The popularity of bass fishing has skyrocketed in the past couple decades drawing millions of new anglers to the water in search of what lies beneath the surface. Social media has made learning the tricks of the trade easier than ever in this time and promoted the rapid evolution of lures, techniques, and methods used to maximize anglers’ efficiency on the water. Before I ever touched a trout stream and become a North Georgia Fly Fishing Guide, I began my journey as a bass angler on small ponds during grade school and eventually competitive angling on the larger reserviors across the southeast and Texas during and after my time in college. I grew my knowledge through time on the water, magazines, and what few tv shows existed before youtube became a vast source of information. The spillover into the trout fishing and fly fishing world occurred in areas where cold waters are abundant. I became a part of this spillover which has seriously put a dent in my time chasing bass. Certainly, the trout world hasn’t seen the same overall growth as the warmer water bass fisheries that are far more abundant across the U.S., but the fly fishing industry has seen a similar explosion in popularity as the entry level cost of the sport has become far more feasible for beginning anglers. In this article we dive into the similarities and differences in the two sport fisheries and the methods used in each.
Bass Fishing and Trout Fishing Similarities
The largest commonality between many of the most popular fisheries is the puzzle anglers must solve each day on the water to see the best results. Understanding where fish are holding, how and when they are feeding, and what they are feeding on are questions that must be answered each day by successful anglers in order to be efficient. While patterns may stay consistent for several days or even weeks at a time, the periods where the habits of the fish transition are what challenge anglers and keep them coming back to the water time and time again to solve the puzzle.
Where to Find Bass and Trout
The largest difference between bass and trout fishing is how they use water. Trout live in a more two dimensional world between the two river banks and up and downstream. Depth is not typically a luxury they have to find cover or a tremendous factor in a streams fishability. This makes trout easier to find than bass residing in lakes, ponds, and other stillwater. Bass occupy three dimensions and use each to feed and find shelter during times of inactivity. Bass anglers not beating the banks must often probe far longer to find active fish. While quickly evolving electronics have made this job much easier for those willing to spend the money, time idling around the lake is still a must before ever casting a line.
The difficulty for trout anglers that the bass guys don’t typically see is the battle with the current. While current is usually the largest obstacle to overcome, it is also the factor which draws many anglers to trout fishing to begin with. Current will position trout in predictable areas and anglers who can understand the nuance of current and how to best present their lures and flies to reach the trout will be incredibly effective. Understanding how trout hold along current seams made by river bends, boulders, or contour changes is no different than understanding how bass use points, humps, creek channels, or weedlines to stalk and ambush their prey. Both use these features to minimize the energy they use while maximizing their food intake.
There are of course exceptions to these generalities such as trout that live in higher elevation lakes and smaller alpine stillwaters, as well as bass in rivers. These fisheries are much less common across the country and tend to be a different puzzle within themselves for anglers targeting fish here.
When Do Trout and Bass Eat
The how and when trout and bass feed is not all that different either. Both prefer periods of lower light in the morning and evening, though for different reasons. Both fish take advantage of these times to feed up when conditions are friendly and there is a bit more protection from predators that may be flying above. For bass, low light gives them an advantage over their prey as they can better ambush prey from the shallows. Schooling fish over deeper water also see a vertical migration of many baitfish to the surface at these times where they can be more easily trapped.
For trout, lowlight feeding revolves less around an opportune time to ambush food, and more around the period in which the insects they feed on rise to the surface to hatch. While these bottom dwelling insects rise in the water column to hatch, they are trapped beneath the surface, unable to break the surface tension of the water. This is where trout can find an easy meal and often go on heavy feeding binges during these hatches. While not all hatches occur in these low light hours, they are the most consistent times of the day, especially during the warmer months of the year. You can learn all about these hatches and more about What Trout Eat in this article. Overcast conditions can see these patterns extend throughout the day in both bass and trout waters.
Catching Bass and Trout
As we discussed previously, finding bass on lakes can be much more difficult than finding where trout may be holding on a river. Once bass are found, solving the puzzle for catching them may be a bit more easy than the challenges presented to trout anglers. Understanding their mood (lethargic or aggressive) is often the first step alongside the forage they are targeting (baitfish or other). Aggressive bass keying in on baitfish can be the easiest to target. Appealing to their aggressive side, vibrating baits such as crankbaits, spinnerbaits, or chatterbaits can be incredibly effective at these times. The analog for trout fishing would be an inline spinnerbait such as a mepps spinner or rooster tail. Stocked trout and wild trout that see little pressure will often be agitated by the vibrations put off by these lures and will strike out of impulse. Angles can be critical to getting bit with these baits for both bass and trout. Often current or cover will dictate these angles.
For less aggressive or more finicky fish, swimbaits and jerkbaits are more visual but less intrusive with their noise making. In clearer water these are excellent for bass but also translate over well in the rivers and streams for trout. Trout being much more visually oriented than bass, jerkbaits and smimbaits can be great options when targeting larger trout looking for a bigger meal. In the fly fishing world, streamers can imitate a combination of these two lures depending on their design. Current makes these flies come to life and can be much more effective than their conventional counterparts in fast water.
During lethargic periods or times of inactivity, slower moving baits will produce more bites. For bass, worms and jigs may be the answer to puzzle when little else is going on. In the trout world where insects comprise the vast majority of a trout’s diet, nymphs reign supreme. Trout can pick off these small insect larvae without expending much energy to do so by taking advantage of seams where fast and slow water meet. The biggest obstacle to overcome for anglers to catch these less aggressive trout is to match the current speed with their presentations and achieve a drag free drift. This is incredibly difficult for anglers using conventional tackle to achieve if not impossible in many cases. Fly anglers will excel in these scenarios as their ability to manipulate a floating line and the depth of there flies is far more feasible for the average angler. Conventional anglers targeting trout may use plastic insect imitations or lures such as a trout magnet but still can have a very difficult time when trout demand a perfect drift which their gear is too inadequate to achieve.
Differences in Trout and Bass Fishing
The mentality anglers take to these waters is also important to success. A power fisherman looking for bass is likely throwing fast moving baits while running and gunning ideal stretches of water where aggressive bass are likely to be roaming. Translated to the trout stream, conventional anglers can throw the same jerkbaits to cover several miles of water and target specific stretches of water where piscivorous trout are likely to be stocking larger prey. Much like the bass anglers, these trout anglers may have less than 1-5% of the trout in the stream available to them when using this method but can still be productive if they cover the water effectively.
On the other side of this spectrum, thorough anglers looking to make every fish in a smaller available to them may opt for slower, less invasive presentations. The shaky head, or more recently, the Ned Rig have become staples for anglers looking to efficiently target every bass on a given piece of water. Similarly, euro nymphing has taken over competition fly angling where competitors are limited to a small stretch of river where they must maximize their catch in a small area.
Knowing your strengths as an angler or the given river you find yourself on will dictate the best strategy on a given day. Understanding these differences and similarities also makes it easier for bass anglers to transition to trout waters and vise versa. Different Trout Species also have different tendencies and affinities to smaller or larger forage items that can be important. Paying attention to changing conditions and your surroundings can be equally as valuable on each piece of water and provide clues to better help you put the puzzle together.