If you’re looking to catch trout in a lake from shore, there’s a lot you need to know. Trout will instinctually congregate in areas with lots of food, shelter, and other essentials. Fishing for trout in a lake can be remarkably productive. Many areas stock their lakes with trout, meaning that there’s plenty there for the taking. But catching trout in a lake is very different from fishing in moving water. Even an experienced river and stream angler will have to change their baits and techniques.
From where to fish to when to fish to what to use, this article will walk you through how to catch trout in a lake from shore. Don’t worry if it feels like a lot of information. Just take a few tips and go out and try your luck. Whether you catch something or not, you’ll start to understand where trout are and aren’t in a lake. Eventually, you’ll be pulling them out faster than you can unhook ’em!
Where To Fish For Trout In A Lake
Find the Trout’s Food
Like any fish in a lake, trout have some very specific needs. The most important one is food. In moving water, a trout can hold in one spot and let the current bring the food to them. But in a lake, trout have to move around to catch their food. Unlike in moving water, where catching trout means finding pools and eddies, catching trout in a lake usually means looking for trout food.
Trout eat a variety of smaller animals, including insects, worms, other fish, and even smaller trout. Often, this search for food brings them to the lake shore, making it easier to catch the trout. But not all shoreline is created equal.
Know the Water Temperature
There’s also a question of temperature and oxygenation. Like all fish, trout are cold-blooded, which means that their metabolism is dependent on the temperature around them. They thrive in certain temperatures, but above 70ºF can be lethal to them. If the water on the surface gets too warm, they’ll start going deeper. Keep that in mind when you’re fishing in the warm weather months.
|45º and below||Trout are slow and feed intermittently|
|50º||Trout begin actively feeding|
|55º||Optimal temperature for brown and brook trout|
|60º||Optimal temperature for rainbow trout|
|65º||Trout slow their feeding and look for cooler waters|
|75º and above||Lethal temperatures|
Cold water also holds more oxygen than warm water. But that doesn’t mean that there’s more oxygen the deeper and colder you get in a lake. During the warmer months, the water at the bottom often doesn’t circulate with the water on the top, meaning that while it’s colder, it doesn’t get its oxygen replenished. Instead, the lake is divided into three basic zones of water circulation. Understanding those zones of the lake is key if you want to catch the most trout.
Find the Thermocline
It’s a technical-sounding term, but the concept is easy. After the lake warms up, a general structure starts to form. The warmer water at the top is less dense than the colder water at the bottom, and stays sitting on top rather than circulating down. This creates two areas, one of warmer top water and one of colder bottom water. The border between those two areas is called the thermocline. It’s got just the right blend of cooler temperatures and high oxygenation that trout love. Find the thermocline, and you’ll usually find the trout.
The best way to find it is to ask around. Since it’s an important measure for lake wildlife, many state and local agencies will track the thermocline of their waterbodies. You can also ask around at your local bait or fishing gear shop. Some fish finders have the ability to locate the thermocline as well.
While knowing the thermocline is most useful when you’re trolling, it can be important for catching trout in a lake from shore as well. Getting deeper isn’t always better, and the trout hunkering down below the thermocline may not be actively feeding. But if the thermocline is very deep, you might not be able to get to prime trout fishing depth from shore. Taking a look at a depth map of the lake you’re fishing in will help you locate the sweet spots that are both close to the shore and the right depth for catching trout (more on that in a minute).
Examine the Terrain
You can usually assume that what you see above the water mirrors what’s below the water. A steep slope going down to the the lake shore will probably continue underneath. If you see an island in the middle of the lake, that’s the top of an underwater hill. It’s not perfect. but keeping an eye on the surrounding terrain will tell you a lot about the lake.
This is especially true of man-made reservoirs. Remember, a lot of it was dry land before it was flooded, often less than 100 years ago. It’ll have very similar contours to the land around it.
The trout certainly know the terrain. A steep slope towards shore lets the trout sit in a cooler part of the lake while being close enough to catch food on the shoreline when needed. Shallows are great trout breeding grounds. A thin strip of water between two islands or between shore and an island acts as a bottleneck for the smaller fish that trout love to catch.
