How To Catch Trout: Learn From A Professional River Guide

How to catch trout

Get Expert Advice On How To Catch Trout

As a full-time river guide, I have taught thousands of anglers how to catch trout the right way. The reason I say the right way, is because I just did a google search on how to catch trout and the top 5 web pages for this search term were mostly crap with some really bad advice on how to catch trout.

Learning how to catch trout is easy if you know the 3 most effective methods that catch trout consistently and if you get your info from a pro. These 3 methods for catching trout include bait fishing with and without a float, and fly fishing with flies, and also using lures with a spinning rod.

Knowing the best baits, where the trout hide, and how to present the bait will also help you catch more trout.

My number 1 tip on how to catch more trout is to get your advice from a pro and not from websites written by people that learn from guys like me, or worse, people that barely fish.

It is clear many of the top 5 articles on how to fish for trout were either written for dummies or written by dummies. Sorry, but it makes me angry because I feel bad for new anglers taking that crappy advice and using it and then wondering why they can’t catch trout.

In those 5 articles I read some pretty bad advice like this:

  • Fish mornings and evenings – WRONG! If you only fish morning and evening you will miss a lot of fish and there are times of the year when morning and evenings suck and the best time of day is mid-afternoon.
  • Red and white round bobbers or OK for trout – WRONG! Use only slim-type floats meant for river fishing. By the way, when river fishing, it’s called a float, not a bobber.
  • Most big trout over 12 inches cut flies out of their diet – WRONG! I catch a ton of big trout on tiny flies, often more than guys using lures and so do other guides.
  • Tip your spoons with wax worms for more bites – WRONG! It doesn’t make a difference but it is a good way for that website to sell more wax worms to unsuspecting anglers.
  • Good quality reels can be bought for $20 bucks – WRONG! 20 dollar rods and reels are not good quality, but I guess quality is a matter of opinion. Most 20 dollar reels are nothing but problems.
  • Get a closed faced reel for trout – WRONG! I have never seen a good guide or good trout angler use one of these reels and neither should you.
  • Use a simple Clinch Knot – WRONG! No good guide or good trout angler would use this knot because it’s a weak knot.
  • Place your weight 2 feet below your hook – WRONG! They would have been closer if they said 2 feet ABOVE the hook instead.
  • Scout the river and leave all the stuff in the car when you do – WRONG! This is a great way to have your car broken into and your stuff stolen, and if the fishing is good you have to walk all the way back to the car and then back again, that 4 trips just to fish.
  • Thread your hook through the worm or put it on like a ball – WRONG! I love guys that ball up their worm on the hook because I know they catch very few fish and that means more fish for me.
  • Keep your rod tip above your head because if you lower your rod tip the fish can come off – WRONG! Funny, if you watch pro fly anglers fight a fish, they keep their tips low to the water and apply side pressure so the fish doesn’t come off easily.
  • Corn is good for trout – WRONG! Sure, some dumb-stocked trout will eat corn sometimes. I tell my clients I could rip a piece off my coffee cup, put it on hook and probably catch a stocked trout and I have, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good bait for trout and that it should be recommended. Why use a crappy bait like corn when there are so many better options.

So why would these websites write so much wrong information? The simple answer is they don’t know any better and they are not experts.

The sad thing is that some of these websites will get a million new anglers reading those articles and trying these useless tips.

This article is part 3 of 3 in a series on how to catch trout which includes advice and answers to over 40 common questions that all trout anglers should know and it’s written by a professional river guide with over 20 years of guide experience.

In part one which is called Trout Fishing 101 – Guide Tips To Get Started, I cover these topics in detail:

  • Licenses for fishing and trout tags
  • What reels, rods, and lines are good for trout fishing
  • The gear you need for trout fishing
  • Most common baits and best lures for trout fishing
  • Good ways to find trout rivers near you
  • Finding trout in rivers
  • Some info on how to fish for trout.

In part two of this 3 part series which is called How to Fish Fish For Trout – 40 Common Questions Answered, I cover a ton of common questions with tips and advice I’ve obtained over 20 years of running one of the top guide services in the country. You can find answers to questions like:

  • Best time of year or time of day to fish
  • Best water temperatures for trout
  • Why trout don’t always bite
  • Trout fishing In spring and summer
  • Trout fishing in fall and winter
  • Why big trout eat small flies
  • Plus more . . . . .

In part 3 you will get the remainder of those 40 questions and some tips to help you learn how to catch trout in rivers. I hope you enjoy the final post on how to catch trout.

What Is The Best Bait For Trout?

