The secrets to catching trout are pretty simple and easy to learn. Once learned they can basically be repeated at each different lake. Small adjustments can be made in regards to fishing from a boat or shore fishing. Just follow these tips and greatly increase your odds of landing a limit. After you master these skills you can confidently expect to catch fish in any lake they inhabit.
Rod and Reel
I recommend a light action 6-7 foot rod. Light action describes the flexibility of the fishing rod. Light action being kind of a “whippy” rod. This type allows the use of lighter lines which will in turn increase your catch rate. The flexing (bending) of the rod releases pressure from being directly to light line and evenly distributes it through the length of the pole.
Spinning reels rated for 4-6 lb test lines are best to match with a light action rod. Smaller and lighter in weight, they will balance the outfit most comfortably. Rod and reel combos are often the best option when purchasing a new outfit as the manufacturer has often designed one to go with the other.
Lines in the 4-6 lb test are ideal, with low visibility being of the utmost importance. Brands like P-line are really amazing.
Tackle and Lures
Tackle boxes come in all shapes and sizes these days. There are fanny packs, shoulder slings, and huge tool box types, but I personally use a backpack style that uses plastic Plano utility boxes. If you are just starting out, a simple Plano small tackle box is perfect for you. It holds all that you need and is easy to find what you are looking for inside.
No matter the style, there are some basics each tackle box needs. Needle nosed pliers, chain fish stringers, assorted bait hooks, assorted treble hooks, worm inflator, split shot weights and sliding egg sinkers. Some basic lures would include Mepps spinners, Panther Martin Spinners, Kastmasters, small Rapalas, Thomas Buoyant spoons and mini jigs.
The number one bait in the entire trout world is without a doubt Berkley Powerbait. With colors ranging from green to rainbow the choices are endless. My personal time-tested favorite is Powerbait Glitter Trout Bait in garlic flavor. With each fishing trip though, the trout may want a different color or flavor. One time for me it was red, white and blue bubblegum. So grab a few types, but make sure to get some Rainbow garlic flavor.
Salmon eggs are always good to have on hand as well as good old-fashioned night crawlers. Berkley makes every imaginable bait in some form of Powerbait worms, salmon eggs, crabs, shrimp and bait fish. They all work in some form of fishing but Berkley Powerbait Mice Tails are my new favorite for trout. They are available in multiple colors, my preference being pink tail with white head. The Berkley Powerbait Mice Tails are another must have.
Scents and attractants are almost mandatory in murkier waters and greatly increase your bite rate. Bite-On Garlic and Berkley Trout Dip are my two favorites. Available in dips, sprays and gels they are easy to apply and last for many, many fishing trips.
Fishing pole holders have options to choose from. My favorite is the MiniFighter Rod Holder and the Sea Striker Sand Spike. There are some that cost less like the spiral model made by South Bend and the classic adjustable model that has been around forever. If you even just lean it against a tree but I have seen more than a few disappear when a big fish hits.
A comfortable fold up chair is a necessity when lake shore fishing. Get something light and easy to carry yet strong enough to sit in all day. Many come as backpack or shoulder slings. Some have built-in shade or recline for a nap. Find one that is most comfortable for you remembering you will have to get up in a hurry to set the hook. Older people and people with bad backs or knees may not want to have a chair that sits too low.
Let’s Go Fishing
Okay, now you have your gear, your tackle box is packed, and you are ready to go. Where do you want to set up? I like to look for a spot near a deep hole or drop off. Most lakes are reservoirs built into natural canyons. Look for a point that extends down into the lake. Take into account the topography you can see above the water and realize that it most likely continues into the water exactly the same.
Get comfortable and set up your chairs and pole holders (maybe 4-5 feet apart). If allowed, I always use 2 poles as I like to double my odds. Inevitably one pole will catch all of the fish while the other sits motionless. Tie a Carolina rig to one pole and load up the Rainbow Garlic Powerbait. Leave about an 18″ leader (roughly the distance between your elbow and fingertips). Tie a blue and chrome Kastmaster to the other and start casting.
You will want to cast the lure for 10 minutes or so. If there are no strikes, change the lures. When you tire of casting, tie another Carolina rig on the second pole. This time bait up with a Mice Tail. Make sure to flavor both baits up with extra garlic scents. Now cast out, relax, and enjoy the view. Check your baits every 20-30 minutes, changing colors or baits as the day passes. If you see someone else catch one, ask what bait they were using and switch one pole to that if you have it.
A little trick I like to use when shore fishing is called a “keeper.” This is just a red and white bobber attached to an open swivel. I hook it on my line below the lowest eyelet and let it hold down the line. When the trout take the bait the keeper gives very little resistance but allows you the angler to see the bite. Remove the keeper from the line before setting the hook. This trick will enable you to see some of the smaller bites you have missed.
