How to Find Trout
Whether you are trying to learn more about the trout streams you call your home water, or are exploring the unknown on a fly fishing adventure, know how to find trout is essential to your success. Whether it is using a tool or app to locate and research water before your fishing trip or analyzing your situation while on the stream, being prepared can save you time and money during your travels. This guide on how to find trout will put you in front of the trout faster so you can begin to decode the puzzle on how to get them in the net.
Best Tools and Apps for Find Trout
The hunt for trout doesn't just begin on the water. Savvy anglers know to do their research at home on the couch before hitting the water. Whether your research is simply finding fishing reports, old articles, or exploring on google maps, these resources will give you an idea of what to expect on your journey. Before each trip I do each of these things to better understand what I am up against. From personal experience, I would recommend not placing too much value on current reports as they can become outdated quickly, especially during the shoulder months when the
weather can change quickly. I would also check dates on any articles you find during your search to make sure they too aren't outdated and discussing how a trout stream was rather than it's current state.
While google maps and google earth can give you an idea on stream access and places to camp or visit on your trip, there are several apps that can be of more help when scouting the area. Apps such as OnX, All Trails, and Cairn are great for finding trail access, campgrounds and the best routes to take to get to your destination river. A better App has come along in recent years and will improve anglers ability to explore trout streams. Trout Routes allows you to explore your river, creek, or stream of choice just like you would on google as well as many of the surrounding trails, campgrounds and access points you would find on OnX, All Trails, and Cairn. The added advantage to Trout Routes, is anglers can actively see public land access markers, stream regulations, as well as areas where trout are stocked during the season. This can be incredibly helpful as many anglers struggle to find public streams in certain regions of the country as access can differ with each states private land regulations. The app allows users to download target areas and use the app offline while on the water, which can bring added confidence to anglers worrying whether or not they may be trespassing. Another valuable tool for anglers exploring the backcountry is a reliable GPS device. While many phones will give a relative idea on your location, tools like the Garmin, InReach can provide an extra source of comfort for anglers roughing it through the back country who may find themselves in trouble. The gps provides a very accurate location as well as the ability to send messages in case of emergency or to communicate with others in your group.
The last tool anglers should use before they venture out is the website of the local DNR or Wildlife Agency in the state they will be fishing. These sites will not only publish any trout stocking information, but provide up to date information on closures to fisheries, forestry roads, and campgrounds. Many will have articles on individual rivers and the trout species that inhabit the waters as well as any regulations or guidelines you may need to follow.
Where to Find Trout on Rivers and Streams
Knowing where to find trout, salmon, and char all begins with asking a few questions. What species are you looking for? Are you looking for stocked or wild trout? Are you fishing a large river, small stream, or in a stillwater lake/pond? The answers to these questions will point you in the right direction on where to start looking.
Finding Wild and Stocked Trout
After learning whether the piece of water you're visiting contains stocked, wild, or a mix of both from the local DNR website you can use specific methods to identify the best holding water for the trout. Stocked trout are typically the easiest to find for beginning anglers and those exploring new waters.
Finding Stocked Trout
Spending the beginning of their lives in hatchery raceways, stocked trout become very accustomed to the knee deep 3'wide "stream" with slower than walking pace water. It is know wonder once these trout are stocked in the local rivers and creeks, they seek out a similar environment to that which they were reared. The first tip is to identify where trout are stocked. Bridges, easy road access adjacent to the stream, and stocking tubes are giveaways to where trout are dumped into the river. Stocked trout tend to be on the dumb and lazy side so a safe bet is that they wont move far from these areas within the first week after being stocked unless there is a major flooding event. On small creeks anglers can look for the areas with slower, but still steady, current with knee to thigh high water and find trout. Identifying these places doesn't take too much effort as they won't be difficult to find during the stocking season. Trout will hold in these areas until they are pushed out by anglers or predators and forced to find cover. If they survive the the first several weeks the will begin to use the creeks much like wild trout. They will continue to gravitate toward slower water areas but position them selves closer to faster water where food availability is more abundant. After several months or even up to a year the surviving trout have become fully acclimated to their new environment and behave just like wild trout.