Aquatic Insects Are The Best Bait For Trout
Aquatic insects are often the best bait for trout and can easily be fished under a float or with a fly rod.

If you want to know how to catch trout you need to know what to use.

There are a lot of good baits for trout but in my opinion, the best bait for trout is imitation flies since a large amount of a trout’s diet is insects and that is what they are accustomed to eating.

If you are going to fish for trout you might as well give them what they want to eat.

As a new angler that wants to know how to catch trout, you may be thinking that you don’t want to fly fish so how can you fish with flies when you only have a spinning rod.

You can fish flies under a float, and with the right float fishing set-up and the right leader, this can be an extremely productive way to catch trout. See my float fishing set-up and leader and tips HERE and watch for my How To Float Fish page.

Smaller trout water
Smaller trout water can be loaded with trout and the best way to fish it is with my advanced bottom bouncing method

Another great way to fish for trout with flies is to do a technique called bottom bouncing.

Anglers that want to know how to catch trout should know that the advanced bottom bouncing method that I teach can be the most productive way to catch trout in smaller and shallower rivers like the one seen in this picture but you can also use this method on larger deeper rivers too.

Go to my page on Bottom Bouncing to learn more about this amazing method.

Big trout also eat big foods at times so I would also recommend worms or worm imitations as the next best bait for trout, and I would not forget to mention that minnows or minnow imitations are one of the best baits for trout at times and in some rivers where minnows are plentiful. I have an entire page dedicated to Fishing With Worms that you should check out.

At certain times of the year when there is spawning fish in the area, fish eggs or egg imitations can be the best bait for trout. I have a page on Fishing with Beads that you should check out if you are looking for tips on how to catch more trout. I also have an entire page on Fishing With Spawn Bags, which are real fish eggs.

All of these baits can be fishing using a float fishing method or using the bottom bouncing methods.

How To Catch Trout – Which Methods Are Best?

The four main ways to fish for trout are fly fishing, bait fishing using a float, bait fishing using a bottom bouncing method, and fishing with lures.

As a beginner that wants to learn how to catch trout it’s best to pick the method you think that you will enjoy the most and then get really good at it before you move on and try another method.

I will cover all of these methods more on this page and on this website so keep checking back to the main Trout Fishing page to see what’s new.

How Deep Do You Fish For Trout?

Brown Trout On Bottom
River trout often hold near the bottom so you want to get your bait down to the trout.

Most trout in rivers will hold within one foot of the bottom and they will feed sideways about one or two feet and they will feed upwards of 2 or 3 feet or more depending on water clarity.

Trout prefer to be in sections of the river that have current. Even very fast current can be perfect for trout since the current is often much slower near the bottom.

Trout that are inactive may hold in the deeper slower parts of the river but these same trout may move into faster water that is less than two feet deep to feed. This is why I fish in shallow and deep water. I have a picture and discuss holding and feeding waters in Part 1 – Trout Fishing 101.

In most trout rivers or spots that are less than 6 feet deep, the trout will be down about 5 feet and will often be only an inch or two off the bottom. In the video called Underwater World Of Trout – Feeding Lies you can see how trout hold and feed in the river. Watch the full video on YouTube – HERE

Anglers that want to know how to catch trout should know that most new anglers do not get their baits deep enough and this will mean less fish in the net.

Some baits and some lures will get deeper faster so learning which ones sink and which ones are more buoyant and then how to fish them to get them deep and down to the trout is important.

I will cover more about this in future articles and videos about how to present your bait. Check the Trout Fishing Blog page to see if I have those articles up yet, if not they will be coming soon.

Is Corn A Good Bait For Trout?

You will never see a pro guide or pro tournament angler pull out some corn and use it for trout bait.

Unless you are fishing a creek that runs through a corn field, I’m pretty confident when I say that trout don’t normally eat corn.

Sure, corn will catch trout, especially stocked trout which are dumber than dumb, but for wild trout, corn is far from being the best bait that you could use, so why use it.

It only makes sense that if you really want to catch trout that you use the best bait possible, not some so-so bait like corn.

You would be wise to always use the most productive bait available and leave your corn in your cupboard.

So why do trout eat corn?

You have to understand that trout will put all kinds of things in their mouth to see if it’s edible or not, and this includes corn.

Check out this video called Underwater World Of Trout which shows trout feeding below the surface and see for yourself all the dumb stuff that trout will put in their mouths. Start watching them feed at 9:34 of the video.

