How to Catch Brown Trout: Aggressive and Sensitive Predators

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He catch the brown trout.

Catching brown trout requires understanding their holding areas, including slack water, pools, riffles, seams, and eddies. Understanding their feeding habits and behaviors gives you an advantage in pursuing them. Finally, a quality rod and reel setup with insect and prey fly imitations sets you up for success.

Danny on the river with 3 arrows illustation.
Arrow 1: Fish this small eddie at the end of your time in this area. Fish will spend time here, but you don’t want to pass over all of the good water. Arrow 2: This is a good place to start. Fish above and below this rock in the pockets find a holding fish. Arrow 3: Arrow 3 is where I would spend most time. The fish can sit behind the rock, almost below it, and you’re far enough away to not spook them.

Pursuing brown trout takes anglers into the most beautiful parts of the world. Their unique habitat requirements keep them in high-elevation areas, below reservoirs, and in any environment that can hold water temperatures below 65 degrees. Once you locate them, however, the work begins. 

Brown Trout Holding Areas and Techniques

While every body of water is different, brown trout have similar tendencies regardless of where they live. If you can find areas where they have easy access to food without the need to fight the current, you’ll give yourself a chance. 

Fishing for Brown Trout in Slack Water

Slack water is the perfect place to start looking for brown trout. Slack water is any part of the river that looks like it doesn’t have a current or is moving slower than the rest of the current. Brown Trout hate fighting current, but like staying close to it because of the food it brings. 

You’ll find slack water on the edges of strong currents, in pools, pockets, and eddies. Whatever you do, start by looking for a slower current, and you’ll be in the right place. 

River with 4 arrows illustration.
Stand at Arrow 1, start by casting above arrow 2, and let it drift. If nothing strikes around arrow 2, drift your fly to arrow 3. If nothing strikes at arrow 3, drift your fly to arrow 4.

Fishing for Brown Trout in Pools

My favorite place to catch trout is in pools. Pools are usually between two sections of riffles and shallow water. Trout sit within these pools and feed all day. 

The pools offer protection, comfortable water temperature, and ample access to food. They’ll sit on the front or back edge of the pool, waiting for insects, smaller fish, or other prey to appear. 

How to Fish Pools

To fish pools, stand off to the side of the water and work it from top to bottom. Cast your fly into the riffles, let it drift into the pool, and see what happens. 

Usually, you’ll get a strike as it drifts into the pool or as you strip it back towards you. Don’t lift your fly out of the pool. A strong strip entices any stubborn fish. 

Let your fly drift further into the pool if they don’t bite on the front edge. As it drifts, stay ready for a strike. Once it drifts past you, begin to strip towards yourself. 

If you’re fishing the back of the pool, strip your fly from the front to the back. Pulling a streamer through the pool resembles a swimming baitfish, and it usually doesn’t take long for a trout to strike. Otherwise, you can dead drift a nymph through it. 

Since pools have slow-moving water, you must create most of the action on your fly. Stay ready to vary your retrieval process. 

River with 3 arrows illustration.
Stand at arrow one, and cast to arrow two. As your fly drifts downstream, raise your rod tip, strip in your slack, and expect a strike at arrow three.

Fishing for Brown Trout in Riffles

Riffles are an overlooked portion of the river. Most anglers skip them to find the pools, eddies, and pockets. These shallow sections of water look like little waves. 

Fish sit in these sections because the current isn’t as strong, food is readily available, and it stirs insects as it passes over the rocks. If trout are in the riffles, they’re almost always feeding. 

How to Fish Riffles

I like to fish riffles in small sections with my nymphs. If possible, I’ll high-stick my way through a full section of riffles. I’ll cast 15-20 feet up and across stream and let my fly drift naturally downstream. As my fly approaches, I raise my rod tip and strip in my slack. This keeps tension on the fly in case the fish take it. 

If possible, fish riffles along the shore or in areas next to larger boulders or fallen logs. The structure within the riffles offers some protection if the brown trout become wary. 

Usually, small flies and high sticking help you land fish within the riffles. Take your time, work the sections, and stay out of the areas you want to fish. Trout become wary in shallow water, so don’t make your presence be the reason brown trout won’t eat. 

River with big rocks and trees. It has 2 arrows illustration.
Stand at arrow 1 and fish upstream at arrow 2

Fishing for Brown Trout in Seams

Seams are the sections of water where two currents meet. You’ll find slack water on either side of the seam or other areas where browns like to sit. Seams form after islands in the river, after rocks, or in small bends in the river. If you can locate the foam line, you’ll find them. 

How to Fish Seams

Fishing seams is a blast. The fishing isn’t overly technical. If you can get a smooth drift, you’ll find the fish. Cast on the side of the seam that’s closest to you. Don’t try to cross it when you first start fishing it. You’ll find that fish work on both sides, so don’t feel the need to cover it all at once. 

Cast upstream, and let your fly drift along the edge of the seam. I like to use a nymph rig when fishing seams. It gives me an idea of what the trout want to eat. Like riffles, I raise my rod tip and strip in the extra slack as my fly drifts closer. 

If I work a seam on one side and don’t land any fish, I’ll start fishing on the opposite side. Be careful because you might find that the current speed switches, so be ready to mend and keep your fly leading the way. 

One of the best places to fish seams is near a boulder. They’ll create a natural slow-moving current known as a pocket. That miniature pool behind these rocks almost always holds fish. 

River with 2 arrows illustration.
Stand at arrow 2 and cast at arrow 1

Fishing for Brown Trout in Eddies

Eddies are sections of water where the current starts circulating upstream because of a significant obstruction that interrupts the flows. These slow-circling waters hold fish. Food gets trapped in these currents, and the trout don’t have to work hard to stay in one place. Plus, the foam buildups provide some protection for the browns. 

How to Fish Eddies

When you’re fishing eddies, have nymphs, dries, and streamers ready. From below the eddie, I cast into the main current and let my fly drift into the eddie. Casting from above the eddy makes it challenging to control your fly. 

If a dead drift into the eddie isn’t working, I strip through them. Stand below the eddie, cast above it, let your fly drift into it, and begin a retrieval. It doesn’t have to be an aggressive retrieve, but small twitches get your flies moving. 

Finally, I’ll throw a few larger dry flies into the foam piles. Trout see something hit the water and disturb the foam. If they’re ready to eat, they’ll react and strike. 

River with beautiful mountains. It has 3 arrows illustrations.
Stand at arrow 1, and make your casts towards arrows two and three.

Fishing for Brown Trout in Cover and Structure

If fishing in a river or lake, prioritize cover and structure. Cover and structure include anything from rock piles to logs to weed lines. Trout want to stay safe while still being able to survey the water around them. They’ll sit in cover and structure and wait for the perfect hunting opportunity. 

Cast in, near, and around the cover and structure to entice the fish. A few quick strips away from the structure is usually all you need to entice the fish. They’re eager and ready to pounce. 

Fishing for Brown Trout Near Drop-Offs

One of the final places you should look for trout is around drop-offs. The sections of water where the depth changes are perfect for trout. Trout will swim into shallower water to hunt but retreat to deeper water to hold. Drop-offs help them cover various depths easily. 

South Dakota Brown Trout
South Dakota Brown Trout

Trout Behavior

Brown trout hunt during the mornings, evenings, and nights. Yes, they’ll still eat in the middle of the day, but they spend most of their time in deep water, away from the surface, in comfortable temperatures. 

The mornings and evenings usually bring the most hatches. When insects start hatching, the trout become more active. They take advantage of the activity and easy meals. Even if things aren’t hatching, the mornings and evenings provide lower light that protects the trout as they hunt. 

If you can determine what they’re eating, trout are generally aggressive and eager fish. Once you figure out their food, you can present your flies in multiple ways to learn what they want. Set yourself up for success by fishing during the mornings, evenings, and nights. 

What Rod to Use for Trout

Once the location and time are determined, you need the proper gear. Often, landing trout comes down to small details like proper leader or tippet, so make sure you’ve dialed in your setup. 

A 5-weight 9’ fly line
A 5-weight 9’ fly line

You can catch most brown trout anywhere from a 4 to 6-weight rod. A 4-weight 8’ rod works well if you’re fishing smaller streams. A 5- or 6-weight 9’ rod is great for fishing larger water.

Euro nymphing anglers can stick with your 10 or 11’ rod, depending on what you need. 

5-weight fly reel
5-weight fly reel

What Reel to Use for Trout

Make sure the weight of your reel matches the weight of your rod. If you’re fishing a 5-weight rod, a 5-weight reel keeps you balanced. A balanced setup makes casting easier. 

Fly reel paired with 5-weight floating fly line.
Fly reel paired with 5-weight floating fly line

What Line to Use for Trout

Most brown trout fishing situations require a floating fly line that matches the weight of your rod. A 5-weight rod can handle 5-weight weight forward floating fly line. Floating fly line is a good choice when fishing shallow waters, dry flies, or situations where you only want your leader and tippet in the water. 

Sinking or sink tip fly line is a favorite for anglers fishing deep rivers or lakes where they need to get to the bottom. A floating line usually works perfectly fine, but a reel equipped with a sink-tip line is good to have on hand. 

4x and 6x leader.
4x and 6x leader work well when fishing for brown trout. Although they’re on the thinner end, they can handle big browns.

What Leader and Tippet to Use for Trout

I almost always fish a 3x 7 to 9-foot leader and pair it with whatever tippet I need. Some anglers prefer a tapered leader, but I find that tippet is easier to attach to a non-tapered leader. 

4x and 6x tippet are good options to use for brown trout fishing with nymphs and dry flies.
4x and 6x tippet are good options to use for brown trout fishing with nymphs and dry flies

I carry 3x-6x tippet, but I mostly use 3x, 4x, and 5x. I’ll attach 24 to 36 inches of tippet and replace it when it gets too short. The only time I don’t use tippet is when I throw streamers in pursuit of big browns. 

What Flies to Use for Trout

Brown trout like streamers, nymphs, and dry flies. They eat at all levels of the water column.

Brown trout streamers
Brown trout streamers

Streamers you should use include Woolly Buggers, Clouser Minnows, Sex Dungeons, Leeches, and Crayfish. 

 Brown trout nymphs
Brown trout nymphs

Some popular nymphs include Pheasant Tails, San Juan Worms, Prince Nymphs, RS2s, Pat’s Rubber Legs, and Pink Squirrels. 

Brown trout dries
Brown trout dries

Use Chubby Chernobyls, Elk Hair Caddis, PMDs, Parachute Adams, Royal Wulffs, and gnats for dry flies.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Are Brown Trout Hard to Catch? 

Brown trout are often hard to catch because of their picky tendencies. They like to eat specific flies and only feel comfortable feeding when water temperatures are low enough. If you can naturally drift flies and bait in the areas they hold, you have a chance. 

What is the Best Time to Fish for Brown Trout?

The best time to fish for brown trout is during the mornings and evenings when the hatches are occurring. 


Brown trout love to eat and don’t shy away from an appetizing meal. As long as you target them in the right places and at the right time using the proper gear, you’ll likely catch fish. Every body of water is different, and browns don’t always have consistent behavior, but the more you try, the more you learn. They’re beautiful fish and are some of the heartiest trout species you’ll find. 

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