In the man-versus-nature category of activities, fishing ranks as one of the most satisfying challenges. And trout fishing, which requires knowledge of fish habits, stream characteristics and weather patterns, may be the pinnacle of the sport. Perhaps that's why almost 7 million Americans spend 76 million days a year on the hunt for brookies, rainbows, cutthroats and their spotted kin [source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service].
Of those 7 million anglers, not all are trout masters. It's often said that only 10 percent of all fishermen catch 90 percent of all the trout. Those elite 10 percent have more than a deep understanding of fish and stream -- they also have the right equipment. But even that's a challenge beginning anglers must overcome.
Visit any tackle shop or outdoor retailer, and you'll find a dizzying array of trout fishing gear. What are the absolute essentials for successful trout fishing? How do you ensure that you won't venture into the field with either too little to get the job done or too much to carry from vehicle to stream?
These are the questions we're about to answer in our search for the perfect gear for trout fishing. Our focus will be trout fishing with bait and lures. Fly-fishing for trout is a specialty that demands its own article. So, in no particular order, let's get started.
Trout Gear 5: Big Rigs and Small
The popular mantra of real estate -- location, location, location -- is helpful when considering trout fishing rigs. That's because fishing for trout in small streams differs from fishing in large streams or rivers. Small streams have less water, smaller fish and more underbrush, so you'll want an ultralight rod between 4 and 5 feet (1.2 and 1.5 meters) long. A spinning ultralight rig, which combines the short, flexible rod with a reel featuring a fully exposed spool at the front of the reel, will give you the most flexibility in this category. You can buy spinning rods and reels separately, or you can buy a combination, which comes with a rod and reel already prespooled with line. Because trout tend to be "line shy," consider using line in the 2-to-4-pound (0.9-to-1.8-kilogram) test weight category. You might also consider a two-piece rod for easy transport.
Larger streams call for heavier rigs, medium to heavy action, 6 to 7 feet (1.8 to 2.1 meters) long. Spinning outfits are great solutions for this kind of fishing, but spin-casting rigs are also effective. In spin-cast equipment, the line spool is enclosed in a housing mounted to the top of the rod. To cast, you depress a trigger and, as the rod brings the lure forward, release. The line spins off the end of a spool and passes out through a hole in the reel cover. Choose monofilament line in the 6-to-15-pound (2.7-to-6.8-kilogram) class to make sure the line doesn't bunch up inside the cover.
Next, we'll look at what makes the trout bite.
Trout Gear 4: Baits and Lures
Fishing with artificial flies can be rewarding, but the learning curve is smaller with natural bait. Some anglers prefer to find bait near the water they'll be fishing. A little searching can turn up aquatic larvae known as hellgrammites, grasshoppers, grubs, leeches and caddisfly cases. Even small salamanders can be effective. Other fishermen carry in their bait. Nightcrawlers, large earthworms that emerge from the ground at night, are still popular. Secured once with No. 10 to No. 14 regular shank bronze hooks, these worms will stay active and lively for several minutes underwater. Minnows and mealworms can also attract trout.
Prepackaged trout bait is another alternative. Several manufacturers sell bottled salmon eggs, corn pellets and "dough" products. One such product is Berkley PowerBait, which comes in various colors and flavors. Simply mold PowerBait onto your hook, and you're ready to go. You may need to attach a split shot -- a small lead pellet partially cut through its diameter-- approximately 12 inches (30 centimeters) above the hook to make sure you have enough weight to hold the bait down.
Finally, you can opt for an array of artificial lures. Spinners have metal blades that spin as you reel them through the water. They come plain or trimmed with feathers or bucktail. Spoons are concave metal lures that wobble and twist in the water, imitating the motion of baitfish. Plugs also imitate small baitfish. They're small, light lures, usually made from balsa wood or plastic.
After the right bait comes the right boot, another fishing essential for the serious angler.
Trout Gear 3: Waders and Boots
Most successful trout fishermen have a little Lewis and Clark in them. They scout the rivers they fish, searching bed and bank for the best locations to snag a wary brook or rainbow trout. Often, an angler can effectively reach these locations from the bank. But inevitably, a trip into the water is required, which is why most trout fishermen invest in waders.
You have two choices here. Hip waders are typically made of vulcanized rubber and completely cover the legs, up to the tops of the thighs or all the way up to the waist. They come in stocking-foot or boot-foot designs. Boots have cleated lug soles for maximum traction while working the water. Chest waders, as their name implies, come up high on the chest and back, with adjustable suspenders to keep them secure. You can get both types of waders with polyester fleece insulation to keep you warm when fishing in cooler weather.
