How to catch your first trout, and avoid common mistakes.

The first brown trout I ever caught
My first trout caught in 2001 – might just be the ugliest trout I ever caught

Struggling to catch your first trout? This guide gives basic guidance on catching your first trout. Plus how to learn the secrets of a trout river.

This guide assumes you already have a lightweight fishing rod, spinning reel, and a selection of lures.

If you do not have suitable fishing equipment, I suggest following the above links to my gear and tackle buying guides. If on a tight budget check my cheap fishing gear guide.

Use 4 or 6lb line.

One of the most common mistake made by new anglers is using line that is too thick.

Trout can see/sense the line, so thinner is better.

It is also important to note that trout lures are tiny and lightweight. So to cast them a reasonable distance requires thin line.

For beginners, I recommend using 4 or 6lb monofilament (nylon). If unsure on what brand, I have written a blog post recommending what I feel is the best monofilament lines for trout fishing.

This offers a suitable compromise of knot strength, ease of casting, and enough strength to fight almost any trout. With more experience, it can be worth using superline or even thinner monofilament which makes casting even easier.

Targeting trout in rivers

One of the biggest mistakes I see new trout fishermen make is that they do not cover enough water.

They drive to a nice enough looking pool, then stand in one spot and start casting to the exact same spot. In the couple of hours they spend fishing they are unlikely to have moved more than one pool upstream.

When targeting trout, the first cast into a new area is the most likely one to catch a fish. The chance goes down with every subsequent cast. Casting the same lure into the same water more often than not is going to get the same result.

Even in the best looking hole, I am unlikely to cast more than a dozen times before I change something.

River trout are territorial. They feed and patrol in the same small section. Outside of the spawning runs in the fall, it is very unlikely for a new fish to appear and start feeding. This is why it is important to move to where the trout are. Do not wait for them to come to you.

Changing lures can give a second chance

If you know there are still feeding trout in the pool. The best choice is to change your lure. If you were fishing with an inline spinner, maybe consider changing to a spoon or jerkbait. If you only have a single style of lure, changing color or size can at times bring results.

Target different depths

Trout feed throughout the water column.

Trout mostly feed close to the bottom. Only occasionally rising into the mid water or to the surface. In the wild trout mostly eat any small nymph or aquatic insects as they drift downstream.

Trout are very lazy fish. They use as little energy as possible. So they rest on the bottom out of the current and just eat anything which floats within a few inches of their mouth.

To fish, the mid water cast out and let your lure sink for a few seconds before starting to retrieve. If you see the lure jumping along the surface, slow down. If you can feel It bouncing off the rocks, lift the rod tip slightly.

If you want to target bottom feeding trout, then bouncing spoons and other lures over the bottom can be a very effective technique. If you are not getting the occasional snag, you are not close enough to the bottom.

Bring plenty of spares, because lures are regularly lost. Remove any slime from the hooks between cast, slime dulls the action.

Jerkbaits, and floating lures require a different technique. Floating jerkbaits basically swim deeper the faster you wind them in. While sinking jerkbaits sink until you start the retrieve. I go into more detail on getting the best out of fishing jerkbaits in my guide here.

Trout are territorial, they can strike when not hungry.

Luckily, trout are very territorial. Even if they are not hungry. They react out of aggression towards smaller fish invading their space. This works to our advantage.

Retrieving our obnoxious looking metal spinning is often enough to trigger a strikeout of angry. This is the same way Salmon are caught on their spawning runs.

My favorite lures for fishing new waters are

Long cast Floating rapala. This jerkbait casts well and can even get reactions from wary wild fish. Normal floating rapalas work fine on smaller waters.

Panther Martin: The classic teardrop design casts well, and the blade spins even at a low retrieve. The larger than average blade, gives off plenty of fish attracting flash and vibrations.

– Abu Garcia Toby or Thomas Speedy Shiner. These long slim spoons cast like bullets while fluttering through the water. A great option for large rivers or for punching into the wind.

-Acme Kastmaster , when distance is paramount. The kastmaster is king. If you can not find a kastmaster any hex spinner in smaller size will do.

How to prospect or scout a new trout river

To prospect a river, I go for a lure which I can easily cast. I cast far, and fishing fast. The idea is to cover as much water as possible. I basically cast diagonally upstream, let the lure sink for a moment before retrieving. Then take one or two steps upstream and cast again. I systematically cover every yard of water. Every 10 or so casts, I cast once straight upstream next to the shore. This is to target trout holding right on the edge. Many fishermen spook trout because they forget to fish the and wind faster.

