What do trout eat in their day-to-day lives? Trout have a varied diet consisting of everything from insects like nymphs, beetles and grasshoppers to fish eggs, leeches, mollusks, crustaceans and even larger prey like mice and other fish.
Table of Contents
- Fish Diet
- What Do Trout Eat?
- Trout Eat Crustaceans
- Trout Eat Mammals
- Trout Eat Amphibians
- Trout Eat Mollusks
- Trout Eat Worms
- Trout Eat Smaller Fish
- Watch the What Do Trout Eat Video
- Trout Eat Fish Eggs
- Trout Eat Terrestrials
- Trout Eat Nymphs
- Trout Eat Moss & Algae
- Trout Eat Stones & Rocks
- Trout Have a Seasonal Diet
- When Do Trout Feed?
- A Trout’s Diet Changes with Its Environment
- What Do Different Species of Trout Eat?
- Fly Fishing Species
- In Conclusion
While trout are surprisingly selective eaters during different seasons and at certain times of the day, they also tend to be very opportunistic and will gorge themselves when the getting is good.
Don’t miss our Complete Guide to Fly Fishing for Trout.
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What Do Trout Eat?
Mostly Insects. Trout spend 90% of their time feeding under the surface on insects and other smaller prey. Worms, smaller fish and crustaceans make up some of the trout’s diet, but they’re perfectly content filling themselves to the brim with as many insects as they can find.
Trout Eat Crustaceans
If trout can find crustaceans to eat, they’ll absolutely eat them. Certain lakes and rivers don’t hold populations of crustaceans due to their water temperatures, but trout will never say no to one of them if they have the chance.
Freshwater shrimp are common in tailwaters. The cold water is a great place for these shrimp to grow.
When they begin spawning, trout will gorge themselves and eat as many as they possibly can. Freshwater shrimp are a treat for trout.
The Avalon Shrimp is one of the best shrimp patterns.
Crayfish are another treat for trout. Generally, trout will eat these in stillwaters like lakes and ponds if they have a chance.
Crayfish live on the bottom of the water column, so when a fish is looking down, they’ll be searching for crayfish. Always anticipate that trout will eat a crayfish fly.
Scuds are also bottom-dwelling crustaceans. When a scud is molting, their shells are soft, so trout eat many of them when this is happening.
Similar to freshwater shrimp, scuds live in tailwaters and spring creeks.
Sowbugs are common in the extremely cold waters that many trout call home. Below a dam or in a spring-fed creek, you’ll find healthy populations of sow bugs.
They look similar to worms, but their harder exterior makes them a heartier meal. Plus, they’re available year-round.
Trout Eat Mammals
Trout aren’t afraid to eat mammals if they’re presented with the opportunity. One mammal, in particular, is especially tasty to them.
A trout with a chance to eat a mouse is on a mission. Mice are generally eaten at night since they’re more likely to fall off vegetation or the bank in the dark.
Trout feed on mice as aggressively as they do on any other type of food.
Trout Eat Amphibians
Amphibians aren’t always a common food source for trout, but their carnivorous spirit appears when one makes its way into a trout’s feeding area. They’ll eat almost any amphibian they can find.
When frogs are spawning in the spring, the trout are close. Not only will trout eat frog eggs, but they’ll also eat frogs if they get the chance.
Trout living in lakes and ponds usually have the most success with frogs.
Although adult frogs can certainly form part of a large trout’s diet, tadpoles can be very abundant at some times of the year, especially in slow-moving rivers, back eddies, ponds, and lakes. I believe that this is part of the reason a small wooly bugger pattern is so effective when fishing for trout in these types of waters.
Salamanders are an extra special treat for trout. The warmer areas where trout live are often home to salamanders, but they’re not in their aquatic phase for very long. If a trout stumbles upon one, they’ll eat it.
Trout Eat Mollusks
Mollusks aren’t looked down on by trout in any way, shape or form. Snails and mussels are easy meals, so when a trout sees one, it’ll eat. Trout dwelling in lakes and ponds generally have more success feeding on mollusks.
The hard exterior of a snail can be a challenge for trout, but when they’re out of their shells and moving around, trout will take advantage and make a quick meal of them. Rocky and muddy bottoms are common places for snails to dwell.
Mussels are an easy meal for trout. If a lake has been taken over by zebra mussels, you’ll find trout feeding on them when they get the chance. If it has meat, trout won’t say no! Ask long as they’re familiar with it, they’re comfortable eating it.
Trout Eat Worms
Trout and worms are like two peas in a pod. There’s a reason many trout waters ban the use of live bait. It’s too effective! Whenever trout get a chance to eat a worm, they’ll devour it.
Earthworms don’t commonly enter the water, but when they do, trout eat them aggressively. Fishing with worms is extremely fun.