Trout will put pieces of bark, pieces of sticks, leaves, seaweed, pebbles, and almost anything into their mouth that resembles food or is small enough for them to sample.

In my opinion, trout are not very smart, and that’s why sometimes anglers will catch trout on corn, but with that being said would you choose a piece of bark, or a piece of twig, or a leaf as bait since they put that stuff in their mouths too. No, not likely.

If you really want to know how to catch trout, don’t use corn. There are far better baits that will entice more trout to eat so unless you want to make it harder to catch trout use the better baits instead of corn.

Do Trout Like Marshmallows?

Trout will eat small marshmallows or chucks of marshmallows because they might look like fish eggs or maybe it’s because they are just attractive looking. Trout may just pick up the colorful marshmallow just to see if it’s edible just like they do with chunks of bark and seaweed.

I have caught trout and steelhead on marshmallows but I have also caught them on gum drops, gummy bears, and even dish sponge. But for the same reason as corn, there are much better baits for trout than marshmallows so stick with what works better and you will catch more trout.

And for those anglers that say I’m wrong and that corn and marshmallows are a good bait for trout, all I say is that every time they catch a fish on corn, the chances are just as good that the same fish would have eaten a worm, a spawn bag or a fly if it was in the exact spot that the fish ate the corn. Just saying! So if you want to know how to catch trout, always use a better bait, the best bait possible, and you will catch more trout.

Do Scents Work For Trout?

This is a common question with anglers that want to know how to catch trout. They wonder if scents work for trout and if they should use them to catch more trout, and the simple answer is not really.

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

Based on 36 years of trout fishing and experimenting with scents as well as watching fish feed 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 and you can see that in the video of fish feeding below the surface. Anglers that want to know how to catch trout 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 and therefore using garlic as a scent won’t likely 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 and I’m still a skeptic.

The chances are good that if I put garlic scent on a small fly the trout would eat it, but there’s also just as good of a chance that the trout would have eaten that same fly without the garlic scent too.

In my personal opinion, if you want to know how to catch trout, adding scents to bait is a waste of time and money so don’t bother. Instead, spend your time working on your presentation and rotating through your baits to find out which bait looks the best instead of which bait smells the best.

Should You Use A Bobber When Trout Fishing?

Floats For Trout
Using bobbers or floats for big trout in bigger rivers is often the most productive way to catch trout.

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.

Bobbers are also known as floats.

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

Some articles that I have recently read online recommended using those round red and white bobbers for trout, but the truth is that they are not good for trout in rivers.

I could rig my dog’s ball up and use that as a bobber for trout too, and I could probably even catch some trout with it, but why would I use a bobber like this when there are so many better options than dog balls or red and white bobbers. A long narrow-bodied bobber designed for river fishing is a way better choice.

The narrow river bobbers are also known as floats, I call them floats, and a lot of guides, and hardcore river anglers, and even the brands that make river bobbers call them floats, so the proper term is floats, not bobbers. If you want to know how to fish for trout, you should know the lingo!

If you want to know which float I use and recommend, I have a page that you should check out to see the Best Floats For River Fishing.

If you want to learn how to catch trout then float fishing is a great way to get started, but don’t make the mistake of using the wrong float and making things tougher than they need to be.

Oh, and ignore any website that tells you that using red and white bobbers for trout is ok, these sites are probably not a good source of information on how to fish for trout.

Are Lures Good For Trout?

Good Lures For Tout
Trout eat fish and that is why lures can be a great method for catching trout

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 so if you want to learn how to catch trout then fishing with lures is a great way to get started.

But be careful because you can also do lure fishing poorly.

In part one on 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 what my best lures for trout and steelhead are on my Lure Fishing For Trout: Tactics From A Pro River Guide page.

What Are The Best Lures For Trout Fishing?

Trout eat fish
This small trout puked up this fish when I got him in the net which clearly shows that trout eat other fish.

If you want to know how to catch trout on lures you need to know which lures to use.

The best lures for trout are spinners, spoons, jigs, and crankbaits.

Fish eat fish so lures can be an excellent choice for trout, and anglers learning how to fish for trout should have an assortment of these lures with them when they go trout fishing.

Even small trout will take a swipe at a big lure but it’s better to use a bait that is suitable to the size of the trout you are fishing for.

A small 1 inch spinner will often catch more trout than a 6 inch spinner even if some of the small trout swipe at the bigger lure.

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 lures sizes starting with the smaller ones first and working up to the bigger sizes to see what the trout want.

Sometimes the biggest trout that I see are the ones trying to eat those smaller trout that I or my clients have on the line.

