Trout Fishing Basics: An Overall Look at How To Fish For Trout

by Don Lee | Last Updated: June 14, 2020
trout fishing basics

Trout fishing is not difficult, and it doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated.  With that said, trout fishing is one of those things that you absolutely will get out of it what you put into it.  

There’s no doubt that you can easily get started with all the trout fishing gear you need for $100 or less.  With that said, if you wanted to get into fly fishing, then you can easily triple that amount without blinking an eye.

But for the purposes of this article, we’re just going to stick to the trout fishing basics. What I’ll do is give an overall look at what trout fishing is and some of the essential (and some non-essential) gear that you’ll need.

I absolutely love fishing for trout. I’ve done it since I was a kid and I’ve picked up a lot of tricks along the way.  As a matter of fact, I’m teaching my my kids a few trout fishing techniques as they grow up too.

The reason I’m mentioning this is because I have a lot of experience fishing for trout, and other fish like steelhead. And I want you to know that the things I’m sharing with you are coming from personal experience.  

Let’s get started. We’ll start with some of the tackle you’ll need.

Trout Fishing Tackle

Here’s a look at some of the basic fishing tackle that you’re going to need to get started. Keep in mind that I’m not someone who’s going to recommend the most expensive gear. Nor do I recommend cheap garbage.

If I recommend specific gear, know that it’s something that I use myself. And since I don’t like spending ridiculous amounts of money on things, the things I tend to use are middle of the road and affordable for most people.

Trout Rod

Your basic trout fishing rod is going to be something that’s lightweight and light to medium action, much like the ugly stik Elite Spinning Rod. You can usually pick up one of these trout rods for around $50.

Personally, I don’t like to use a rod for trout fishing that’s any longer than 6 feet in length. Unless of course you’re targeting large lake trout or steelhead. But for smaller sized trout, 18 inches or less, you would do well with a lightweight rod like the 5’6” light ugly stik.

Another popular choice of rod for trout fishing are ultralight fishing rods. Ultralight rods make trout fishing an absolute blast. And if you want a rod that’s solely dedicated to trout fishing and catching other small fish like crappie and bluegill, then an ultralight rod is a good choice.

However, for an all around rod, I like something that’s just a little bit more versatile, just in case I decide to toss a jig to a smallmouth bass. ugly stik makes a great ultralight rod too. I prefer the 2 piece 5’ ultralight rod.

Trout Reel

Your basic trout fishing reel is going to be lightweight and strong. There’s a ton of trout spinning reels you can choose from, but I really have become a fan of the okuma ceymar Lightweight Spinning Reel. It’s an excellent balance of quality and price and can be picked up for around $40.

Fishing Line

For trout fishing, you won’t need to put any heavier line on your reel than 6lb mono, or the equivalent if using fluorocarbon line. Therefore, a small and smooth reel will do the job.  Something with a capacity of line that the reel holds should only need to be a minimum of 70 yards with 6lb monofilament line.

Basic Trout Fishing Techniques

Trout can effectively be caught through a variety of fishing techniques. However, there are many  fishing techniques that will be a very poor choice for trout fishing.

With a little background, understanding and knowledge, you’ll be able to best improve your odds at putting fish in your creel.

To choose effective baits and fishing rigs, you should first have a general understanding of trout behavior and feeding patterns.

Trout fishing techniques can be grouped together into 3 different methods.  Those techniques are:

  1. Bait Fishing For Trout
  2. Lure Fishing For Trout
  3. Fly Fishing For Trout

Let’s take a closer look at each of these different trout fishing styles.

1. Bait Fishing

Trout thrive mostly on a diet of aquatic insects, terrestrial insects, and baitfish. And they feed at all different depths in whatever body of water they are in. It’s up to us to figure out where the trout may be feeding and if possible, what they might be feeding on.

Fishing with bait is an excellent way to fish for trout. It’s considered a “passive” fishing technique which means that after casting out your line, there might be a lot of waiting before you see some action. If rest and relaxation on the waters edge is what you’re looking for, then this is a great way to go.

Using A Fishing Bobber

Fishing with a bobber can be an exciting visual way to bait fish for trout. It requires little work on the part of the angler other than waiting for that exhilarating moment when your bobber begins to dance on the waters surface.