Trout living in streams and rivers generally have a better chance at scoring an earthworm since the current too can wash them into the water.
Leeches are the favorite food of trout living in lakes and ponds. Areas with heavy cover and vegetation generally are home to nice populations of leeches. If a trout is able to stumble upon a few, it’ll make a quick meal of them.
Trout Eat Smaller Fish
Trout are strong predators, and they’re not afraid to go after smaller fish in the water. Whether it’s smaller trout, panfish or small minnows, it’s all fair game. If trout feel like they have a good chance to kill it, they’ll eat it.
Fly fishing streamers is an extremely effective way to catch more trout when nothing is rising.
Same Species Minnows
Trout are known to eat spawning trout. When they become small minnows, one of their main predators is their own kind.
Trout have strong cannibalistic tendencies, so keep that in mind if you’re fishing minnows to trout.
Any other minnow a trout can find swimming near them is a good meal. As soon as trout grow over 6 or 7 inches, they begin eating and hunting with a more aggressive attitude. Baitfish and other species of minnows will entice trout.
Watch the What Do Trout Eat Video
Trout Eat Fish Eggs
Fish eggs are an extremely easy meal for trout. If they’re in the water with steelhead or salmon, they’ll feast on their eggs whenever they get the chance. They’ll also eat other trout eggs if they can.
Salmon runs throughout the summer and fall are gouging times for trout. They find the beds and sit downstream of them waiting for egg clumps to float their way.
Trout look forward to this time of year.
Lynch’s Double Dot Egg should be your go-to!
Other Trout Eggs
If a rainbow trout stumbles onto a redd from a brown trout, they’ll eat those eggs. The same thing can happen if the roles are reversed. Trout eggs are a valuable meal for larger trout.
Trout Eat Terrestrials
Come late summer, trout are licking their lips in anticipation of terrestrials. Terrestrials are land-dwelling insects that fall into the water due to heavy winds or pure clumsiness. They’re generally hearty insects that provide a good amount of nutritional value to trout. They’re a nice treat after a summer of smaller insects.
Trout absolutely love grasshoppers. On a breezy day, you’ll see many grasshoppers falling into the water.
If the bank of the water is filled with grass, grasshoppers will be present. Trout wait along the banks for one of these insects to fall. It won’t take long for them to pounce.
The GFA Hopper is an accurate representation of many grasshoppers.
Beetles are another favorite for trout. Beetles, like grasshoppers, sit in the grass along the banks of lakes and rivers. They’re also found in trees!
A stiff breeze will knock them into the water and into the hungry mouths of trout. They’ll be found both in the center of the water and along the banks.
The Bank Beetle is a productive pattern for all sorts of beetle species.
Ants are absolutely a priority for trout. Many anglers believe that ants are the most productive of the terrestrial flies. Ants with wings will be on the move, but may find themselves blown right over the water with nowhere to go.
As soon as an ant hits the water, it doesn’t take long for a trout to find it.
Mayflies hatch both in the mornings and the evenings, so trout will eat them all day long. If you’re fishing dry flies an area with heavy tree cover, you’ll find that many mayflies sit in the trees above the water early in their adult life.
Mayflies only live a couple weeks and they hatch right out of the water, so trout love to eat them.
Lexi’s Tactical Get ‘Er Dun May is irresistible!
Caddisflies are a great early summer fly. They hatch directly out of the water, so a swarm of these flies on the surface doesn’t last long in the presence of trout.
They’re not overly huge, but they’re plentiful and trout do whatever they can to eat them.
Moths are one of those sneaky insects that many anglers don’t think about using. They’re a common insect for trout to eat at night. If you’re fishing in an area that has artificial light nearby, you can guarantee some moths will fall onto the water.
Midge flies hatch all year round. They hatch every single day in the thousands. In the midst of a true midge hatch, you’ll see hundreds of fish jumping out of the water to feed.
It’s a sight to behold. They’re small flies, but trout can’t get enough of them. When in doubt, use a midge.
The Zebra Midge will help you stick out amongst the crowd.
Cicada flies aren’t always around in large numbers. However, when a big hatch is occurring and they’ve fallen onto the surface of the water, you can see trout regurgitating these flies because they’ve eaten so many of them.
When they’re around, cicadas are loud and easily seen. Wait for warmer months. They hatch near trees, so find a wooded area to fish.
Dragonflies spend their lives growing under the surface of the water. Trout anxiously await for them to turn into adults and eat as many of them as they possibly can.
A large attractor fly is a good enough representation of a dragonfly.
Stoneflies may be at the top of the list for a trout’s favorite food. They’re large, plentiful, and a perfect option for trout.
Nymphs grow at fast rates and the adult flies are easy targets for trout. Many western United States rivers have healthy populations of stoneflies.
