Fishing For Tiger Trout: A Complete Guide

What’s not to like about tiger trout?  With a mean disposition, they will readily take your bait and once hooked up, tiger trout fight with all the fury of a charging rhino.  Not to mention, their stunning colors and vermiculated markings are a treat for your eyes.  It’s no wonder more and more anglers seek out these trophy fish.

Never heard of a tiger trout?  Well, you’re not alone.  That’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive article.  You’ll learn everything you need to know about fishing for tiger trout including where to go, successful tactics, how to rig up right and choosing the best bait.

Whether you prefer fly fishing, trolling or casting spoons with spinning gear, tiger trout are worthy of any sportsman looking for a new quarry.  Now keep reading so you can experience the thrill of chasing these beautiful fish.

What are tiger trout?

Take the eggs of a female brook trout, the milt of a male brown trout, add a dash of science and behold, the Frankenstein creation of man-made tiger trout.  These fish are more than the product of blind experimentation.  Tiger trout are a powerful conservation tool used to maintain quality sport fisheries in many lakes and rivers.

As a sterile hybrid with a voracious appetite for invasive minnows, tiger trout help curb unwanted fish numbers without tainting wild fish populations; all while enhancing fishing opportunities for sport anglers.

Only on rare occasions does this hybrid occur naturally in the wild so most areas require stocking efforts to keep tiger trout populations stable.  

Apart from their high octane aggression, tiger trout are easily distinguished from other stocked trout by their vibrant colors and unique markings.  Intense orange and yellow hues punctuated by dark vermiculation reminiscent of tiger stripes (hence their name) make these fish a picture perfect catch.  

Mature males typically showcase more striking colors than females and occasionally develop a pronounced kype on their lower jaw.  

Tiger trout behavior and diet

In case we haven’t made it clear, tiger trout are not shy about showing their savage attitude towards just about any lure or fly cast nearby.  However, that’s not to say they are an easy catch.  A tiger trout’s behavior lends itself well to action packed fishing when the conditions are right.

During early development, juvenile tiger trout harbor diets similar to other stocked trout and feed primarily on insects, larvae and small crustaceans.  Upon reaching 12 to 14 inches, a tiger trout’s piscivorous (fish eating) tendencies shift their diet towards small baitfish.  

The change in diet shifts their behavior from forager to predator and growth rates in quality waters accelerate.  Many studies show that tiger trout fry grow rapidly, topping 18 inches after only 3 years.  

On average, 12 to 16 inch tigers are common in most stocked areas but they often exceed 20 inches and tip scales at over 5 pounds.  Fish over 15 pounds are rare, yet possible, in a relatively short time compared to other species.

With a piscivorous diet, mature tiger trout readily take lures or large streamers that imitate small baitfish.  Although, a fair part of their diet still consists of insects when hatches are good.      

Where to fish for tiger trout

Tiger trout are widely stocked among northern latitude states and provinces of North America.  Few southern states harbor conditions suitable for tiger trout since they prefer cold pristine waters.  

US states popular for tiger trout fishing include:

  • Utah
  • Colorado
  • Wyoming
  • Arizona
  • Nevada
  • Idaho
  • Washington
  • Oregon
  • Wisconsin
  • Michigan

Canadian provinces with tiger trout fishing:

  • Manitoba
  • Ontario
  • Alberta
  • Saskatchewan

While this list is not comprehensive, it certainly showcases some of the best places to track down trophy tiger trout.  You can see if tiger trout fishing is available in your state by checking with your local fish and wildlife service.

Utah has developed a reputation for the finest tiger trout fishing in the nation.  With 41 lakes, reservoirs and rivers boasting trophy angling opportunities, anglers can target these fish in high mountain rivers or popular local reservoirs.  Notably, Utah’s Scofield Reservoir has produced the most recent tiger trout state record which weighed over 18 pounds.

Tiger trout consistently over 5 pounds are common in western states but anglers are a bit secretive about good fishing spots.  Your best resource is to check stocking reports for lakes and streams listed on your state’s department of fish and wildlife website.  Then, call a wildlife agent for more information about areas you wish to explore.

The US certainly does not have the monopoly on fine tiger trout fishing.  Canada’s Manitoba province is well known for world class tiger trout fishing with Twin Lakes being on of the most famous destinations to bag a “Master Angler” beauty.

Other provinces are known for dishing up fine tiger trout fishing as well.  Alberta, as recently as 2015, stocked several waterways with sterile tiger trout and by 2018 reports of decent sized tigers started cropping up.

When to target tiger trout

The most productive time to target tiger trout is in the spring and fall. 

Northern latitude waterways get rather chilly but tiger trout love it.  They tolerate water temperatures from 34° to 65°.  However, the best feeding activity takes place when the water approaches 45° F which makes spring and fall prime times to catch these hybrids in shallow areas.