Finding Wild Trout
Time of year is everything when identifying wild trout water. While trout will use just about every piece of water in any given stream at some point during the year, each season will see trout utilizing certain portions of the stream more than others. In the coldest days of winter, many trout will congregate in the deeper and slower pools. Here they are often lethargic and wait for improving conditions before they begin to look for food. Deeper is a relative term and can differ for each stream. In larger rivers deep may be any hole 10 to 15 feet with little current, or 2-3 feet deep in a small creek where a boulder or depression slows the water. During this time of year, fishing can certainly be slow but if you manage to find one of these places with trout, you can be assured they will be there in good numbers. During warming trends in the winter months, trout will slide back in the slower water pools and feed more actively toward the rear of the pool. When trout are positioned in these areas they will be much more willing to take your fly. Into Spring, anglers will begin seeing more of this behavior until the water warms up enough to see the first major hatches of the year or enough aquatic insect movement that will encourage trout to move into more productive water. Seams between fast and slow water are often the most productive areas for trout as they can maximize their caloric uptake while minimizing their energy output. During the times of year when insect abundance is at it's peak (typically in late spring/early summer and again in the fall), trout will even move into the fast water riffles that require the most energy to maintain their position but are rewarded with a bountiful food source. Summer sees trout moving in between all of these locations mentioned during different periods of the day depending on food availability. During times of inactivity, targeting slower seams and pools is often the best option. When you begin to see insect activity increase, looking for the seams close to faster water, the tailouts of long pools, and shallow water riffles will be the most productive.
While these patterns of movement are a good rule of thumb when trying to find trout when they are relating to food, they can fall apart when trout make their seasonal spawning runs. Many members and the trout family will make seasonal runs upstream to find the best spawning areas where they can plant the seeds for future generations. Members of the trout and char species will spawn in spring or fall when the days begin to get shorter or longer. These seasonal movements are first dictated by the photoperiod (hours of daylight) but often triggered by rainfall or pulses of higher water. Rainfall in the fall months and snowmelt in the spring can begin to move trout upstream. During these periods anglers can find trout using certain holding water during their prespawn period much like their anadromous salmon relatives. While making these journeys trout tend to gravitate to areas with slower water below shoals or other faster water areas where they need higher water to traverse. They will hold in similar water types below the gravel flats and shallower runs in which they plan to spawn. Finding these areas can be incredibly productive in the weeks or even month leading up to the trout going on redds as they will be feeding opportunistically during this time. Following the spawn, the trout will use these same holding areas to recover as they make their way down to their normal haunts.
Finding Brown Trout
Brown trout have tendencies that hold true within most of the rivers and streams they reside. Typically brown trout prefer slower water that the rainbow trout many anglers are use to targeting. Overhanging banks and laydown woods provide great cover for brown trout. While they will certainly move to the faster water seams and riffles during periods of heavy bug activity, brown trout will be found lounging in the areas with lower light/shade during times of inactivity. Brown trout are notorious for being selective about what they eat, so matching what is currently on their menu can be critical for success. Rejections should mean a quick fly change until you find what works. Alongside being choosy eaters, brown trout are known for changing their diets and becoming more carnivorous than their rainbow trout cousins once they have reached are certain size. This allows them to grow more quickly and take advantage of different food sources within the river. These browns will stalk and ambush other river residents during periods of low light. Their behavior at this stage is more
similar to predator cousins in the bull trout and taimen. The switch to a piscivorous diet tends to happen quicker for brown trout in stillwater lakes and ponds. Understanding these larger browns can be much different than the smaller browns grazing on aquatic insects. Don't think these large browns still wont eat insects as well. When plentiful hatches begin, they won't get bigger by passing up on the opportunity at an easy meal. Many of these generalizations hold true for the brown trout's closer relatives in Europe and around the Mediteranean such as the Marble Trout and Abant Trout.