Larson’s Legend Golden Stone Dry Fly is a beautiful representation.
Trout Eat Nymphs
Nymphs are a favorite of trout. As mentioned earlier, trout spend 90% of their time feeding below the surface. Nymphs live entirely below the surface while they’re preparing to hatch as adults, so trout feed on them in their vulnerable stages. If you’re trying to find trout in a river, be confident searching with nymphs.
Caddis nymphs are favorites for trout. They stay in a nymph stage for one to two years of their lives if they aren’t picked off by a trout. They’ll live under rocks or logs as they mature.
Due to current, many of these nymphs will get dislodged and bounce downstream. This is where trout take advantage of them. In early summer, you’ll find trout gorging on these.
Trout and midge nymphs are inseparable. Midges grow and hatch all year, so trout never stop eating them.
They’re generally the most popular insect in the water. Rocks and logs are home to thousands of these nymphs. They’re around 3 to 10 millimeters in their nymph stage.
Dawkins’s DD Midge won’t steer you wrong.
Mayflies are similar to midges in their popularity with trout. Mayflies often hatch around June, so they become dislodged in May as they begin to develop into adults.
They’re unable to protect themselves in the nymph stage, so they’re always an easy meal for trout.
The Tungsten Twisted Tactical May is a blast to use.
Stoneflies are an absolute favorite for trout. They only live in moving water, so rivers and streams host large populations of them.
Stonefly nymphs can live upwards of three years on the bottom of the water. They grow to a large size and push out of their exoskeleton right before they move into the adult stage. Trout love them!
The Prince Nymph is a staple in the world of stonefly nymphs.
Dragonflies begin their lives in or right near water, so trout eat dragonfly nymphs all their lives.
In their nymph stage, they’re a larger fly that trout determine to be a good meal.
Like many other nymphs, dragonflies can live around two years.
Trout Eat Moss & Algae
Trout aren’t against eating moss and algae. While they prefer to eat insects, they’ll eat aquatic vegetation if the insect supply is short or there’s a lack of variety in the water. Heavy aquatic vegetation usually means insects, so trout will stay near it to grab an easy meal.
Trout Eat Stones & Rocks
Stones and rocks are great hiding places for nymphs and aquatic life. Trout will pick up stones and smaller rocks to see if they can find any nymphs attached to them. Once they eat them, they’ll often spit out the stones and rocks.
Trout Have a Seasonal Diet
Like many other fish, a trout’s diet ebbs and flows with the seasons. Their internal body clocks are able to track when the change in seasons will occur.
When a season is set to change, you’ll often find that trout will enter a feeding frenzy to gain enough weight to sustain themselves. The more you learn about trout tendencies during the different seasons, the more you’ll catch.
What Do Trout Eat in Winter?
In the winter, trout conserve their energy as best they can. If they’re in a river or stream, odds are it doesn’t freeze. Food can be washed down from banks and enter the water. Hatches also still occur in the colder months.
Midges, small worms and little baitfish are the major food sources for trout in those colder months. Midges usually hatch once a day during the winter. The hatches occur during the warmest parts of the day.
What Do Trout Eat in Early Spring?
In the early spring, trout feed with reckless abandon. Water temperatures are beginning to warm and everything starts coming to life. You’ll find trout eating leeches, worms, crayfish, baitfish, and bugs that begin hatching. Blue Winged Olives and Caddis patterns start to hatch a couple of times a day in the spring.
Many water sources that hold trout will be experiencing runoff conditions, so the water is higher and more food is being washed into lakes, rivers, and streams.
What Do Trout Eat in Summer?
In the summer, the trout diet increases. Crustaceans, smaller fish, leeches, worms, and all insects are on the table. Where they live in the world determines the insects they eat, but some of the common options are caddisflies, mayflies, stoneflies, and some terrestrial patterns.
Note that during the summer months it can be hot. It’s imperative during this time that you use proper catch and release tactics with trout, as they can have a harder time recovering.
What Do Trout Eat in Early Fall?
In the early fall, terrestrials start hitting the water. Beetles, grasshoppers, and ants are the food priorities for trout. These are found along the banks near heavy vegetation. Water temperatures are warmer and lower, so the fish aren’t as active, but they do love their terrestrials.
What Do Trout Eat in Fall?
Once those cold snaps hit in the fall, the fish begin feeding at a higher rate. They eat terrestrials, late-season caddis and midge hatches, and any fish eggs or spawning trout that they can find. Brown trout spawn in the fall, so fish eggs are a favorite for all types of trout. Anything they can eat that will fatten them is fair game.
When Do Trout Feed?
Trout are similar to most other fish in the times of day that they’re most active. Trout aggressively feed in the morning and evening. Hatches usually occur during these times of day, so the trout are prepared.
