Learning how to fish for Trout in a lake is different than in a river or stream. Many lakes are stocked with Trout, and some even hold native populations. These lakes offer an amazing Trout angling opportunity that can rival productive rivers and streams, as their forage and climate often produce larger and more abundant populations. However, Trout behavior in lakes, ponds and reservoirs is different than in their moving water habitats. Different conditions and feeding patterns require different Trout fishing tactics and techniques. Locating Trout, applying the right tactic, and presenting your bait effectively are the most important factors to a successful Trout fishing trip in open water.
How to Find Trout in Open Water
Learning how to fish for Trout in a lake with a lot of open water is a daunting task, but it is worth the effort. Once you can locate Trout, a pattern emerges and your catch quantity will sky rocket. Due to their moving-water nature, Trout are constantly roaming like sharks. Trout are independent and don’t typically school for protection or predation, rather they naturally amass in ideal conditions. To constantly stay moving and feed actively, Trout need cold, oxygenated water that is rich enough to hold forage.
A reservoir style lake often sports inlets and outlets of rivers or streams that introduce fresh sources of cold water. Inflows/outflows are most active in Spring and Fall, and are your primary location when fishing a reservoir. Lakes may not have moving water, but the cold months are still the most active times. During Spring and Fall, Trout cruise the near-shore transitions of lakes. Fish along the shore where drop offs and ledges are accessible by casting. In the summer months, Trout will seek deeper water for colder temperatures, but not so deep that the pressure exacerbates them. In large bodies of water, Trout hold to the thermocline, which is a gradient layer in the water column where cold water meets warm water and mixes nutrients and oxygen. This layer is generally located in the bottom two-thirds of the water column. For example, 5-10 ft. off the bottom in 30 ft. of water or 20-30 ft. off the bottom in 80 ft. of water. Unlike reservoirs and lakes, ponds are limited in terms of inflow, temps and structure. Simply target the deepest basin of a pond year round.
Shoreline Bait Rigs for Trout
Fishing for Trout in lakes without a boat is a challenge because the range of depth you can target is limited. However, Trout focused bait rigs help you cast your bait further and target various sections of the water column that hold Trout based on present conditions. During the colder months, water temperatures are low and allow Trout to feed on the surface and near shore. When water temps are cold, you want to target the top half of the water column. A live bait float with a slip bobber is a rigging tactic that allows you to set an exact depth for your bait. Use a live bait float to target the top half of the water column. During the hot summer months, Trout are deeper and typically further from shore. Use a bottom rig with an egg sinker to get your casts out deep. Bait your hook with floating bait so your offering rises up close to the thermocline.
A bottom rig is a great option for fishing with floating bait or live bait. Thread on an egg sinker, then a red bead and tie on a swivel. Cut off a piece of mono or fluorocarbon leader, roughly 2-4 ft. The deeper you fish, the longer your leader should be. Tie on your hook and secure a floating style bait such as powerbait dough or eggs. Floating bait is important as Trout feed upwards and you want to get your bait as close to the thermocline as possible. The floating bottom rig is your primary tactic when fishing for Trout in open water, as it has historically proven to be the best performer for all members of our Tailored Tackle staff. You can also use the bottom rig with live bait when conditions are too harsh for a live bait float rig, but this set up limits you to the very bottom.
Slip Bobber Rig
Rig up a live bait float rig as diagrammed above. First, thread on a slip tie and remove the tube. Slide on a bead and then your slip bobber. Next, tie on your hook and clinch a split shot about 1 ft. above the hook. Finally, pull the tag ends of the tie snug and clip down the tags. You can adjust your tie up and down your line to set your bait at a desired depth. Bait the hook with a worm if they are feeding on insects near the surface. Set your bait 2-5 ft. down, so the float doesn’t spook fish. If you do not see Trout breaching the surface, they are likely feeding on bait fish. Bait your hook with a minnow and set your depth to about halfway down the water column. If you can’t seem to find them at the top or middle sections, they may be on the bottom. Bait your hook with a leech and set the depth to roughly 1-3 ft. off the bottom. Even if Trout are holding low, they always feed upwards so always keep separation from the bottom.
Casting Lures for Trout
A productive technique when learning how to fish for Trout in a lake is casting and retrieving lures. Lures allow anglers to cover a lot of water at different depths. Casting lures is most productive during the colder months when Trout are actively feeding. Lures need movement in order to present their action and mimic the forage. Because of this need for movement, lures typically offer an aggressive presentation. Aggressive presentations require aggressively feeding Trout to bite. If Trout are actively feeding, Spoons and Spinners are a great place to start as they perform well under a simple, steady retrieve. Other Trout lures like crankbaits and soft plastics are generally more advanced, as they perform best under various retrieves and cadences that match Trout feeding behaviors. It’s sort of like dancing, but with a fish.
Fishing Trout Spinners & Spoons
Casting spinners & spoons is an effective tactic because you can quickly locate active Trout. Presentation is the key to this tactic; retrieve these lures at a steady pace to let their designs mimic bait fish. You can target various depths by letting your lure drop after a cast. Count 1 ft. per second until you arrive at the desired depth. Retrieve at the same steady pace and your lure will run through a new section of the water column. If you are getting hits but not locking in on fish, add a small piece of bait like a salmon egg, a pinch of worm, or a minnow head. Sometimes Trout need a target to lock in on, and a piece of bait helps them focus. It also adds some scent. You should have a handful of spinners to cycle through like Rooster Tails and Metal Spinners.
Trout Crankbaits & Soft Plastics
Suspending crankbaits provide an advanced method for you to mimic a wounded bait fish. During the retrieve, a quick snap of the line will twitch the bait to represent a struggling minnow. The twitching calls Trout in to follow, especially Brown Trout, but twitching is often too aggressive to antagonize a bite. After a series of twitches, pause the crankbait to suspend it in place. This abrupt stop forces the Trout to either commit to the bait or continue to exert energy on the chase. Similar to the suspending crankbait, soft plastic lures drive results based on how you present them. Work a classic jig & grub through the water column with a variety of retrieves. You can swim it through, jig it off the bottom, or yo-yo it from top to bottom. These techniques require testing against your analysis of the Trout feeding behavior coupled with the present fishing conditions. Therefore, master the bait rigs, spinners and spoons before advancing to crankbaits and plastics.
Trolling for Trout
Locating Trout in open water is the greatest challenge when learning how to fish for Trout in a lake. Trolling can ease this burden by covering a lot of water at various depths in a systematic way. To troll, you will need a vessel that can propel your lures through the water at a similar speed to your casting retrieves. A kayak, a canoe, or a boat can be used for trolling as long as you can maintain a speed between 1-2 mph.This is roughly the pace of walking along the shoreline. To start, let your line out 50-100 yds behind your vessel. Then, let the motor or paddling of your vessel drag your lure for you. Keep your line taut, and monitor the tip for bites. Avoid weedy areas that catch your lure, and don’t slow down for too long or your lure will catch the bottom. Use spinners, spoons, and crankbaits when Trout are feeding aggressively. If the bite is slow, troll a bottom rig with a full night crawler.
Without advanced trolling equipment, this tactic is best performed during cold months when Trout are near the surface. If you troll your lure without any weight, it should run 1-3 ft. below the surface. If you want to troll deeper, add a series of split shots spaced 1 ft. apart on your line. 3-4 split shots should get your bait down 5-8 ft. from the surface. During the warmer months, Trout are at-least 15 ft. deep and can even get down to 160 ft. Advanced trolling equipment and techniques are required to target these deeper areas.