“Trout fishing.” Just saying the words often brings a smile to the face of a seasoned fisherman.
Maybe that’s because trout fishing is actually two sports, hunting and fishing. The hunting part involves finding and stalking the trout, the fishing part involves getting these sly, wary fish to bite your fly. It’s man against trout and if you have enough skill, you’ll win.
Plus, trout fishing is very visual. You can often see your quarry as he swims to the surface to snatch bugs. Or your fly. And make no mistake, seeing a fish rise above the surface to seize your chosen lure is a sight every angler should experience. And one that will capture your imagination, make your heart beat faster and absolutely keep you coming back for more.
Some anglers fish for trout using spinning reels and conventional rods, but many prefer the challenge of fly fishing.
That’s what we’re talking about here.
Know Your Prey, the Wily Trout
There are a lot of species of trout in North America. Too many to count. Or care about. But the most prevalent varieties are the brook trout, brown trout and rainbow trout.
- Brook Trout – typically range from 6 to 13 inches in length. The world record brookie, caught in 1916, weighed 14 lbs., 8 ozs., and was 31.5 inches long…a size disbelieved by many but verified by the Royal Ontario Museum of Zoology in Toronto. Brook trout thrive in smaller streams, hiding in vegetation, and can also be found in larger lakes of clean waters. Smaller than their cousins, the browns and rainbows, they’re aggressive fish, but easily spooked.
They normally live for around 3 years. They’re most active near dawn and dusk and are likely to retreat to deeper waters or areas with overhead cover…like trees or undercut banks…during the mid-day hours. It appears they’ll eat just about anything that’s not too big, but they’re known to consume primarily insects and also other fish. Native to North America.
- Brown Trout – are the most abundant and most sought after members of the trout family. They typically range from 7 to 14 inches in length, and often reach 8 lbs. The record is 42 lbs., 1 oz. caught in 2013. “Brown trout” is something of a misnomer for most varieties since they’re mainly silver in color, with a white belly. They’re smart, and catching them often requires patience. Your shadow on the water will send them away, and in heavily fished waters, they often become nocturnal and very selective about which food they go after.
They can be found in cold water mountain streams and larger rivers, ponds and lakes. The diet of smaller brown trout includes insects and their larvae, while larger ones have been known to feed on crustaceans, mollusks, rodents, crayfish, frogs and other fish, including brook trout. Which is one of the reasons they tend to crowd brookies out when inhabiting the same body of water. They’ve been known to live up to 13 years of age. Native to Europe and western Asia, they were introduced into New York and Michigan waters in 1883.
- Rainbow Trout – are famous for their aerial acrobatics…the only variety to engage in tail-walking when they’re hooked…and therefore are thrilling to catch. They typically range from 7 to 12 inches in length. The world record Rainbow trout, caught in 2009, weighed 48 lbs. (There is controversy surrounding this catch because it was taken from Canada’s Lake Diefenbaker, where trout genetically engineered to grow extra big escaped from a fish farm…causing skeptics to refer to the fish as “Barry Bonds.”)
Rainbows generally live to be 3-4 years old, sometimes up to 7 years. Unlike brook and brown trout, rainbows prefer open runs where they tend to feed at the surface, tending toward the fast, big water of the whitewater streams. Like other trout, they feed primarily on insects, and larger rainbows will feast on other fish. Since they don’t commonly reproduce in areas that are fishable, their numbers must be maintained by stocking. Rainbow trout are considered native in the North Pacific Ocean, but have been extensively introduced on every continent except Antarctica.
Trout Eat a Lot of Bugs
No artificial offering looks more like a typical bug than a well tied fly. Selecting the fly that will fool even the most skeptical fish can be a challenge. There are three main fly types you should be familiar with: dry flies, nymphs and streamers.
- The Dry Fly – despite the fact that trout feed beneath the surface 80% of the time, fishing with a dry fly is considered by many to be the most enjoyable way to fly fish for trout because it’s so visual. The fly rides on top of the water, imitating an adult insect, just waiting for the fish to come up and grab it off the surface. Dry flies are made by winding a hackle feather (a bird’s neck feather) around the shaft of a hook to get an insect-like look.
- The Nymph – imitates one of the life cycle stages of insects such as the mayfly, caddis, or stonefly. Like the insects it imitates, nymph flies are fished just under the water, usually drifted as naturally as possible with the currents of the stream. The nymph offers an additional challenge as you can’t see the fly because it floats under the water, so detecting when the fish grabs it can be problematic. On the upside, as previously mentioned, trout feed below the surface 80% of the time.
- The Streamer – can imitate any number of things, from a minnow to a large insect larva. Streamers are very popular because most strikes to a streamer tend to be aggressive and explosive as the trout attempts to gobble the fly as quickly as possible so that it doesn’t get away. Along with the nymphs, streamers are very productive. You’ll want to use a heavier weight of tippet when fishing streamers to hold up to the shock of the strike!
Those three are the essential varieties of flies, and within each type there are many, many options for you to choose. Many fishermen revel in creating their own. You can effectively fish for trout with any of them.
Which Fly Rod Will Help Me Catch the Most Trout?
Your choice of rod should be based on the type of fishing situation. We’ll discuss a few of the variables here.
Most of the time, trout fishermen are fly fishing with rods in line weights 3 through 6. There are exceptions of course…like when you’re fishing a high mountain meadow creek or a big Montana river…but we’ll limit our discussion to those particular weights.
- 3-Weight Fly Rods – considered ultra-light, are a good choice for accurately placing small flies using shorter casts while fishing spring creeks for “smart” trout. If you choose a rod around 8-feet, 9-inches to 9-feet long, you’ll get the combination of accuracy and control you want.
- 4-Weight Fly Rods – considered light, are good for use with a variety of flies and for casting up to 45 feet. Use a more compact length, 7-feet, 6 inches, for tight work in small streams lined with brush, or in the backcountry. A longer rod, around 8-feet, 6-inches, will provide a little more power if you’re planning on using a lot of normal-sized dry flies.
- 5-Weight Fly Rods – considered medium-light, are named by many as the most versatile fly rods for trout fishing since they allow both precise placement of small flies, yet can cast larger flies up to 60 feet, even while battling wind. A 9 foot length will serve you well in a wide range of situations.
- 6-Weight Fly Rods – considered medium, are more powerful and will better control heavier flies, streamers and giant dry flies. With a 9 foot, 6 inch fly rod, you’ll be able to deliver large weighted nymphs up to 60 feet, and unweighted flies up to 90 feet.
Is There a Specific Fly Rod Brand or Manufacturer I Should Choose?
In a word, no. The selection of most of the major manufacturers includes rods with lengths and weights that are ideal for the fishing situation you’ve got in mind, so it largely comes down to personal choice.
For instance, Sage Fly Rods offer several rods with design features, weights and lengths focused on fly fishing for trout, like the Trout Spey, Little One, Mod and ESN, for instance. But many other fly rods in the Sage line-up will meet your needs equally well.
You’ll find that’s the case with most of the major fly rod manufacturers. And for each model and each manufacturer, you can find fishermen that swear the rod they use is the “classic of the century,” and others who think using the same rod is like fishing with a pool cue, or with a noodle. It’s all about personal preference.
Share your experience and your sure-fire tips for catching trout below. We’d love to hear from you.