Finding the depth to fish at is always a struggle for any fisherman, but trout may be one of the most difficult freshwater species to find the right depth. They move from shallow and deep water often and don’t really school in large groups like many other fish.
But don’t fear, you can usually find a good depth range at your local lake if you just know the water temperature. Trout will feed most actively when water temperatures are between 52 and 64 degrees. So if you find the water depth that is closest to those temperatures, you’re likely to find trout.
Below I will discuss seasonal changes and water temperature changes, how trout react to those changes, and at what depth you’ll find trout in each season. Note that the way the changes occur and the temperatures you will see at your local lake will fluctuate based on your location – but the overall pattern remains the same. And remember to specifically look at water temperatures to just know when the pattern will change.
Trout Fishing Depth in Spring
Spring is always a great time for fishing as the majority of fish will be coming up from the deepest part of the lake, holding for any warmth they can find. Trout are very similar except that they actually prefer water cooler than many other freshwater species, meaning they will move shallow before almost any other fish.
Depending on your area, they may even be in the shallows as soon as the coldest weather subsides. As soon as the water temperature starts hitting 50 degrees, you will find the trout cruising the shallows in less than 10 feet of water enjoying the sun warming the water.
But as soon as the water temperature rises above 60 degrees, they will move back out to the deeper water which still hasn’t warmed completely. Then as the water continues to warm, they will get progressively deeper.
So the key to spring fishing for trout is knowing that their depth changes constantly. Once the water just begins to warm, they are likely to begin moving shallow. However after several warm days they will get too hot in the shallows and start heading deeper slowly to stay in that 50 to 60 degree water they love.
Trout Fishing Depth in Summer
As late spring turns into summer trout will start heading towards the deepest water in the lake quickly. Water tends to warm most quickly during late spring and early summer, so you’ll want to start finding the deepest water your lake has to offer and know the trout will likely be hanging there.
Mid to late summer can become a little trickier. Trout will still prefer the 50 to 60 degree water temperature but having a good level of oxygen in the water becomes a necessity. When the water becomes hot on the top and cold on the bottom, a thermocline develops.
If you would like to read in depth about thermocline, this article is a good resource. But put simply, you end up with 3 levels of water. The top of the lake which is too hot for fish to be in comfortably, the bottom level which is cooler but doesn’t have oxygen because the top absorbs it all, and the thermocline in the middle which has enough oxygen for fish to live and stays cooler than the water above it.
Trout will find this thermocline like most other fish species and live there. This is likely to be in even shallower water than where they were in early summer. This can be a confusing time for fisherman as the weather is warming but the trout are actually getting more shallow. But it isn’t because of temperatures, it’s because they are looking for oxygen.
So at this time, you’re more likely to find trout towards the middle of the water but swimming about ⅔ of the way down which is generally where the thermocline occurs. So try and target this area from mid to late summer when the weather is at its hottest.
Trout Fishing Depth in Fall
Fall can be another confusing time for fisherman to find trout as two opposites can occur. When temperatures start to cool, the shallow areas of the water are the first to drop. So trout can move shallow again and begin to feed, but this usually takes a while to happen.
This is because it takes a lot longer for water to cool in the fall and trout are not anxious to move to the only slightly cool water when the deeper water holds that 50 to 60 degree water that they really enjoy. So trout will continue to hang in deeper water until the very latest days of fall and then move shallow when many other freshwater species are moving deeper again.
This is a great time to catch trout though, as they will be back within 10 feet again and feeding on anything left in the shallows. So if you can wait until late fall, you are likely to be able to catch lots of trout even from the bank.
Trout Fishing Depth in Winter
Early winter is also a great time to catch trout as they will stay in the shallow water until the water gets cooler than 50 degrees and then start to head out deeper again. Depending on where you live, this can be a very long period of time and even in January you may still find trout in water below 10 feet.
But eventually, that water will get too cold even for trout and they will begin heading deeper for the coldest days of the year to find warmer water. This can be as deep as 50 feet depending on how cold and deep the lake in your areas are. But likely, they will be in the deepest water you can find which is still maintaining some warmth to keep water above 50 degrees if possible.
Late winter is likely to be similar, but if you get warm days and the shallows warm, you can find some trout moving up early and may be feeding actively. So if you get a few warm days in late winter don’t be afraid to start fishing in under 10 feet of water again.
Knowing your local weather conditions is crucial
I want to reiterate because it’s extremely important – the above is just a baseline for seasonal changes and does not take into account the specific area you live. So for example, if you live in the southern United States and have lakes with trout, they may be shallow even in the dead of winter because the water temperature never gets below 50 degrees.
Or maybe you live far north and your water temperature almost never gets above 60 degrees. In this case, you could find trout still cruising the shallows in the middle of summer because the water temperature is just where they want it to be even in the hottest months. The water temperature just never gets so hot that they have to move back to the depths.
So while I explain the seasonal changes of trout, remember that the seasonal changes are important because of the effect it has on water temperature. That is your real key to determining the depth you need to be fishing at for trout.