This shows me that some of the bigger trout will want a big meal so a bigger bait worked erratically like it’s dying or injured can be a very effective method.

Guide Tip: If you want to learn how to catch trout on lures this is one of my best tips. Unfortunately, most anglers just straight retrieve their lures in and this can limit the amount of fish they catch. Work your bait with a stop and go, and a twitching method will catch more big trout and avoid doing all straight in retrieves.

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 to eat.

What Size Hooks For Trout Fishing?

Best Hooks For Trout
Smaller hooks are often better than larger hooks even for large trout, steelhead, and salmon.

For most trout fishing, using bait is an excellent way to catch trout, but you will need a good hook that is not too big and not too small which is why the best hook size for trout is between a size 8 and a size 12.

The bigger the number the smaller the hook size.

Many new anglers learning how to catch trout will use hooks that are way to big for the bait and for the trout they are fishing. Your hook should not be an inch long if your bait if only a half inch.

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

Even big trout, steelhead, and salmon can be caught using very small hooks, so a large hook is not necessary to catch trout, and a hook that is too big can actually be a bad thing.

Many new anglers learning how to catch trout end up using the wrong types of hooks and that can also limit your success. You want to use a proven hook shape that holds onto the bait without it falling off and a hook shape that will hold onto the trout without pulling loose during the fight.

I have a page dedicated to the Best Hooks For Float Fishing and these are all the same hooks that I use for trout too.

What Knots Should I Use For Trout Fishing?

Strong Fishing Knots For Trout
I use the same knots for trout, steelhead, and salmon. The knot on the bottom is an Improved Clinch Knot.

You want a knot that is easy to tie but strong enough to hold a big fish. You knot is usually the weakest link unless your line is damaged.

There are 3 knots that every trout angler learning how to fish for trout should know. Of course, there are hundreds of fishing knots but if you are just learning how to catch trout you might as well know the best ones now.

To tie your line to your hook you should use an improved clinch knot with a monofilament line and if you are using a braided line it’s best to use an improved Palomar Knot,

For tying two pieces of line together I use a Triple Surgeons Knot with monofilament, or I will use a Double Uni Knot with a braided line or for monofilament line to braid connection.

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 that 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.

If you want to know how to catch trout then you should know that as a guide, I know color can be a huge factor in catching trout under certain water conditions and I will change my lures or my baits accordingly.

Check out the page on Fishing With Spawn Bags, or my Fishing With Beads page, and the Fishing With Worms page to see my recommendations on colors under different conditions.

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.

Anglers wanting to learn how to catch trout should consider fly fishing.

Fly fishing is an excellent way to fish for and 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 to by adjusting your technique a bit.

Anglers that want to learn how to catch trout in larger rivers should consider Centerpin fishing as a method. I have an entire section on Centerpin Fishing and the same methods that I and other anglers use to Centerpin fish for steelhead and salmon also work for trout.

How To Catch Trout Summary

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 fish, 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.

It’s not uncommon for anglers learning how to catch trout to do it wrong for a long time.

I have guided many guys that have said they have been fishing for over 10 years and they already know how to catch trout but they just want to get better. Once I see them fish I realize that they have been practicing the wrong methods for that long and with my guidance they start catching more trout than they ever thought possible.

That is one of the reasons that I recommend hiring a guide or finding a skilled mentor to teach you. You may end up avoiding a lot of bad mistakes, bad lures, and bad gear which may save you a lot of money in the long run. The price of a guide is often worth it.

Hire The Right Fishing Guide

Hire the right trout guide
Hiring the right trout guide can make all the difference. Do your research until you find the best of the best.

A lot of fishing guides might hate me for saying this, but there are a lot of bad river guides out there. Just because they have a guide license doesn’t mean they are good.

I have hired guides all over the USA and Canada.

Since my skill level is much higher than the average angler and the average guide, I research my guides to find the best of the best for the area that I want to fish.

I hire the best of the best not because I want to catch the most fish, I hire the best of the best because these are the guys that can teach me something. These are the same guys you want to learn from.

Do your research and find a guide that comes highly recommended by lots of people and not some dude with a Facebook page and lots of fish pictures that’s offering a cheap day on the water because he calls himself a guide. Catching lots of fish is one thing, teaching someone how to fish is a whole other ball game.

With river fishing guides, reputation is everything, and you get what you pay for.

Just Ask – How To Catch Trout

If you have read through part 1, part 2, and part 3 and you still have a question, or an idea, or even some advice on how to catch trout, just let me know here in the comment section below.

Tight Lines


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *