Centerpin Fishing For Trout – A Guides Perspective

Centerpin fishing for trout

Centerpin fishing for trout is different than Centerpin fishing for steelhead or salmon because of the size difference of the trout and the size of the rivers trout live in. These are my guide tips to ensure you Centerpin fish for trout more effectively.

Centerpin fishing is an effective way to catch trout on most rivers and it’s a fun way to fish. Since trout are much smaller and you will likely be fishing smaller rivers, downsizing and making some adjustments to your presentation can make it even more effective and more fun.

If you read through the whole article you will also find my shallow water float setup and my medium to deep water setup.

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Centerpin Fishing For Trout Is Very Effective

Trout like this can be caught using a Centerpin
Trout like this can be easier to catch if you get good at Centerpin fishing for trout.

Centerpin fishing is basically just float fishing except that you use a Centerpin reel to do it.

Using a Centerpin reel when trout fishing allows you to get longer and more controlled drifts than you could get with a spinning reel or a fly rod and those longer controlled drifts allow you to present your bait to the trout better.

When you are Centerpin fishing for trout, you can easily suspend your bait just above the trout head and in the strike zone for longer which is a great way to catch more trout.

What You Need When Centerpin Fishing For Trout?

When you Centerpin fish for trout you can use the same gear that you use for steelhead and salmon, but I prefer to downsize my setup so that it’s more suitable for trout fishing. You will need a Centerpin reel, a long light rod, a good mainline, 2 or 3 strengths of leader, hooks, and bait.

In this article, I will discuss the changes that I make to the rods, reels, line, and my leaders when Centerpin fishing for trout.

For the leader, I use the same leader that I use for steelhead and salmon I just downsize it usually by about half the size. I will discuss the leader and lines in more detail below.

You will also need the right bait for trout which I will also discuss below.

Size Issues When Centerpin Fishing For Trout

Centerpin Fishing for Brown trout

The biggest issue I have with centerpinning for trout is the size of the trout compared to the size of most Centerpin rods and reels.

Most Centerpin rods and reels are designed for steelhead and salmon and they are heavy with lots of power for big fish. They are not meant for smaller trout that just don’t feel like much on a big heavy rod.

Also, many trout rivers are small and the 13 to 14 rods that most guys use are often too long for these small trout rivers that are heavily wooded. Using a 13-foot rod on a river that’s only 15 feet wide just doesn’t make sense.

I will discuss below the best Centerpin rods for trout that I have tried.

The Best Centerpin Reels For Trout

Ported reels like this Raven T5 are lighter
Ported reels like this Raven T5 are lighter reels than other non-ported reels of the same size.

When I Centerpin fish for trout I prefer to use my lighter and smaller Centerpin reels but any Centerpin reel will work.

Some Centerpin reels can have large 5.5″ spool diameters or are not ported and are heavy and these types of reels are best for very large rivers and for steelhead and salmon.

These bigger heavier reels are not great for small trout rivers.

Some Centerpin reels have a smaller spool size of around 4 or 4.2 inches and are lighter and more suited to smaller trout on smaller rivers.

You will also find that some of the ported reels are much lighter than ones that aren’t. Ported reels are the ones with all the holes in them like the one in the picture above.

You could use any size reels but smaller reels on smaller rods for smaller fish is a little nicer to use.

If I was to go buy a new reel for trout, these are some of the best Centerpin reels for trout that I would consider:

  • Kingpin Zeppelin Centerpin Reel Model – model Z425 – Reel size 4.25 – Weight 7.4oz
  • Milner The River Wraith – Reel size – 3 3/4″ – Weight 6.81oz
  • Raven Matrix Fully Ported – Model MXRFPT – Size 4 3/4″ – Weight 7.9oz

Check out: Best Centerpin Reels

Best Centerpin Rods For Trout Fishing

I like to downsize my rod but it will depend on the average size of the fish I’m catching and the average size of the rivers that I’ll be fishing on.

The best rods for Centerpin fishing for trout fishing are ones that are light enough for small to medium-sized trout but are still capable of landing some big trout. You want the ultralight and light models in the 9 to 12-foot range.

It’s actually hard to find a good Centerpin float rod because even the ones that are rated as light to medium-light are still a bit too heavy.

Centerpin rod and reel for Centerpin fishing for trout
When I am Centerpin fishing for trout I found that the best trout rod is actually one of my 10 foot nymphing fly rods in the 2 weight to 4 weight size.

When I’m guiding and teaching Centerpin fishing for trout on the smaller rivers of 10 to 30 feet wide, I actually use my 10-foot nymphing fly rods and I prefer them over spinning rods and float rods because they are a perfect size for smaller trout.

