Trout Fishing Techniques Overview


Successful trout fishing uses many techniques. But all techniques can be broken down into stream and still water methods. Some of the still water trout fishing techniques are:

  1. Bait fishing techniques with worms, shrimp, minnows or other types of bait.
  2. Spinner techniques with lures, spoons and other spinners.
  3. Trolling with lures of some type is one of the most effective ways to catch trout in a lake or pond. The best lures are ones that have blades that are flashy and make noise when pulled through the water. Most fish locate the majority of their prey through noise the prey makes swimming. Bait fish and nymphs in still water will move about and make noise allowing trout to locate them through their sensitive lateral line hearing organ.Trolling involves determining the depth at which trout or other fish are located. Then putting your rig down into the fishes holding and feeding location. These days, a fish finder that shows the depth and fish is generally used to locate schools of fish. After the proper depth is determined, a small trolling motor is generally used to move your boat forward pulling the rig after it.But did you know that trolling can be done by a fisherman in a stream by allowing some line with the leader and fly attached to be in the water while wading from one spot to the next. I have used this trout fishing technique many times over the years and have caught trout with it. (Just make sure it is not illegal where you are fishing.)

Stream Trout Fishing Techniques

Generally when thinking of trout fishing, most people think of fly fishing. Fly fishing techniques can be broken down into sub-surface and on the surface. Sub-surface means fishing between the bottom of the stream and the surface of the water column.

Sub-Surface Trout Fishing Techniques:

  1. nymph fishing
  2. streamer fishing
  3. fishing with small lures and a spinning rod

Several advanced nymph fishing techniques are:

  • combining the dead drift with small rod tip twitches several times during the drift to simulate the nymph struggling to get out of the current. This technique depends on fishing a nymph that is in the swimmer category.
  • The Leisenring Lift with a skim and twitch at the end of a drift.
  • When fishing stone flies, complete the dead drift and swing the nymph in toward the bank to simulate a stone crawling out to hatch.

Dry Fly Fishing Techniques

  1. dry fly fishing on the surface when there is an insect hatch going on
  2. using a dry fly – dropper combination when trout are taking emergers below the surface
  3. fishing with terrestrials in the late summer or early fall when ants, grasshoppers and land beetles are available and being blown into the water by winds.

An interesting dry fly fishing technique during a caddis hatch is using a short leader with a light 6x or 7x tippet. At the end of your drift, point the rod down the line and give a sharp upward twitch about 6 inches. This will send a wave down the line lifting the caddis dry fly off the water and allowing it to settle back. This imitates a female caddis laying eggs.

While these lists of fly fishing trout techniques are not all inclusive, they do represent a good overview of the main categories of methods available for catching trout.

Trout Fishing Tip

One Trout Fishing Tip can make the difference between success and failure. Here are some trout fishing tips to help in your fly fishing for trout.

  1. The majority of trout are caught within 40 feet of where you are standing.
    Make it a rule to start your trout fishing within 3 to 6 feet of your casting position. Even if you see fish rising at 30 feet, fish closest to you first. If there are fish close to you, casting over their position may send them racing toward the rising fish and put the whole pool or section of stream down.
  2. Knowing how deep a trout is lying can catch you bigger trout. The deeper a trout is lying in the water column the larger its cone of vision at the surface. A larger cone of vision means you must be more careful in your approach than to a trout holding only a few inches down in the water column. The deeper a trout is in the water column, the larger the feed lane it is watching. A trout holding deep will be more likely to move a larger distance to intercept your fly than one closer to the surface.
  3. Using the Leisenring Lift Skitter can get you the bonus strike. When nymph fishing complete your drift by allowing the current to swing your nymph rig to the surface. With your nymphs on the surface, raise your rod tip about six more inches and twitch it back and forth about 3 inches. This will skitter your nymphs back and forth some 6 inches like they were trying to get free of the nymphal shuck. Often a trout will follow a nymph rig down stream without taking the fly. But thinking a meal is about to get away will set off the strike instinct resulting in a hard strike. This Skitter trout fishing technique will also work effectively with dry flies.
  4. Using the Twitch and Wiggle during a drift can trigger a trout to strike. Many nymphs twitch, contract and swim when ascending to the surface to hatch or to get to safety if washed into the current. Alternate a dead drift with small trembles of the rod tip during your drift to imitate a swimming or crippled nymph. I have used this trout fishing tip to get double hookups on a two fly rig and to trigger hard strikes during the drift.
  5. The Flip and Hop Dry Fly method during a dry fly hatch can get you the wary trout. In tip 2, we discovered how deep a trout is holding affects the width of its feed lane. During a hatch, trout often take emergers a couple of inches down or hold a few inches down watching for a tasty morsel drifting toward them. If you can see a trout holding a few inches down, complete a dry fly drift allowing it to end a couple of inches in front of the trout. Try the Skitter technique first. If that does not trigger a strike, flip your rod tip a couple inches straight up. This will produce a wave down the line lifting the dry fly off the water up to a foot. Allow the dry fly to drop back to the surface. Try this a three or four times. If the trout does not move to the fly. Allow the fly to settle back to the water and drift down to the holding fish. Be ready to set the hook if you get a strike.
  6. Using a dapping technique for trout holding under a cut bank may get you a hookup.
  7. Why understanding stream structure means more and bigger trout
  8. Understanding how to nymph fish without a strike indicator will increase your catch rate
  9. What is floating in the slack water will tell you what and how to fish
  10. Here is a trout fishing tip not many anglers use. On a stream, follow the birds to determine if a spinner fall is about to happen. Just after a hatch has occurred, adult insects will be within 5 to 10 feet of the stream surface. After mating the mature cloud of insects may be as much as 30 to 40 feet above the river. If the birds are up high catching insects, get ready for spinner fall to happen as the mature adults return to lay eggs.
  11. On a lake follow the birds to locate a school of fish on or near the surface. This is basically a variation of tip 10 where you watch for birds over the lake surface. Schools of fish may be chasing bait fish or a localized hatch in that area.