Finding Rainbow Trout
Rainbow Trout will use every type of water on the stream. Ever the opportunists, fishing areas with or near faster water will often put anglers around the most aggressive trout looking actively looking for food. Though they don't use these areas of the stream at all times these areas are great for finding a quick bite in any time of year except the coldest months of winter. There will always be rainbows hanging around in pools where deeper water provides cover, but these trout will be more choosy than those in faster water. Relatives of the rainbow such as the Gila trout of the southwestern United States and Cherry Salmon/Trout of Japan have similar habits to the Rainbow and occupy similar areas within a stream. In still water, rainbows continue to graze on aquatic insects and other small invertebrates such as mysis shrimp and daphnia that suspend in lakes and ponds. While they
may not go out of their way to eat smaller fish species they share the river with, they will be opportunistic when sculpins or fry are present and vulnerable. Steelhead make the conversion to a piscivorous diet more quickly once they reach salt water.
Finding Brook Trout
Brook Trout occupy different types of water from the southern extent of their range in the southeastern United States, to the northernmost populations in Canada. Brook trout are limited to the high elevation creeks of southern Appalachia where the water is pristine and much cooler throughout the year. Here they don't grow to the larger sizes you see to the north and behave more similarly to brown trout. The brookies in these smaller waters will be more cover oriented and find shelter in undercuts, larger boulders, and wood cover that can shelter them from the dangers above. In the smaller water, brook trout will be very spooky but are willing to eat a variety of flies when undisturbed.
Moving northward to New England, Canada, and the Great Lakes region, brook trout can be found in larger waters. While they live in only small streams with the best water quality in the southeast, small dirty water ditches and creeks dammed by beavers provide good habitat in northern drainages. Trout here tend to gravitate toward the slower waters but will move closer to the faster water when insects are abundant. In stillwater ponds and lakes brook trout can grow even larger as they will patrol the shallow littoral zone for insects. In the small ponds of the Northeastern United States and Canada, as well as the alpine lakes found in the Rockies, Cascades, and Sierras, brook trout will feed heavily during the warmer months. While they tend to patrol these still waters for food, the outlets of these ponds and lakes as well as any feeder creeks or streams entering will be hot spots to find larger numbers of trout.
Finding Cutthroat Trout
Cutthroat Trout use similar types of area to that of rainbow trout for majority of the year. Locating which section of rivers these cutthroat occupy can be very different depending on what region of the united states you are fishing. Many small rivers and streams where cutthroat were once native have had other trout species such as rainbow trout and brown trout introduced. These introductions often pushed cutthroat into the smaller headwater streams of the watersheds as they are not able to compete with these other species for critical habitat. The southern rockies in Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah see these conditions.
The opposite can be true in the pacific northwest where sea run cutthroat come and go from the lower portions of the coastal rivers and tributaries. These cutthroat often follow the salmon into the rivers during their run and feed on roe and whatever else they can find in the river until their spawn in the late winter and spring.
Finding Lake Trout
Lake Trout, also known as togue or mackinaw, can be one of if not the toughest of the trout, char and salmon species to land on the fly. Their affinity for deep dark waters is not ideal for fly fishing so opportunities are limited to say the least. There are two times when anglers can target these trout in shallower water. The first time of year to target these lake trout are the few weeks after ice off when they will patrol the perimeter of the lake looking for an easy meal and warmer water, more oxygenated water. Once the spring turnover is complete they will head back to the depths where they will stay until the late fall or early winter when the move back into shallow water to spawn. During both of these movements to the shallows, Lake trout rarely stray too far from the nearby depths. Rocky shoals and points will hold staging trout
during these times. Bluff banks and channel swings are frequently located by patrolling lakers looking for an easy meal. The lowlight hours are the best time to find the lake trout patrolling these areas as well as overcast days.
Bull Trout and Dolly Varden
Bull Trout and Dolly Varden are close char relatives. The anadromous varieties of each species have very similar life history strategies that revolve around the salmon runs. Some bull trout however, can spend their entire lives in the river, and have similar habits to that of large brown trout. When juveniles, small bull trout will feed mostly on insect nymphs much like other trout. Once they grow to a big enough size, they will start targeting fry, alevin, smolt, whitefish, and even cutthroat trout. Anglers targeting these larger bull trout must cover larger expanses of water as their density typically isn't high. Anglers can find these bullies in deeper holes during periods of low activity, then stalking smaller fish in shallower water when conditions are right in high water or low light periods.