Basic Trout Fishing Tactics

Trout fishing is a sport for everyone. You don't need a boat and motor, a depth locator, a pH meter, a guide, or any expensive tackle. All you need is a spinning or spin-casting outfit in working order, a box of hooks, some night crawlers and a pair of hi

Trout fishing is a sport for everyone. You don't need a boat and motor, a depth locator, a pH meter, a guide, or any expensive tackle. All you need is a spinning or spin-casting outfit in working order, a box of hooks, some night crawlers and a pair of hip boots. (The hip boots are optional if you don't mind getting your feet wet.)If you are 16 or older, you will need a fishing license and trout stamp.

As with most types of specialized fishing, a few anglers seem to catch most of the fish. This is not luck. They know how to catch trout. You can be one of those "lucky" anglers.

These tactics will not make you an expert, but it may help you catch your first trout. From that point on you just need to go fishing and learn from your experiences.

Trout Habits

There are three species of trout that live in southeast Minnesota trout streams. They are the brook trout, the brown trout, and the rainbow trout.

Brook trout (the only native of the three) thrive in smaller streams of good water quality, occupying pools and riffles that seem quite shallow when compared to the pools brown trout frequent. In-stream vegetation provides adequate cover for the brookie. They are very aggressive and relatively easy to catch. They normally are smaller than browns and rainbows, a 14-inch brook trout is a trophy. In large- and medium-size streams you will find them near the headwaters and in major springs.

Brown trout (from Europe) are the most abundant and most sought after trout in southeast Minnesota streams. They are wary and must be stalked with patience. Your shadow on the water will "put them down" for an hour or two. They require overhanging cover like undercut banks or fallen trees. They will be found in the deepest pools, moving into the shallows (riffles) to feed in early morning and late afternoon. They feed actively on emergent insects like caddis flies and mayflies. Brown trout get larger than rainbows and brookies; 14- to 18-inch fish are common and browns more than 25 inches have been taken in the southeast.

Rainbow trout (a west coast native) do not commonly reproduce in southeast Minnesota streams and must be maintained by stocking. They occupy the fast, big water of the Whitewater streams (and others), utilizing different habitat than the brown trout. Famous for their acrobatics (tail-walking), rainbows will give any angler quite a thrill.

There are a number of methods used to catch trout, but most novice trout anglers begin by learning to catch trout on light spinning tackle.

Many good trout anglers make fishing more of a challenge by using a fly rod or fishing wild trout in crystal clear streams. Some anglers spend many days trying to catch a trophy. You may want to get into this type of trout fishing, but for now we are going to stick with basics.

Getting Started

Get a map of the area you are going to fish and make sure that you are actually fishing in trout water.

Use monofilament line no heavier than 6-pound-test in cloudy or muddy water and no heavier than 4-pound-test in clear water.

Fill your reel spool with backing (some heavy line) and put about 30 yards of lighter line at the end. Note: It may take several hundred yards of light line to fill your spool. Most of this line is wasted. Replace it after it becomes worn or is too short to fish with.

Use hooks in the #10 to #14 size range and do not use long shank sunfish hooks. You want your hook to be inconspicuous.

Clean your reel before you go so your line flows smoothly off the spool.

Get permission to access private lands that do not have easements. Most people are happy to let you fish on their property if you just ask for permission first.

Bait and Tackle

Everyone has a different idea as to which bait or method is the best for catching trout. Anything that works is good, but since you have read this far I will assume you would like a basic outfit to get started. An acceptable trout fishing outfit would include:

  • an ultra light, fast action spinning rod between four and five feet long
  • a light duty spinning or spincasting reel outfitted with 4- to 6-pound-test line. (I prefer 4. I would rather hook a good one and lose it than not hook it at all.)
  • #10 to #14 regular shank bronze hooks
  • a few small split shot for those rare occasions when you need to get your bait down in swift water, and a canvas creel and a small knife

BAIT: It is hard to beat the nightcrawler for baitfishing trout. It has just the right heft for a long cast and they are easy to come by. Worms are too small and are difficult to cast. Hellgramites and water worms (insect larva) are also good. They are harder to obtain in mid summer and are difficult to cast long distances, but are ideal for drift fishing. Small minnows work well in early season when the fish are sluggish, but who wants to carry a minnow bucket around all day. Veteran brown trout anglers often use a chunk of chub or sucker meat when angling for the big ones. This also keeps other chubs and suckers from biting when fishing in poorer quality water.

HARDWARE: Spinners, jigs and other minnow imitators also work well for trout. Any color or style is apt to work, but match these colors and species for starters: gold for browns, silver for rainbows and copper for the brookies.


First we will fish with the nightcrawler. Hook half of a crawler just once at either end. Approach the pool quietly from downstream keeping well hidden from the fish. Cast upstream over the pool allowing your crawler to drift naturally back towards you. Your line will float so watch it and you can tell when you have a bite. If you are careful, you might catch more than one fish from the same pool. Be patient and fish carefully. Learn to cast with accuracy. If you have disturbed the pool, move on to another. Stay out of the water when fishing. The boots are for crossing the stream. If you want to release a deeply hooked fish just cut your line. If the fish is bleeding, keep it. It will not live.

Hellgrammites and water worms are very effective when allowed to drift naturally into a pool. You can accomplish this with a gentle upstream cast or by drifting the bait down to the pool from upstream. This technique is also useful when fishing a pool that is protected by a fallen tree.

To sum up bait fishing:

  • fish natural (natural drift, no bobber, no sinker, light line)
  • keep hidden
  • don't walk in the water
  • make accurate casts
  • fish afternoon hours in springtime, early morning hours in summer

When casting hardware you don't have to worry about an unnatural drift. Minnows swim in all directions. You still must make a cautious approach to the pool. A favorite strategy is to bait fish a stream, working your way upstream, and then cast spinners to the same pools on the way back.

Good Fishing!

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