How to catch big trout

The dream and motivation for many trout fishermen is to catch big fish. To land that trout of a lifetime. The one worthy of mounting on the wall above the fireplace, and to brag about at the pub after a few beers. In this guide we will share many of the hints, tips and secrets to increase the odds in your favour. Hopefully allowing your dream come true.

What is a trophy trout?

image courtesy of Jon Sailer

Something everyone would agree upon is that a trophy trout is a large fish. Worthy of mounting on the wall and putting on display. Putting a hard figure on just how big a trout has to be to be a trophy is a bit harder. While many trout anglers consider a brown trout or rainbow over 10lb to be worthy of the title. There is certainly more nuance to it.

In most streams, rivers and lakes a 10lb brown or rainbow is a big fish. In some small tributaries or spring fed streams a fish of 5lb might be a remarkable catch. While in some hydro canals or beneath Salmon farms trout can grow to monstrous sizes, supercharged by a diet of free energy rich food. In such environments 10lb trout can be towards the small end.

Meanwhile, smaller species of trout such as brook almost never reach the 10lb mark, so for most catchments a 6 or 7lb brook is a remarkable fish.

So a trophy trout might be best defined as a trout which is large in its current habitat. So here are 10 hints on how to find and catch the big one.

8 Hints to catch a trophy trout

Fish where others don,t

Trout are known to be shy and cunning fish. Large trout are often the most cunning of the lot. A trout does not become the biggest in its stream by getting caught or hiding all day. It might be challenging, adventurous and sometimes even a little dangerous. But even in the most popular trout fishing locations there are stretches of river which rarely or never see an angler. Maybe you can be the first.

These waters are often in inaccessible gorges, surrounded by thick scrub or swampy reed infested shorelines. The keen and most determined trout fishermen still find a way. Some abseil down with climbing gear, others ride down in rafts. Float tubes, packrafts and fishing kayaks are great options to reaching less accessible locations. I have even swam ice cold mountain swims, clumber up small waterfalls and boisterous rapids in a thick wetsuit to get my chance to fish inaccessible pools. Sometimes you still blank, but sometimes you strike gold.

Not all spots have to be that challenging or inaccessible, but the further from the carpark you walk. The less likely you have to contend with other anglers. The less angling pressure a pool or ripple has the greater the odds you will encounter that resident lurker.

Fish when others don’t

Stalking trout under starlight

Most people fish during the day, a few keen anglers might fish the morning and dusk raises. The keenest are on the river in the middle of the night, even into the early hours of the morning. Many of the largest dominate trout live a nocturnal lifecycle. So while a pool might seem empty during the day, at 1am it could be an entirely different story. It can be worth just setting quietly and listening, and sometimes you can hear the tell-tale splashes of a trout chasing baitfish. Try casting a large jerkbait, or a whole live minnow where bait is allowed and you could be in for some real excitement.

There was a couple of elderly trout fishermen in my local club. One who was well into his 90s was a great advocate of night fishing. He and his wife on a calm night will drive down to the lower reaches of the river in the early hours of the morning. There they just sit in the car and listen. When a fish is heard feeding. He makes his way down to the river edge and cast out a grey ghost, woolly bugger or rabbit strip streamer and the fight is on. His results spoke for themselves. Spin fishing with a dark Jerkbait can have equally rewarding success. Fishing the same parts of the river during the day is often an exercise of futility.

The other gentleman, uses live baits. He makes his way to the river often in the early hours of the morning. There he sets about catching live minnows, he does so in two ways. Sometimes by using the tiniest of hooks, other times he spotlights and scoops them up in a butterfly net. With the bait secure he live rigs the minnows under the smallest of floats (prevents them from hiding between the rocks) and set in wait. It normally does not take long before a hungry trout smashes into it. It is important not to set the hook too fast. Trout often stun their prey first before swooping back in to consume it. Much to the annoyance of the dedicated fly and spin fishermen he has caught some magnificent trout over the years and has a photo album second to none in the club.

Follow the food | Find the big trout

Solid Brown trout fat from feeding on baitfish

The largest fish are usually where the best food is. They lay where they use the less energy to gain that food. So find the food, and you might just find that trophy brown or rainbow trout. If there is a yearly run of small baitfish into the river, or migration of crabs then the trout will know about it. Try fishing the estuaries and lower reaches.

