Trout Fishing Tips: Guide Tips And Tactics For More Trout

Trout Fishing
This is another big wild trout caught by my client using the tips and tactics I teach. You can catch more trout with these tips from a professional trout fishing guide.

If you want to get started in trout fishing or you want to catch more trout, you need to know where to go, how to find the trout in the river, what methods and baits to use, and how to use them well. But there is more. Knowing this will make trout fishing much more effective.

Like all articles on our site, the information, tips, and tactics are proven effective and used by top guides with over 20 years of experience.

Trout Fishing Tips: The Species

The most common trout are rainbow trout, brown trout, brook trout, and Cutthroat Trout.

In some areas of North America, you might also find Bull trout, Tiger trout, or Palimono trout. For the most part, you can catch all these trout species using the same methods described here.

How To Get Started Fishing For Trout

Trout feed on insects, fish eggs, worms, other fish, leeches, mice, and frogs.

When trout fishing, you will want to use lures or baits that imitate the trout’s natural food source, and you want to use methods and gear that allow you to present your bait as naturally as possible.

The six things you need to get started trout fishing are:

  • A valid Fishing License for your state or province and maybe a trout tag.
  • A trout rod, reel, and suitable line.
  • The terminal tackle includes weights, hooks, floats, leader, net, release pliers, and the knowledge of how to put it all together.
  • Baits or lures that work well for trout
  • A trout river, lake, or pond near you.
  • The knowledge of how to catch trout.

I cover all that and more on this page.

Do You Need A Fishing License Or A Trout Tag For Trout Fishing?

The author, with a big brown trout he caught on unfamiliar water.

As far as I know, every state or province requires you to have a fishing license and maybe a trout tag to go with that fishing license.

The government website should have all the accurate information on how and where to get a fishing license or a trout tag.

Know The Trout Fishing Regulations And Seasons For Your Area

Some states and provinces have trout seasons, which are set times of year you are permitted to fish for trout.

Special regulations may also apply, such as delayed harvest, harvest amounts, size limits, and special regulation zones that may be for catch-and-release only, fly fishing only, single hook only, no bait, or no fishing after sunset.

It is your responsibility to know the laws and rules for the body of water you are going to fish. Check your local regulations before you go fish for trout.

What Are The Best Trout Fishing Rods?

Most trout are on the smaller side averaging from six inches to 14 inches and weighing under two pounds, and they can be found in streams from three feet wide to over 100 feet wide.

That means most standard 7-foot light and medium-action spinning rods will do the job. Different rods may be required in different types of water or for different methods.

The best all-around trout rod for most trout rivers between 10 and 40 feet wide would be a 7-foot light action spinning rod. Check out my page Best River Fishing Rods For Trout or Best Rods For Float Fishing.

Rod Type

River Type

Fish Size


Float Fishing

5 to 6 foot - UltraLight Action

Small creeks - 3 to 12 feet wide

Under 14" Trout

Small 1 to 2 inch spinners, spoons and crankbaits

Very small floats, Small baits, Little to know weight

6 to 7 foot Light Action

Small creeks and rivers- 12 to 25 feet wide

6" to 20" Trout

Small 1 to 4 inch spinners, spoons and crankbaits

Small to medium floats, Most baits, Some weights

7 to 8 foot light action or Med - Light Action

Larger creeks and rivers- 16 to 50 feet wide

14" to 30" Trout

Small to large spinners, spoons and crankbaits

Medium To large floats, All baits, Fair amount of  weight

9 to 11 foot Med-Light Action

Best for medium to large  rivers- 16 to 50+ feet wide

14" and up to 10 pound trout - Good for great lakes steelhead

Medium to large spinners, spoons and crankbaits

Medium To large floats, All baits, Fair amount of  weight

10 to 13 foot - Med-Light Action

Best rod for bigger rivers of 25 to 80+ feet wide

Best for bigger trout and steelhead over 16"

Medium to large spinners, spoons and crankbaits

Best rods for float fishing with floats

You could also fly fish for trout, in which case you will need an appropriately sized fly rod for that.

What Are The Best Trout Reels For Trout Fishing?

Best Spinning Reels For Float Fishing

The best trout reel for most trout rivers would be a size 2000, but you may need to go down to a smaller size 1500 or even size 1000 for very small creeks and small trout, or you may need to go up to a size 3000 for large rivers and larger trout.

Use my Reel Sizing Chart as a guide when purchasing your next reel.

