The waters have finally thawed, the air is ringing with sweet birdsong, and the promise of adventure sparks trout anglers into action. It’s a time of tradition, when trout anglers begin to check stocking reports and watch the roads anxiously for passing hatchery trucks heading to their favorite lakes and ponds. Trout fishing veterans begin to meticulously organize tackle boxes, making sure they have the best lures and baits for the job. They toss out broken lures and rusted hooks still crusted with the mummified remains of last year’s worms, replacing with new gear fresh from the tackle shop.
For many new anglers though, this is a time of frustration. Trout stocking locations are often crowded. The fish may only be eating one type of bait. You may feel rushed to learn a new skill. Most trout fishing literature is based around catching wild fish, which can make the sport seem more complex than it needs to be. Truck trout fishing has its quirks and nuances, but we promise you can figure it out if you learn the basics and stay persistent.
Stocked Trout vs. Wild Trout A lot of anglers think that a trout is a trout is a trout. It’s a bit more complicated than that.
Wild trout are fish that are born in that particular waterbody. This title overlaps with native trout, which weren’t introduced by humans. Wild fish are adapted to their environment and have to fend for themselves from Day One. They eat insects and macroinvertebrates, graduating to larger feed as they grow.
Stocked trout, on the other hand, spend the first few years of their lives living in ponds and tanks where they are fed on a daily basis before being planted in lakes, ponds, and streams. So, even though their palates will adapt to natural trout fare, in the early days of the season, hatchery trout will often eat almost anything. This isn’t always the case, but it does seem the spirit of competition from hatchery pond environment stays alive in these fish.
The most commonly stocked trout species are rainbow, brown, and brook. Many hatcheries clip the adipose fin (the little one on top just ahead of the tail) in order to identify artificially propagated trout, but not always. Bent or rounded fins and noses are also good indicators of stocked fish. Most fish and game agencies list stocking locations and dates on their websites.
Gear for Stocked Trout Unlike trout fishing in rivers, where you seemingly need a different rod or line for every situation, you just need the basics for stocked lakes and ponds. Conventional anglers can use the same light-action spinning rod they use for panfish or perch. Spool your reel with 4- to 8-pound monofilament line, depending on the size of fish you expect to catch. Read about choosing lines here.
Bait anglers will also want to bring split-shot sinkers, barrel swivels, and a couple packs sizes 8 and 10 hooks.
Anglers using lures can also capitalize on these fishes’ competitive reaction to motion. Small and flashy spoons such as the Acme Little Cleo are excellent, as well as spinners like the Panther Martin, in a few small sizes and colors from metallic to drab. Many anglers use small jigs and even crankbaits as well.
Fly anglers only need to bring one small box filled with a variety of nymphs and small streamers. The best pond streamers I’ve found are the Conehead Woolly Bugger and the Clouser Minnow, in size 6 to size 2. I prefer to fish ponds with double fly combinations, adding a nymph droppers such as a Chironomid, Lightning Bug, or a Pheasant Tail.
How to Fish Lures and Flies for Stocked Trout The best strategy is to keep moving and covering water. Take the fight to the fish by walking around the edges of the pond, making long casts from the bank. Once you find the fish, slow down and be more methodical, casting several more times to the same area. The schools of recently planted trout tend to stick together. Where you catch one fish, you’re likely to catch another. Vary your retrieve by going faster or slower to incite a bite.
How to Fish Bait for Stocked Trout Bait fishing is often the most productive way to fish for stocked trout. Not only does it to catch a lot of fish, but it’s great for anglers who just love to just sit on the bank with the family or a few buddies and wait for a strike. That’s a treasured tradition for many Americans.
