Western Trout: Make the River Deliver

Western Trout: Make the River Deliver

Do your homework and try different approaches for trout success. (Photo by Scott Haugen)

Expanding your trout-fishing repertoire will catch more fish, increase quality time on the river.

The mid-day sun glared on the crystal-clear river, and our trout fishing time was winding down.

Summer temperatures were forecast to eclipse the century mark, which normally thwarts the trout bite. We decided to try something new. My buddy and I let out a couple small plugs. Instantly we hooked up with a double, followed by another.

Six hours beyond our planned takeout time, we were finally at the boat ramp.

By expanding your trout fishing repertoire, not only will you catch more fish, you’ll get to spend quality time on the river when most fellow anglers have given up.


Trout Movements

Catching trout in rivers and small streams throughout the West isn’t rocket science, but there are things to be aware of that will boost success rates. During the dog days of summer, knowing a trout’s behavior tops the list of tricks. Multiple factors impact trout behavior during the summer months, and these can change from season to season, day to day, even hour to hour.


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Incessant heat will force trout to move, usually into deeper holes. Here, water temperatures are cooler at the benthic zone and the currents are slower-moving. Holding in such water is less taxing on trout, and the cooler temperatures allow them to conserve energy. As these predatory trout grow hungry, they’ll move into food funnels in the evening and remain there until early morning.

Direct sunlight will also force trout to relocate, even if water temperatures in a stream are cool. Broken water, riffles, rapids and cutbanks all offer safe haven for trout that seek camouflage to hide from predators of the sky, namely ospreys and eagles.

It doesn’t take much water to hide a trout in riffles. As long as there’s a chop on the surface, trout can confidently hold there. Trout are masters of disguise, making it hard for any prey to spot them from above, including anglers with high-tech fishing glasses.


Fishing pressure will also cause trout to relocate throughout the day. If trout sense constant intrusion — whether from shore anglers, boats or recreational traffic — the fish will move. This is where stealth and exploring new waters can pay off for anglers.

For bank anglers, wearing drab clothing and approaching with a low profile can increase the chances of getting spooked fish to bite. Boaters will want to anchor well above or to the side of the target water and get the terminal gear into the strike zone with precise placement and zero disturbance.

Scout For Trout

With the dry spells the West has experienced in recent years, scouting is more critical than ever for trout anglers. If you are planning that family vacation or hike into a remote stream, do your scouting from home. Some simple internet research, along with calls to regional fish and game offices, will reveal a lot information on rivers and streams you intend to fish. Wildfires have shut down hike-in access to many streams over the past two summers, so contacting the Bureau of Land Management as well as the National Forest Service can greatly help in planning your fishing adventure.


Late last summer, multiple streams experienced closures due to extremely low water levels. Most fish and game agencies post such shutdowns on their websites, so check in prior to heading out. There’s no worse feeling than showing up at your fishing destination, only to find it closed.

If you’re a river angler who enjoys targeting trout during the cooler months of September and October, when the bite gets red-hot, consider scouting in the summer. Even if you’re not fishing, scouting a river in the summer is the best way to learn its structure.

Low-water scouting during the summer is fun to do from a raft or other flotation device. With a swim mask or goggles, you even can swim in the river, studying its bottom structure. If the water is clear, you may not even need to get wet.

Low-water scouting reveals structure you can’t see when levels are higher. Bedrock channels, large rocks, depressions, logs, logjams and more can all be seen in low water. As water levels rise, these are prime locations trout will gravitate toward. Being aware of where such structure exists lets you know exactly where fishing efforts should begin when rivers reach ideal levels and temperatures.

Micro Plugs For Trout

While many trout anglers rely on flies, lures and various baits to catch fish, don’t overlook small plugs. Trout are aggressive predators and they commonly prey on small fish. As sunlight, heat and fishing pressure push trout into hiding, the aggressive action of plugs can often elicit a vigorous strike when nothing else seems to work.

One of the biggest trends in trout fishing throughout the West is utilizing downsized plugs to catch trout in rivers and smaller streams. These tiny plugs can be cast and retrieved from shore or from a boat; they can even be backtrolled from a boat.

The hottest trout plug is perhaps the Mag Lip. The 2.0 and 2.5 series Mag Lips are miniature versions of their larger cousins, which are considered some of the most effective salmon and steelhead plugs ever invented. Mag Lips feature a skip-beat action and their horizontal tracking results in high hookup ratios. The 2.0 Mag Lip dives to 5 feet, the 2.5 version to 8 feet. For fishing deeper water, the 3.0 Mag Lip will get you there.

While plugs can be fished on their own, the hooks can also be removed and a trailing leader with bait can be added.

Using plugs as a diver is a great way to target a trout’s sense of sight and sound, as some plugs contain rattles. A 50 series Hot Shot — even a 30 series — tracks well as a diver. A silver plug pulling a 2-foot leader tipped with a worm or single egg can be very productive on finicky trout.

Research the rivers and streams you plan to fish and diversify your game plan before hitting the water. What you’ll discover is that by offering trout something different, catch rates will rise, even in the most challenging conditions.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

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