If you are not sure what a good trout reel is, check out my page on the Best Spinning Reels where I show you the reels that I and other guides use.

Reel Size

River / Water Type

Fish Size


Float Fishing

Size 10 or 1000

Best for very small creeks 3 to 12 feet wide - To small for lakes

Best for small trout under 12 inches - or panfish and ice fishing

Best for small 1" to 2" light lures or jigs.

Good for very small floats and small baits with little or no weights

Size 15 or 1500

Good for small creeks and rivers from 3 to 20 feet wide - To small for lakes

Good for small trout under 16 inches - or panfish and ice fishing

Good for small 1" to 3" light lures or jigs.

Good for small floats and small baits with some weights

Size 20 or 2000

Best for small to meduim creeks and rivers from 10 to 40 feet wide - A bit small for lakes

Good for trout from 10 to under 25 inches - or panfish and ice fishing

Good for small 1" to 4" lures or jigs.

Good for most floats and small baits with some weights

Size 25 or 2500

Best for meduim to larger rivers from 16 to 80 feet wide - Good for lakes

Best for bigger trout up to 30" and great lakes steelhead in smaller rivers

Good for medium to large lures 2" to 7" lures or jigs.

Good for most floats and all baits with plenty of weights

Size 30 or 3000

Best reel for meduim to large rivers  from 30 to 100+ feet wide - Good for lakes

Best for larger trout and great lakes steelhead

Good for medium to large lures 2" to 7" lures or jigs.

Good for most floats and all baits with plenty of weights

Size 40 or 4000

Best reel for meduim to large rivers  from 30 to 100+ feet wide and lakes

Good for large fish like salmon, steelhead, Pike and Musy

Good for medium to large lures 2" to 7" lures or jigs.

Good for most floats and all baits with plenty of weights

Size 50 or 5000

To Big - Not recommended for rivers - Good for trolling, and ocean fishing and surf casting

Best for salt water fish, salmon, and large musky

Good for very large lures 7" to 12"  lures or heavy jigs or weighted rigs

Good for most giant floats and big baits where lots of weights is required

What Are The Best Trout Fishing Lines?

A good trout line will be strong, thin, and smooth and good for both casting lures, jigs, and for float fishing with bait. For most trout rivers and trout sizes, a 6lb to 8lb monofilament line or a Braided line (of 6 to 8-pound diameter) would be perfect.

The best trout lines for all sizes of trout are from reputable brands, and one’s that guides and other anglers have put to the test:

  • Best For Casting and Float Fishing – Sufix Elite Line.
  • Best For Float Fishing – Raven Mainline.

For more details on these and other lines and to see which ones I use, check out my page on The Best Lines For Trout and Steelhead.

For a line that is only for float fishing for trout and steelhead, I use a bright-colored line with a clear fluorocarbon leader, but for a line that is good for casting lures, I use a clear line.

See The Best Leaders and Setup.

Is Corn A Good Bait For Trout?

There are two types of trout baits. High-percentage baits, which are baits that good trout guides and anglers use, and low-percentage baits such as corn, which are used by uneducated anglers. Do yourself a favor and only use High-Percentage baits.

If you want to make it harder for yourself, go ahead and use corn. See Trout Fishing With Corn page.

Do Trout Like Marshmallows?

Trout will eat small marshmallows or chucks of marshmallows because they might look like fish eggs or maybe because they are just attractive looking to the trout.

But for the same reason as corn, there are much better baits for trout than marshmallows. Stick with what works better, and you will catch more trout. See Trout Fishing With Marshmallows article.

Do Scents Work For Trout?

In my opinion, scents do not make much of a difference in whether a trout eats a bait or not.

Based on 36 years of trout fishing and experimenting with scents, I would say that 90% of the food a trout eats has very little or no scent at all, and often, the food drifting down the river is so far out of the trout’s direct feeding path that they do not pick up on the scent anyways.

I believe trout feed far more based on sight than on scent. Anglers should focus more on colors, size, shape, and presentation and less on how their bait smells.

Do Trout Like Garlic?

Garlic smell repels many things, but what about trout?

I have read that trout do like garlic scents, but like many things on the internet, it doesn’t come from a reliable scientific source, and in my opinion, trout neither like nor dislike garlic or garlic scents. Garlic as a scent WILL NOT significantly increase the amount of trout that you catch.