Look For Rises
The easiest way to figure where the trout are in a lake is by looking for the trout themselves. They will often come to the surface to feed, and you can easily see the ripples they make as they come up. When you first get to the lake, take a few minutes to just stare out at the water. If you see some rises, you’ll know where to aim your casts.
This video is mostly geared towards fly fishing in rivers and streams, but gives you a good sense of what a rising fish looks like:
Rises are particularly important because they show that trout are actively feeding. It’s also good to keep in mind that trout are like icebergs: there’s more beneath the surface. When trout are first stocked in a lake, they will often swim in schools. Even after they’re gone their separate ways, they tend to congregate in similar areas. Remember, they’re all looking for the same things. So when you see one rise, you’re probably looking at more than one trout.
Find Shade and Shelter
Fun fact: trout don’t have eyelids! They can’t close their eyes, so they don’t like bright sunlight. If it’s sunny out, they’re either going to dive deep or look for shade. Areas with tall trees, a steep cliff, or other features that block direct sunlight will be popular with trout.
While trout are predators, they’re also prey. Bigger fish will target them, along with various birds of prey. They’ll want to stay hidden as much as possible, and that means finding shelter. Overhangs, downed trees, and man-made structures like docks can be great areas to catch trout near the shore of a lake.
Find Moving Water
Trout are lazy, and if they don’t need to travel around, they won’t. A stream running into the lake brings food and oxygenated water right to any trout who sits at the inlet. If you can, cast your lure so that the current takes it into the lake, just like the floating food. Trout also like to breed around the inlets in lakes. They’re also cannibals who love to eat other trout’s eggs and young. Use that to your advantage with an egg-shaped bait like Power Eggs floated off the bottom.
Grab a Depth Map
One of the most useful things you can have when fishing for trout in a lake is a depth map. Look for any particularly deep spots. Find the closest part of the shore to those deep spots. That’s often going to be the best place to cast from for a few reasons. First, trout are likely to be holding in those deep spots. But they’ll need to leave to find food, which means moving towards shore. And, of course, they’ll want to take the quickest possible route there. So not only will you be casting into the deep holes that the trout are hiding in, even the shallower water around you will be productive.
GPS Nautical Charts has a great app with depth maps for many major lakes and ponds in North America. Many state and local agencies also publish depth maps on their websites for fishing and boat navigation. A Google search for “[lake name] fishing map” will probably bring one up.
Get a Fish Finder
A fish finder can be an extremely useful when you’re looking for trout in a lake. Yes, that seems like an obvious thing to say, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t think of it! While most fish finders are made for boats, there are a few good castable ones that shore fishermen can use.
Know the Stocking Locations
Some people might view this as cheating, but it works! After they’re stocked, it takes trout a while to adjust to their new environment. They’ll stick around the area they’re dumped in for at least a few days. If the conditions are right, some will never leave. To catch newly-stocked trout, look along the shore of the lake for boat ramps or other easy access points. Stocking is usually done from big tanks in a truck, which may only work in a few locations along the lake. You can also talk to people fishing or living nearby who may have seen the truck.
Here’s a great video of a trout stocking truck:
You can’t park that thing just anywhere!
When To Fish For Trout In A Lake
Wait for Warming Weather
Notice I said warming, not warmer. And I didn’t say hot, either. Once it gets hot enough, the trout will become sluggish and retreat to cooler water. But water takes longer to heat up than the surrounding air. If it’s been cool for a while, a warm stretch will jump-start the trout’s metabolism, and they’ll be hungry.
That makes spring and early summer the best time of year to catch trout, especially from a lake shore. They’ve been eating very little all winter long, and need to start replenishing their energy stores. They’ll hunt farther, shallower, and less discriminately than at any other time of year.
For lake and brook trout, which prefer colder water than their cousins, this feeding frenzy can occur soon after ice-out on many lakes. It happens a little later for rainbow and brown trout, but all species will be very active by a week or two after the ice has disappeared.
