I cast upstream and keenly watched the small, gray dry fly as it rode on top of a wave of rushing water in the stream, and then gingerly danced around a granite boulder. Suddenly, I saw a silver flash under the surface and my fly disappeared. I quickly lifted the tip of my fly rod and felt the fish fighting back as it lunged into the rushing water. After a few minutes of struggle, I thrust my net into the water to capture a rainbow trout. While topwater dry fly action is considered by many to be the pinnacle of trout fishing, there are many ways to catch a trout!
The Big Three Of Trout
North America has three basic trout species that are widely spread across the continent: rainbow, brown and brook. Rainbows are easily distinguished by the red color band along their silvery sides. Brown trout are tan colored and have large dark spots that shimmer as red rubies or blue gems when you see them in the light. Brook trout have an olive-colored back with worm-like lines and red fins with white edges. Brook trout are actually a member of the char family of fishes. There are other trout species in the United States but their ranges are rather limited and distinct.
Trout habitat includes clean rivers and lakes that maintain temperatures below 75 F year-round. Brook trout thrive in the coldest waters and are normally found in higher elevation streams, especially in the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains. Brown trout were imported from Germany and can tolerate the warmest water conditions. The world-record brown trout weighs more than 40 pounds! Some lakes and the cold tailwaters below many dams are home for trout.
When you decide to fish for trout, be forewarned that they are wary fish. Their predators include anglers, minks, some bird species such as bald eagles, and other trout. To avoid those predators, trout hide under logs, beside the banks of streams, rivers and lakes, and behind boulders. A trout’s colors and shape help conceal it from predators. Trout can see well and they can also detect noise and vibrations underwater, even when the noise or vibration is on land.
Small trout normally feed on insects, but large trout have a diet mainly of smaller fish and crayfish. Nearly 80 percent of a trout’s food intake occurs under water, however, trout also watch for food passing overhead on the water’s surface.
Take It To The Water
There are several ways to locate a place to fish for trout. Most states with waters that harbor them also produce booklets and maps indicating where they can be found. Some states also list trout waters in their fishing regulations digest and post special signs along streams and rivers. You can call the state where you plan to fish to find those waters. Numerous states stock rivers and lakes with trout – whether the fish are native or established there or not – and make this information readily available.
Before you go, make sure that you are properly licensed. Most states require you to purchase and possess a special trout stamp in addition to a basic fishing license. Some states have toll-free numbers and Web sites where you can find the details and costs.
There are several types of flies, each of which resembles a certain type of trout food.
The Tackle Decision
There are two basic approaches when pursuing trout: spinning gear or a fly rod. Any light-action spinning outfit with 6-pound test line or less will normally work well. Popular lures include bladed spinners, small plugs that represent minnows, small rubber worms and light hair or marabou jigs (1/16 oz. or less). Some anglers use live bait such as worms, larvae or crickets to lure trout to the hook. These items are normally suspended under a float or pulled down by weights. Spinning rods use the weight of the lure to carry the line with it as it is rapidly thrust forward.
The other popular method for pursuing trout is with a fly rod. Fly rods are normally 8 to 10 feet long and use a special line to cast a nearly weightless lure. Using a fly rod requires rhythmic arm motion to gracefully move a thick line back and forth overhead, and then to the target area. The line should match the weight of the rod and normal classifications range from 3-weight up to 10-weight. Most trout anglers, under normal conditions, use 5- or 6-weight rods and lines. Many manufacturers take the guesswork out of fly fishing equipment and sell outfits consisting of rod, reel and matching line.
Fly rods are used to cast several classifications of flies designed to mimic trout foods. Among the basic fly patterns are: dry flies, which ride on top of the water; nymphs, which go subsurface and are normally fished near the bottom; and streamers, which represent minnows. All of these flies represent insects or smaller fish species that are found in the water.
After you select your rod, reel and line, there’s some other basic gear to consider. Polarized sunglasses and a hat will help you look into the water to locate fish. These items also protect your eyes and head from hooks in case a fly or lure goes astray while casting. Felt-soled waders can also help you negotiate over slippery stream rocks and protect your ankles. A wading stick might help you through rough waters.
Many anglers like to wear a multi-pocketed vest for storing hooks, lures, weights and other gear, including a canteen of water. If you are fishing from a boat, consider using a U.S. Coast Guard-approved vest-type Personal Floatation Device that allows you to move your arms freely while casting. Other possible gear includes pliers or forceps for removing hooks, clippers for cutting line, and a landing net. If you want to keep some trout for a meal, a creel will help you transport the fish home and keep them cool to prevent spoilage.
Time For Action
While every angler likes to rig up and rush to the water for action, you should spend several minutes watching the water before you wade in or cast. Watch for rising fish, indicated by rings of water ripples or splashing, or underwater activity indicated by a silver flash – which could be a subsurface feeding trout. You can also check along the banks and in vegetation for insects to determine current possible trout food sources. Some anglers overturn rocks in the water and use a fine net to capture underwater insects. The brief time it takes to inspect the water could be the best investment for success that you will make on your trip.
When fly fishing for trout, every fish is a "trophy."
To avoid detection while fishing, you should wear dark clothing to blend in with the shadows. Tuck any flashy item that will reflect sunlight into a vest pocket to keep it from alerting the trout to your presence.
If fishing a stream or river, fish from the bank when possible. If you wade into the water, make slow deliberate moves and avoid spooking fish by moving rocks or splashing water. When fishing with spinning gear, cast upstream and pull the lure back toward you. When fly-fishing, let the fly move naturally to represent the normal movement of insects in water. Casts near water surface foam, undercut banks, logs and mid-stream boulders can get a trout’s attention. Work all possible fish-holding water and plan your route before moving ahead.
When fishing on a lake or pond, cast around structure, weeds and boulders. Pay extra attention to the areas where incoming water, such as a small feeder stream, flows into the lake. Overhanging brush can harbor trout that are lurking underneath, and they like to cruise the edges of lakes in early spring.
If you only have a short amount of time and are unfamiliar with the area, your best option might be hiring a fishing guide. Many guides specialize in trout and know the details for catching fish from local waters that you could take years to learn.
Set The Hook!
When a trout takes your lure, be prepared to set the hook quickly. If you plan to release the trout, follow proper catch-and-release guidelines. Do not put your fingers in the fish’s gills and wet your hands before handling it to prevent removing a fish’s protective slime. Make sure the fish is thoroughly revived before you release it.
Trout fishing adventures can provide a chance to visit a wild and scenic area, or the opportunity to venture afield with friends. Many anglers enjoy the challenge of matching their fishing skills with a wary trout’s survival skills. When you visit a trout’s world and wade in, remember the basics.
Sidebar: The Traveling Trout Angler
Other sources can lead you to trout, including Trout Unlimited’s book, America’s 100 Best Trout Streams, which includes directions and maps. Another source, DeLorme’s Atlas and Gazetteer, provides state-specific information about public fishing access areas. Local sporting goods stores and fly shops can also direct you to trout waters and provide some details about what the fish are eating. – Michael Faw