Trout Fishing in Streams and Rivers A How-to Guide
Trout are beautiful and hard-fighting fish. Fishing for them in streams and rivers can be a unique experience. Hiking along and into a river during a brisk morning with the smell of nature filling your nose is a pleasant experience that will also quickly turn exciting as you hook into a trout. Fishing for trout, however, can be tricky because trout can be finicky and difficult to locate. When fishing for trout in streams, you have to know where to find them and how to fish for them in order to maximize your chances of catching one.
Gear and preparation: First it is important to have the right gear. It is extremely helpful to have waders so you can walk in the water to improve your casting angles to help the presentation of your bait. Always remember to wear a belt on the outside of your waders for safety reasons. If you were to slip and fall, the belt will prevent the water from filling your waders and pulling you down current. It’s good to have a small ultralight rod - length depending on the body of water (a longer rod for bigger body of water), and a size 1000 reel with 4-6 lb. monofilament line and an optional 4-6 lb. fluorocarbon leader. Another helpful tool that is overlooked is polarized sunglasses. They are not essential but do make a big difference by greatly increasing the amount of structure you can see when looking underwater. Make sure to always have a fishing license and to know all of the local rules and regulations before going out on a fishing trip and follow any signs while you are out fishing.
Weather: Checking the weather before planning a trout fishing trip can make or break your trip. I only go if the weather is in between 32-45 degrees F. The optimal times of year to catch trout are spring and fall. You can also catch trout during the winter. If you are fishing in areas where there are trout-stocked waters it is good to go online to find out when and where trout are stocked.
Bait selection and retrieval: When trout fishing with a conventional rod, I use a variety of baits depending on what kind of water I am fishing. I throw spinners for bigger holes and especially wide areas of a river or stream that have flat open water. My go-to spinner brands are Joe’s flies and Blue fox spinners. Most of the time I use Joe’s flies except when fishing bigger, deeper open areas I’ll throw a Blue fox spinner just because they are a little heavier so I can cast them farther and work them a little deeper. When working a spinner I like to retrieve at a constant speed and occasionally flutter the spinner. For deeper waters, try working a spinner at deeper depths by changing the angle of your rod tip and the time you wait after casting before retrieving a lure. For example, in deeper water let the spinner sink a little bit then retrieve it with the rod tip down. For shallower water, start your retrieve quickly and angle the rod tip more up. For smaller, precise areas such as crevices and banks, small artificial worms on a small jig head and other small jigs work great. Cast and retrieve the jig while twitching it. A plain hook with a split shot about a foot up the line works well and sometimes I’ll even use a simple split shot and hook topped off with either power bait or a butter worm or even corn. Simply pick a line and cast up current and follow your bait down. For using both jigs and bait in smaller areas don’t get discouraged after a few casts if you don’t get any bites. Work each spot thoroughly because it can be a matter of inches from one cast to another or a matter of the angle you are casting from that can result in you hooking into a trout.
Locating Trout: There are many different types of structures to look for when scoping out a river for trout but they all have one thing in common - breaks in the current. Trout tend to sit in breaks in the current facing upstream or towards the current waiting for food to pass by through the current. When looking for breaks in the current one thing to look for are big rocks with no current behind them. Bigger rocks are popular structures for trout to sit behind because they typically break enough current right behind the rock. Another area I look for are deep pockets, which tend to be my favorite places to catch trout, whether it is a giant boulder in the middle of a river with a deep pocket behind it or areas on the banks where there are small deep holes. Small waterfalls in areas that water is being concentrated are basically funnels that collect food for trout, making for very good places for trout to feed. Both above and below a concentrated area or waterfall will hold trout. Flat, wide areas of streams and rivers also hold trout. They can be found occasionally cruising through the open water but the best chance at catching a trout in an area like this is fishing either end of the flat such as where the water starts to narrow and flow again right before that on either a fallen tree or rocks that funnel the water into a small waterfall or rapid. Fallen trees that partially damn up water tend to hold trout in front of it and can usually produce multiple trout.
Handling Trout: Trout are very delicate fish. It is important to know how to handle one in order to maximize its chances of survival after being caught if you intend on releasing the fish. It is helpful to net your fish in order to reduce stress on the fish and to make landing the fish easier. Using a rubber net is best because it does not peel off scales or hurt the fish. Once you net the fish, before picking it up or touching the fish, wet your hands because dry hands will rub off their protective slime coat. Make an effort to minimize the amount of time the fish is out of the water if you even take the fish out of the water. Of course it is best to not take the trout out of the water but if you have to for some reason such as to take a picture, make sure you have your camera ready prior to taking the fish out of the water, then return the fish as quickly as possible back into the water. Never squeeze or pick a trout up by its gills. It is best to gently scoop the trout up with both hands on the fish’s under side. It is also best to use a barbless hook because they hurt the fish less and make hook removal a lot easier and quicker. If you do not have a barbless hook you can crush the barb by squeezing it with a pair of pliers. Never just throw a trout back into the river. Hold it gently facing upstream so that the current will pass through its gills restoring its oxygen. Hold the trout there while slightly moving it in a swimming motion and once the trout is ready it will swim out of your hands.
Trout are unique, beautiful and tasty fish that can make for a great day of fishing and even a great dinner. There are many factors that affect successful trout fishing and following these basic guidelines can result in either catch-and-release fishing that ensures the fish are treated properly so they can live on for another angler to catch, or for a delicious and healthy meal after a long day on the water.