If waders seem like overkill, consider a wading boot. A 17-inch (43-centimeter) rubber knee boot with a tight ankle fit will keep your feet dry and will stay locked on even in swampy conditions. Some anglers prefer ankle-high boots because they're less restrictive. There are several designs available, including convertibles that allow you to change from rubber-lug sole to plain-felt sole or vice versa depending on the stream conditions.
Of course, it takes more than a good pair of boots to dress for success. Vests and hats are up next.
Trout Gear 2: Vests and Hats
The fishing vest is practically synonymous with trout fishing. That's because vests are just as functional as tackle boxes without the drawbacks. They ensure that your hands remain free, and they keep all of your equipment within reach, no matter how far up- or downstream you roam. Not only that, a good vest holds almost as much as a tackle box.
Most trout fishing vests are made of cotton fabric or a cotton/polyester blend and feature up to 20 or so pockets to hold hooks, slip shot, artificial lures and more. The pockets should have secure zipper or Velcro closures to make sure nothing falls out as you navigate a waterway. An assortment of D-rings is also important. A good vest will usually come with two or three D-rings on the front and one D-ring on the back to secure a landing net. A soft foam collar and neoprene padding in the neck and shoulders can make carrying a loaded vest much more comfortable.
Finally, don't underestimate the value of a good hat and sunglasses. Most great anglers are careful observers. They must be able to spot rocks, logs, feeding fish and other activity beneath the surface of the water. A brimmed hat or a baseball cap, combined with polarized sunglasses, reduces glare considerably and enables you to keep on eye on the trout and their environment.
Better vision usually results in more fish. Up next, we'll cover what trout fishing gear you need to land those fish and get them home.
Trout Gear 1: Nets and Creels
When buying a trout net, you need to consider several factors: the distance across the hoop, or bow, of the net; the length of the handle; the depth of the net; and the material and mesh size of the net itself. The traditional trout fishing net was constructed of maple wood and came with an 8-inch (20-centimeter) handle and three-quarter-inch (1.9-centimeter) nylon mesh. Today, aluminum often replaces the wood, and a wider selection of features give anglers more choice. For example, an Ed Cumings aluminum model has a 10-inch (25-centimeter) handle and a 12-by-16-inch (30-by-41-centimeter) bow but still uses three-quarter-inch nylon mesh for the net.
Unfortunately, standard thin-mesh nets aren't good for catch-and-release fishing, which most anglers practice. Thin-mesh nets often compromise a trout's protective slime coat and can damage caudal fin rays. To alleviate these problems, several manufacturers now offer rubber trout nets. These products feature a one-piece seamless bag made of molded thermoplastic mesh that expands naturally to fit a fish's size and weight. They also have a flat bottom panel to support the entire length of the catch. This reduces the stress on the fish and, ultimately, the number of trout that die after being released.
For transporting the day's catch home, a creel is the time-honored solution. Many fishermen still prefer traditional split-willow creels, but more are choosing canvas creels, which take up less room and are easier to carry. And some anglers forgo the creel together, opting instead for stainless steel or plastic stringers.
Now go catch yourself some fish.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Barrett, Peter. "In Search of Trout." Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1973.
- Bell, Jack. "6 Hot Spinners For Northeast Springtime Trout." Game and Fish Magazine. March 1, 2007. (Nov. 10, 2008)http://www.gameandfishmag.com/fishing/RA_0307_05/index.html
- Field & Stream. "Fish Finder: Brook Trout Statistics and Physical Traits." (Nov. 10, 2008)http://www.fieldandstream.com/animal.jsp?l=&ID=91&type=stat
- Greenfield, David W. "Trout." World Book Multimedia Encyclopedia. 2004.
- Hoffman, Justin. "Discover the Joy of Small-Stream Trout." Bass Pro Shops OutdoorSite Library. (Nov. 10, 2008)http://www.basspro.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/CFPage?storeId=10151&catalogId=10001&langId=-1&&mode=article&objectID=29247&cat=Fishing&subcatID=27&objectType=article
- Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "Basic Trout Fishing Tactics." (Nov. 10, 2008)http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/areas/fisheries/crystalsprings_hatchery/basic_tactics.html
- Netherby, Steve, ed. "The Experts' Book of Freshwater Fishing." Simon and Schuster. 1974.
- NJ Dept. of Environmental Protection, Division of Fish and Wildlife. "Trout Fishing Facts and Information." (Nov. 10, 2008)http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/pdf/trout_facts.pdf
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation." November 2007. (Nov. 10, 2008) http://wsfrprograms.fws.gov/Subpages/NationalSurvey/2006_Survey.htm