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Fishing for Stream Trout

With thousands of miles of streams across the state, there are ample trout fishing opportunities in New York State. Each year the DEC stocks around 2.3 million catchable-size brook, brown and rainbow trout in almost 300 lakes, ponds and roughly 3,100 miles of streams across the state. Many of these streams support wild populations of trout as well. Fishing access is good with many streams having Public Fishing Rights Easements (PFR) along their banks that allow fisherman access to the water. PFR holdings in NYS currently total over 1,300 equivalent miles on over 400 streams. DECinfo Locator for map of PFR, parking areas and stream reach categories.

Brook or Speckled Trout

Photo of angler's hand holding brook trout

Brook trout are native to the state and are New York State's official state fish. Brook trout generally live in small-to moderate-sized streams, lakes, and ponds, wherever cool (below 72 degrees Fahrenheit) water is available. They tend to prefer colder water than rainbow and brown trout, and they are often found in the headwaters of streams. The DEC stocks round 151,000 brook trout each spring.

Brown Trout

Photo of brown trout in anglers hand

Brown trout were brought over from Europe in the 1880's and can now be found in waters all across New York State. Browns can be found in streams, rivers, ponds and lakes and can tolerate higher water temperatures than brook trout. Many anglers feel that brown trout tend to be more wary and challenging to catch than brook or rainbow trout. Spring stocking include 1.8 million brown trout, 89,000 of which are two year old fish that average thirteen inches.

Rainbow Trout

Photo of rainbow trout in anglers hand

Rainbows are native to the Pacific coast and were introduced into NY waters in the 1870's. Rainbows are found in streams, rivers, lakes and ponds. Like brown trout, they can tolerate higher water temperatures than brook trout. Around 392,000 rainbow trout are stocked each spring into streams and lakes.

Spin Fishing Equipment

Though any fishing rod and reel will work for stream trout, choosing equipment appropriate to the size fish you are after will improve your success. Light and ultra-light spinning rods from 4 ½ to 8 ½ feet in length work well. Shorter rods are easier to handle when dealing with overhanging trees and branches found along many trout streams, but are usually more difficult to hook fish with. Longer rods, however, are usually better for hooking and playing fish and for increased casting distance. Match the rod with a small-to medium-sized spinning reel spooled with four to eight pound monofilament line.

Lures and Baits

Good artificial lures to try are small spinners, spoons, jigs, stickbaits, and plastics (like 1-2" tube jigs and twister tails). If using spinners and spoons, a small ball bearing snap swivel will help avoid line twist.

Natural baits that work for trout are worms, fish eggs, grasshoppers, salted or live minnows, corn, maggots and small marshmallows. Check current fishing regulations as some areas restrict the use of natural or live bait. Worms should be hooked once or twice, leaving a trailing tail that undulates in the water and helps attract fish. However, if fish are just nipping off this tail section, try a smaller piece of worm. Good hook sizes range from size 6 to 10, depending on the size of the bait being used. Use as little weight as possible; you want your bait to drift along naturally and just tick the bottom. Carry a few different sizes of small removable split shot so you can adjust your weight. When fishing deep pools or long runs, try suspending your bait under a float (or bobber).

A third bait option is the artificial baits that are made of natural ingredients. They are biodegradable and available in a variety of shapes and styles such as worms, nuggets, maggots and twister tails. A nice thing about these baits is that they need no special care like natural baits do, and they stay on the hook well when casting.

Fly Fishing Equipment

Photo of brown trout and fly rod on stream bank

Fly Rod
A good fly rod for stream fishing would be a 7 ½ to 9 foot 4 to 6 weight rod. Match this with a disc drag or single action fly reel spooled with 50 yards of Dacron backing; along with a weight forward floating line (matched to rod) with a 9 to 12 foot tapered leader with a 4X tippet.