Dawn and Dusk
The best time to catch trout near the shore in a lake is almost always in the morning. This is when trout are feeding most actively. Morning is also when the shallow waters closest to the shore are at their coolest, which trout prefer. The next best time is near dusk, as the water starts to cool off again.
Fishing in the middle of the day can be hit-or-miss, and may depend on the weather. Cloudy days will extend your window by keeping the heat and brightness of the sun in check.
Look for Clouds
Remember, trout don’t like bright sunlight. They’ll be more active on cloudy days. Rainy days are even better. The rain washes bugs, worms, and other tasty food into the water. Rainwater is also rich in oxygen, which powers up the trout. Streams will swell up, bringing even more nutrients and oxygen into the lake. Take advantage (and catch some trout) by setting up near the mouth of a stream on the lake shore. They’ll head there looking for dinner, which means you should, too!
What Bait To Use In A Lake
If you’re fishing for stocked trout, Powerbait is your best bet. Trout are fed pellets at the hatchery that look, taste, and smell a lot like Powerbait. It can take them weeks or even months to fully adjust to natural. During that transition, they’ll swallow anything that looks familiar.
Power Eggs are a nice variant of Powerbait that will catch of a lot of trout in a lake even long after they’re stocked. Trout eat each others’ eggs, and Power Eggs capitalize on that by
Another great version of Powerbait is Power Nuggets, which are just the Powerbait in pre-formed pellets. These look very much like those hatchery pellets that stocked trout are fed before being released into the lake. They also tend to stay on the hook longer than normal Powerbait. When you’re casting and re-casting, it’s nice not to have to keep putting bait back on the hook.
The quintessential fishing bait, worms are great for catching trout in a lake. Worms that get swept by rain or current into the lake are a big part of a trout’s diet. Get them live from your local bait shop, and fish them under a bobber with a split shot to sink them down a little. You can also use a bait blower to puff some air into them, then rig them with a sinker so they’ll float off the bottom.
When you’re hooking the worm, bunch it up so that the hook goes through a few times. This helps hide the hook, which is key. Trout have excellent eyesight, and in still water they’ll have plenty of time to examine the worm. They are also prone to nibbling at the edges. If you leave parts of the worm free, trout will nibble at that and leave the rest. Keeping it bunched forces them to bite the hook.
You can also buy imitation earthworms like Berkley Gulp! Worms. These won’t move, but their enhanced scent will attract trout much like Powerbait. And unlike live worms, they’ll last a long time without care or refrigeration.
Using a little fish to catch a big fish is one of the oldest fishing tricks in the book. In a lake, hungry trout are looking to catch easy prey, and a wounded minnow is perfect for them. Since bugs and worms make up a large part of their diet, even a smaller shiner is a big calorie boost all in one gulp. And since the shiner is on a hook and line, its impaired mobility makes it look very enticing.
You can either float the shiner near the surface under a bobber or weigh it down so that it swims above the bottom. During the spring, when trout are waking up and the water is still fairly cold, they’ll be more willing to chase them around the lake. Once the warm weather comes in, they’ll be less willing to come up for food, so going to the bottom might be the best option.
Some people hook the shiner through the tail, but that can make it very hard for the fish to move. Remember, trout are looking for wounded, not dead prey. Others hook it through the mouth, which works but can result in the fish falling off. Hooking through the back just under the dorsal fin keeps the shiner mobile but firmly attached. Just don’t puncture the spine, or you’ll have a dead baitfish on your hands.
You can buy shiners live at your local bait shop, but you’ll have to bring a bucket to keep them in. Make sure to keep it out of direct sunlight and change the water if you’re out for long periods of time. The key is to keep the shiners alive and active enough to attract a trout.
You can also buy pre-packaged (dead) shiners, usually preserved in salt. You’ll have to give them “life” yourself by twitching and reeling them in. Use a bait blower to fill them up with air so that they’ll float.