There are a bunch of commercial garlic scents out there that claim that garlic works, but I have tried some garlic scents, and I’m still a skeptic.

Should You Use A Bobber When Trout Fishing?

Floats For Trout
The authors assortment of river floats. Using the right float for trout can make a big difference.

When fishing for trout in bigger rivers or bigger spots, bobbers are one of the best ways to present your bait to trout in a river.

Ensure you use the right bobbers since some are better in rivers than others.

The narrow river bobbers known as floats are the only bobbers you should use.

If you want to know the floats I use and recommend, see Best Floats For River Fishing.

Are Lures Good For Trout?

Good Lures For Tout
An assortment of the author’s trout lures.

Lure fishing for trout is good because both big and small trout will eat a well-presented lure.

Lure fishing is also fairly easy to do. If you want to catch trout, then fishing with lures is a great way to get started.

Learning how to fish lures effectively significantly improves your results.

In part one of Trout Fishing 101 – How To Fish For Trout, I explain in more detail how to fish with lures and how to cover the water better.

I also discuss in more detail how to fish different lures and my best lures for trout at Lure Fishing For Trout: Tactics From A Pro River Guide.

Some good lures for trout include spoons, spinners, jigs, and crankbaits. Shiny lures tend to work best most of the time, but not always. I will discuss fishing with lures more below.

What Is the Best Size Lure For Trout?

Trout Eat Fish
This little rainbow was grabbed by a 20-inch brown trout as my client was reeling it in, which shows trout eat fish.

Most good trout lures are 1 to 3 inches long, but for bigger trout over 20 inches long, I have caught them using lures that are 5 and 6 inches long.

It’s important to try different lure sizes starting with the smaller ones first, and working up to the bigger sizes to see what the trout want.

What Is The Best Lure Colors For Trout?

The best lure colors are silver, gold, and colors that imitate the natural food source like olive sculpins, tan or silver minnows, or black leeches.

Bright colors like chartreuse, pinks, and oranges can also be good colors for trout. I will often start with a darker color and then switch to a brighter color to see what the trout want.

Best Bait For Trout

Best Bait For Trout
The author caught this trout, which already had another anglers fly in its mouth. Flies can be one of the best baits for trout and can be used under a float or bottom bounced.

Under certain river conditions, some trout baits will be better than others.

The best baits for trout are:

  • Live garden worms
  • Plastic worms
  • Egg sacks
  • Single salmon eggs
  • Trout beads
  • Live grubs
  • Maggots
  • Minnows
  • Artificial flies.

I have an entire page dedicated to using and fishing with egg sacks, also known as spawn sacks or roe bags.

I also have a full page on my Best Trout Bait – The Only 5 Baits You Will Ever Need, how I use them, and how you can make these baits more effective.

I have a page for the Best Trout Flies.

The Bait Matters Least

This shows how to properly put a bait on a hook.
It is important to know how to properly put a bait on a hook. It’s even more important to use the right hooks. NEVER use bait holder hooks.

Just because you know what the best bait is doesn’t mean you will catch fish. Very often, I see anglers with good baits CATCH NO FISH!

To make your bait work better, you MUST follow these rules

  • Leader Set-Up: Your leader must be set up in a way that allows for a good presentation, and should be the right size and length so the fish do not see it.
  • Hook: Your hook MUST be the right type and the right size for the bait you use.
  • Bait: Think about how the bait would look to the fish if it were drifting in the river with no hook or a line attached to it, then try to replicate that. Ensure you put the bait on properly and do not cover the hook point or close the hook gap.
  • Presentation: If you do not present your bait properly, trout will not grab it.
  • Approach: Knowing how to approach and fish a spot will greatly increase your chances. If you spook the trout before you start fishing, your bait is useless.
Catch More Big Trout
The authors client with one of three large trout he caught in a few hours using the right setup. If you want to catch more big trout you need to learn how to present your bait in a way that will make the big ones eat it.

See the right hooks for bait and Fishing With Worms For Trout and Steelhead: 10 Guide Tips

You need to drift from the top of the pool or run to the bottom of the pool or run in a way that looks most natural to the fish. Do this with all your baits, and you will catch more big trout.

What Size Hooks For Trout Fishing?

Best Hooks For Trout
Smaller hooks are often better than larger hooks even for large trout. But hooks that are too small don’t hook or hold as well.

You need a good hook that is not too big and not too small and matches the size of the bait. The best hook size for trout is between a size eight and a size 12.