A good all around starter fly assortment for much of New York would be:

Dry Flies: Adams, Elk-Hair Caddis

Wet Flies: Royal Coachman, Black Gnat

Nymphs: Gold Ribbed Hares's Ear, Prince Nymph

Streamers: Muddler Minnow, Wooly Bugger

Fishing Methods

When fishing for trout in streams, it's best to work your way upstream (against the current) whenever possible. This is especially important when fishing for wild or spooky fish. Trout usually face into the current and will be less likely to see you approaching from behind. Wear camouflage clothing or "natural colors," and try to avoid brightly colored clothing and hats. Move slowly and disturb the water as little as possible. Polarized glasses will aid you when wading and for seeing fish and fish-holding areas. A good option is to fish your way upstream with a fast moving bait like a spinner and then fish back downstream with a slower presentation like a worm or small jig. The faster bait allows you to cover water quickly and to catch aggressive fish. The slower bait works well for fish you may have spooked on your first pass or fish that are less aggressive.

Photo of classic trout stream

When fishing for trout you will usually be fishing stream pockets, pools and runs:

Pocket - located in riffles or rapids, this is a small area of calm or protected water located behind a boulder or rock that provides shelter or a holding spot for fish.

When fishing pocket water, you will be targeting the slack water areas behind rocks and boulders. These current breaks provide trout a location to hold and dart out for passing food. To fish pocket water, cast your bait upstream of the current break and allow your bait to drift along the edge of the slack water. After working both edges, start working your way into the slack water area.

Pool - area where the water is slower and deeper than other water areas in the stream. A pool contains three parts: upper end (called the head) where riffles or rapids feed into the pool; central portion or main body of the pool; and the lower end (called the tail or tail out) where the riffles or rapids begin again below the pool.

Actively feeding fish are usually found at the head and tail sections of the pool. Pools, being deeper than runs or pocket-water, generally require using more weight to get your bait down. When fishing the head of the pool, cast your bait into the current and allow your bait to flow into the deeper part of the pool. The tail of the pool, being shallower, requires using a little more stealth to fish. Cast your bait into the middle of the pool and allow it to drift into and through the tail section. It's good to cover the whole pool looking for fish. Fish will often hold near any structure in the pool, such as logs, rocks, bridge pilings, or overhanging vegetation. It definitely pays to work these areas.

Run - area where a stream flow narrows, caused by either the river banks or bottom structure. A run is deeper than a rapid, but not as deep as a pool.

Runs are generally fished more efficiently with spinners, spoons or streamers. Bait will also work drifted through the run; however, it is often trickier to get the right amount of weight for a good drift. Suspending your bait under a float (bobber) often helps. As with pools, fish will often hold near any structure in the run, and it pays to work these areas.

Also see Where to Fish: Rivers and Streams

Stream Etiquette

At times, the fishing pressures can be heavy and stream etiquette can go a long way in making everyone's day a pleasurable one. Elbow room to fish is a common courtesy. The stationary or slow moving angler should be given room by over taking them noiselessly out of the water and re-entering as far away as practical. Wading right up to another angler could disturb a pod of feeding fish, and no one appreciates this type of conduct. Pleasant conversations are OK, so long as you don't disturb other anglers. Remember, elbow room to fish is a common courtesy.

Catch and Release

Photo of brook trout in landing net lying on rocks

There's nothing wrong with keeping some fish for the frying pan. Fish are delicious and eating a few fresh fish is a great way of capping off a fun day of fishing. If you plan on releasing fish though, there are some steps you can take to help improve the survival of the fish.

Methods for Releasing Fish:

  1. Use barbless hooks; they cause less damage to the fish.
  2. Playing a fish for just a short time increases its chance of survival. Do not play a fish longer than necessary.
  3. Wet your hands before touching a fish that is to be released. Dry skin will remove the mucous coating on trout. Avoid touching the gills.
  4. Use of a landing net also increases the survival rate of a trout.
  5. Gently push the hook out and cradle the fish in your hand, underwater and facing upstream.
  6. After a moment, allow the fish to swim free. If the fish turns upside down, catch it and revive it as stated above.


Didymo, rock snot, is a non-native invasive algae that forms a thick brown mat on stream bottoms, threatening aquatic habitat, biodiversity and recreational opportunities. Didymo can be spread by drifting downstream, clinging to boots, fishing gear, waders, boats and trailers. Cleaning your gear can help prevent the spread of didymo.


Check current fishing regulations for the stream you are fishing by checking both the Statewide and Special Regulations by County sections of your fishing guide.

*All photo's courtesy of Paul Moore, retired NYSDEC Fish and Wildlife Technician II.

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