?

While trout are a cold water species, they have to eat when food is available. That means that they’re more likely to bite during the warmer seasons when insects and crustaceans are more active. They’ll swim around streams and creeks where mosquitoes are often buzzing around on the surface. In the next section, I’ll explain how you can use that to your advantage.

It’s best to attempt to catch them in the earliest parts of the morning during the summer. When it’s spring and fall, it’s best to fish for them around dusk. This is largely due to how their main food source behaves, and it has a little bit to do with water temperatures.

Speckled trout are a bit different. The water temperatures in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico don’t change as dramatically throughout the year, and they can be reliably targeted all year. The times to fish for them are during full moons, and when the seagulls are actively feeding on large groups of bait fish.

Note: Don’t forget to bring your favorite pair of glasses while fishing for trouts. Check out these fishing glasses if you haven’t already got one.


How Can I Catch Trout?

Catching freshwater trout has become an art for many fishermen. It’s why fly fishing was created. Fly rods allow you to cast lures that are so small that other rods wouldn’t be able to get them more than a few inches away from the tip of your rod. That allows you to tie small lures that resemble mosquitoes and other small insects to your line. The way a fly rod works also allows you to manipulate those small lures to replicate the movements of insects.

The ability to realistically manipulate lures that resemble a trout’s food source is one of the most important parts of trout fishing. However, it can be very difficult to do properly.

Luckily, if you’re not known for having patience, I have had plenty of success using spinning reels and a few different strategies. Trout tend to like very subtle movements, and the vast majority of them can’t fit big lures in their mouths. So, I like to rig up a Berkley trout worm to an ultra-light spinning rig that is at least 7-feet long. That setup allows me to gently move the small trout worm around with ease, and I can typically feel even the lightest bites. I like to fish those types of lures weightless when I target trout. So, it’s best to use a reel that is designed to throw very light lures.

If that doesn’t work, I like to use a small popper. I find that the commercial lures are best, but small poppers can be made from a wine cork and spare hooks if you want to get creative. To use this method, I’ll use the same rod and reel as I do for trout worms, but I’ll throw it into the water and wait. Then, I’ll pop it about twice per minute to create subtle disturbances in the water. It takes a while to get their attention, but I’ve never had an issue getting them to bite with this method.

Speckled trout are a bit less picky. You can typically find them anywhere that a flock of seagulls is feeding, and you can even catch the smaller ones right next to the bank.

There are a number of lures that are designed for speckled trout, but I like to use the same popper method that I sometimes use for freshwater trout. The only difference is that I use a larger popper lure.

Speckled trout is one of the only species that I actually prefer to use live bait to catch. Simple live shrimp can bring in whole coolers worth of speckled trout in the 12-inch range. Mullet and other decent-sized bait fish can be used to catch larger speckled trout.

When using this method, it’s a good idea to look for slicks. Slicks are oily spots in the water that are created by speckled trout while they’re feeding. Speckled trout don’t stop when they’re full. They just throw up what they’ve eaten and keep going. That is what creates the oily splotches around them when they’re active.

Another good thing to look for is a flock of seagulls. Seagulls and speckled trout target the same bait fish, and they often eat together.

Once you find one of those two signs that speckled trout are nearby, you can just drop your live shrimp or mullet in, and let the action begin. Speckled trout can get up to 30 inches long. So, be prepared for a real fight once you hook one.

Locating Trouts in a Stream

locate trouts in a stream

There aren’t any federal restrictions on trout, but they are typically regulated pretty heavily by individual states and counties. Like all fish, you should take the posted limits at any spot you go to, to stay out of trouble with wildlife authorities.

There are also a few etiquette rules that fishermen are expected to abide by. These aren’t present at all fishing spots, but a lot do require that you follow these rules. Typically, you have to hook the fish in the lip or jaw, and you have to handle it in a way that doesn’t remove its oily coating. Most importantly, always quickly return the fish to the water without harming it if you don’t plan on eating it. If you keep it out for too long, or damage it in any way before you return it to the water, you run the risk of it dying a pretty slow death for no reason.

As I said earlier, there are ways around using a fly rod to catch trout. However, it is preferable to use a fly rod due to their ability to perfectly replicate the behavior of a trout’s main food source. It’s worth taking the time to learn how to properly use a fly fishing rod.

To go along with using a fly rod, I recommend learning how to tie flies. It isn’t very complicated, and it can be done with homemade gear and cheap materials. It does require a tying jig and very thin pliers or tweezers, though. If you want to make it as easy as possible, you can buy the equipment from several different manufacturers. Tying your own flies is a time-honored tradition, and it’s a lot cheaper than buying them due to how intricate they can be.

It’s also a good idea to learn how to handle fish properly. Most North American species aren’t very fragile, and they can handle being dropped or held improperly every once in a while. That’s not to say that you should, but everyone makes mistakes. Trout can’t take that type of abuse, though. It’s imperative to learn how to handle fish properly and safely before you attempt to catch them. A good fishermen doesn’t allow ignorance to damage his local fish population.


Trout are fun, challenging, and delicious. They require a little more skill and patience than other popular species, but they offer a unique challenge that most veteran fishermen will appreciate. That’s in addition to them being extremely tasty when they’re smoked.


My love for fishing started when I was a little boy. My local park had a children's fishing event where I caught my first bluegill. Ever since then, I've pushed myself to learn more about fishing, and I've targeted a large variety of fresh and saltwater game fish, across the majority of the United States, for the last twenty years. While my writing career keeps me very busy, I still find time to throw a line in at least three times a week.

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ContentsWhat Are Trout?FreshwaterSaltwaterWhere Can I Catch Trout?When Can I Catch Trout?How Can I Catch Trout?Locating Trouts in a StreamAre There Any Legal Restrictions?Recommended SkillsConclusion Even as I write this article out, I’m being bothered by a particularly irritating mosquito welt on the inside of my elbow. Mosquitos, along with other insects, are all too happy […]