Your best bet for catching trophy trout is a combination of timing, location, and scouting. With a little persistence and knowing where to look for these beasts, you will have the tools needed to land the trout of a lifetime.
Stalking Large Trout
In the modern fishing world, a trout that reaches MONSTER proportions has most likely had numerous encounters with anglers.
You don't get Grandpa status without seeing a few hooks in your mouth. Not only are these fish wary of all predators, including you, but they have found the perfect feeding and hiding ground to keep them safe.
Your best bet for catching these trophies is a combination of timing, location, and scouting. With a little persistence and knowing where to look for these beasts, you will have the tools needed to land the trout of a lifetime.
When searching for these trophies, you must have the mindset of a hunter. You will spend more time tracking and observing than you will fishing. But when you do find that once-in-a-lifetime trophy trout, it will be worth all the hard effort and persistence.
What Time of Year (Timing)
There are the times of the year and times of the day that are more productive to hunt down large trout.
Brown trout spawn in the fall and are actively aggressive during this time. Rainbows spawn in the spring and are also more aggressive during this time, so locating them will be easier as they are on the move. Typically the big brown season will last late into November. Springtime is great for both as the rainbows are spawning the browns are looking to put on more weight from their breeding season.
During the springtime, when you have higher waters, trout feel safer because they have more depth to move in for cover. This also can happen on rainy days when the rivers are not entirely mud.
Seasonal hatches also play a significant role in the larger trout coming out to feed. Mother’s Day caddis hatch, a large salmon fly hatch, or the world-renowned green drake hatch are all great timing opportunities to track down larger trout as they are actively feeding during these astronomically sized hatches.
Pressure also plays into your timing when tracking down these elusive trout. During the busy months of the year, when the waters are heavily fished, these trout learn to hide during prime daylight and forage during low-light times.
Early morning, dusk, and into the night are also great times to fish for these elusive monsters, as the low-light condition gives them cover. Cloudy days also are great because the fish are tricked into thinking nighttime is coming, so they are more likely to come out to feed.
Locations for Large Trout
When looking for large trout, keep in mind that big fish live in larger water. These can be lakes, reservoirs, or large rivers. Tailwaters with consistent flows and large amounts of sustenance are great places to start your journey. Rivers that feed into larger bodies of water are also prime areas to hunt down Monster trout. Tributaries to the Great Lakes continuously bring in record trout year after year. If you're interested in our top 25 destinations for chasing large trout, I recommend checking out our article on the website.
But here is a quick run-through of 10 of those 25 locations where you can hunt for large trout.
1. Roscoe, New York
Roscoe in New York is nicknamed Trout Town USA. This is the launching point for the hallowed rivers of the Catskill Mountains, so you know that you’re going to be in for some pretty cool catches. The Beaverkill and the Willowemoc both flow through this place, so if you’re looking to catch some brown or rainbow trout, this could be your place.
2. Missoula, Montana
This is a small, laid-back college town, and yet trout fishing is a huge deal here. You can fish in the bouldery Blackfoot or the Bitterroot, both of which end up emptying into the Clark Fork. Montana has a variety of different trout species, and you will find many of them in all the bodies of water that flow through the areas.
3. West Yellowstone, Montana
There are a variety of rivers that run through Yellowstone. You will find the Firehole River, Gibbon River, and Slough Creek. Or, there is the Gallatin and Henry's Fork, which also boast plenty of trout for you to find.
4. State College, Pennsylvania
Most commonly, you will find large brown trout here. Surrounding this area, you’ll find places such as Carlisle, Lock Haven, and Altoona. Spring Creek runs through this town. There isn't much here as it is quite a small town, but you’re going to be able to find some pretty big brown and rainbow trout here.
5. Grayling, Michigan
The Ausable River flows over the bottom side of this town, providing fly fishers with the ability to find some decent size trout. Trout fishing in America is a big thing, but people travel from all over to come to Grayling for this reason.
6. Glenwood Springs, Colorado
The Crystal River, The Frying Pan, The Roaring Fork, and The Colorado River can all be accessed through Glenwood Springs. With some of the most consistent trout streams located here, you are sure to catch something that you can be proud of.
7. Mountain Home, Arkansas
People are catching thirty-pound fish every year here, thanks to the White River and the Norfolk Rivers that run through. You can fish in this area all year round, and you will find some of the biggest non-migratory brown trout in the entire world in this area.
8. Asheville, North Carolina
If you hike into the Smokies, which is just a short journey from Asheville, you will find some of the best mountainside streams to catch large trout. The Southern Appalachians are known for their brook trout.
9. The South Holston, Tennessee
This has been hailed as arguably one of the best trout rivers in the southeastern United States. Close by, you will find towns and cities such as Kingsport and Watauga. You are sure to find plenty of trout here, and some pretty large ones at that.
10. Green River, Utah
Flowing into the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, you’ll find some large rainbow, brown, and lake trout. Some estimates show that there are nearly 20,000 trout per mile in the first 7 miles below the dam. But the waters are challenging, so fly fishing isn't easy here.
For the full list, check out our article on the Discover Tab on Drifthook.com.
Scouting for Large Trout
As soon as you have chosen your location, you now need to get into the mindset of sight-fishing rather than location casts, and the only way to sight-fish is to do the right amount of scouting in the most optimal places that hold large trout.
Large trout are territorial and will chase off smaller trout for prime feeding lanes and are always looking for danger. The best way to bag one of these monsters is to be invisible to them. You must be as stealthy as a ninja to be able to sneak up on this type of reward.
Start by observing from a great distance away from prime holding grounds. Observe from high overlooks or bluffs, behind trees, or down low behind grass or sagebrush. A great technique that fly fishing guide Mat Gunnel in Ridgway, Colorado has perfected, and what you will see on the Pyramid Lakes in Nevada, is to bring your own ladder. Yes, a ladder. Keep it a reasonable distance from your fishing area and set up post. Spend a good amount of time viewing from a high distance above the water. You will be able to pick up the silhouettes of larger trout from this vantage point.
When scouting in prime rivers and tributaries, large trout usually need large pools for their homes. Large trout will sometimes have a holding area in deep pools. Deep pools provide the necessary overhead cover to survive. Predators can't see them, and the water temperatures stay cooler. These pools are relatively deep, close to 6 to 8 feet or more. They are typically surrounded by cover, like branches, bushes, downed trees, or rock formations, or in areas with undercut banks.
Fish like anything that can keep them covered from predators. Ideally, the currents in these pools offer a feeding lane. Look for pools with back eddies that bring in a consistent source of food. Large trout typically are most active in low light—early morning, late evening, and night. When the light is low, they will make their way to shallower water to hunt smaller trout and other large meals.
In the evenings, these monsters will move out of that resting pool towards the shallow water and banks to begin feeding. The cool thing about rainy and overcast days is that it tricks these trout into thinking it is later than it is, and they will come out of hiding earlier to fill their bellies on food. Large rainbows have similar feeding behaviors, but they also feed actively throughout the day in highly oxygenated water, such as riffles and pool inlets.
If a dominant trout’s home pool is undisturbed, it can spend its entire life in that one area unless it is migrating for colder water or unique feeding opportunities. This can be commonly found on tailwaters like the Umpagadry River, San Juan, or the Fryingpan, where the majority of the trophy trout have been picked out the same 20-yard stretch. Rainbow trout feed throughout the day and will move out of these pools for highly oxygenated riffle water.
On rivers that have more activity or pressure from fishermen, look for lies by rocks close to the edge of the river or an undercut bank. Large trout can lie in these areas knowing they have an easy exit to deeper water if something comes for them. Also, look for narrow feeding channels. Nature has taught them not to go out of their comfort zone as only danger awaits.
When you have located a prime location, do not rush into it to fish. Take your time and watch the water. Keep a reasonable distance and focus on the section of water that seems like it will hold that trophy. Depending on your angle, you might have water glare. If this is the case, change your location to avoid that glare and have a cleaner viewing lane of the area you are targeting. Look for slicks in the water that will give you a clearer image of the depth below. Overcast conditions help tremendously for this, as do polarized sunglasses with the correct lenses for the light conditions. I recommend brown or copper-shaded lenses, as these will help with low-light conditions.
If you have the opportunity to scout on numerous days, try scouting locations at different water flows. You might find out that these larger trout are more active during different CFS conditions on that particular body of water. I will hike sections of water on different days keeping track of the CFS, and if I see movement in a prime holding area, I will note it in my log. It can also be helpful if you have GPS so you can mark the spot and come back to it later during prime feeding times.