Here’s how to find the best trout waters plus some simple strategies to up your odds for success on opening day.
There is a misconception that fly-fishing has taken over trout fishing and that if you’re not toting a whippy seven-foot rod and looking to place a size-16 elk-hair caddis delicately on the surface without making a ripple, you’re not worthy of the stream. That’s silly. Trout fishing can be enjoyed in many forms and with the season just beginning in many states, now is the time to cash in on the opening day action. Best of all, trout waters are often one of the most underutilized resources available.
As an example, a couple of years ago my buddies and I stumbled on a few brook trout streams in northern Wisconsin while bowhunting for deer. We’ve fished them nearly every month of the season since and have almost never run into another angler. It seems as if all of the lakes and larger interior rivers soak up most of the pressure, and the knee-deep trout streams are largely left untapped.
This isn’t the case everywhere, of course. And even if it is where you live, there is still the necessity to find decent water. This starts with a bit of research, whether you’re looking to fish by yourself for an afternoon or take a couple of youngsters out for their first trout-fishing adventure. Here’s how to find the best trout waters near you along with some simple strategies for anyone interested in catching a few trout for fun or the frying pan.
How you can access rivers and streams for opening day varies widely by state, so you need to understand the laws before setting out. Some states are very angler- and public-access friendly when it comes to moving water, while others are not so inclined. Generally, if you have trout streams (especially a concentration of trout streams), in your area, there will either be easements or some other access programs in place. In some areas, trout haunts flow their way through vast tracts of public land, which are open to anyone.
To find good trout waters, start with the state game agency’s website where you want to fish. Simply search for the trout section on their website. Most of them have all of the rules and regulations in place, along with interactive stream maps. These will show which streams are open to access and what kind of access is available. Step Outside’s own interactive fishing map is another good source for those searching for great places to wet a line, as is Trout Unlimited’s map.
Attention to detail is important during this step, especially if you plan to take youngsters with you for the trout opener. Wild, deep-in-the-wilderness streams with overhanging brush and plenty of streamside obstacles might not work so well for six-year olds. But, you might also find a stream that meanders through a pasture (or a city park) that allows easy access, easy casting, and a more pleasant fishing experience.
You don’t need to be an angling expert to catch trout but knowing some of the basics will help you get into the action more quickly. Trout generally live in clear water, which means you’ll want to consider how you present your lures and bait. Monofilament line in the four- to eight-pound category will work just fine, as does fluorocarbon line, which disappears even more readily in the water than mono.
Spool up a spinning reel and mount it on a six - or six-and-half foot medium-action rod, and you’ll be good to go. Six-foot-plus rods might seem like overkill for catching 10-inch fish, but they’re not. You’ll be trying to cast small, lightweight lures as far as possible, and the extra leverage a longer rod provides is a major benefit.
Quick tip: Polarized sunglasses are a must for trout fishing. They reduce surface glare and allow you to see into the water much better than with the naked eye.
As far as a simple fishing strategy, the best bet for not spooking fish is to work upstream and retrieve your lures or let your bait float back toward you downstream. The trout will be actively looking upstream for food to come down the current toward them, so you’ll spook fewer fish with this approach and your presentations will look much more natural.
Where to Fish: Generally speaking, even during peak feeding times in the mornings and evenings, the deeper and faster the water, the better. If you see a set of rapids that dumps into a deeper run, you’ll probably find fish. The same goes for river and creek bends where the current has undercut the bank. Trout love having overhead cover and some depth to work with, so consider this when you’re trying to read the water.
Quick tip: Cloudy days are usually best for spin fishing trout action, while blue skies and bright sunlight are often the slowest.
Baits: The simplest way to catch fish is to pick up a dozen nightcrawlers and float them downstream into the deeper holes. If you can get away with using a small hook and maybe only a single split-shot sinker, your presentation will drift through naturally. Watch your line for a twitch or a jump and get ready. Just be sure the waters you want to fish allow bait to be used for trout fishing.
Lures: If you prefer artificial lures, you’ll see plenty of options using small spinners, crankbaits and jig/twister tail combinations. Classics include in-line spinners, like Panther Martins, spoons, like the original red-and-white Dardevles and stickbaits, like floating Rapala’s, that imitate baitfish. All will work but remember that trout are meat eaters and they don’t necessarily shy away from larger lures. In fact, sometimes it can be better to buck the typical trend and either downsize your lures from average-sized offerings or upsize them to lures more typically associated with walleye or bass fishing.
Match and Catch: It’s also important to remember that the flashy lures that might litter the deck of a typical bass boat will be too gaudy for most stream-dwelling rainbow or brown trout. Subdued natural colors, like black and gold or black and silver are good choices. The trout in your neighborhood creek are probably eating young chubs, shiners, suckers and other trout, none of which will be too colorful in the minnow stage. Try to match your lures to what the fish are most likely eating and you’ll have better success.
It’s almost viewed as a crime to keep and kill a trout in some fishing circles, but that’s a holdover from when a lot of our streams weren’t as healthy as they are now. If you want to eat a few fish in most places, you shouldn’t feel guilty about that.
You should, however, check the regulations. Trout limits vary by state, species, stream and timing of the season. Before you slip a 12-inch brown into your creel, make sure it’s perfectly legal to do so. Many states have catch-and-release seasons, while some bodies of water don’t allow any fish to be taken.
The same advice applies to what type of lures and baits you use. Some streams are under barbless hook regulations, while others might stipulate the use of only one hook (no crankbaits or jerkbaits). This may sound daunting, but it’s not. Oftentimes, in addition to the regulations being readily available online, there will be signs posted at public access points that will outline individual-water regulations.
Trout fishing is simply fun. It’s fun on the opener, and even more fun as the season progresses for a few weeks and the crowds die down. If you’re into taking kids fishing, or simply want to spend a few hours trying to catch a couple of brookies for the frying pan, there are many options out there just waiting for you.
About the Author: Tony J. Peterson has written hundreds of articles for over two dozen national and local publications. Although he covers topics related to all forms of hunting and fishing, his passion lies in do-it-yourself bowhunting for whitetail deer and western big game. Peterson is an accomplished outdoor photographer and currently serves as the Equipment Editor for Bowhunter magazine and Bowhunter TV.