How to Catch Trout with Spinning Tackle (Complete Guide)

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Video spinning rod trout fishing

Trout fishing can one of the most rewarding and exciting types of freshwater fishing you can do. Instead of focusing on fly fishing, I think you are missing a great opportunity by not learning how to catch trout using spinning tackle.

How do you catch trout with spinning gear? To catch trout using spinning gear, select an ultralight or medium-weight spinning rod and reel combination to match your conditions. In your given scenario, present bait to the trout in a way that is most natural.

This could mean tossing live bait or lures upstream of deep holes and allow the current to direct your bait to the trout.

It could mean slow trolling large expanses of lake to locate roaming schools of rainbow or brown trout. You could also vertically jig spoons and jigs over deep-water features or jig up brook trout through the ice in winter.

There are countless ways to catch trout with spinning gear and this article will hopefully address them for you. Although I enjoy fly fishing and am working on improving my skills, I prefer fishing trout with spinning gear.

This is the type of trout fishing I grew up with working under-cuts and slow pools in eastern Pennsylvania streams for native brook trout. This is my bread and butter. I have learned a lot about trout fishing with spinning gear and I have researched areas I wasn’t experienced in.

Trout fishing doesn’t require specialized gear, but I really think you should use a quality light-weight spinning rod and reel combo.

Check out this link here to view my complete trout fishing gear recommendation list, including rods, reels, baits, gear, etc. I have field tested a lot of trout gear and these are my recommendations.

Define Spinning Gear

Before we really dive into the “how-to” portion of this catching trout with spinning tackle, let’s define spinning tackle. Spinning tackle or gear is basically a spinning rod and reel combination.

Spinning rods are rods where eyelets orient under the rod and the spinning reel hangs beneath the rod’s handle. It is called a spinning reel because the spool portion of the reel actually spins as you turn the handle.

Spinning rods are great for ultralight, light, and medium-weight freshwater fishing. They can be used for heavy fishing but require very large reels in order to handle thick enough line and enough tension to battle truly huge fish.

Spinning rods are simple to use and require almost no learning curve to operate as compared to a baitcasting setup which requires more skill.

When people think of trout fishing, fly fishing is typically where their mind goes first. While fly fishing is second to none for catching trout consistently, spinning gear can be just as effective and is a lot more affordable than fly fishing gear.

For a complete breakdown of everything you need for trout fishing, click here for my comprehensive trout fishing gear list. I’ll tell you what fly rods, spinning rods, flies, castable fish finders, and waders you need to be more successful than anyone else on the water.

How to Catch Trout on Spinning Gear

1. Casting Artificial Lures

Gear: 6’6” to 7’ ultralight or medium-weight spinning rod. 4-15 pound test monofilament (clear or dark green). This rod-type should be perfect for most trout when casting artificial lures for trout.

They provide enough backbone but give you plenty of enjoyment catching trout on slightly lighter gear. With small lures, you would rather use the slightly lighter tackle to better feel bites and control the action better.

A spinning rod is the best choice for fishing moving water for rainbow, brook, and brown trout. It will offer the flexibility and control needed for tight casts and great fish-fighting power.

Bait: Try to match the baitfish present in your stream. Minnow, shiner, sucker, shad, and cisco patterns work very well. Plugs, crankbaits, spinners, and spoons are the best choices for casting at trout with spinning tackle.

If you are stream fishing, you can also try small jigs and spinners that mimic freshwater shrimp, small crayfish, and sculpin.

Locating Trout: If fishing in a stream or river, trout will congregate in slower, deeper water that is being fed with faster current. Trout will hang out in these margins with their bodies in the slow water facing the edge of the fast current waiting for bait to pushed by.

This soft edge is where you should deliver your bait. Cast upstream of a promising hole and allow your bait to drift along with the current. Trout will see it coming and you’ll get strikes as it drifts by the good holes.

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Locating trout in ponds and lakes is a bit tougher. Trout will be a lot more spread out as you can not use current as a determining marker anymore. Instead, look for shallow-to-medium depth water, 3-12 feet deep, along the edge of points, islands, coves, and drop-offs.

Trout in these areas will almost always be suspended in the water column. Fish at different depths to locate the school.

Tactics: Trout have very delicate mouth parts so don’t get too forceful with your hook sets. Likewise, it is suggested you use hooks that are less damaging to the trout.

Switch out any treble hook to a single hook. Also, pinch down your barbs. Don’t worry, you won’t lose fish by pinching your barbs but you will make removing the hook a lot easier on you and the fish.

Cast your baits at angles away from the bank or boat. This will allow you to cover a lot of ground and different water depths with each cast. Vary up your retrieval speed and action.

Also, match your baits with whatever baitfish are present in the water. Trout especially love minnows, shiners, and shad.

