Bass vs. Trout Fishing: Everything You Need to Know

Bass and trout: different fish, yet both extremely popular. Both are found across the country. Both are highly sought after. Maybe you’re new to fishing, or maybe you’re proficient in fishing for one, but looking to try the other. Whatever the case, some questions can be raised.

To the untrained eye, bass and trout can sometimes seem very similar, but there are some major differences between the two, from how they look, to their habitat, to their preferred meals. If you’re considering chasing either one, it’s important to understand not just what makes them different, but the similarities they might share.

It might seem daunting, but don’t worry; we’ve got you covered with this comprehensive look at bass vs. trout. 

Understanding Bass

Identification

fly fishing for largemouth bass

Without question, the two most popular bass as far as angling is concerned are the largemouth bass and the smallmouth bass. Belonging to the ‘black bass’ family (Micropterus), they aren’t technically bass at all, but instead larger members of the sunfish family.

Because these particular bass are part of the sunfish family, they exhibit certain characteristics that distinguish themselves from trout, most notably their body shape and coloration.

The coloration of a bass can not only vary from species to species, but from fish to fish depending on their habitat. When compared to trout, though, they are far less colorful. A largemouth bass, for example, will generally be a greenish gray color with black patches. Smallmouth, on the other hand, are brownish green to black and often have dark vertical lines on their body.

Some other key identifying features of a bass include their larger mouth, their larger fins (also more spikes than a trout), and their more rounded operculum (gill plate).

For a more in-depth look at identifying bass, check out Types of Bass: Positive Identification and Species Information.

Location

Bass are prevalent throughout North America, and their abundance is one of the reasons they’re the number one sport fish in the U.S.

Largemouth bass prefer warm bodies of water with little to no current, whereas smallmouth bass look for cooler bodies of water and areas with current. For both, these bodies of water can be lakes, ponds, rivers or streams, provided the conditions are right. That means the two can not only share the same bodies of water in different areas, but they can also share that water with trout, especially a highly adaptable one like rainbow trout.

Understanding Trout

Identification

With the amount of species and subspecies available, it’s no surprise that North America has the most diverse trout fishery in the world. It’s a great thing, but it can also be overwhelming if you’re just getting into trout fishing.

The coloration of a trout can be seemingly endless, not just from species to species, but fish to fish. Combinations of greens, golds, browns, reds, and silvers are all colors various trout will feature, but one thing that they typically share are their pronounced markings, usually dark to light spots. No matter what the color, it’s these spots that can differentiate a trout from a bass.

When separating trout from bass, however, it’s the body shape and features that set them apart. Trout are longer and leaner than bass. Where a bass can be described as broad, a trout’s body shape is more streamlined, indicative of the faster-moving water they are typically found in. 

While their color and body shape can be two key giveaways when distinguishing trout from bass, a couple of more tell-tale signs are their softer, more subtle fins, smaller mouths and less rounded operculum.

For a closer look into identifying the different trout in North America, check out Different Types of Trout: Understanding Trout in North America.

Location

As we mentioned, trout are abundant in North America, but that doesn’t make them easy to find. Unlike bass, trout are not a very adaptable fish, and most need very specific living conditions to thrive. The two most popular - the brown trout and the rainbow trout - can adapt more easily than most others, so for beginners, they’re the two to target.

Trout are found in cold, clear, clean waters. Mountain streams and clear-running rivers are great places to start, but depending on the species of trout, lake trout being a good example, they can also inhabit deep, cold lakes. There are also species of trout like rainbow (steelhead) and brown trout (Sea-Run trout) that spend the majority of their lives in saltwater, returning to freshwater rivers and streams to spawn. These species are referred to as anadromous. 

Because they can be so sensitive to their environment, there are trout populations that are on a steady decline because of things like climate change and urban development. Talk to any hardcore trout angler, and they’ll no doubt stress the importance of conservation and habitat restoration.

Bass vs. Trout: Choosing The Right Gear

Just because you can often find bass and trout hanging out in the same bodies of water doesn’t mean the gear used to catch them are going to be the same. Yes, there are exceptions - like using the same gear for river rainbows to catch river smallmouth - but that's a very general exception and not a rule.

Often, when we’re chasing bass, we’re targeting big fish in heavy cover, and that's going to require gear that can handle that type of stress. Spinning or casting combos in the medium to medium heavy range, braided line, and fluorocarbon leaders are commonplace in bass fishing depending on which species you’re targeting and the area you are targeting them in. Largemouth bass hiding in thick vegetation are going to need something on the heavier end of the spectrum, while smallmouth hugging rocky shorelines might require a lighter set up.

For a more in-depth look at the right gear for bass, check out One Rod to Rule Them All? Best Bass Fishing Rods Reviewed.

Trout, on the other hand, are on a much different level when it comes to selecting the right gear. Yes, there are trout like lake trout and ocean-dwelling steelhead that might require some heavier gear, but for the most part, when we think of trout fishing, we picture smaller fish in smaller bodies of water.

Combine that with the fact that trout are much more sensitive and aware of their surroundings, and you’ve got a fish that requires light, precise gear. Light and sensitive rod and reel combos, and low diameter invisible lines, are often needed to fool these cunning predators.