For Centerpin fishing for trout, I have tested and used the 10 foot 3 weight Douglas LRS Fly Rod and the Echo Carbon XL Euro Nymph Fly Rod, and the Orvis Clearwater European Nymph Fly Rod.

On larger trout rivers that are 20 feet or wider, an 11 to 13-foot ultralight or light rod would be a good choice. But these rods are hard to find since most rods in that length are heavy and are designed for steelhead and salmon.

A good rod for this would be the 9-foot or 11-foot Daiwa Presso Ultralight Spinning Rod or the 11’3-Light Lamiglas Redline HS CenterSpin Float Rod, or the 12’6 Ultralight Fenwick HMX Salmon & Steelhead Spinning Rod.

But if most of the trout streams that I am fishing are 15 feet wide or less I prefer Centerpin rods for trout fishing to be 9 to 10 feet long. A good rod for this is the 9-foot Daiwa Presso Ultralight Spinning Rod.

If most of the trout I’m catching are over 20 inches I’d say just use your steelhead rod. But, most trout in rivers are only 8 to 14 inches long so lighter-weight rods are better when fighting smaller fish. Ultra-light or light rods are a good choice when looking for a Centerpin trout rod.

What Is The Best Rod Length For Trout?

The best rod length for trout is 9 to 10 feet because there are advantages to long rods when float fishing. Longer rods protect lighter leaders and they allow you to keep the line up and off the water longer which gives you more control over your float which then provides a better presentation.

Sometimes the best rod length for trout in rivers will depend on the size of the river. If you are fishing a 6-foot-wide creek with lures, a shorter rod of 6 to 7 feet might be better only because you have limited space for casting.

However, you should know that professional fly anglers will often still fish these tiny creeks with 9 and 10 foot rods, which I do all the time and it works very well.

The old school of thought was, a small river and small trout means using a small or shorter rod. This might be somewhat true for casting lures but not for float fishing with a Centerpin reel or a spinning reel.

Longer rods offer more shock absorption and protect lighter leaders from being broken.

These are some Centerpin Float rods to consider for trout fishing:

Note: Not all Centerpin reels have the same foot base so some Centerpin reels may not fit on smaller rods.

Can You Put A Centerpin Reel On A Spinning Rod?

A Centerpin reel on a Spinning rod is a good option when Centerpin fishing for trout
You should be able to put most Centerpin reels on a spinning rod. The reason I say most is that it is possible that some custom made Centerpin reels might not fit on some spinning reels.

The reel seat on a spinning rod should fit most or all Centerpin reels so yes you can put a Centerpin reel on a spinning rod if you want to.

I have tried a bunch of my Centerpin reels on spinning rods of all sizes and even on fly rods, and they all fit.

What Is The Best Line For Centerpin Fishing For Trout

The best line for Centerpin fishing is usually monofilament lines, but you can also use fluorocarbon or braided lines.

Monofilament fishing lines are good because they are light and they float which gives you a better presentation, prevents sag, and is better for line mending and hooksets.

Fluorocarbon lines are not recommended because they sink, making it more challenging for line mending and setting the hook.

A braided line is another good line to use when Centerpin fishing for trout because it is very thin and many braided lines will float which is a good thing because that prevents sag between your float and your rod tip and the floating lines help when you need to mend and when you need to hook set. 

Another advantage to the braided line is it has no stretch which gives you a better hookset when the float goes down very far away from you. 

The disadvantage to the braided line is that because they have no stretch, some anglers will break fish off on hard hook sets. Another disadvantage to the braided line is that it can freeze solid in below-freezing temperatures.

If I had to guess, I would say that 90% of anglers, including the best Centerpin anglers, will use mono lines like Raven Mainline or Sufix Elite lines. Check out my page 5 Best Float Fishing Lines for more options for lines.

What Pound Test Line Is Best For Trout?

You need a good Centerpin line for trout

The best mainline line for trout is 6 pounds but some anglers will prefer to go ultra-light on everything and use a 4-pound test line. I would use 4 pounds when float fishing but I prefer 6 or I may upsize to 8 pounds for bigger rivers and bigger trout. I will also use an 8-pound line if I am using lures.

The Leader Setup

When Centerpin fishing for trout, you can also use my steelhead leader setup and everything that goes with it. All you need to do is just downsize it all. Half the leader pound test, a smaller float, smaller weights, a smaller hook, and smaller baits, and you should be good to go.

Shallow Water Float Leader For Trout

Shallow Water Float fishing Rig
This is a shallow water leader for Centerpin fishing for trout.

This shallow water float setup is what I use when Centerpin fishing for trout in smaller shallower rivers that are less than 3 feet deep.

It consists of a mainline and 2 leader lines.

The very bottom section of the leader is a short 12 to 14-inch section of 2 to 5-pound test and is light and thin so the trout won’t see it.