2. Vertical Jigging

Gear: 7’ medium spinning rod is ideal for all but the largest trout when trolling. You want something with plenty of backbone to pull your bait through the water while jigging and to horse big trout of the depths. 10-20 pound braid is preferred. Braid will not stretch like monofilament so it is ideal for jigging baits deep for trout.

Bait: Great baits to jig for trout are spinners, spoons, furry jigs, and jig heads dress with a bait of some kind like minnows or wax worms.

Locating Trout: If fishing in a stream or river, trout will congregate in slower, deeper water that is being fed with faster current. Trout will hang out in these margins with their bodies in the slow water facing the edge of the fast current waiting for bait to pushed by.

This soft edge is where you should deliver your bait. Cast upstream of a promising hole and allow your bait to drift along with the current. Trout will see it coming and you’ll get strikes as it drifts by the good holes.

Locating trout in ponds and lakes can be tough. Trout will be a lot more spread out as you can not use current as a determining marker anymore. Instead, look for shallow-to-medium depth water, 3-12 feet deep, along the edge of points, islands, coves, and drop-offs.

Trout in these areas will almost always be suspended in the water column. Fish at different depths to locate the school.

Tactics: Position your boat over a drop-off or along the deep edge of points or the main channel of the old river in the reservoir. Drop baits down to various depths in the water column.

Jigging at each depth to determine the depth in the water column for the schooling trout. Once you start getting bites, raise or lower all baits to this depth and catch as many as you can.

Start by slowly jigging your baits and progressively getting more aggressive with it. Like bass, trout typically strike a jigged bait on the way back down. This will make setting the hook easier. A spinning or baitcasting rod is ideal for this type of vertical jigging.

Original Rooster Tail

One of the most iconic and proven trout lures every made. I love fishing with rooster tails in moving water with ultralight tackle. Countless colors and designs to choose from.

If you want to read my full article on how good these lures are for trout fishing, click here. If you want to bypass all that and simply stock up on these battle-tested champs, click the link.

3. Drift Fishing with Bait

Gear: 6’6” to 7’ ultralight or medium-weight spinning rod. 4-15 pound test monofilament (clear or dark green). This rod-type should be perfect for most trout when drift fishing with bait. They provide enough backbone but give you plenty of enjoyment catching trout on slightly lighter gear.

With live bait, you would rather use slightly lighter tackle to better feel bites and control the action better.

Trout have very delicate mouthparts so it is best to set the hook early and get a nice lip hooking instead of allowing the trout to swallow or get throat hooked which can cause all types of issues.

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A spinning rod is the best choice for fishing moving water for rainbow, brook, and brown trout. It will offer the flexibility and control needed for tight casts and great fish-fighting power.

Bait: Minnows, shiners, ciscos, shad, crayfish, freshwater shrimp. salmon eggs, worms, nightcrawlers, mealworms, wax worms, grasshoppers, sweet corn, and bread.

Locating Trout: If fishing in a stream or river, trout will congregate in slower, deeper water that is being fed with faster current. Trout will hang out in these margins with their bodies in the slow water facing the edge of the fast current waiting for bait to pushed by.

This soft edge is where you should deliver your bait. Cast upstream of a promising hole and allow your bait to drift along with the current. Trout will see it coming and you’ll get strikes as it drifts by the good holes.

Locating trout in ponds and lakes is a bit tougher. Trout will be a lot more spread out as you can not use current as a determining marker anymore. Instead, look for shallow-to-medium depth water, 3-12 feet deep, along the edge of points, islands, coves, and drop-offs.

Trout in these areas will almost always be suspended in the water column. Fish at different depths to locate the school.

Tactics: Cast your bait upstream of promising holes and the current to guide your bait to the trout waiting below.

Trout really like pockets of water where they can rest on slow, deep water and sit alongside a fast-moving current. Live bait is ideal for this type of fishing and a spinning rod is the only way to deliver your live bait effectively to these fish.

4. Trolling

Trolling is a great way to catch trout if you aren’t sure where they are in a lake or large river. Trout can be very nomadic and constantly roam in search of food. Sometimes the easiest way to locate and fish for trout is by trolling long distances of water.

Once you hook onto one fish, mark the spot with your electronics and either troll back through the area again or simply toss the anchor and start vertically jigging for his buddies.

Gear: 7’ medium spinning rod is ideal for all but the largest trout when trolling. You want something with plenty of backbone to pull your bait through the water while trolling and to horse big trout of the depths. 10-20 pound braid is preferred. Braid will not stretch like monofilament so it is ideal for trolling baits for trout.

Bait: Small to medium-sized trout spoons, small to medium-sized spinners, plugs, and crankbaits. Try to mimic naturally occurring baitfish in the lake. Trout love feeding on shad, ciscos, and shiners in particular.