Every twenty minutes or so, I might change the model or pattern of spinner. Just to see if the trout are favoring one style or the other.

Prospecting is a great way to quickly discover where the trout are holding, and what sort of water they prefer. In future trips to the river, you can fish slower and concentrate on the areas which you now know hold fish.

Keep in mind, trout do move around. In the spring, trout might prefer to feed in the pools. There the current is more gentle and the deep water offers more protection. But come summer, trout are more likely to be found in faster flowing water which is richer in oxygen.

The weight and sizes of lures I use when prospecting.

I select a lure which is easy to cast and easy to retrieve. I use 1/4oz lures on big water, the weight allows for greater casting distance and faster sink rate to fish deeper pools and faster ripples.

Streams require more finesse rather than long casts. In streams I prospect with 1/16oz lures. Can also drop down to 1/32oz or up to 1/8oz if conditions change.

Surface feeding trout

Unless I see trout rising, I rarely fish the surface when spinning for trout. Most trout hold and feed deeper in the water column. When I see a trout rise, I still will cast my lure so it lands a couple of yards upstream from it is feeding.

Rising trout are usually concentrating on eating mayflies, or on warm summer days, windblown terrestrial insects such as grasshoppers, cicadas, gnats, bugs, flies, moths. Trout are honestly not that fussy. Several times, I have even seen trout leaping out of the water to grab hovering damselflies.

Targeting surface feeding trout while fishing lures is difficult. It is much easier to change to a float and dry fly, or for best results take up the challenge of fly fishing.

A few locations which deserve extra attention

Trout often hold behind rocks and at the bottom of rapids

While I advise covering as much water as possible when exploring a new river. Some parts of the river certainly hold more trout. Trout are simple creatures, and they respond to the environment around them.

  • -Protection from predators.
  • -Availability of food.
  • -Temperature and water oxygen levels.

These three factors determine where trout are most likely to be found and we can use them to predict where the trout are more likely to be found. Before I go into more detail, I will highlight again that trout are lazy. At all times, they try to spend as little energy as possible. For that reason only desperate trout feed in powerful currents.

Protection from predators

Trout are both predators and prey. They are hunted from both above and below the water. The main threats from above are birds and man. To hide from predators, trout often like to hide under cover. This is often overhanging vegetation or in the submerged branches of a tree. Other times they hide under weed or at the deepest parts of a pool. Such areas are always worth a few extra casts. Just be wary of snags and losing your lure.

Availability of food

Trout spend a lot of time eating. So trout like to position themselves where food comes to them. The current, carries a steady stream of dislodged nymphs, snails and terrestrials. Trout being lazy, position themselves in areas where they can access the food Conveyor belt without having to constantly fight the current themselves.

So look for large rocks or boulders out in the current. Trout very often hold right in front, or just behind. The rocks split the current, creating eddys and slack water. This is a prime place to find bigger fish.

Other times, trout hold right on the edge of the river in the shallows. There the current is weak, but they can still drift side wise to eat any tasty morsels. I find two types of trout like to hold there, ones which are super alert and require precision presentation to catch, or sick trout on their last legs.

The final place, trout hold is where the rapids slows as it discharges into a pool. They can lay on the bottom where they watch for food drifting past. Some also hold right at the top of rapids.

Temperature and water oxygen levels

Trout need to breath, and when the water gets too warm. Oxygen levels drop and they struggle to survive. When the water is warm, trout move into faster water which is more oxygenated. It is worth taking a thermometer to the river with you. If the water temperature is over 18c / 64f brown, rainbows and brook trout might start to show signs of stress. Pay less attention to pools and start concentrating on moving water.

Cutthroat and lake trout prefer water cooler than 15c / 59f and temperatures become lethal for them at around 20c / 68f,

I personally stop fishing for brown or rainbow trout when water temperatures get above 21c / 70f. Either go searching for cooler water, maybe in a side stream or head back early in the morning when the water is at its coolest.

Early in the spring, the water can be too cold. Normally not worth fishing until the water gets above 6c / 44f

If you come across other fishermen

Other fishermen, are a common sight on popular trout rivers. I never leap frog in front of another angler without asking first. Hopefully they are only fishing a short way, then it is usually possible to come to some sort of arrangement on sharing the river.

Also take the opportunity to see what lures they are fishing. If they seem to be catching fish, take notice and try to copy how they are fishing.

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