Gear available for trout can seem overwhelming, especially to someone new to fishing for them, and that’s because there are many different ways to catch them. The important thing to remember when starting out is to keep it light.

Check out The Best Trout Rods: Our Picks For 2024 for a closer look at what we consider some of the best options for the spin fisherman.

Bass vs. Trout: Techniques

With the right adjustments in the gear you’re using, many techniques used for bass or trout can be overlapped. Drop-shotting, slip-float fishing, casting crankbaits or jerkbaits, and even fishing top-water can all be applied to either trout or bass. The major difference between using these techniques for either is similar to choosing the right gear. Trout require something more subtle, which means downsizing. The crankbait you’re throwing for suspending smallmouth in a lake is going to be way too intrusive to fool any stream-dwelling trout.

Fly fishing is also a great way to catch both bass and trout, but again, it requires a different approach. The key to fly fishing for bass is knowing when and where it is most effective. Bass don’t require as stealthy of an approach as trout do, so they can often be caught on top water poppers or big streamer style flies, depending on their mood.

While trout, especially the bigger ones, can be caught on more aggressive fly patterns, a much more stealthy approach is often needed, not just in the flies you’re using, but in how you go about reaching the fish. Because you’re more than likely fishing a clear running river or stream, you’ll often need to sneak up on fish, staying back and making long casts to avoid spooking weary fish. Check out our Trout Fishing Tips.

Key Differences Between Bass And Trout Fishing

The gear and techniques needed to chase these fish can be big factors in deciding which one to focus on, but there are a few other key differences to keep in mind that may possibly persuade you one way or the other.

The Strike

One of the most exciting aspects of any fishing is the strike itself. Nothing can be more heart-stopping than seeing a big largemouth chase down a topwater lure or watching a float drop as a trout inhales your bait. How the two fish go after your offering are completely different in most cases.

Trout are often very subtle as far as taking a bait, nibbling at it so lightly that bites can easily go undetected. Even if they decide to take the bait, they can spit it out just as quickly if they think something is off. Detecting a strike from trout requires a combination of patience and concentration unmatched by any other fish.

Bass, on the other hand, are much less sensitive and way more aggressive. Yes, there are times when they need some subtle, finesse presentations too, but when compared to trout, bass are savage predators and will attack most presentations without hesitation, opening their mouths wide and inhaling as opposed to pecking at it like a trout.

The Fight

fly fishing bass

While the strike is exciting, most of us are fishing for the fight. Long runs, big jumps and strong headshakes are what us anglers lose sleep over. There is no solid answer to which fish fights better, although anglers of both will have their opinions as to why one is better than the other.

Fighting styles can be similar as both fish will take runs, jump, and shake their head, which really makes fighting relative to their size and the gear you're using. With light gear, even the smallest trout is going to feel like a monster. The same can be said about bass, but because bass are typically bigger than most of the trout you’d be chasing, they’ll give that strong fight even when caught on heavier gear.

Catching Difficulty

This is another soft spot that can start a pretty hearty debate when bass and trout anglers are in the same room. Both will argue about how difficult each can be to catch. It’s true that either can have their moments, but having regularly fished for both, I can say that bass are by far the easier of the two to catch. That’s not to discount the fact that at times they can be a frustrating fish to chase, but they don’t compare to trout on a difficulty scale.

Because bass are a more aggressive predator, they are susceptible to fast-paced, aggressive fishing styles. Trout, on the other hand, are very wary, can be more sensitive to their surroundings, and can spook easily, making them a tougher target.

Catch vs. Release

catch-and-release

Jump on social media, and it’s not hard to find more than a few heated arguments involving catch and release, whether those threads are talking bass or trout. Whether you’re an angler that likes to keep a couple of fish for the table, or one who wants to release everything you catch, it comes down to a matter of personal preference.

Yes, there are populations of both bass and trout that are very sensitive, and even declining, but rules and regulations are put in place to protect not only these populations, but healthy self-sustaining ones as well.

No matter how heated of an argument it might stir up, when done within the law, there’s nothing wrong with keeping a couple of fish for the table - bass, or trout.

Taste

So that brings us to which one tastes better. It really comes down to personal preference, but the popular opinion is that trout are a better-tasting fish. Living in clean, cold waters and feeding on the surface lead to trout having a fresher, sweeter taste, whereas bass, especially largemouth, dwell in warmer, murkier bodies of water, and often feed off the bottom, leaving a more fishy taste.

That doesn’t mean that bass can’t be good table fare, and what it really comes down to is how the fish are prepared. Cook it wrong and any fish can taste awful. Cook bass or trough properly, though, and they can both be very delicious.

Our Final Thoughts

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to deciding which fish to chase. After reading this, ask yourself these questions: What fishing style do you prefer? Do you want to catch a lot of fish, or do you prefer a challenge? Are you looking for a better-tasting fish for a good meal, or do you prefer to catch and release? Once you determine your answers, you should be well on your way to deciding which fish to go after.

We hope this article helped you get a better idea of the difference between bass and trout - and we hope it helped you make a decision that suits the kind of fishing you want to do. Leave us a comment and let us know if it did!

About The Author
Dan R