Hookup! Now that you have a fish on the line, make sure that your drag is not too tight or loose. Tighten the drag by turning the very top of the reel to the right and loosen it by turning to the left (righty tighty, lefty loosey). A little line should be able to unwind when the fish makes a run but you also need to be able to bring the fish to shore. When it is time to land your trophy I recommend a long handle net as many fish are lost as they get in shallow to no water. Don’t let the big one get away.
When putting your catch on the stringer, keep it in the net until it is properly secured. I have seen many fish flop around after they slip out of the angler’s hands and swim away. Keeping your catch in the water will help keep it fresh. Putting the trout straight onto ice will keep the meat the freshest.
Boat Fishing on the Lake
Fishing from a boat gives the angler the ability to cover much more water than the shore angler. Many different tactics such as trolling and drifting can be employed. Let me go over my favorite methods:
- Use the same equipment and rigging as when fishing from shore when bait fishing. When fishing from an anchored boat, the techniques are essentially the same. Drop your anchor 50 yards off steep banks or points. Look for deep drop offs near any inlet off water (rivers, creeks, aqueducts). Along the dam off most lakes is usually a consistent spot.
- When fishing from a boat in deeper water, always try a variety of depths. Fish will often be suspended up and down the water column due to different thermoclines which is a fancy word for temperatures. Have you ever jumped in a lake where the top level of water was warm while it was suddenly cold down deeper? Well there you go. Different species like different temperatures.
- Use a split shot weight on the shallow offering. Pinch one or two on depending how deep you are. I would start with a worm and then later a salmon egg but Powerbait will always work. When one depth starts getting more bites, move all baits to that level. That depth should be consistent throughout the lake.
- Trolling is the best method for covering an entire lake. It can be used to locate where fish are and often produces larger fish. My personal best 20 lb trout was caught while trolling. A medium action rod (stiffer) and 6-8 lb test line is recommended for trolling.
- Trolling is done by slowly running the boat while pulling lures behind it. Slowly being the key word. As slow as the boat will go. Needlefish, Rapalas, and Krocodiles are my favorite trolling lures. On murkier lakes use a flasher like Luhr Jensen Cowbells with a needlefish or worm behind it. This setup produces limits on a regular basis.
- To get deeper in the water column let out more line or tie a keel sinker 18″ ahead of lure or cowbell. Colored lead core line is a great option if you committed to trolling but would require a dedicated single outfit. But like I said, trolling is the most consistent method of catching limits and large fish.
- So to start trolling, engage motor at slowest possible speed. Let one lure over the side and watch the action of it in the water. Make sure it is spinning correctly and looks natural, like a fish swimming. Start letting line out quickly but under control. Slowly count to 15 ten turn reel to stop line. Hold or secure the pole at a right angle from boat, trying to keep the line away from the motor. Repeat this process on the other side.
- Generally I only troll 2 lines. Sometimes if the side poles are running deep I will set up a shallow running lure in the back center right above the motor. The problem being that as soon as the fish strike, all lines can quickly become tangled. As a general rule, reel in each line every 20 minutes or so to ensure no tangles or seaweed have fouled up your lure. Also, if it is acting differently check it out as this usually means something is wrong.
- Fish on! Ok, we got one. Now set the hook by pulling back on the rod and start reeling. Keep the tip up and lead fish away from the propeller. Have someone else reel in other lines to prevent messy tangles. Let the fish wear himself out fighting. Again, keeping the tip up, guide the fish to the net, letting it swim into the net. There you go. I like to keep fish on ice when trolling but you can chain them over the side of the boat. Just don’t forget they are there when you change your spot or head in at top speed. Many a day’s work has been lost that way.
- Drifting is similar to trolling but only uses the wind or current. Also, you primarily use baits although I often drift a leadhead/plastic tail combo with great success. Use differing depths and baits to find schools of fish. With both drifting and trolling, if you catch in one spot, go back and fish through there again. That is one of the best tips I can give you. If it works enough times, consider dropping anchor at that spot and fishing until it stops.
So there you have it. A crash course on trout fishing at lakes. These are time-tested and proven techniques that have been working for decades. Most of these skills can be transferred to fishing for other species such as bass and catfish. Even saltwater fishing from the beach or skiffs. Of course the size of tackle and types of baits will change, but once the basic skills are learned you can grow and move forward in becoming a great fisherman/fisherwoman.
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“Perhaps I should not have been a fisherman, he thought. But that was the thing I was born for.” ~ Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea