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Learn how to catch stocked rainbow trout

I fish in the southeastern portion of the United States. Unfortunately, trout are not naturally reproducing in my waters. Instead, I can only fish for them when purposefully stocked.

Fishing for stocked trout is different from wild trout. You should focus on using baits that match what trout are fed in hatcheries and focus on fishing when they are recently stocked. Read on to learn the bait, technique, tackle, and areas you need to be fishing to catch your limit of stocked rainbow trout next time you go out on the water.

Powerbait is the best bait you can use

The first tip I have for catching trout that are stocked rather than wild or natural is to use powerbait. This may be extremely simplified but remember that stocked trout are likely to have been born and raised in captivity. This means they have never had to forage for food. While they may have the natural instinct to catch prey, they have not had to utilize smaller fish for survival. Instead, they are feed with whatever food source the hatchery provides for them. Generally, this is brown pellets of food but can vary depending on the hatchery. 

Usually, powerbait is the best mimic for this food source. Try to google the hatchery trout come from in your area and see if you can best match what is provided to them there. Matching this color or scent is likely to lead you to the best results for catching a large number of trout in your area. If you can find the exact attractant, you could easily catch trout cast after cast.

My best colors of powerbait for stocked trout have been chartreuse, rainbow, and peach. These are the most easily distinguishable colors for trout, which are highly influenced by sight, and seem to match what they are fed in hatcheries. Your local experience may vary, so I suggest trying a variety of colors and finding what works best. If you find one color that works better, stick with it. When they stock again, it’s very likely the new stock will also prefer that specific color.

Other techniques such as inline spinners will certinaily still work as trout never lose their instinct to chase prey. But I have not found a better producing bait than powerbait for stocked trout. Other brands such as Zeke’s are also likely to produce numbers, but stick with the ball type bait. After all, they have been fed this way throughout their life and have never had to rely on “real” bait fish for their survival.

Fish directly after the latest stocking

Now that you are using the correct bait, it’s important to remember that fishing immediately after a stocking will increase the odds of catching a mess of trout. 

Fish that are immediately removed from a hatchery have to adjust to their new surroundings – but this doesn’t actually take long for most trout. You can catch them within an hour after a stocking. 

trout, fish, rainbow trout

Adjusting to their new surroundings also means adjusting to not being fed at normal intervals, which means a ball of food sitting there for the taking will be rapidly eaten. Put powerbait (which mimics their normal food source) in front of a trout’s mouth and you’re likely to find great success. Not to mention right after a stocking is when the most trout are available in your local waters. If your areas are like mine, they get hit hard and fast.

If you aren’t fishing within the first few weeks of stocking, you need to lower your expectations of the amount of trout you’ll catch. They aren’t always “fished out’ completely, but the amount of fish is so low you are not likely to leave with a full bag. Likewise, they may have adjusted to their new environment and aren’t as likely to fall for your powerbait tricks mimicking their old feeding habits.

If you can fish the day or day after a stocking – go ahead and do it. The best days I have had trout fishing were directly after a stocking. You can catch fish weeks after a stocking, but you will always have the advantage directly after a bunch of trout are stocked in your area.

The tackle you need for stocked trout

Even if you’re using powerbait and fishing right after stocking, you will need the right tackle to capitalize on the availability of trout in your lake. Trout need the lightest line and weights possible. They are extremely sensitive to the extra pull of a weight when they pick up food, and they have above average eyesight for fish which means they can spot a big, thick line in the water.

This means you should be using 4 lb test if possible, bonus points for fluorocarbon, and the lightest weight you can get away with. I have personally used as little of 1/16th ounce of a weight when possible. Only use the amount of weight that you can cast easily to get to the depth and distance you need. (more on that later) 

One way I have found to get maximum casting distance but stay with the lightest line possible is to use the lightest braid you can find to spool the reel. Then, tie several yards of “leader line” on the end. This will be a few yards of 4 lb test fluorocarbon which is as good as invisible in the water. So you get the casting distance and strength that braid provides, with all of the invisibility fluorocarbon allows near the bait which is all the trout actually sees. 

Also be sure to use a light rod with a moderate action if possible. This will allow for the greatest cast distance while also providing a light hookset which is necessary to hook up with the trout biting your line. Like a panfish, trout have small mouths that don’t need require fast hooksets to catch. Ultimately you want a lighter setup to not set hooks as hard and they also make for a better fight. 

Small hook sizes are also key. Trout have extremely small mouths and large hooks will make it more likely a trout doesn’t fully commit to your bait and you pull a hook that never made it into the trout’s mouth. I use size 14 hooks but anything from 10 to 16 is recommended (remember that the higher the number, the smaller the hook). In my state, treble hooks are also allowed which creates two more points of contact and increases the likelihood of hooking up. Some states do not allow it, so check yours to make sure you’re legal.

Where rainbow trout go after stocking

Now that you have the bait, the setup, and are fishing at the right time – the question is where do you cast? If you are fishing in a stocked creek, try to just find the deepest holes possible. If you can find specifically where the trout are stocked, you’ll want to be as close to that area as possible. Generally, trout will find the deeper holes closest to where they were dumped and hang there for a while. So this is a good place to target first.

In lakes, you’ll want to find where the deepest water close to the bank is. You likely aren’t going to be able to cast out into the middle of a lake where the deepest water generally is, so find where deep water comes closest to the bank. Cast into that area. If there is a creek or other freshwater source coming into the lake, also try around that area. It’s likely to be slightly deeper in the creek channel that goes through the lake and the fresh, oxygenated water is an attractant for all kinds of fish.

Always remember to check your state regulations

My state has a lot of regulations regarding the way you can fish for trout and the amount of trout you can take from a stocked area. I personally can only take 6 trout and have a limit on the amount of poles in the water. Be sure to look up your own regulations and make sure you are within the limits sanctioned upon your area.

Also a specific license for trout is often mandatory. I paid for a lifetime license, which, over the years, will pay for itself. This is just another thing necessary to look into if you’re serious about trout fishing in your region.

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