What Do Trout Eat at Dawn?
At dawn, trout eat nymphs and emergers, and they’re getting ready for the first hatch of the day. As soon as the sun peaks over the horizon, be prepared for a hatch to happen. When you start seeing swarms of bugs on the surface of the water, you’ll start seeing fish rise and feed. This is an active time for trout.
What Do Trout Eat at Midday?
At midday, trout are in deeper water. Whether it’s the center of a lake or a pool in a river, they’re in colder water feeding on the bottom. Crayfish, baitfish, and nymphs are some of their favorite foods at midday. Most of this time is spent digesting food, but sometimes you can entice them when fly fishing wet flies midday.
What Do Trout Eat at Sunset?
At sunset, you’ll find some of the biggest hatches of the day. The morning may have been too cold, so hatches could have been smaller. You can almost always count on a great hatch at sunset. Trout stare at the surface waiting to eat adult insects.
What Do Trout Eat at Dusk?
You’ll still find trout feeding on the surface at dusk. However, you’ll begin to see them searching for larger food to finish off their night. Baitfish, crustaceans, and large insects are the goal. Mice also start to come out at this time of night!
What Do Trout Eat at Night?
At night, the big fish start to feed. Mice are a favorite for big trout at night. Mice fall off reeds and cattails into the waiting mouths of trout.
A Trout’s Diet Changes with Its Environment
Trout always feed on insects. No matter where you are in the world, you can count on that. You can also assume that baitfish, crustaceans, and worms are common foods in their diet.
What Do Trout Eat in Lakes?
In lakes, baitfish and crustaceans are more available than they may be in rivers. As a result, you’ll see fish cruising the shallows in pursuit of them. However, they’ll still be actively eating bugs. Nymphs, emergers, and adult flies are massive parts of their diet in lakes.
What Do Trout Eat in Rivers?
In rivers, anything is fair game for trout. Worms, baitfish, crayfish and insects are common. However, the majority of their diet is insects. They’ll feed on nymphs and adult flies in the morning, larger prey throughout the day, and repeat the process in the evening.
What Do Trout Eat in Ponds?
A trout in a pond relies heavily on insects. Ponds may not have large populations of baitfish or crustaceans, so those daily hatches are vital for their survival. Nymphs, emergers and adults will fill their stomachs.
What Do Trout Eat in Small Creeks?
In small creeks, insects and small baitfish are the primary parts of a trout’s diet. Similar to ponds, small creeks often don’t have large baitfish and crustacean populations. Insects are their lifeblood.
What Do Different Species of Trout Eat?
Different species of trout have different preferences, but the majority live and die by insects. However, there are a few species that are more carnivorous than others.
Brown Trout Diet
Brown trout are straightforward with their interests. They want insects, baitfish, eggs, worms and crustaceans. Brown trout are some of the heartiest of the trout species, so they can survive in warmer temperatures on a bit less food, but they’re still fairly particular.
Rainbow Trout Diet
Rainbow trout don’t vary much from brown trout. They’re interested in baitfish, insects, eggs, crustaceans and worms. From there, they’ll take any sort of smaller prey that they can get. Mice or the occasional small bird isn’t out of the ordinary for them!
Brook Trout Diet
Brook trout are generally the smallest trout in a lake or river. As a result, they spend most of their time feeding on insects. They love smaller nymphs and adult flies. On occasion, they’ll eat baitfish and worms, but they’re perfectly content with insects.
Swinging a wet fly on the seam of two currents can be an incredibly effective way to catch brook trout.
Lake Trout Diet
Lake trout are some of the most aggressive of the trout species. They want meat! Crustaceans and smaller fish are their primary targets. Lake trout live deep in the water and want large meals. Panfish, smaller trout, and even small salmon can be major parts of their diet.
Sea Trout Diet
Sea trout almost exclusively live off of crustaceans and smaller fish. They live in seagrass and sandy bottoms, so they don’t have many options in terms of diet. If they have these two, they’re good to go.
Bull Trout Diet
Bull trout are also fairly aggressive fish. They love to eat insects any chance they can get. Similar to brook trout, bull trout live in extremely cold water with healthy insect populations. They’ll also eat eggs and baitfish if they have the chance.
Cutthroat Trout Diet
Insects are the favorite of cutthroat trout. Stoneflies, caddisflies, and mayflies are some of their favorites. When the warmer months hit, they’ll feast on every terrestrial they can find.
Trout are a beautiful fish with a diverse palette. Although they’re willing to eat many things that swim below the surface, they’re picky about when, where, and how they eat them. Insects are at the top of their list, and smaller baitfish, crustaceans, eggs, and worms follow closely behind.
Understand what’s in the water you’re fishing before you make your choice about flies. Once you find a proper fly, the rest is up to you!