How to Catch Stocked Trout

Catching stocked trout is a fun way to spend a morning and afternoon.  Even better when you’re catching fish! This article will discuss little known facts about the habits of stocked trout. Understanding the habits of the fish you are trying to catch will help you catch them.  Important highlights are what trout eat, what triggers them to strike a lure, at what depth they swim at, how they react when freshly planted and how they behave after some time has passed. Knowing these facts will help you catch stocked trout.

What do stocked trout eat?
Stocked trout are accustomed to eating brown food pellets. They don’t generally know to eat anything else. If you cut open the stomach of a stocked trout it is very likely that you will find things like brown leaves, parts of acorns, and bits of twigs. The one thing in common to all of these stomach contents is that they are brown and arrived in the water after having been blown into it. Quite likely the twig or bit of leaf floated in the wind and splashed down on the water. This matches the feeding pattern of stocked trout: they are accustomed to brown pellets splashing down over them. For trout, during the first couple weeks after having been planted in a lake, food is something brown that splashes into the water.

Trout identify food with patterns
This leads to an important point about how trout (and most fish) identify food. Fish identify food by matching patterns. A pattern can be the size of the bait or lure, the color of the bait or lure, the way the bait/lure was presented to them (for example, by a splashdown or a “fleeing”  motion that triggers an instinctual chase response). These are all patterns. Understanding that trout identify food by their pattern will help you in your selection of lure and the way it is presented. Always keep this in mind: trout are looking for patterns.

An interesting pattern is their association of food with brown things thrown at them by humans. This is why freshly stocked trout do not shy away from humans the way wild trout do.  This is also why sometimes freshly stocked trout can easily be caught by casting a dropshot plastic worm at a school of trout. The dropshot artificial worm gives the presentation the trout associate with food (a human casting food at them), combined with the instinctual trigger of a fleeing bait. Fish, like many other animals, have an instinctual trigger to chase down something that is fleeing. Casting a dropshotted three inch plastic worm can work insanely well for catching freshly stocked trout. I have even caught stocked trout by quickly jigging back a slip sinker rigged PowerBait worm.

Stocked brown trout & brook trout
Patterns can also work against you. For example, even though a worm is brown and is generally considered food, a freshly stocked rainbow trout will sometimes not recognize it as food,  probably because it isn’t splashing down. It takes time for them to figure it out.

This isn’t true for stocked brown trout and brook trout.  Brown trout & brook trout respond better to the instinctual trigger of a fleeing bait that is presented by an inline spinner, minow shaped lure or a casting spoon.  Brown trout also more readily associate a worm with food than a stocked rainbow trout. A meal worm or a hook laden with squirming little worms will trigger an enthusiastic lunge from a brown trout or a brook trout. On the other hand, brown trout and brook trout aren’t easily caught with artificial worms or trout dough. If trout dough or artificial worms stop working, switch out to lures with a fleeing bait action, especially if all those around you that are using dough and artificial worms suddenly stop catching.

Freshly planted trout
Notice how I keep repeating the phrase, freshly planted? When you read that phrase, please take it to mean that what I’m writing doesn’t necessarily hold true for trout that have been planted a month or more previously. A rainbow trout that has been in the lake or river for a few weeks will respond to real food like a worm.

How stocked trout behave
Freshly stocked trout tend to swim in schools.  If you are at a stocked reservoir, pond or river and see schools of trout swimming by, odds are that the lake has recently been recently stocked. Schooling is a behavior that comes from habit. Trout are raised in long oval shaped pools about two feet high. There is an artificial current in it and they tend to swim in circles, often counter clockwise.  There is also netting above their pools to prevent birds of prey from swooping down on them.

The above is important information to know. It explains the behavior of trout after they’re planted. Stocked trout tend to keep close to shore, perhaps seeking the comfort of the edge they had been used to from being in the pool.  They also tend to prefer swimming about eighteen inches from the surface or eighteen inches from the bottom. This means that if you are going to float a fishing fly or other bait under a bobber, rigging the lure about eighteen inches below the bobber is a good start. This is true when the temperature of the water is optimal. When it starts to get warmer or time passes, trout tend to hover about eighteen inches to two feet above the bottom of the lake, often just a short cast from shore. If you’re fishing a sliding slip sinker rig and are not sure at what depth the trout are holding at, start at twelve inches for one pole and eighteen inches for another pole. Then gradually increase the length up to about two feet.

The thing about trout swimming counter clockwise is also important, particularly to anglers who are trolling bait. If you want to trigger an instinctual chase response, try circling your boat or kayak in a counter clockwise direction, that way your lure will pass them from behind. If you are drifting bait with a current, particularly in a river, then the natural movement is casting upstream and allowing the bait to float and tumble downstream to where the stocked fish are holding.

How stocked trout behave after time has passed
After time has passed, rainbow trout begin to regain instinctual behavior such as shyness, staying close to the bottom, feeding on insects and relating to structure. Examples of structures that fish seek are steep drops from shallow to deep, boulders, underwater trees, underwater currents, breaks in currents that create an area of calm water, shade etc. After time has passed, a rainbow trout will be able to be caught with lures with lively action and live bait.  Stocked brook trout and brown trout consistently respond to movement, the action of a lure, as well as to the size.