Locating Trout: The key point to trolling is locating trout you don’t know the location of. That said, there are specific zones of a lake that you should be targeting your trolling efforts.

Points, edges of the main channel, around islands, and the edges of drop-offs are areas where trout will congregate in a lake.

Focus your trolling in these areas first. Once you start getting bites, ensure you mark the location and either troll back over it again or set-up shop and start jigging.

Tactics: Rig 2-4 spinning rods up with different types of bait and colors. Try to fish baits at different depths. This will enable you to cover different zones in the water column and more easily locate fish.

If you get a bite at 12 feet down, set all your baits to this depth to target the rest of the school. You can also use planer boards to carry your baits out wide from the boat.

Planar boats will also allow you to fish with many more rods without having issues with line entanglement. 2-5 MPH is a great trolling speed but if the water is choppy, slower is better.

5. Ice Fishing

Ice fishing may seem like an odd inclusion in this article but most jigging rod outfits designed for ice fishing are in fact spinning rods. It is important to cover this topic since many fishermen will be hitting the ice this winter in search of brook and rainbow trout.

Gear: 20”-30” medium-light to medium spinning ice fishing rod/reel. 4-10 pound test mono

Bait: jigging spoons and jig. Natural bait like live or dead shiners, fathead minnows, wax worms, mealworms, and salmon eggs.

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Locating Trout: Focus on water 8-15 feet deep that has structure or a nearby drop-off. If you are unfamiliar with the lake you’re ice fishing on, observe the topography of the land around the lake.

If you see flat land around the lake, it is safe to assume the water will have a very gradual slope and you may need to fish far shore to find water 10+ feet deep.

Likewise, if there is steep slope alongside a part of the lake, you can bet that slope continues right into the water and it could be a very deep hole.

To determine water depth, drop a weighted hook through your ice hole until it hits bottom. Estimate the length of line it took to hit bottom to determine bottom depth.

Trout often times will be suspended in the water column as close to the ice as a foot down. More often than not, during the winter, they’ll be at the bottom in the upper part of the lower 2/3 of the water column.

It is strongly recommended you have multiple holes dug in a corner of the lake since trout can be initially tough to pinpoint. Bounce around until you get some bites.

Tactics: Jigging will be your best bet to catch winter trout. Small jigging spoons and spinners are excellent options. Jigs are as well. I recommend a weighted jig head (green, red, or yellow) dressed with a small fathead minnow hooked through the lip or 2 wax worms.

These are the baits I always had success with jigging for big lake brookies. You can also simply lower a lively shiner or minnow down the hole and let it swim free until something eats it.

The problem with this technique is you are liable to catch a whole range of fish along with trout. If you want to specific target trout and nothing else, jig. Trout are very visually predators so focus on daytime ice fishing.

The ice naturally reduces sunlight penetration especially snow-covered ice. At night, it will be virtually black-out conditions underwater. People do catch trout through the ice at night but your odds for success go way down after the sunsets.

Fishing for Trout in Moving Water with Spinning Gear

Moving water like streams and rivers are typically thought of as the realm of fly fishermen but trout can be caught on the spinning tackle with great success. If you are fishing with spinning tackle, model your fishing off how fly fishermen attack a section of the stream.

Look for eddies, deeper pools, and slower water alongside fast current. These areas of rest are great locations where trout can ambush food that is being carried by the current.

You can use live bait like small minnows, crayfish, and worms or salmon eggs. Let the bait be carried in the current but try to nudge your bait to the outer edge of the current so trout waiting in the slower water can see it.

If you are fishing with artificial lures, your best bet is to cast your bait upstream at various angles and retrieve it just slightly faster than the current is flowing.

As long as your retrieve speed is not too fast, trout will see it coming and strike out of predatory response. Spinners, small spoons, and jerk baits are great options for moving water trout.

Fishing for Trout in Still Water with Spinning Gear

You can also fish for trout using spinning gear in lakes with good success. Locating trout in lakes and reservoirs is tougher since current cannot lead you to trout as it can in rivers and streams.

Great spots to look for trout is in coves, at the mouth of creeks, and around deep cover like boulders. You can employ just about any method to catch trout in lakes.

If you locate trout on a fish finder, you can cast or vertically jig for them using spoons, spinners, and plugs. You can also drop live bait like ciscos, shad, and shiners onto trout suspended in the water column. If You don’t know where trout are located, trolling is another great option.

Use a 6’6”-7’ ultralight or medium-action spinning rod with 6-12 pound test monofilament. The ultralight gear would be great for small baits targeting rainbow and brook trout under 20 inches.

For trout bigger than 20 inches as well as any type of trolling, go with the medium-action rod for better backbone and power.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>