If your hook is too big, the trout will see it, and a hook too big can also weigh the bait down, preventing it from getting a good natural drift.

I have a page dedicated to the Best Hooks that I use for trout.

Do Trout See Color?

There are studies that indicate the trout do see colors in clear water and in shallower waters where there is plenty of light.

The deeper the water, the less light passes through and the less color a trout can see. Trout will see blues and reds the most, but in lower light conditions, colors start to become shades of grey and blacks.

Is Fly Fishing Good For Catching Trout?

Is fly fishing good for catching trout.
Fly fishing can be a lot of fun and a very effective way to catch trout in rivers.

Fly fishing is an excellent way to catch trout in rivers. With fly fishing, you can effectively imitate the natural insects that the fish feed on below the surface and on the surface making it one of the most effective ways to catch trout.

I have an entire section on fly fishing for trout, steelhead, and salmon in rivers if you are interested in learning how to fish for trout using a fly rod.

Is Centerpin Fishing For Trout Good?

Centerpin fishing for trout in larger rivers can be the most productive way to catch trout. You can also Centerpin Fish in smaller rivers by adjusting your technique a bit.

I have an entire section on Centerpin Fishing.

How To Catch More Trout

An an angler learning how to catch trout
Once you learn how to catch trout effectively, it sometimes seems easy.

I often tell my clients it’s not one big thing that I do well that helps me catch so many trout; it’s a lot of little things I do well that makes me a successful angler.

As an angler learning how to catch trout, it’s a good idea to know and do all these little things well if you want to catch lots of trout. See How To Catch More Trout Garanteed.

Where To Fish For Trout In Your Area?

Trout need consistent cold waters below 69F to survive, so not all rivers or lakes will have trout in them. I have found all kinds of great rivers in other states just by using my computer and these simple tips below. These are some great ways to find out where the good trout rivers in your area are.

Government Website

Your government DNR website (fisheries website) will sometimes have information on what rivers have trout and what rivers or lakes they have stocked trout. This can be a great way to find good rivers to fish. They may even have data on the temperatures of rivers which may indicate that there is or isn’t trout in them.

Local Tackle Shops

You can’t beat the local tackle stores or fly shops for information on which rivers or lakes to fish.

The smaller stores are often better for good, accurate advice than the bigger stores like BPS or Walmart because the smaller stores usually hire hardcore anglers that really know their stuff.

Guide Services Near You

If you search for local trout guides you may find that they will mention the rivers they guide on. If they guide a river the chances are good that the river has plenty of trout for them and their clients so it’s worth a shot.

Once you figure out which rivers they guide you can then do some research on that specific river to find out if there are any public access points, parks, or hiking areas along the river that you can access.

Local Discussion Forums And Facebook Groups

You can sometimes find some good information on local talk boards or Facebook groups for your area. My area has about ten Facebook groups with guys talking about trout fishing in this area.

Where To Fish For Trout In The River?

DIY angler fishing a river

You want to find spots we call feeding lies or feeding zones because they are the best spots for catching trout.

We call finding spots “reading the water,” and when you get good at it, reading the water and finding fish becomes easy.

On many rivers, you can eliminate 80% of the river and focus on the 20% where most of the fish are.

Trout love current! The current brings them food and oxygen and breaks the surface with ripples and waves which can give them a sense of security. It’s not uncommon for me to catch big trout in 16 inches of water in the middle of the river where other anglers walk past.

A Good Trout Pool
These are three of my clients fishing a bigger deeper pool full of fish. Above and below this is shallow fast water so most of the fish have concentrated in this pool. There is likely 30 to 50 trout in this pool. You can see the deeper darker sections where big trout will hold.

Trout like to hold around rocks, the bigger the rock the better. They hold in front of rocks, behind rocks, and beside them, so look for rocks in current areas with some extra depth, and you will find trout.

Trout like logs, stumps, and other structures like weed beds, so look for these in current areas with a little extra depth.

When trout fishing, I will also look for undercut banks and shaded areas where trout can hide and feel safe.

Guide Tip: one of my most useful tools when trout fishing is a good set of polarized glasses. I use them more for reading the water, seeing those deeper holes and all that structure as well as seeing snags that I don’t want to hit. Occasionally, my glasses will even help me spot large trout feeding or holding.

How To Fish For Trout

How to fish For trout
If you know how to fish for trout well you will catch more of them.

