Are Trout Bottom Feeders? - Fresh Water Fishin (2022)

Trout are one of the most popular game fish in the United States, and have been introduced to many major bodies of water. Knowing as much as you can about trout leads to more success on your fishing trips. The most important thing you need to know in order to catch more trout is how they feed.

Are trout bottom feeders? What is a bottom feeder? How do trout feed? Knowing the answers to all of these questions can help you catch a delicious trout dinner with ease!

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Table of Contents

What’s a Bottom Feeder?

When you hear the term bottom feeder, you may not immediately think about fishing. Calling a person a bottom feeder is an insult, implying that they survive by or profit off of things cast off by others. In fishing, it means exactly what the name implies; bottom feeders are fish that feed primarily on prey or nutrients that are found on the body of water’s bottom.

One of the first things people picture when they think about trout are a powerful fish cresting the water to strike the fly that’s just hit the surface. This implies that they have to be surface feeders, right? Well, yes, sometimes. Are trout bottom feeders? Again, yes they are, sometimes. Trout present an interesting puzzle for fishermen based on their feeding habits alone.

How Trout Feed

Trout are a unique fish in the fact that they can adjust their feeding behaviors based on necessity. While trout are normally pictured as surface feeders, they aren’t entirely. Based on the prey around them, as well as the environment that they live in, trout can be bottom feeders, middle feeders, as well as surface feeders.

The feeding behaviors of trout can also be indicative of the way they were raised. Naturally occurring wild born trout and farm raised, stocked trout behave differently from one another. Knowing the source of the fish can help inform fishermen on the way to approach the trout in terms of technique as well as bait.

Location, Location, Location

The feeding habits of trout largely depend on their location. Trout that live in rivers and streams are going to behave and feed differently than those that live in lakes. For each habitat, there are things that can be assumed about trout behavior that can lead to better fishing days.

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Rivers and Streams

When fishing for trout in rivers and streams, it can be assumed that the fish will be feeding from the middle of the water up to the surface. When observed, it was found that trout living in streams and rivers consumed less than 15 percent of their diet from the bottom. This can be assumed to be true for a number of reasons.

  • The water in rivers and streams are shallower, meaning that the food items a trout hunts for is more likely to be on the surface.
  • Additionally, streams and lakes are composed of moving water, making it harder for prey items to live on the bottom.

In moving water of any form, it’s more likely that you’ll see trout spending their time near the surface. The features of running water tend to lead the common prey for trout towards the top of the water.


If trout live in lakes, there’s a much higher chance of them being bottom feeders due to the conditions that lakes provide to them. Lakes provide areas of cover, and the majority of a trout’s prey will be in the cover, or underneath it on the bottom of the lake.

  • Trout are opportunistic feeders, meaning that they go to where the prey are. Prey in lakes will try to take whatever cover they can in most cases.
  • Trout are also timid when not in moving water, and tend to stay where they’ve been stocked, possibly staying there for three to ten days after stocking.

While still a voracious predator in lakes, trout change tactics in deeper bodies of water that aren’t constantly flowing. They act more timid, and stay further away from the surface than they would in a river or stream.

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The Exception to the Rule

When fishing for trout in a stocked lake, it can be assumed that they’ll be a bottom feeder. However, as with any assumption, this isn’t true all of the time. During rainstorms, trout will feed on the surface no matter the body of water they’re in. This is due to a few things.

First, the act of raindrops hitting the top of the water resembles prey landing on the surface of the water, and fools the trout. This causes them to strike the top of the water more often than usual.

In addition to this, rain often actually brings nutrients and prey to the top of the water. Insects in flight can be downed, and can be blown to the top of the water during storms. A rainstorm is prime time for trout, and you’ll often see them feed more aggressively during storms, sometimes even frenzying.

What Rigs to Use When Trout Fishing

If you’re fishing for trout you’ll want a variety of different rigs for catching them in both rivers and lakes. Each body of water will have rigs that are specifically designed for them, and will help in having more productive fishing days.

Bottom Feeding Rigs

When fishing for trout off the bottom, there is one rig that tends to stand out among the rest. That method is known as the Carolina rig, or the egg sinker method. When fishing for trout in a lake off the bottom, you have to deduce what the strike zone for the fish is, and adjust your rig for that. The Carolina rig allows for that adjustment.

When rigging an egg sinker, you’ll take a weight and attach it at the bottom of the mainline, above a barrel swivel. The barrel swivel will be attached to a leader in the length that you’ve determined to be the perfect length for the strike zone. The weight sinks the barrel to the bottom, while the bait on the end of the leader will float above any debris or weeds on the bottom, allowing the trout to see it. If your leader is too short it’ll stay in the weeds and the trout won’t see it. If it’s too long, it’ll be above the strike zone. Once you’ve found the length, though, you’ll be locked in and catching trout all day!

Surface Feeding Rigs

Surface fishing for trout is the most common way to go about things, and the one that is popularized in most media. There are several ways to fish the surface for them, and all have their advantages and disadvantages.

Fly fishing is quite possibly the most popular way of fishing for trout that are surface feeding. Whipping the line back and forth, letting the lure hardly touch the surface, fly fishing emulates insects touching the surface of the water, causing the trout to strike. Unlike other rigs in this list, fly fishing rigs are good for both lake and river use, as the trout will be drawn to the bait in both cases, usually.

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Bobber rigs are an effective method of surface fishing for trout. Like the Carolina rig, bobber rigs allow a leader to put the bait where it needs to be in the water, in this case just below the water. The bobber allows you to keep an eye on the bait as it sits and waits, and acts like the weight does in the Carolian rig. In this case, however, you want to make sure that your bait is dense and allows for some sinking to put it where it needs to be.


  1. Trout Eating Behaviors | Are Trout Bottom Feeders?
  2. Rainbow Trout Facts, Information, Photos & Fishing Tips
  3. How to Fish for Trout in a Lake, Reservoir or Pond
  4. Rainbow trout | US Fish & Wildlife Service
  5. Spring Trout Behaviors: Understand Them, Catch Fish
  6. What Are Bottom Feeders? Should You Eat Them?

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