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Kayak Fishing for Trout: Essential Tips to Get You Started

Written by: John Baltes
Last Updated:
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Trout anglers know that crystal-clear, shallow water demands stealth. And there’s nothing stealthier than a silent kayak sliding into a pool.

Even out west, where you may be trolling for trout on a big lake, a kayak is an affordable, easily-transportable alternative to a big aluminum boat. And trust me, trolling from a ’yak is no less effective.

Wherever you fish for trout, you should explore the option of a kayak as the ideal angling platform, and if you want to know more, keep reading!

Also Read: Rigs For Trout Fishing

Trout Basics

Trout are members of a diverse family, the Salmonidae. Close relatives of char and salmon, brook, rainbow, and brown trout are just three of the better-known members of three different, but closely-related genera.

To my eye, brown trout are one of the most beautiful fish in any water.

All trout prefer cooler, clear water, favoring temperatures in the 50 to 60 F range. 

Immature trout typically feed on aquatic invertebrates like mayflies and dragonflies, but pretty much any insect that hits the top of the water better watch out! As they grow to reach 12 inches or so, they’ll switch to a diet of small fish, though any fly angler can attest that they’ll still hit top water insects when they can.

Trout locate prey with very keen eyesight, and they’re quite aware of shadows and other signs of predators lurking above them or on the banks.

That makes stealth critically important in shallower water, since the trout will simply disappear if they see your outline or shadow.

Out Top Tips for Kayak Fishing for Trout

Slide and glide

I don’t think there’s a fish that’s easier to spook than a brown or brook trout, and so much as a shadow will send them racing for a deep crevasse between two rocks. And rainbows aren’t much braver!

Fortunately, kayaks are quiet, but even paddle strokes can be a bad idea.

Instead, I like to use a river or stream’s natural current to glide past a likely spot, casting as I go. I’ll keep my paddle out of the water, make a pass, then back way off and paddle back upstream for a second run.

You can also find a quiet eddy in the lee of a larger rock or obstacle, park your yak silently, and cast into adjacent areas likely to hold trout.

What you can’t do is splash your way into a still pool and expect trout to stay put.

If you’re a fly angler who likes to cast from your feet, great! Lots of kayaks support that option with supreme stability and non-slip decks.

Take a look at our detailed reviews to get a better sense of your options:

Best Stand Up Fishing Kayak

But keep in mind that if you take to your feet anywhere near a trout, it can spot your outline silhouetted against the sky, and it’ll head for cover immediately.

Keep your distance and stand well off; don’t stand to cast anywhere near a fish.

Use the right tackle

While fly angling tackle dominates trout fishing, spinning tackle enthusiasts don’t need to feel left out, especially where deeper water is the norm.

I prefer light and ultralight rods for my trout fishing as they provide the sensitivity and feel I want, as well as the excitement of tremendous fights. 

One of the best rods out there is undoubtedly St. Croix’s Triumph. This 6-foot, light-power rod has a super-sensitive action and plenty of backbone for a 5-pound rainbow. Like all of St. Croix’s rods, it’s a premium-quality offering that just feels great in your hand.

St. Croix Rods Triumph Spinning Rod, LF, 6'0'


But you don’t need to take out a second mortgage for a good rod, and Okuma’s Celilo ultralights are fantastic, too. For trout, I really like the 6-footer, and the graphite blanks are ultra-sensitive.

Daiwa QZ Ultralight Spinning Reel


A small reel like this Daiwa QZ Ultralight is perfect for pairing with a light or ultralight rod.

I pair these rods with something like an Okuma Ceymar 1000 or a Daiwa QZ Ultralight. Both of these ultralight spinning reels are sized right to pair with these rods, and feature everything you need for trout.

I prefer monofilament for my trout fishing as clear is the color of choice. Light mono ties really well, too, and it can take a beating on rocks and other abrasive surfaces that would shred braid.

4- and 6-pound mono in clear is the best line for trout.

My pick is simple Stren Original in 4- or 6-pound test.

Stren Original®, Clear, 4lb | 1.8kg Monofilament Fishing Line, Suitable for Freshwater Environments


Choose your lures and colors carefully

Trout are blessed with incredibly acute vision, helping to explain why flies work so well for them. And when you’re choosing lures, much of the time, realistic colors and patterns are king.

For instance, I really love to throw in-line spinners like Yakima Bait Wordens Original Rooster Tails. In realistic color schemes like “Brown Trout,” “Fire Tiger,” and “Mayfly,” they’re simply deadly.