This and many more trout fishing tips may be found in “Successful Fly Fishing for Trout” .

Beginning Fly Fishing with Nymphs

Beginning Fly Fishing with Nymphs

There is a myth perpetrated on beginning fly fishermen that fly fishing with nymphs is really difficult. If you can bounce a salmon egg bait on the bottom with a fly rod and catch fish, you can catch trout with a nymph. The dead drift bouncing the bottom is a very similar technique. In my opinion, learning to make a perfect cast and a drag free dry fly drift is much harder than nymph fishing. You can make a sloppy cast and still make a good nymph presentation to catch trout.

In broad terminology, a nymph is the immature stage of an aquatic insect. Such insects form four of the major trout food groups.

  1. Mayflies – burrowers, clingers, crawlers or swimmers
  2. Caddis flies – Cased, net builders, free swimming
  3. Stoneflies – crawlers or clingers that hide under rocks or in the bottom gravel.
  4. Midges –  a major food group for trout. They exist and hatch year round. If not for midges, many trout would starve during the winter.

There are two main ways that nymphs can be used to catch trout. Sight fishing to a trout that you can see. Or prospecting for trout where they should be holding. Many fly fishers learn the prospecting method and never really learn the sight fishing method which is as challanging as dry fly fishing for trout. Especially when you are sight fishing nymphs for large trout.

Techniques for Prospecting for Trout:

  • If you take time to use an insect seine at each location on a stream, you will be able to see the predominate insect(s) in that area. You will also gain an idea of what dry flies to use should a hatch happen while nymphing. Choose a nymph fly to match the one insect that is most prevelant and a second nymph for the next most numerous insect. This will give you a good two fly rig to start fishing. While insect seining does not ensure a successful day, it certainly increases your chances over nymphing blind.
  • For blind prospecting, a beadhead goldribbed flashback hare’s ear is my choice of a point fly followed by a size 18 grey RS2 or an 18 Gregs Emerger. The hare’s ear represents, mayfly nymphs, caddis, and stone flies. The RS2 represents a mayfly or a midge. And the Greg’s Emerger is an all around emerger pattern. If a hatch happens, while I am nymph fishing, I will observe the insects a bit before switching to a dry fly. But if the trout are really keying in on the hatch, switch to a matching insect and have some fun.
  • In the early spring, nymphs of most species are larger in size and darker in color than later in the season. Example, some mayfly or stone fly nymphs will be very dark in the early spring and grow lighter as the summer progresses toward fall. This is where insect seining will help you to choose a correct size and color.


Nymphing is only as difficult as you make it. “Successful Fly Fishing for Trout” and the bonus books have much more information on nymphing for trout to help you become successful.

Tight Lines,

Marshall Estes, Author
“Successful Fly Fishing for Trout”

Nymph Fishing Techniques

 Nymph Fishing Techniques

Gear Description

Most nymph fishing is usually done using fly rods ranging from 6 ft to 9 ft or 10 ft depending on the size of the water and your target fish. I personally use a 9 ft 5 wt rod for spring and eary summer when the rivers are higher or for larger rivers. For my small stream fishing, I use a 7 1/2 ft 4 wt rod most of the time. Occasionally in the late fall a 6 ft 4 wt fly rod.  Generally small stream rods are for 2, 3 or 4 line weights.

Fly Reels should be matched to the rod weight. Four weight reel with a 4 wt rod and so on. Match your fly line to the reel and rod. The rod weight can be found just above the cork grip on almost all fly rods.


There are two ways to go with leaders. Use a manufactured tapered leader or build your own. Each has advantages and disadvantages. You have your choice of nylon monofilament leaders and tippets or fluorocarbon leaders and tippets.