Once spring transitions into summer and water temperatures rise, finding trout near the surface and in shallow flats accessible from shore becomes difficult.  Boat anglers with the right equipment can still hook into hungry tiger trout near drop offs adjacent to their hunting grounds in 15 to 20 feet of water.  

Anglers targeting these fish in streams can find them seeking shelter in deep pools and water pockets near under cut banks or under overhanging trees.

You can pretty much forget about catching them at midday during summer heat.  Don’t fret too much though.  Early morning and late evening when the weather is hot yields fast but brief action when tiger trout parallel shallow shorelines cruising for baitfish during low light conditions.  Once the water warms, they move back to deeper water.

Ice fishing for tiger trout

Because tiger trout stay active even when water temperatures drop into the mid 30’s, it makes them an excellent ice fishing option.  They feed actively and retain much of their aggressive nature so getting them to strike is less of a challenge.

Focus your efforts on shallow transition zones where a weed line ends or soft bottom meets up with rocky areas.  Drill holes near points, breaks and drop offs.  Remember, ice fishing is about staying mobile so move around until you find fish.

Active jigging draws in tiger trout from a distance so choose your lure to capitalize on their ferocious appetite.  Take a look at our 7 best ice fishing lures for trout to see what works best for winter fishing.

Gearing up for tiger trout

Now that you have a better idea of when and where to chase tiger trout, let’s take a look at the how.

Rod, reels and line

The rod, reel and line you choose obviously depends on your methods of fishing.  We’ll cover a well rounded approach to gearing up so you can adapt your techniques to the conditions.

Spinning setup

For casting spoons, spinners and even bait, we prefer a light or medium-light spinning rod in the 5’6” to 7’ range.  Tiger trout fight like bulls and do a lot of thrashing.  Having light tackle brings in another level of intensity that boosts the thrill.  

Pair the rod up with a good reel that has a solid drag system.  You’ll need it when you hook into one pushing 5 pounds.  

Don’t over think line choice.  For a spinning setup, it’s pretty tough to go wrong with 6 pound monofilament or fluorocarbon.  You can also use something like 10 pound braid with a 4 to 6 foot fluorocarbon leader.  If you’re having a hard time deciding on the perfect line, check out our article discussing the best line for trout.

Trolling setup

Your rod and reel setup when trolling for tiger trout doesn’t need to be quite as refined as it might be for catching kokanee.  Most of the time you can long line troll with spoons and other minnow imitations with the same spinning rod you use for casting or bait fishing.

We do prefer a longer, more limber rod with a bit of forgiveness.  A hard hit on moving bait can tear hooks out of a trout’s soft mouth without some sponginess to the rod.  

A level wind reel with a line counter is also a plus to help consistently replicate a successful setup.  You can easily get your line out to the exact same distance.

As for trolling line, 8-12 pound mono adds a bit more stretch which acts as a shock absorber if you are using a stiffer rod.  You can also use braid with a mono or fluoro leader.

Fly fishing setup

An 8’5” to 9’, 5 weight, fly rod is the most versatile setup for trout, including tiger trout.  Match that up with the appropriately weighted fly line and you’re ready to go.  

Depending on your tactics, a floating, sinking or sinking tip line can be used.  Your approach should match the feeding depth of the fish.

Tiger trout may be aggressive by nature but it doesn’t mean they aren’t line shy.  Use light tippet and cast as delicately as possible, just as you might for wary brown trout.  When fishing with sinking line, think about switching to fluorocarbon leaders to decrease line visibility.

Just as you would with spinning gear and trolling setups, invest in a quality fly rod and reel.  You should also always match the rod weight to the weight of the line and rod. If there is one trout that can test the limit of your gear, it’s a tiger trout.

Top lures for tiger trout

Spinning gear arguably makes up the majority of tackle used to target tiger trout.  It’s therefore no surprise that anglers have figured out what will turn a tiger’s crank.

Here are some of the top lures to catch tiger trout:

  • Warden’s Rooster Tail spinners
  • Blue Fox Classing Vibrax spinners
  • Panther Martins spinners
  • Mepps inline spinners
  • Acme Kastmaster spoons
  • Acme Little Cleo spoons
  • Luhr Jensen Krocodile spoons
  • Thomas Buoyant spoons
  • Worden’s Flatfish
  • Rapala Original crankbait
  • Rebel Tracdown Minnow crankbait

We find that natural colored lures work well in most conditions but don’t be afraid to spice things up when the bite slows down.  

For spinners, we like silver or gold blades with brown, black or reddish bodies.  Similar colors in spoons produce consistent results.  Red and gold or silver and blue combos seem to hit the mark.  Size your lure appropriately to the size of fish present. 1/8 to 3/8 ounce sizes are a good middle ground.