Yakima Bait Wordens Original Rooster Tail Spinner Lure, Brown Trout, 1/6-Ounce


I’ve caught big trout on every size in-line spinner available, from tiny ⅙-ounce options to massive 1-ounce sizes.

Yakima Bait Wordens Original Rooster Tail Spinner Lure, Brown Trout, 1/6-Ounce


A “Brown Trout” rooster tail is deadly on large trout.

But sometimes, bright fluorescents and white are a good idea, too.

As Mike Depew, a fisheries biologist for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, explains, "Small bits of fluorescent color don't imitate anything natural, but they can create a hot spot. A bit of fluorescent orange, yellow or pink absorbs UV rays and projects that back into the visible spectrum. It's not really visible to them on the surface or just under the water, but it gets more visible the deeper you get."

For some reason, that triggers a trout’s attention, and strikes follow quickly.

Yakima Bait Wordens 212-RBOW Rooster Tail in-Line Spinner, 2 3/4', 1/4 oz


Don’t overlook colors like “Rainbow.”

Tiny spinners like those available from Mepps that imitate an insect are also top choices, though you shouldn’t expect to cast them a country mile.

Mepp's B0W S-GR Aglia - Wly WRM Sngl, s-gr SIL/grn, 1/12 Ounce


Flies and casting bubbles

Learning to cast flies with a fly rod is a fine art that looks substantially easier than it actually is. 

casting bubble rig

Casting bubbles allow you to cast flies with spinning tackle.

And as much as I love my fly rods, they’re not designed to fight anywhere near as hard as an ultralight spinning rod and reel, and the few times I’ve tied into a big trout, I’ve been fortunate that it was my ultralight in hand.

Since I’ve discovered the casting bubble, I’ve been using flies on my spinning tackle with tremendous results.

A casting bubble is simply a clear ball that you fill with water. You can adjust the weight of the casting bubble, enabling long launches with no extra weights.

By attaching a leader to the bubble, you can attach flies to the end of your line, enabling fly fishing with spinning tackle.

To assemble a Casting Bubble Rig, follow these steps:

  1. Slide your casting bubble onto your main line.
  2. Using a Uni Knot, attach a small barrel swivel.
  3. Wet the knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  4. Cut 24 to 36 inches of leader.
  5. Using a Uni Knot, attach one end of the leader to the barrel swivel.
  6. Wet the knot, tighten it, and trim the tag end.
  7. On the other, tie-on the fly of your choice.

Be sure to check the legality of casting bubbles where you fish. Some locations only allow fly tackle; always follow local regulations.

Invest in a good landing net

Trout are fragile creatures, and despite what you might think, your hands can do a lot of damage to their delicate scales and important mucus coating.

Fisheries biologists have been studying which approach to landing trout is the least likely to result in injury to the fish, and the answer seems to be knotless rubber mesh.

A recent study concluded that, “[E]xtended handling times were noted for several mesh types (i.e., knotless nylon micromesh and rubber‐coated nylon mesh) relative to bare wet hands because of hook entanglement in the netting material. However, using bare wet hands to land Brook Trout resulted in higher odds of the fish being dropped into the bottom of the boat. We concluded that the large, knotless rubber mesh was the least damaging to Brook Trout.”

Probably the best net on the market is FishPond’s Nomad.

fishpond Nomad Mid-Length Net - Tailwater | Fly Fishing Landing Net


A quality kayak fishing net is essential, especially for not injuring trout.

This is a premium product, made from carbon fiber and fiberglass, and the long handle lets you easily scoop trout from the water. The rubber mesh is easy on their scales and slime, too.

But the Nomad doesn’t come cheap, and for anglers whose budget can’t stretch to that, SF’s landing net is a more than capable alternative. And while the handle isn’t nearly as long, its overall length and shape are sufficient to land big trout.

SF Fly Fishing Landing Soft Silicone Rubber Mesh Trout Catch and Release Net with Black Magnetic Net Release Combo Kit


Final Thoughts

Kayaks are ideal fishing platforms for trout, whether you choose to troll or cast. They can get you into spots no powerboat can reach, and their stealth is simply unbeatable.

We hope that this article taught you something new, but we’re sure you still have questions.

We’re here to answer them, so please leave a comment below!

About The Author
John Baltes
Chief Editor & Contributor
If it has fins, John has probably tried to catch it from a kayak. A native of Louisiana, he now lives in Sarajevo, where he's adjusting to life in the mountains. From the rivers of Bosnia to the coast of Croatia, you can find him fishing when he's not camping, hiking, or hunting.
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