I then attach a longer and heavier leader of about 3 feet long and about 2 to 4 pounds heavier than the bottom part of the leader. This is the section where I put my weights.

This upper section of the leader is attached using a Triple Surgeons knot or a Double Uni knot and the entire leader will be 3 to 4 feet long.

I use the knots instead of a swivel so I can slide my float over the not.

I place 2 weights above the lower knot and 2 to 3 weights directly below my float to make sure it doesn’t lie flat on the water. If I slide my float up or down I move those 2 weights with it.

Some guys will ask why I don’t just run the mainline all the way down to the bottom part of the leader, and the reason for this is that the trout might see it. Using two different but light fluorocarbon leaders helps hide the leaders from the fish, which means more bites.

Medium Water Float Fishing Leader For Trout

A medium Depth Float fishing Leader For Trout
This is the medium-depth float fishing leader for trout that I use. You can add whatever bait you want to the bottom.

In water 3 feet to 8 feet, I prefer to use a shot line and spread out my split shots in a way that gives me a better downward angle as seen in the picture.

I discuss this on my page, How To Centerpin Fish.

Best Floats For Centerpin Fishing For Trout

I use much smaller floats when fishing smaller clear trout rivers so that I don’t spook the trout. On larger rivers, I will use the same float that I use for steelhead.

The best floats to use when Centerpin fishing for trout are the Drennan Crystal Loafer Float in size 2 or 3. I use the smaller float in super clear small creeks but for most Centerpin fishing for trout, I like to use the size 3 Drennan Crystal Loafer Float.

The Drennan Loafer float is a low-profile clear float that won’t spook fish as easily. It’s also a popular float with both trout and steelhead anglers but it can be difficult for some anglers to see.

You can get the Drennan Crystal Loafer Float at FishUSA.

If you want a clear float that is a little easier to see, the 3.5g Eagle Claw Steelhead Float is another good float to try and so is the Sheffield Float.

Best Hooks For Centerpin Fishing For Trout

Before we get into the bait for trout, it’s important that you use the right hook. I don’t know how many guys came into my tackle store looking for the old-school bait hooks, they are the ones with 2 or 3 barbs on the shank to help keep the bait on. I do not recommend them for trout.

For most trout fishing I use size 10 or 12 hooks. 3 of my Favorite trout hooks for Centerpin fishing for trout are the Raven Sedge hook, the Raven Specialist hook, and the Gamakatsu Octopus hook.

I use the same hooks I use for steelhead simply because they work and then I downsize them to the size of the trout bait that I am using.

Don’t get caught using a giant size #1 or #2 hook for a tiny little grub because it’s not going to work very well. Certain hooks and hook sizes just work better.

You need to match the hook size to the size of the bait so the hook doesn’t get seen by the trout.

You can see more about the best hooks and how to know what sizes to use for different baits on my page Best Hook Size For Trout.

Best Baits When Centerpin Fishing For Trout

When Centerpin fishing for trout one of the best baits is the worm

The number 1 best bait for trout is often a fly because that’s what trout eat the most. I also use plastic worms, live worms, maggots, grubs, beads, spawn bags, and small plastic baits like plastic eggs, plastic leeches, and plastic grubs.

Beads: There are certain times of the year when fish are spawning and this is when trout beads can be a great bait. Learn the tactics and setups I use for bead fishing.

Worms: Worms can often be the most effective bait provided you use the right size and type of worm suitable for trout. I will use live worms in still water and in currents but often I prefer plastic trout worms in currents.

Fish Eggs: Fish eggs like salmon eggs, rainbow trout eggs, or brown trout eggs are also very effective, especially during the spring and fall when there are fish spawning. Even sucker spawn has been good trout bait for me. I tie my eggs into small sacs.

Live Bait: Live baits such as maggots, grubs, or aquatic insects are very good for trout most of the year. Minnows, leeches, and crayfish are also trout baits that I have done well with, however since these baits are harder to manage, I don’t use them as much as other baits.

Flies: I love fishing with flies. A large part of a trout’s diet in steams can be aquatic insects which can be initiated with artificial flies. Therefore, I use flies a lot and I have a ton of great fly patterns.

I always have an assortment of baits and when the trout are not feeding on one bait I will rotate through my baits and try different types of baits, as well as different sizes, and colors to determine when they are willing to eat.

Guide Tip: In my experience, some baits are low percentage baits, especially in slow or still water and when fishing for large wild trout. You will not see me or other good trout guides putting on a dough bait from a jar or corn, and you shouldn’t either!

I use a lot of baits and some I will avoid and never use, I go into details on all of them on my page Best Trout Bait.

The Centerpin Fishing Method

The same method that I use for steelhead fishing is what I use for trout with a few minor adjustments to the leader setup. Learning how to present your baits is critical to catching more trout with any type of reel.

River Fishing Gear

You need good river fishing gear to use when Centerpin fishing for trout

Aside from your centerpin reel, rod, line, floats, and hooks, you must also ensure you have the proper river fishing gear to keep you dry, comfortable, and safe.

Some of this gear also includes essential tools like nets, forceps, and polarized glasses.

Waders, boots, and a vest or a pack also make centerpin fishing for trout much better.

Check out all the gear that I recommend for river fishing.

Got A Question About Centerpin Fishing For Trout

I hope that helps you out and answers many of your questions about centerpin fishing for trout. If you have any questions, comments, or tips about Centerpin fishing for trout now just let me know in the comments below.

Tight Lines,


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  1. Great info. I am looking for a drift rod and reel for the Beaver River in Thornbury. I believe you call it a float rod and/or centre pin reel. What length of rod do you recommend for that River between the big dam and the mouth of the river?

    1. Hi William, For the Beaver river and other rivers in that area, A Centerpin rod of 13 feet is my go-to rod for almost all rivers around the Great lakes region. This length allows me to fish from 2 feet to 15 feet without much problem and still allows me to make long controlled drifts keeping the line up and off the water longer. This length also gives me longer casts if needed. A 12 foot or a 14 foot would also work but 13 to 13.6 is my go-to length of choice. You can see all my recommended Centerpin rods at 5 Best Centerpin Rods Of 2021

      For the reel, I’ve listed over 20 Centerpin reels that I have used and would recommend on my Centerpin Buyer’s Guide including the ones that I use to guide with. Any of these would work on your river. I would recommend looking that page over and then getting the reel that is at the top of your budget. If you take care of it it should last forever.

  2. When you use a 10 ft nymphing fly rod with a centerpin reel, do you find that you are able to grip the handle in such a way that you can comfortably maintain contact with the rim of the spool? It seems like you would have to choke way down with your palm almost over the reel seat to be in the proper position for control of the reel. My 10ft 5wt Loomis IMX-PRO has a “micro” fighting but and that seems to help a bit, but I am thinking it may feel just a bit too awkward to control the reel with my rod hand. Have you ever tried using the line hand to palm and otherwise control the spool on a fly rod/centerpin reel outfit?

    1. Hey Casey, You can see in the provided picture how I hold the Centerpin reel when using my nymphing rod. It’s not ideal but it works and the rod is fun to fight fish on. Some nymphing and fly rods will feel different and you may need to choke up on the reel seat. I simply move my hand forward on the handle just a bit and I use my two bottom fingers to control the rim of the reel.
      I’m not a fan of palming the reel but that can work.

  3. Hi Graham,
    First off, thank you for your wonderful publication on center pin & float fishing. This has been so incredibly helpful.
    I’m in New Zealand and have been trout fishing for nearly 50 years now with both fly & spinning gear. However there seems to be very little in the way of center pin reels or rods.
    This is something that I’d love to pursue here as I see some wonderful advantages.
    I have read in depth your articles but am after some advice please.
    I am after something predominantly for trout which would average from 2lb up to 10lb in weight. Rivers vary in size but most I fish are on the smaller size ( 5m to 20m wide). We also have the canal fishery here which we can land 20lb plus fish. However this is a once or twice a year event and most fishing would be for the first scenario.
    I am fairly set on the Raven Matrix fully ported which I can purchase from the states but the rod is more problematic due to trying to get one shipped here. This kind of limits me to a 4 piece rod and was wondering your thoughts on either the Shimano Clarus 11’3″ or a Bloodrun Pinland 3WT 10’6″ rod as they are both 4 piece and I might be lucky enough to get someone over there to ship me one. I have thought about using one of my fly rods but really like the idea of have a sliding ring reel seat option plus some of the fish I catch are reasonably large.
    What would your thoughts be regarding these choices for what I need and any other choices for me to look at.
    Many thanks in advance.

    1. Hey Paul,

      2 Potential options for you.

      I use my Centerpin reel on my 10 foot and 11 foot Euro Nymphing rods and it works pretty good once you get used to the grip.

      Another potential option, many years back, local anglers where using 13 foot Sage Spey rod blanks and building float rods with the longer handles and appropriate rod guides. They ended up being really nice Centerpin rods and I have some clients that still use them and love them.

      Otherwise, both the Clarus and the Bloodrun Pinland 3WT 10’6″ rods should do the job. However, I’ve used the Clarus and it’s decent but I don’t have any firsthand experience with Bloodrun Pinland 3WT 10’6″ rod yet but it does get good reviews on the bloodrun webiste.

      Wish I could help you more,

      Good Luck.