Spring Fishing Tips: A Beginner’s Guide to Catching Trout

Theo fishing at coot pond.
Trout fishing at St. Vrain State Park. All photos by © Doug Skinner/CPW.

While most anglers are excited by the idyllic fly fishing scenes in “A River Runs Through It,” few of us learn our first lessons by fishing big rivers with a fly rod. For many of us, a love of angling is cultivated on ponds catching bluegills and bass, and approachable rivers and lakes catching trout – often stocked trout. Story and memory are built by the fish we’ve landed and more so by the ones that got away. We learned from family members and friends, mentors who knew that the secret to building a long and successful fishing career was rooted in a simple approach.

Lifelong Fishing Buddies

During the early part of our relationship, my wife and I spent a fair amount of free time learning to fish together. I say together, because although I have fished for most of my life and she had some fishing experience, our experiences and expectations did not start out as a natural fit. We shared a love of the outdoors and that was a pretty good foundation to build on. Through lessons learned prying errant casts from trees and bushes, freeing snags from unseen obstacles, baiting hooks, selecting lures, and handling fish, we both became better anglers and more importantly, better communicators. Sheltered by the newness of our relationship, lessons were heartfelt and filled with patience. We grew together as anglers and found an increased enjoyment as fishing buddies. After years of fishing together, our skills found parity. I still claim to catch the most fish and she claims she usually catches the biggest fish. But we both enjoy our time on the water in our own ways while creating memories together.

Creating a Positive Experience

Now it was our turn to become mentors –  the chance to share our hard-earned knowledge with our son, Theo. We were ready to take the first steps toward passing on our love of fishing while creating a new lifelong fishing buddy. With confidence and years of experience in my quiver, the first outing with my 4 year old son was to be nothing short of magical.

After practicing to cast and collecting gear over the winter months, we picked our ideal fishing spot and settled in for a day on the water. And that’s when reality set in. This was not going to be the experience I had envisioned.

Years of lessons learned and now I can offer some advice for parents taking their kids fishing for the first time, as well as beginners trying to catch their first fish. Hopefully, these tips will help you avoid some of the frustration and struggles that we experienced and set you up for a great first day of spring fishing!  

Top Tips for Success and Sanity

  • Keep it simple. If you’re a gear junkie, this is not a time to overthink things. Beginners benefit from simple equipment. For kids, there are a number of kids’ fishing poles available in all styles, colors and themes. A short manageable rod with a closed face spincasting reel is always a safe option. The rods are easy to cast and reasonably priced. They might grow out of the rod, but they will cherish it for the time they have it. One word of caution: There are a number of toy rods on the market that are not suitable for catching real fish. If you have questions about a rod, be sure to check with a store employee. A simple-to-use rod will be sure to help build confidence.
  • Make a smart investment. With bait shops and sporting goods stores having row after row of fishing gear, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But, with a gear investment of around $25-$30, you can purchase everything you need to get started. A decent quality rod and reel combo for beginners can be found on sale for around $15 to $20. For around $10, you can purchase all the bait and tackle you’ll need to catch trout – moldable bait (garlic scented), small egg hooks, egg sinkers and swivels. View the slideshow below for more details.
  • Focus on comfort. Pack a cooler with sandwiches, drinks and lots of snacks. For kids, include a treat they may not have regularly. Snacks can help break up moments of frustration and will keep kids interested. Also, think in layers. If you plan to head out early in the morning, it always seems to be colder than expected, especially while you’re standing in place fishing and a breeze is coming off the water. Bring extra layers of clothes that you can shed as needed. Dry socks and shoes and a change of clothes are a quick remedy for wet feet and a chill.
  • Find the action. Beginners will have more fun when fish are biting and they are reeling in easy-to-catch stocked trout. Waiting all day for a single bite can break the spirit of even the most seasoned angler. Remember, fish tend to be more active in the mornings and evenings. Locating well-stocked ponds or lakes are a great way to get beginners hooked on fishing. To find a list of recently stocked waters, see the stocking report on the CPW website.
  • Bring the essentials. Be sure to take sunscreen, bug repellant, a few Band-Aids and a fishing license if required. All fishing licenses are free for youth under 16 years old. Starting in 2019, Colorado residents ages 16 and 17 will pay $8 for an annual fishing license (instead of full price, a 75% discount). Also, consider getting a second rod stamp. Colorado fishing licenses can be purchased online at CPWShop.com.
Theo and Helaine sharing fishing stories.
Theo and Helaine debate over who caught the biggest fish of the day.
  • Make memories. Making memories is what’s important. Our first trip out, after about 10 minutes of not catching a fish, Theo put down his rod and went off to play. That’s not the day I envisioned, and I had him return to fishing, telling him how important it was to be patient. Ten minutes later and the same thing happened. When my blood pressure finally returned to normal, I was able to watch my son’s expressions and see the joy he was experiencing just being out in nature. Sliding down slick muddy banks, getting his feet wet and finding cool rocks were all part of the experience. Also, never judge your success by the number or size of fish you catch. Cherish the memories you make together and remember the importance of the fun factor.
Theo picking up trash.
  • Leave it better than you found it. Remember to pack out your garbage and encourage the kids to pick up too. These lessons mold responsible and conscientious anglers, helping to ensure the future of our sport. As Colorado’s population continues to increase, it’s more important than ever that we are protecting the environment.
  • Know when to quit. The younger the child, the shorter their attention span. If the fish aren’t biting, don’t force them to hold their fishing poles. Allow breaks for rock skipping, exploring, looking for frogs and butterflies – whatever keeps them happy and lets them enjoy the outdoors. If the fish are still biting, but they’ve had enough, it may be time to call it a day.
Younger Theo with stringer of trout

My earliest experiences fishing with my son were a true test of my patience. My first mistake was attaching too much weight to catching a fish, and maybe thinking that I’m more patient than I am. Over the years, I learned to temper my expectations and enjoy the experience. As Theo has grown as an angler, we now challenge ourselves with a variety of fishing adventures. Yet every spring, we look forward to starting our season at the same fishing spot where he caught his first fish. Not only do we catch a lot of trout, but each trip produces a competition, a new story and memories that will last a lifetime.

Theo with stringer of trout

TIP: CPW offers a number of spring fishing events where novice anglers can test gear and learn fishing techniques. Please see the CPW Clinics and Seminars calendar for a list of upcoming events.


Written by Doug Skinner. Skinner is an editor for Colorado Outdoors Online and is a media specialist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. 

7 comments

  • very well written article, thanks for that Doug Skinner!

  • Well written article! 57 years ago my Dad took us to a small lake every year like yours and grew to fishing with my Dad when he was 62, weeks before he passed away. I saw my Grandson catch his first fish in Eleven mile canyon not the easiest place for a child to catch a fish. I let him reel it him by his self and I can still see his big smile in my mind to this day and I always will.

  • My first fishing trip with my son sounds a lot like yours was. I think we caught more crawdads than trout that day, and I spent more time putting on worms and untangling line than I did with a rod in my hand. But in the end he enjoyed being outdoors, so that was the big win. Thanks for sharing your story Doug.

  • So true.

  • Thanks for this advice for catching trout. I’m glad you mentioned that it could be good to find well-stocked ponds to get beginners hooked on fishing. It sounds important to research the area to get an idea where the best fishing spots are.

  • My husband and I want to take our kids fishing and wanted some tips on making the trip fun! I didn’t think about bringing a change of clothes and snacks for them, but it makes sense to keep them comfortable and interested. I’ll have to keep that in mind as we plan our next fishing trip that’ll make our kids fall in love with fishing! https://seattlefishingtrips.com/

  • Pingback: Spring Fishing Tips: A Beginner’s Guide to Catching Trout — Colorado Outdoors Online – Cliff Kigar's WordPress Blog

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