What Lures To Use In A Lake
When you’re trying to catch trout in a lake from the shore, you usually need distance. You need to cover a lot of water to find out exactly where the trout are hiding. Getting out to the deep parts of lake can hep a lot, as can Spoons, spinners, and crankbaits are three great types of lure to catch trout in a lake from the shore. All three will help get you that casting distance while moving in a way that trout can’t resist chasing.
Spoons are popular and effective lures for catching trout in lakes. They work by imitating a wounded fish with a fluttering motion in the water. Plus, their bright metallic flashes catch trout’s eye. They’re particularly useful on a windy day, since they’ll usually cast farther than other lures.
The Acme Kastmaster is a very popular spoon for trout, and very effective. It can cast great distances, making it perfect for catching trout in the deep holes in the middle of the lake. Be careful, though, because it’ll catch lake weeds almost as easily as it’ll catch trout.
Similarly, the Luhr-Jensen Krocodile will catch trout wherever they are in a lake. It’ll cast well, but it’s also great for jigging around structures that trout might be hiding around.
The thinner Phoebe spoon doesn’t have the distance the other spoons do, but has a great fluttering motion. It’s particularly good around moving water. If you’re fishing for trout near an inlet to the lake, the Phoebe is a good spoon to have around.
Spinners can also be very effective for catching trout in a lake. While these work quite well in moving water, they can be a little trickier to use in still water, where there’s no current to automatically start the blade moving. Give the rod a jerk at the start of the retrieve to kick-start it.
The Worden’s Rooster Tail is one of the best lures for trout, period. It’ll catch trout anywhere, and works great cast from a lake shore. It’s named for the fluffy “hackle” that sets it apart from other similar spinners. That hackle helps it imitate a lot of different species of trout food. Pack a bunch of different colors and see what works best for you.
The Mepps Aglia will get you a little more casting distance over the Rooster Tail, and it’ll run a little deeper too. It also features a deadly flash that will catch trout’s eyes and get them striking. Mepps has some nice lure kits that are an easy grab-and-go collection of spinners with a spoon or two thrown in.
Crankbaits can catch a lot of trout in lakes, especially minnow-shaped lures. Like spoons, twitching and stop/starting is the best way to retrieve them. Picking the right crankbait is key. Heavier ones that will sink are better for deep holes, while fishing for trout around the shore is best with lighter crankbaits that float or run shallow.
The Rebel Tracdown Minnow will sink at around a foot per second, giving you great flexibility as to how deep you run it. They’re perfectly engineered to look like a wounded minnow, and a few jerks and twitches will help that illusion.
The Strike King Bitsy Minnow is a small lure that runs shallow and looks like a tasty little treat to a trout. It’s only 1/8oz., so it won’t necessarily fly far, but it’s great for catching trout around inlets or shallow areas.
Fly Fishing From Shore In A Lake
Fly fishing from shore on a lake can get pretty frustrating. You may not have a lot of room to cast, but you’ll still keep to be casting for distance. Still, if you can find an open spot along the shore of the lake, you can cacth a lot of trout on a fly.
As always, Orvis has you pretty well covered with some great techniques. Check out this great video with some very in-depth tips:
Use an Indicator
When you’re wet fly fishing from shore on a lake, you’ll want careful control over the depth of your fly. Using an indicator allows you to experiment, dropping it farther and farther down until you find the sweet spot. It also helps you gauge your retrieve.
Nymphs and Chironomids
Both of these wet fly types will be very popular, especially among early-season trout. Keep experimenting with depth until you get it right.
Midges and Mayflies
It’s always best to know your local hatches. But as a general rule, midges will be some of the first insects that trout start surface feeding on early in the season. A little later, mayflies will be very active. Both are easy go-tos for catching trout on a dry fly in a lake.
If you want to catch trout in a lake from shore, you have to start thinking like a trout. Food, temperature, shelter, shade and many other factors go into where the trout will be, and what they’ll strike at. Once you understand these factors and how they affect trout in a lake, you’ll be catching them in no time.