About Trout

Bookmark and Share

For trout fishermen, knowledge really is power. The more you know about how trout behave (and why), the more of them you'll catch.

All trout are members of the salmon family (Salmonidae). Although a number of distinct trout species with varying markings and colors can be found around the globe, all share certain anatomical traits. These include an elongated body type, fins without any spines, and a small adipose fin on the back or dorsal surface near the tail. More information on some of the many species of trout can be found on our trout identification page.

Rainbow Trout

While trout tend to prefer cold, clear fresh water in the 50-60 degree range, some are anadromous or ocean-going, spending much of their lives in the ocean and returning to freshwater streams and rivers to spawn. Anadromous trout are referred to as steelhead in North America, and as seatrout or ocean trout elsewhere.

Trout are predators whose natural diet consists primarily of smaller fish, bugs and insects of all types, and in the case of larger trout, even small birds, frogs, and mice. They spend a lot of time trying to do two things: eat as much as they can, and burn as little energy as possible while they do it. In the context of a creek or stream, this means they'll spend a lot of time in places where they can snap up food drifting downstream without having to fight too hard against the current as they feed. Any type of obstruction that slows down the water flow or creates a small pool is an ideal location. This may be a big rock, or a fallen branch lying across part of the stream. Trout know that water swirling around the obstruction will deliver drifting food items into the protected area of calmer water just behind it. Depending on the size of the obstruction and how fast the creek is flowing past it, one or more trout will usually position themselves behind it to cash in on the buffet.

When a stream is obstructed by a large enough tree limb or log, or where someone has built a small dam, this creates a fairly large, calm pool where the trout can sit comfortably and feast on anything that washes down into this area. In these places it's not uncommon to see several trout lined up across the width of the creek right in front of the obstruction, moving back and forth just enough to grab tasty bits as they drift by.

Other places to look for trout can include riffles, which are stretches of shallow, fast-moving water over a rock or gravel bottom, and runs, which are deeper areas with a slower current. Trout will often feed actively in riffles during the morning and evening hours, while deep runs may hold fish just about any time of the day if there is sufficient cover and shade (such as an overhanging bank).

Remember that a given area can only support so many fish. Once you've pulled a few fish out of a hole, it's most likely fished out for the time being. It takes a couple of hours minimum for another fish to find that now-empty spot and move in, so your best bet once the bite stops in one place is to move on to the next likely spot and come back later in the day or the next morning.

Trout tend to be most active early in the morning and in the evening, spending the hottest part of the day hiding under an overhanging bank or in a shaded area. Start fishing too early in the day, though, and you may be disappointed. The fish will usually start actively feeding just as the sun hits their part of the creek. Fish much before that and you'll just get cold fingers. Some fish will continue to feed all through the day, especially if they have a nice deep pool to hide in, but be prepared for a slowdown in the bite around midday. Later in the afternoon you'll see the bite pick up again as the trout get active and start chasing the bugs that are coming out. Your best bet is usually to start fishing early in the morning, then take a break for lunch just before noon (or whenever the fishing gets really slow). At about three or so, head back down to the stream and take advantage of that evening feeding period. Of course, you can always fish all day if you choose to. Be prepared for slower action, and try to concentrate on areas with deep water and overhanging banks or other shady, protected areas.

And when you're scoping out a trout stream, remember that size does matter. Bigger fish will almost always be found in the deeper pools, where they have room to hide out and where more edible material will be likely to drift by. If you're after trophy-size trout, plan your attack accordingly. If you just want to catch enough panners to make a meal, then hit every hole you can find.

Now that you know where to look for the fish, our stream fishing technique page will give you the skinny on how to catch them, while the page on tackle can tell you what gear you'll need.

Bookmark and Share

Back to top