What flies to use when fishing for stocked trout
For fly fishing, flies such as the Cove Pheasant Tail, brown Wooly Bugger, natural colored Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear fly, AP Emerger and other similar nymph type flies will take trout. I think it’s because, combined with the way they are presented in stillwater (i.e. lakes and ponds) they resemble the general profile of trout food. Both the Cove Pheasant Tail fishing fly and the AP Emerger are well regarded flies for stillwater, with the Cove having been created specifically for stocked trout in reservoirs. In my opinion it’s no coincidence they resemble in color, size and presentation the general profile of trout pellets splashing down, particularly when two or three flies are tied in tandem.

What stickbait lures to use to catch stocked trout
Minnow shaped lures from two inches to just over three inches work well for catching stocked brook trout, rainbow trout, and brown trout. Two to two and a half inches is the general sweet spot. Color is generally important insofar as calling attention to itself. There are situations when bright colors might spook fish, such as in clear water, but in general colors such as firetiger, white, pink, transluscent pink,  gold and transluscent gold will all work well. Colors like firetiger are especially useful during overcast or murky water conditions. Translucent colors (see-through) are great for trolling or retrieving the lure near the top during bright sun/clear water conditions. If I had to pick just two minnow shaped lures, a two and half inch lure in firetiger and transluscent pink would be my choice for stocked trout. But really it’s the action, the depth, and the speed that catches the fish. The lure color mostly serves just to catch the trouts attention. Rapala and Mirashads by Owner work well trolled in reservoir lakes. Rapala minnow shaped lures and DynamicLures HD Trout work well in rivers and brooks. These aren’t the only good brands. There are many. Those are just a few of my favorites that I have had success with, two well known and the other (HD Trout) better known in Colorado than elsewhere.

Spoons work great on stillwater
The Thomas Buoyant in gold, either all gold, gold-red or with spots, is a popular color, particularly for brown trout. Acme Kastmasters and Johnson Splinter spoons in the 1/4 ounce size work well too. Gold is a good color to use when the sun is out. Another color that catches rainbow trout on sunny days is silver/blue.  Not so good when the skies are overcast because there is no sunshine to create a fish attracting flash.  In overcast weather and less then crystal clear water switch to a brighter flourescent color such as Firetiger.  The only reservation I have with the Kastmasters is that I (and many other anglers) have experienced lost fish due to fish shaking off. This happens often with Kastmasters and if you don’t believe me search your favorite fishing forum and see how many anglers complain about this problem. I prefer to switch the treble hooks out for something reliable like an Owner Stinger 36  treble hook (ST-36BC) in a size 8. There are many other high quality hooks, so don’t obsess about it. The important thing is to not get the extra strong type hooks because they are thicker and this could lead to a more difficult hook set. The thinner the diameter of the hook, the easier it cuts.


Inline spinners
Inline spinners work well in moving water. They work in stillwater too. The way they work is through the vibrations sent out by the spinning blade. It’s felt by the fish’s lateral line, a line down the middle of their sides that they use to locate prey. Examples of inline spinners are the Panther Martin lures, Mepps, Blue Fox, and the Rooster Tail. The first three feature a kind of blade that spins nicely on slow retrieves (French blade), which will allow you to get down close to the bottom where the trout are often holding. The shape of the Rooster Tail blade makes it ideal for burning it back to shore, i.e. reeling it in quickly to work the top part of the water column, for fish that are holding eighteen inches from the top. In fact, the Rooster Tail blade doesn’t spin as well if you reel it in slowly.  Don’t obsess on colors. Gold blade, nickel blade, copper blade, firetiger/fluourescent colored blades, and black blades all work well. The body can be pretty much anything. I know many anglers swear by certain colors and I agree that for different water conditions the color may be more visible. When I choose to use an inline spinner, I usually choose it by the blade color. That’s just me. But you’ll save a lot of money and spend more time fishing if you avoid obsessing over colors.

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What color PowerBait Dough?
There are many colors to choose from. Just keep in mind that white is a color that can be seen regardless of depth, regardless of how sunny or overcast the weather and without regard to whether the water is clear or murky. If you can only choose one color, white is the best color to choose because of how visible it is- and getting your bait noticed is one of the important keys to catching fish with dough since dough does not have fish attracting action. Other colors can be useful too, such as fluorescents for overcast days and pretty much anything for clear water. Perhaps just as important as color is how light your hook is (will it float when smeared in trout dough?), making sure your bait ball isn’t too big, floating it at the right depth and casting it not too far from shore (although sometimes a long cast is necessary). These are rigged using a slip sinker rig.

PowerBait Mice Tails
These are worm shaped rubbery lures that have a round “head” in a contrasting color. White, pink, and orange are top fish catching colors for me. Haven’t had the need to experiment with brown but that might be a good color, ha! Feel free to experiment finding your own best colors. These are also fished using a slip sinker rig. That said, anything fished with a slip sinker rig can also be rigged without a leader line and simply crimping on a split shot so that  you can quickly change fishing depth. The downside of the split shot is line twist which can end up causing birds nests at your spinning reel, as well as the theoretical creation of a weak spot where the split shot is crimped, although that has not been a problem for me.

If you have any questions please contact me. I would be more than happy to write a post anwering your questions!

Have a great time catching fish!

Roger

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