Common Trout Bait

Here’s a short list of some of the best trout bait you can use. All of these have been proven to work time and time again.


Trout in the wild persist primarily on a diet of insects. And these insects can be some of the best bait to use for trout, hands down. If fishing in a stream, capturing a grasshopper and placing that on your hook can also be a great way to mimic a natural and abundant food source

Aquatic Worms

Aquatic worms are present in many streams, rivers, and lakes across the world and are a natural food source for trout. The old tried and true worm on a hook continues to be effective trout fishing bait.

Powerbait and Salmon Eggs

Powerbait and salmon eggs pre-packaged in jars continue to be a very popular bait for catching trout. These types of baits can be highly effective on hatchery-raised trout that were raised on a diet of round pellets. They are less effective on wild fish that may have little understanding of this as a food source.

A great tip for Powerbait is that it is naturally buoyant. This makes it works very well with a sinker setup as it floats enticingly just above the lake bottom where trout may be cruising.


Did you know you can even use corn as trout bait. I’ve caught many rainbow trout using corn and know first hand that it works well. You can learn more about fishing with corn in this article I wrote.

2. Fishing With Lures

On top of aquatic insects, which may compose the vast majority of a trout’s diet, baitfish represent a high-energy food source for trout. For some species, such as large mature Brown Trout, baitfish may compose the majority of their diet entirely!

Trout are very attracted to a large easy meal. They will rarely waste their time chasing large schools of baitfish, unlike bass, which will push baitfish into large boils on the surface. Instead, trout are going to look for a lone easy meal. A wounded minnow or small baitfish being tossed down a turbulent river is exactly the kind of easy meal a trout is looking for.

And that’s exactly what a trout lure does. These lures mimic the kind of baitfish that a trout is going to eat.

Trout Lures

Small lures have long been used to entice trout, particularly wild trout. Trout are very much attracted to shiny and flashing lures. These flashing, spinning and wobbling acrobatics that these type of lures perform indicate an easy large meal to trout.


Spinner baits have been a long used tried and true lure for trout fishing. Spinners like the Rooster tail and other small lures with a shiny spinning blade are excellent at eliciting an attack response from trout.


On top of spinners, other small shiny spoons such as Kastmasters (a personal favorite of mine) are effective on trout of all types and sizes. You could be fishing a creek, lake, river for all sorts of species of trout with shiny lures.

Another benefit of these small metal lures is that they cast very well with ultralight trout setups. You can lob them way out into a lake or flick them under a branch overhang on a creek with ease.

Crank Baits

Baitfish style crank baits are also an effective lure against more predatory trout. Larger lures may be less effective on hatchery-raised fish, but can be deadly on big wild trout looking for a hefty meal.

The Rapala Countdown continues to be a favored trout lure do its its ability to sink at a predictable rate of 1 foot per second, allowing you to reach down to hiding trout. Other jointed type lures that mimic a wounded baitfish can also be deadly against trout.

Which Trout Lure Should Beginners Use?

For most beginners, in the end, I would recommend utilizing small spinners such as Panther Martins, Rooster Tails and Kastmasters for trout. These lures continue to be highly effective on a wide range of trout. Try varying your fishing depth, retrieve style, and retrieve speed to determine what it is the trout are wanting.

3. Fly Fishing

The traditional method for trout fishing involves mimicking their natural food source, small insects. Trout spend much of their life eating the tiniest of aquatic and flying insects, so they must eat a lot to sustain themselves.

Fly fishing is a method that uses a specialized gear set to be able to cast the tiniest of insect replicators, ever so delicately, to awaiting trout. Fly-fishing uses a long flexible pole and heavy fishing line to propel fishing flies to trout.

Fly fishing is a method that is equally at home in creeks, rivers or lakes. The gear is a little more expensive and the learning curve a bit higher than conventional spin fishing. Though the rewards that many people get from fly fishing are worth all of the extra work.

For a complete and in depth guide on how to get a jump start on learning how to fly fish for trout, take a look at my post, The Ultimate Guide To Fly Fishing For Beginners!

Types of Trout Flies

The benefit of fly fishing is being able to mimic the true natural prey sources for trout. This can be essential to fool well-educated wild trout. While bait fishing anglers could fish one hole in a creek all day with Powerbait, there could be a large brown trout at the bottom watching it roll past every time.