  1. Start with a 7 1/2 foot tapered monofilament leader in 4X, then attach a 15 inch piece of 5X fluorocarbon tippet plus your point fly, add a 12 inch piece of 5X or 6X fluorocarbon tippet and your tail fly.
  2. Or you can build your own fluorocarbon leaders starting with a 0X piece of fluorocarbon and tapering down to 5 feet for the base leader. Adding a piece of 2X or 3X tippet plus a fly and a 4X piece of fluorocarbon plus a fly.
  3. For a nine foot rod, leaders should be no more than  10 or 11 feet and I prefer about 8 feet total. I have found a 1.25 times the rod length is about the max that handles well.
  4. From testing in the summer of 2010, I will say that my homemade fluorocarbon leaders helped me catch many more fish than using monofilament leaders with fluorocarbon tippets. (A whole leader of fluorocarbon sinks much faster than the combination does.)

Casts to Use

The two most used casts in nymphing are the Roll Cast and the River Cast. The roll cast takes some practice and is a muscular cast. When done correctly, it is easy to get a 30 to 40 foot cast. With practice you can shoot a roll cast to 60 or 70 feet. The roll cast is used when you have trees, bushes or other obstruction at your back. I also use it becase overhand casting of a three nymph rig is not easy and is tiring.

The River Cast is basically a lob cast using the stream current to load the rod for the cast. Finish your drift and let the line straighten out below you. With a sharp sidearm horizontal or 45 degree forward stroke toward your target load the rod. The let the rod pull the line off the water slinging it toward your target. With weight on the leader or using weighted nymphs, stop the rod at 90 degrees from your target because the line will roll over the rod at a 90 degree angle. For dry fly fishing, stop the rod pointed at the target and the line will shoot directly off the rod tip. Learn to use the river cast, it will save your arm when fishing for a full day on stream.

Where to cast:

  • Forty five degrees and upstream
  • Straight across
  • Straight upstream
  • Forty five degrees and across downstream
  • Straight downstream


  • Dead drift where you attempt to allow the nymph, line and leader to be moved by the current in a totally natural manner. The dead drift is best used when imitating insects that tumble helplessly in the current such as stone flies or burrowing mayflies. To do this you may need to use a reach mend, a pile cast, an S mend slack line cast, a curve cast or a hook cast. This is where some off stream and on stream practice will pay off.
  • The Leisenring Lift to reduce drag, impart some motion to the fly and move it up or down in the water column during the drift.
  • The Skitter and Twitch at the end of the drift.
  • The Mini-Mend to keep your fly drifting in the feeding lane. The mini-mend also imparts a bit of motion which may attract a trout’s attention.
  • The Tip Twitch and Wiggle during a drift. This is a very subtle motion but it sure gets trout.

Strike (Drift) Indicators or Not

When learning how to nymph fish for trout, using a strike indicator is helpful. An indicator can also be used to show you the currents so you can get a dead drift.

Types of indicators most often used are yarn, the plastic thingamabobber or an otter bobber. If I am fishing heavy water, I will use a 3/4 inch thingamabobber indicator and a 1/2 inch for smaller streams and in the late season.

Too often the beginner lets a strike indicator become a crutch rather than a tool. In more shallow water, try fishing nymphs without a strike indicator by making a little “J” in the line at the water surface. Let the “J” become your indicator. It is amazingly sensitive. A jiggle, stop, sideways twitch, set the hook. Most often you will have fish.


Nymph fishing for trout is only as difficult as you make it. “Successful Fly Fishing for Trout” and the bonus books have much more information on nymphing for trout.

Tight Lines,

Marshall Estes, Author
“Successful Fly Fishing for Trout”

Fly Fishing with Dry Flies

Fly Fishing with Dry Flies

The splashy rise of a trout to a dry fly is exciting to watch. But making that picture perfect presentation dry fly cast is usually difficult for beginning fly fishermen. There is not much room for error in presenting a dry fly to a fish. But you can have a less than perfect nymph cast and still make a good presentation to catch a trout.

Watching your dry fly floating drag free followed by the flash and take of a trout never gets old. Some fly fishermen become so addicted to dry fly fishing that they look down their nose at nymph fishermen.

Since trout feed 85 to 90 percent subsurface, you will probably not spend as much time fishing dry flies as nymphs to be a productive fisherman. But during certain hatches, trout key in on the insect(s) hatching and dry fly fishing is the only way to have a chance to catch them.  There is nothing like watching a 28 inch brown trout rise out of the depths and sip in your number 22 parachute Adams dry fly. Then it turns to run and finds it is hooked fast. The explosive run that happens next as the rod bends deep into the butt starts the adreneline flowing like no other trout fishing experience.