Trout fishing methods include:

  • Float Fishing
  • Fly Fishing
  • Lure Fishing
  • Plunking or bottom fishing
  • Drift Fishing

Guide Tip: Adding some twitching or doing a stop-and-go retrieve of the lure can trigger more strikes.

Getting deep enough or down close to the fish as possible will greatly increase your hookups. A lure 6 feet over a trout’s head may get ignored by the trout but a lure 1 foot over their head is an easy meal.

Float Fishing Tips

Big Trout On Bottom
The biggest trout are often closest to the bottom and feed up, but their strike zone might be less than 24 inches up.

Float fishing for trout can be one of the best methods for lots of big trout and is a great way that I guide the most.

You want to position yourself at the top of the pool, and you want to cast your float in close to you first and then let it drift down with the current.

When float fishing, you want to use a proven leader set-up so you don’t spook the fish with your mainline. You also want to use the right size of leader and the right weights, which can all be found on my Best Leaders and setup page.

Steelhead floats comparison
You can see a wider float on the left and a thinner float on the right. For bigger pools, I tend to go with wider floats.

When trout fishing, you need to make sure you cover the water well and get your bait in front of all the trout.

Making sure you have enough depth to get your bait down to 6 to 16 inches off the bottom is very important.

Check out my Best Floats Page.

Any pull or dragging of your float will give an unnatural presentation that will prevent trout from biting.

I discuss how to use flies with spinning reels on my page How To Fish Flies With Spinning Gear: 2 Best Methods.

Fly Fishing For Trout

An Angler spring fly fishing in Virginia

Fly Fishing for trout is another method that can be very effective in rivers simply because fly fishing allows the angler to effectively imitate the main food source for the trout which is insects.

Fly fishing for trout allows the angler to imitate the bigs that are on the surface and below the surface.

You can even imitate other food sources such as leeches, baitfish, and crayfish.

Trout fishing for trout is my favorite method and in rivers that are 1 to 4 feet deep, it’s almost always the most effective method for me.

If this is something you are interested in check out my page Fly Fishing For Trout and my page Fly Fishing Gear: Everything You Need To Fly Fish.

Bottom Bouncing For Trout

Fishing a small stream for trout.
Trout will hold and feed in shallow water like this and the best method to fish this type of water is fly fishing or bottom bouncing.

Bottom bouncing is a very effective method especially in lower clear water or pocket after, or rapids.

With bottom bouncing, you simply cast your weight and bait out (without a boober, float, or other suspension devices), and you allow your bait to drift freely with the current.

This is an effective method for trout, steelhead, and salmon.

I discuss traditional bottom bouncing and advanced modern bottom bouncing and show you the setups that work best on my page Bottom Bouncing: 5 Proven Methods and Setups.

Use Stealth For More Trout

Guide Tip: Trout in rivers can be very nervous and are susceptible to sounds and movement which means it’s best to sneak up on them and be as quiet as possible.

I often tell my clients that it’s better to take 5 minutes to quietly tiptoe 10 feet into the river and catch big trout right away than it is to stomp in like a heard of cattle and have to wait 30 minutes for the big trout to settle down and start feeding again.

It’s also important to approach trout in small shallow clear water streams out of their line of sight and dress appropriately. If you are wearing a bright yellow or orange raincoat and a yellow hat you stand out like a sore thumb.

What To Wear When Trout Fishing?

Dress to match the background, dress in greens and browns, and greys so that you blend into the background and are less likely to be seen by a big trout. A big trout that sees you will stop feeding!

Fishing Around Other Anglers

Fishing Methods

Trout fishing on rivers often means there will be other anglers around.

Stomping into a pool where another angler is being quiet so he doesn’t spook the big fish he sees means you will spook it for him.

Don’t be that bonehead that spooks other guys’ fish or casts across their lines, or casts at the same fish the other guy has been fishing for the last 30 minutes.

Walk quietly and as far away and around other anglers so you don’t disturb them or their fish, and if there are other spots to fish with nobody in them go find your own spot to fish and hope the next guy stomping up the river shows you the same courtesy.

Other Tips And Advice

Being Guided
Having a great guide or mentor is great way to learn to fly fish faster.

In part two of this article, which you can see on my page Fishing For Trout – 40 Common Questions – Part 2, I check in with other guides to get their opinions and extra trips to help you catch more trout.

I answer over 40 of the most common questions and provide some never before seen information on trout fishing and more . . . . .

Tight Lines,


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