However, for the educated angler who knows, dragging a large fly to imitate a ayfish or baitfish down near the big Brown trout may be greeted with the battle of the day.

Dry Flies

When most people thinking of a fishing fly, they imagine a delicate floating fly to imitate a small flying insect. These so called “dry-flies” are a traditional and iconic method of fly fishing. It gives anglers the thrill of watching a giant 18-inch trout rise to the surface to take your fishing fly, no bigger than your pinky nail.


Trout flies also imitate baitfish and larger prey, such as crayfish. These larger flies are designed to be fished below the surface. These types of flies are collectively referred to as “streamers” and are a fun active way to entice some larger fish out of hiding.

Fishing flies are made in all shapes, sizes, and colors into what are referred to as different “fly patterns” to imitate anything from a swimming mouse down to a mosquito larvae. However, there are methods to use fishing flies with out a fly fishing rod. By using what is known as a “casting bubble” some flies, particularly streamers, can be used with a spinning rod setup.


Aquatic insects, often the larval form of flying insects, also compromise a majority of a trout’s diet. Flies that imitate this type of food are called “nymphs”. These are fished below the surface in both stillwater and moving water

Basic Trout Fishing Rigs

Trout fishing can easily be accomplished across a wide range of conditions with only a few simple rigs. These are tried and true methods for trout fishing and the only three you will find me rigging up on my pole if I am going fishing for trout.  My go-to trout rigs are:

  1. Sinking Bait
  2. Floating Bait
  3. Lure Rig

Let’s take a closer look at each of these trout rigs.

1. Sinking Bait Rig

During warm days when trout descend to the bottoms of the lake to seek the colder waters, a sinking bait rig is the ticket. All that you need for a sinking bait rig is a slip sinker, swivel, hook, and bait.

To rig a slip sinker, first slide the eye of a slip sinker on the end of your fishing line. Then tie a swivel to the end of the line to prevent losing the sinker. On the other end of the swivel, attach a 12-18” piece of fishing line and attach your hook. Ideally a fishing line that is a slightly lesser pound test than your main line, that way if your line breaks, it is only on the very end of your rig.

With this setup, a trout will be able to take the bait without feeling resistance of the sinker. With this setup, you also don’t have a visual indicator on the surface. Therefore, it is best to keep a finger on the line to feel for any bites. You can also closely watch the fishing line to detect any movement.

2. Floating Bait

For a more visual form of fishing, try the excitement of fishing with a bobber. Nothing quite beats the exhilaration of watching your bobber begin to dance and then quickly be pulled under the water’s surface by the force of a trout.

While a slip bobber rig takes a slightly more work than a clip on bobber, it is a much more versatile and effective rig for trout fishing. This is particularly the case with deeper lakes. However, in a shallow stream or river, a clip on bobber could be just as effective for less work.

A slip-bobber rig works similar to the aforementioned slip-sinker rig. To begin, take a bobber stop that is included with most slip bobbers available and thread it onto the end of your fishing line. This will serve as an adjustable point to stop your bobber. By sliding this up and down the line, you can fish your bait suspended in the water practically as deep as you want. After the bobber stop, slide on your bobber and tie on a swivel to stop it from sliding off your line. Just like the sinker setup, tie on 12-18” section of fishing line and attach your hook. When you cast, you’ll only be dealing with your bobber and this short section of line, despite actually fishing your bait much deeper to the point of your bobber stop.

Lure Rig

This may be the simplest rig of all! There are not nearly as many components to worry about as the bait fishing rigs. When fishing with a lure for trout, you can keep it as simple as tying the lure directly to the end of your line if that is all you have. However, due to the lures inevitable spinning action, this may put twists in your line that could potentially reduce the breaking strength.

The preferred method of attaching a trout fishing lure is to tie a clip swivel to the end of your line and attach your lure to that. Not only will this reduce line twists, it will also allow for a more realistic presentation and make it easier to switch out between lures. By quickly rotating through lures, you can quickly determine what the trout will prefer to eat at that given time.

To make the lure rig even more effective, you can tie a 18″ to 24″ leader to the lure and tie a loop at the end of the leader.  You can then simply attach the loop to the clip swivel.  This can help, especially with trout, because you can tie a much lighter leader compared to your main line.  This lighter line will be much less visible to trout, which can be very line weary, especially in very clear water.