While everyone has their favorite trout bait for hatchery trout—from canned corn to dry dog food—the best baits are ones that appeal to both a trout’s senses of sight and smell. You also want a bait that doesn’t simply sit on the bottom. Stocked trout don’t want to seek out their food, and they likely don’t know how to do it anyway. They want convenience. So, anglers should use a bait that’s suspended just off the bottom. You can do that with a bobber, but any amount of wind can make that type of fishing difficult. Perhaps a better way is with a sinker, leader, and a floating bait just above the bottom, right in a passing trout’s face. The best baits for this are Berkley PowerBait and inflated earthworms, but many others work too, including: maggots, meal worms, blood worms, hellgrammites, minnows (live, dead, or chunked), corn, cheese, bio-plastics, and many more. It can be helpful to bring more than one type of bait and try different ones if you’re not catching fish.
The most simple and effective method for fishing with bait is to tie your mainline to a barrel swivel with an improved clinch knot and pinch on two BB-size split shot above the swivel. Then, tie 12 to 18 inches of 6- or 8-pound monofilament to the other end of the swivel. Use the same knot to attach a single-point or treble hook in sizes 8 or 10 to the terminal end of your rig. It’s very simple to add a bobber above this rig to suspend it over weedy bottoms or snags.
Hook or mold your bait on your hook. Gently cast the rig to deeper water, focusing on drop-offs, weed edges, or any visible color change. Let it sink to the bottom then slowly reel in the slack line until you have light tension to the sinker. You can gently hold the rod, waiting to feel the take. Some anglers choose to place the rod in a rod holder or forked stick and wait to see the light straighten or the rod tip wiggle.
The take may come as very light pick-up, or sometimes a sudden jerk. You should respond quickly by lifting the rod, lightly at first, with a stronger yank if you feel tension to set the hook. Then, reel in the fish carefully and net it.
How to Fish for Trout with PowerBait PowerBait comes in small jars of either packed dough or small nuggets in a variety of bright colors. While the color doesn’t matter much, I do prefer to use the dough because it has a stronger scent and allows an angler to use as much or as little as needed. Roll a pinch of PowerBait into a dime-sized ball and push it onto the hook, leaving the hook point just barely exposed. You typically want to use just enough that the hook floats.
How to Fish for Trout with Worms Worms may be the most old-school fishing bait, but they are and always have been incredibly effective. They wiggle, they smell, and they catch trout. It helps a lot to keep them off the bottom, though. You can do this by suspending them under a bobber or by inflation.
To do this, the worm needs to be blown up like a living balloon. A worm blower tool is the best method, but a basic medical syringe will work just fine.
To blow up the worm, first thread the head (the thicker, darker end) onto the hook about a third of the way up the worm’s body, exposing the hook point through the center of the clitellum or “band.” Insert the tip of the needle and gently inject small amounts of air from just below the hook point along the entire length of the worm’s tail. You’ll know it’s done properly when the tail of the worm rises above the hook and wriggles tantalizingly beneath the water.
How to Keep, Kill, and Cook Stocked Trout Stocked trout are raised by government agencies for the specific purpose of giving its citizens something to catch and eat. Don’t be afraid to keep your limit of stocked fish where appropriate. Always check your state’s fishing regulations before angling to see what size and how many you can keep.
Once you’ve landed a fish you want to retain, knock it hard on the head with a club or rock, then tear the gills so it bleeds out. Make a cut from the anus to the throat and tear out all the guts and organs up to the throat. Run a spoon or thumbnail down the blood line along the spine and then wash everything out. Get the fish on ice quickly for best results. You can also choose to keep fish alive on a stringer or in a fish basket and do this all at once.
Steven Rinella’s favorite way to cook trout is to smoke them. Watch his video on that process here. We have another recipe for smoked trout fritters here. Danielle Prewett likes to bake trout with this recipe. You can also braise, fry, or even cook them straight over a fire caveman style.
Springtime is the time for trout anglers. While the melting snow and heavy rains of the season often fill the rivers and streams with mud, stocked lakes and ponds are usually available to fish as soon as the ice has melted. Many anglers look forward to traditional opening days after the hatchery truck’s arrival with the eagerness of a child before Christmas. Get out there with your family this year and bring home some delicious meat for the table.
Feature image via Joe Cermele.