How to Outsmart a Wary Trout

wary trout
The most important thing to know about outsmarting wary trout is finding out what they eat and when they eat it. (Photo by Dennis Dauble)

These strategies can help you entice a wary trout.

There are certain things about wary trout. It's not so much they are shrewd or crafty, but they can sense shoreline activity, moving shadows and the splash of artificial lures.

The most important thing to know about outsmarting wary trout is finding out what they eat and when they eat it. Even the most complacent stocker trout gets hungry after awhile.

Once you have a handle on their feeding habits, focus angling efforts on where these cautious fish spend most of their time. Older and wiser trout hide out where there's protection from predators and they can remain well fed.

If that's not enough to think about, then consider how environmental factors that include temperature, the amount of sunlight and weather influence their behavior. 


While it's not essential that you always "match the hatch," it's prudent to have a good idea of aquatic life that trout feed on.

As an example, fly-casters should study the life cycle of common insects in lakes and streams of their area. Midgeflies, one of the smallest insect forms (think No. 22 to 28 hook size), are typically available year-round, either as tiny larvae living at the bottom of a stream or lake and as adults that fly over the water's surface.

Stoneflies, another favorite food of large stream trout, spend most of their life as nymphs hiding under smooth cobble until they emerge each year in late spring.

Mayfly hatches are unique in that emergent nymphs shuck their skins twice in quick succession as "duns," then "spinners." 

Knowing which life stages of aquatic insects are present will help you fool more wary trout. It's not enough to know that trout are rising.

Sipping behavior suggests trout are eating emerging insect forms. Splashing at the surface tells you they're feeding on adult insects, either trying to take flight or hovering on the water's surface.

When no hatch is in progress, trout feed on immature insects found near the bottom. Because aquatic insects become more active in the hours prior to hatching and emergence, seasoned fly-fishers fish below the surface with a nymph pattern in the morning and cast dry flies in the afternoon. 

Sometimes trout feed on something different than you think.

I once cast a Stimulator without success during the peak of the salmon fly hatch on the Deschutes River before figuring out that actively feeding redside rainbow trout were keying on emergent caddisflies. I tied on a small Bucktail Caddis and caught half a dozen fish in quick succession! 

Two-fly tandems can be effective where you are unsure what trout are feeding on. Trail a small, attractor-type fly such as a No. 14 Beadhead Prince Nymph on 15 inches of leader behind a No. 10 Woolly Bugger to double your odds.

More Trout articles from G&F

Unable to coax a take from wary trout once the sun hits the water? Practice stealth.

Use large boulders and streamside vegetation for cover, keep the sun at your back and maintain a low profile to avoid casting a shadow. Another trick is lengthening your leader or switching to a fluorocarbon tippet. 

Trout are predators. Baitfish, such as young-of-the-year minnows and suckers, are one of their favorite foods.

Streamer-type patterns that include Muddler Minnows, Bucktails and Clouser Minnows are effective in shallow shorelines and the edge of weed beds where small fish congregate.

Wary trout are also responsive to small lures, such as Mepps spinners or a Dardevle spoon reeled in an erratic action. If you can't promote a take, then cast a small crankbait, such as a Flicker Shad or Brad's Wee Wiggler, into a likely holding area.

Suppose you show up at your favorite stream or lake with spinning tackle in hand only to find that trout are sipping tiny insects. Don't waste your time casting a lure. Attach a dry fly to 3 feet of 4-pound test leader behind a casting bubble and you are in business. 

Although fly-casters may go to sleep dreaming of an insect hatch, bait anglers know that garden hackle drifted along the bottom catches fish where other techniques fail.

Where legal, bait can be far more effective at enticing wary trout than artificial lures and flies. Options may include live minnows, nightcrawlers, salmon eggs, terrestrial insects or artificial "pastes" such as Berkley's Power Bait, depending on what region of the country you live in.

wary trout
Waters large or small are a good bet right now for trout anglers. (Photo by Dennis Dauble)


Stream trout generally hold station when feeding. They favor the outside of bends in a river channel, the head of pools and riffles, and current seams.

These holding areas should be approached from the side of the river that minimizes line drag. Always strive for a more natural presentation to your offering, whether it is an artificial fly, lure or bait. 

Stream trout typically move around on a seasonal basis. In freestone waters, they migrate from holding areas of the main flow into tributary or feeder creeks during spring runoff, seeking relief from high, roily water. This behavior makes trout more accessible, concentrates them and makes them less wary.

Still-water trout don't have the convenience of current to deliver food. Think of them as grazers.

An effective early season approach is to work the edge of weed beds and along shallow flats that warm up early.

Lake-dwelling trout also favor inlets and old stream channels. If surface layers get too warm, fish will go deep to find cooler water. Use longer leaders and vary the speed of retrieval to get their attention.

Are you a beginning fly-fisherman and frustrated because trout aren't showing at the surface?

Swap out your floating line for sink tip or full sink line and drop your offering down to where trout can see it. A sink tip line will get you down 8 feet while a full sink line goes deeper. 


Spring sunshine leads to increasing water temperature. This predictable seasonal pattern speeds up the development cycle of aquatic insects and increases the activity of cold-blooded trout.

A classic example of nature in synchrony is increased energy demand of trout leading to more aggressive feeding. Take advantage of this behavior by going fishing whenever you can. 

It is also well established that daily activity patterns of trout are affected by the amount of sunlight. Early morning and evening are the best times to approach wary trout because of low light.

The last hour of daylight, what I call the "magic hour," is special because that's when all trout seem to abandon their senses. Keep casting until you can no longer see the tip of your rod. Save those dirty dishes for after dark.

Early spring weather can be uncertain, leading to changes in barometric pressure that stimulate trout feeding activity for reasons not fully understood. The best fishing often occurs immediately after a spring shower.

I recall incredible action during a spring hailstorm where trout came out of nowhere to take part in frenzied feeding activity.

Cloud cover is your friend because it spreads out visible insect activity and gives you more chances at wary trout. Light wind ruffling the water's surface also makes it easier to approach your quarry.


Although all fish have gray matter between their ear bones, it's doubtful that cognitive reasoning comes into play on a daily basis.

What we do know, however, is that all trout react to their surroundings in ways that increase their chance of survival. Spend more time observing trout behavior before casting a line.

Do they sip tiny insects from surface film or chase minnows along the shoreline? Do they hold station as individuals or move around as a small group?

Although outsmarting wary trout can be a challenge, your quest becomes easier when you figure out what they eat, where they look for it and under what conditions they choose to eat it.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Dennis Dauble is the author of three books about fish and fishing. Learn more at

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