Likewise, if there is a large hatch of insects or a plague of mice then the trout would likely be feeding on them. Mouse hunting trout can grow to impressive sizes in only a few months.

Not all food sources are natural; some of the biggest and fattest trout live beneath fish farms, enjoying an seemingly endless diet of energy dense food. In a similar vein, many large trout living downstream from power turbines. The trout lazily feed upon any fish or insects which were unlucky enough to get sucked through the turbine.

Big trout need big water

Small streams and lakes might be picturesque but they normally do not have enough suitable habitats for large trout to live. Big trout like big water. There is a reason why the US record Brown Trout was caught at Lake Michingan. While the world record Rainbow trout was taken from lake Diefenaker in Saskatchewan which is the junction of two major rivers.

Large trout might enter smaller side streams to spawn. They nearly always retreat back downstream to more suitable habitat during the season. If you want to maximise the success of catching large trout in small streams, then fishing them early in the season is often the most rewarding. At the end of winter the streams are normally still following strong and some big trout are a bit slow migrating back downstream after spawning.

It can also be rewarding looking for the biggest pool in a small stream. I keep remembering a story from a couple of hunters who were heading up a tiny mountain stream to their hunting ground. That stream is normally wide enough to step across without getting a wet boot. The stream is the last place any trout fishermen would venture. The whole catchment is poorly regarded as a trout fishery. Several hours from the road end, there is several giant boulders which form a natural wall over which a small waterfall had created a wide and deep plunge pool. From that pool, they pulled a trout weighing a respectable 7lb.

Practice makes perfect

Sometimes the biggest trout live right under our nose, and if a trout is feeding it can be caught. Those big trout are cunning and it is tempting to think they have seen every trick in the book. That is simply not true. You just need to outsmart them. Try to place you fly or lure in such a way that the trout does not even know you are there. You need to be pinpoint accurate with your casts. While positioning yourself in such a way to be invisible to the fish. If fly-fishing with a nymph a drag free presentation is essential.

While it might be tempting to think that a big trout need big bait. This is simply not always true, sometimes going super small is the secret. That means using a size 20 fly (maybe even smaller) if that is what the trout is feeding on. For spin angler consider using a size 3 Rapala or other tiny jerkbait. The time tested hybird approach of a fly beneath a float can also work wonders.

Don’t follow the anglers highway

Try and avoid fishing in the footsteps of others

If you want to catch a big trout on a popular river, you have to approach things differently. Some popular rivers have an easy side and a hard size to fish. 99% of trout fishermen choose to cast and walk along the easy side. No one wants to bash through thick scrub or scramble alone a steep cliff. The trout in such rivers have learned that the easy side means danger, and that is where they are most observant.

If you put the effort in, and fish from the difficult side of the river you catch the trout off guard making it much easier to hook. But remember, hooking the trout is only half the challenge; You still need to fight and land it. Easier said than done when clinging onto a mossy cliff. In such cases, if safe I often jump into the river and swim to the other side to finish the fight.

Stable and healthy environment

Surrounded by nature and flows moderated by a lake creates perfect conditions for large brown trout

Often the fisheries which product the biggest trout are most stable in flow. They are usually surrounded by nature, or low intensive farmland. The water is cold and clean, free of pollution and other containments.

Near where I grew up there is a main large trout river, into it feeds seven significant tributaries. While they all contain trout, only one is famous for trophy fish. That river has a natural dam across its headwaters. Resulting in a greatly reduced fluctuations of flow and servility of floods.

The presence of a lake, either natural or manmade helps regulate a rivers flows during periods of drought, but also during heavy rainfall events. Powerful floods are extremely damaging, not only killing trout but also disrupting the food supply. Rivers which see frequent, and large events are unlikely to contain healthy trout fisheries.

Even more damaging than too much rain, is not enough. Low flows, even if the river does not completely run dry low flows are still extremely disruptive to a trout’s lifecycle. If the water gets too warm a trout stops feeding, if it gets even hotter they die.

Persistence is key to catching your trophy trout

The more you fish, the more time you spend on the river, the more likely you are to catch a trophy trout. In many ways fishing is a numbers game. With more time spent fishing the more honed your skills become, and the more experience you become. You will learn where the fish like to feed, where they lay, you would even learn what flies or lures works best. Time spent fishing not only gives you more chances to catch a trophy trout, but it also gives you the skills to increase the odds that you actually catch that trout when you spot it.