A technique common to dry fly or nymph fly fishing is to seine insects before fishing to see what is in that location. This way, you can pick a nymph that closely matches the most numerous insect. Knowing what the prevalent insects are also tells me what kind of adults will hatch. This means that I can pick dry flies to match a hatch easier.

While insect seining does not ensure a successful day, it certainly increases your chances over blind fly fishing for trout. If a hatch happens, while you are nymph fishing, observe the fish activity a bit before switching to a dry fly. The fish may be taking emergers just under the surface. Watch for a bulging rise which shows the back of a trout or the white flash of the mouth as the fish takes the insect just below the surface. In this case, use a dry – dropper combination. A Parachute Adams or similar dry fly in the correct size and color of the natural followed by a dropper of the same species one size smaller than the dry fly is a good combination.

Dry Fly Fishing Tackle:

  • Fly Rods – If you fish dry flies a lot, you may want to purchase a rod, reel and line specifically for dry fly fishing. For small streams that are 30 feet wide or less, a 6.5 foot to 8 ft fly rod in a 2, 3 or 4 weight will work well.On larger streams, a 9 foot rod is appropriate. As you fish for larger fish, you may want to use a 7 or 8 weight rod and / or a longer rod. The larger rods will turn over larger bushy dry flies or a weighted nymph rig better than the smaller light weight rods.
  • Fly Reels – Balance your rod with a reel matching the rod weight and load the reel with a matching weight fly line.I like the large arbor reels because they take in line faster than a standard or a mid-arbor reel. The large arbor reel also holds line so that it does not curl or take a set so much. Your best fly reels are machined with a good disc drag. But a less expensive die cast reel with a quality disc drag is also an alternative for small stream fishing. And die cast reels are generally 1/2 or less the cost of a machined reel.
  • Fly lines – Colors are not so much an issue with fly lines. Pick one you can see. I like a light tan or green. The fish looking up at the line sees mostly a black shadow so color is not so important. Most fly lines today are weight forward lines with the majority of the weight in the first 30 to 35 feet of the line. In the lighter line weights, you may wish a double taper line because it will roll cast easier at   40 or more feet than a weight forward line. And you can turn it around when the front end becomes worn. See our selection of Double Taper Fly Lines in the fly line section at our main fly shop.
  • Leaders can be built out from a 7.5 foot 4X tapered leader to about 10 feet 5X or 6X when using a nine foot rod. In general, I have found that the total leader length should be no more than 1.25 times the total rod length. For example a 7.5 foot rod will have difficulty handling a 12 foot leader with weighted nymphs. But it can handle a 9 foot leader with such a rig. RIO makes some of the best leaders and tippet material on the market. But it is expensive. If you wish to use an excellent leader and tippet material that is more affordable, try Stone Creek leaders and tippets.

All that is left is to tie or buy some dry flies. Grab your gear and go dry fly fishing.

Tight Lines,

Marshall Estes, Author
“Successful Fly Fishing for Trout”

Sight Fishing for Trout

Sight Fishing for Trout

Before you can sight fish for trout, you have to be able to see them. The first step in spotting trout is using a good pair of polarized sunglasses and a good hat.

After you have good trout spotting gear, the rest is a learned skill and practice, practice, practice.

Sight fishing for Trout is a five step process

  1. Understanding where to start looking for trout and why they are in those spots. Trout need highly oxygenated water, overhead cover from predators including man, river cover from otters and other stream predators, shelter from heavy currents, a steady supply of food. Trout are lazy feeders. They have to get more energy from their food than they expend in catching it or they will die. Since trout have been around for some 400 million years, they have the survival bit down pat.
  2. Insight about looking in unconventional locations and why. Trout can often be found in slack water spots or small pools that look like they could never hold fish. A three foot pool of water that offers good cover can hold a 30 inch trout. The biggest clue to fishing unconventional water is to look at where all the fishermen are fishing and then find some quiet water for yourself.
  3. Knowledge of what to look for when locating a trout – one techniques is to find a spot where trout should be located, then stare at the stream bottom for at least 30 seconds. Let your peripheral vision work at spotting the movement of a tail, a trout drifting in and out of a feeding lie or the white flash of a mouth when a trout takes an insect are some of the signs to look for. Once you spot a trout, watch for a while for signs of whether the trout is actively feeding or resting. No sense casting to a resting fish.
  4. Knowing how to cast when sight fishing for trout – Just being an adequate caster is not enough when sight fishing to a trout. You must be able to accurately place your dry fly or nymph rig where it won’t spook your fish and will still drift into the trout’s feeding lane. This requires excellent skill at reading water to find the feeding lane. It requires knowledge of how and where to false cast to avoid spooking your target fish.
  5. Practice steps 1 through 4 until they are second nature. See Fly Fishing for Trout the Successful Way for more tips on trout fishing success.

Tight Lines,

Marshall Estes, Author
Successful Fly Fishing for Trout