Trout Fishing Basics: Beginners Guide

Written by Peter Lechner
Updated October 3, 2022

There are many reasons why you may consider taking up trout fishing. As a hobby, fishing for trout offers a sense of freedom and relief from day-to-day life. If you’re fishing socially, trout fishing gives you plenty of opportunity to bond with your family or friends. On a more practical level, trout fishing provides you with one of the healthiest, freshest sources of natural food that you can take home and make a decent meal out of at the end of the day.

While trout fishing is fairly simple to get into, you’ll need to know the trout fishing basics before you wildly embark in a fishing expedition. We’ll cover the fundamentals of trout fishing for dummies in this post, including:

  • Fishing techniques for how to catch trout
  • Fishing gear, including pole and tackle
  • Using live bait vs lures
  • Freshwater vs saltwater trout fishing

Facts About Trout

If you want to fish for trout, it’s wise to have an idea about what you’re fishing for. Here are several facts about trout that you can use to enhance your own fishing experience (or simply use to impress your friends) as a trout fishing beginner:

  1. Brown trout belong to a single species – but they’re so varied and adaptable that there have been many attempts to divide them into a much larger number of species.
  2. Brown trout can live up to the age of 20 years.
  3. Trout have been known to feed on animals in the water, including small birds and mice.
  4. Trout become darker in color when aggressive, and lighter in color when submissive.
  5. The largest ever all-tackle brown trout was caught on March 2013, and weighed 42 lb 1 oz.
  6. Trout grow in size after they have been caught.
  7. Research has found that it’s more difficult to catch brown trout than rainbow, cutthroat and brook trout. 
  8. The best time to catch trout is reportedly right before a storm, when trout sense the change in the atmosphere and feed heavily.
  9. Trout have a brain around the size of a pea.
  10. Sea trout have been around since the last ice age.

Getting Started: Trout Fishing Essentials

Now that you’re appropriately enlightened about the trout species, it’s time to delve into the important stuff. Here’s what you’ll need to get started with trout fishing:

A Fishing Licence

Canadian fishing license outdoors card

You’ll most likely need a fishing licence of some sort if you’re fishing for trout in the US or Canada. The type of licence you’ll need depends on the type of fishing you plan to do.

A saltwater licence, for example, won’t allow you to fish in freshwater lakes and streams, as a freshwater licence won’t allow you to fish in saltwater. You’ll generally get the easiest catch in freshwater sources – more on this later – so if you’re going to start with a single licence, a freshwater licence is the best bet.

Note that different states have different rules on fishing for trout. You might need a trout permit, or, if you’re in a trout park, you’ll need a trout card or tag to legally possess and fish for trout.

This all may sound a little complex, but getting your hands on the appropriate fishing licences and permits is very straightforward. You can purchase your licence for fishing online, normally by searching for the name of your state followed by “fishing licence”. You’ll be taken to a webpage with plenty of information about the types of licence available, and the state’s specific laws for fishing.

Fishing Equipment

You won’t get very far fishing for trout without the right equipment. If you’re a complete beginner, you might want to hire your gear from your local fishing store. This will allow you to try out the hobby one or several times without having to commit to splashing out on everything you need.

The gear you’ll need to fish for trout is:

Your rod is one of the easiest pieces of gear to find. If you’re choosing to buy one, look in tackle and fishing shops, sporting stores, or, for a greater selection, stores online. If you’re a first timer in fishing altogether, it’s a good idea to purchase a pole and a reel in one. This should also have a line spooled in place.

The length of the pole is important when determining what’s best for trout fishing. Typically, a pole of about 6 feet or 7 feet in length is ideal. This should produce medium action, making it a versatile rod should you wish to use it for catching other fish aside from trout.

Brown trout (Salmo trutta) preparing for spawning in small creek
Brown trout (Salmo trutta) preparing for spawning in small creek.

Your tackle is all the equipment you’ll need for fishing. The term encompasses a lot, but floats, weights, reels, hooks, lines, and sinkers are your most important tackle for trout fishing. Again, you can buy these online or at your local fishing and sporting stores.

As a beginner to trout fishing, use a fishing float to keep your bait from embedding in the bottom of a lake or river. You’re also better off looking for a variety pack of multiple-sized hooks. Do the same thing for weights, and you’ll have a better time adjusting to your gear when it comes to the actual fishing.

Your bait can be either artificial (known as lures) or live bait. If you’re using live bait, like worms, grasshoppers, leaches and eggs, you’ll need to check that it’s legal to do so in your state. This information should be readily available online.

Artificial bait is, of course, designed to mimic live bait. Most of these baits have specific scents that attract fish to them in the same way that live bait would. If you choose to buy lures for your trout fishing, look for those that are exclusively made for attracting trout.

There are pros and cons for fishing with live bait and lures, but bait fishing is the recommended method for fishing newbies. It’s also widely agreed that bait fishing is more effective for catching trout than alternative methods.

If you are unsure how about rigging, we recommend trying the Carolina rig or the Texas rig for catching trout.

Trout Fishing Rules and Techniques

If you think you’re ready to get stuck into some actual fishing, there are several things worth considering when it comes to rules and regulations. For a start, when you’re choosing a fishing spot, look for locations where streams or rivers enter lakes – these areas will attract trout because they’ll bring in new food.

You should also look for points in a lake where shallow areas give way to deeper areas. Trout are known to swim around these spots looking for food.

Freshwater vs Saltwater Trout Fishing

Remember that if you want to choose between freshwater and saltwater fishing, you’ll need to have the appropriate fishing licences for both.

You can find both saltwater and freshwater trout, although if you’re new to the hobby, starting with freshwater fishing should be a lot easier. The fish tend to be bigger in freshwater sources, too, so keep that in mind if your goal is to catch trout for your dinner.

Tips for Beginners

Getting out there and giving fishing a go is pretty daunting, but, like all new hobbies, stepping out of your comfort zone is the best way to learn. Once you know the trout fishing basics, be sure to get some practical experience as soon as you can.

Several tips to follow as a beginner to trout fishing include:

1. Know what to look for

When you find your fishing spot, take some time to watch for trout activity beneath the surface of the water. If your water is particularly clear, you’ll be able to see the fish swimming below. If not, look out for trout rising to the surface to feed on insects.

It’s a good idea to find a clear-water area to fish when you first start out. That way, you can lower your bait into the water and watch to see how the trout react to it. Keep in mind, though, that the easier you can see the fish, the easier they can see you.

2. Keep your bait in mind

Most larger trout won’t bother with insects as dietary staples, so keep in mind that the type of bait you use may affect the size of your catch. Big trout look almost exclusively for worms, smaller fish and perhaps some large insects, while smaller trout will take whatever they can get.

Below you'll find a useful video talking about the top five best baits for trout.

3. Check out local fishing maps

If you struggle to see much trout fishing success, find fishing maps in your local area, or speak to the staff at your local fishing store. As a beginner, you want to find highly populated areas of trout that give you the best chance of a catch. You can start to challenge yourself with other areas later on down the line.


Now that you’re stocked up with all the essential trout knowledge, you’re well and truly ready to begin your foray into the world of trout fishing. Be warned, though – trout fishing is an incredibly addictive hobby, and we can’t guarantee that you won’t lose many hours of your life spent at a river or lakeside. We can think of much worse ways to live!

We created a guide to selecting the best spinning reel for trout. You may find this interesting for further reading.

Other "How To Catch" Guides You Must Check Out:

Written by Peter Lechner
Managing Editor
Updated October 3, 2022
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