When fishing cranks, try to match the size and color of the baitfish where you fish.  Browns, whites, rainbow trout, and perch colors work most days.  Sometimes fire tiger adds just enough flare to trigger a bite when the going gets tough.  Sometimes it takes a little experimenting. 

Top flies for tiger trout

As a basic rule, always match the hatch if you can.  However, generic patterns are effective for these not-so-picky tiger trout.

If you’re fishing in water that has smaller tiger trout, cater to their diet with generic dry flies (think Adams), nymphs and emerging patterns.  Some good choices are listed below.

  • Adams
  • Elk hair caddis
  • Sparkle dun
  • Pheasant tail nymph
  • Hairs ear nymph
  • Chironomids
  • Soft hackle
  • Midge
  • Scuds

As the fish get bigger, so too should your fly choice.  As a general rule of thumb, use baitfish imitating streamer patterns that are larger than you think is good. The goal is to appeal to their piscivorous feeding habits.  Here are some good bets for tackling trophy tigers on the fly.

  • Leech
  • Wooly bugger
  • Muddler minnow
  • Freshwater clouser
  • Schultzy’s Sculpin

Again, natural colors are a great starting point but feel free to try out some streamers with vibrant colors or a bit of flash.  The overall goal is to get a big tiger trout riled up.  Present them a big meal and more than likely they’ll devour it.

Effective trolling rigs

Trolling on lakes and reservoirs is one of the most effective ways to cover water and find big tiger trout.  Most of the lures and streamers listed above adapt well to trolling but there are a couple more setups to try for better trolling success.

  • Luhr Jensen Ford Fender Lake Trolls
  • Luhr Jensen Cowbell Lake Trolls
  • Flashers and Dodgers

Lake trolls, dodgers and flashers all utilize the same basic principle.  Flash!  The idea being to draw as much attention as possible to the trailing lure so that fish from a distance will come to investigate and hopefully bite.

The trailing lure can be anything from a flatfish, spoon or spinner.  Another popular trailing lure is the Wedding Ring worm harness.

Spinning gear tactics

When it comes to tracking down cruising tiger trout, casting spinners, spoons and crankbaits are a good choice.  Spinning gear is also effective for shoreline anglers.  

Whether you’re fishing from shore or a boat, take advantage of low light and cool water to cast near shallow weeds and structure where tiger trout feed.  Spend most of your time on typical fish holding spots like points, fallen trees, rocky breaks and inside turns near sudden contour changes.

If you’re fishing from shore, work different depths by casting perpendicular to shore.  Let your lure sink at different intervals before retrieving until you find the primary cruising depth of the fish.  

From a boat, work the shore line and use a stealthy approach.  If the sun is at your back, cast parallel to shore to avoid being spotted.  Try differing retrieval rates as well.  Just about any lure will entice a tiger trout to strike if it’s fished the right way.  

I like to break up a steady retrieve with short, sharp pops.  Many fish strike during the sudden flare of the lure after a quick pop of the rod tip.

Fly fishing tactics

Fly fishing for tiger trout requires some keen observations to determine how the trout are feeding at any one point in time.  Watch for rising fish before tying on a dry fly pattern and pay attention to the current insect hatch.  

An Adams or Sparkle Dun are good universal presentations for rising trout.  Sometimes they may be keyed in on a particular insect making it hard for your artificial fly to compete.

Fishing a nymph or midge is the best approach for smaller fish.  Use an indicator with a beaded nymph when the fish are staying beneath the surface.  

Big tigers want big flies so tie on a streamer.  Use sinking line and weighted streamers when there’s a need to go deep.  Either way, a good steady retrieve with sporadic twitches usually triggers a strike.  

Don’t spend too much time working one spot.  If the trout are there, they will strike.  Continue moving and casting towards likely spots or visible fish.

Trolling tactics

Anytime you fish a new lake, it’s important to efficiently locate fish before keying in on specific spots.  Trolling can help you do that.  As we said earlier, it’s also great way to cover water.

One of the best approaches to trolling for trout is using the long line technique.  Essentially, the objective is to troll the lure or fly 50 to 100 feet behind the boat. Some situations call for even long lines.  Tiger trout may be aggressive but they still get spooked by boats and motor noise.  Long line trolling puts distance between the boat and your bait.

Spinners, crankbaits, spoons and streamers all work for long line trolling.  Add only enough weight to reach the desired depth.  Most of the time diving crankbaits and spinners reach 5 to 8 feet which is perfect for trout. 

You can also use lake trolls with the long line method but lake trolls are particularly effective for deeper presentations as are flashers and dodgers.  When the fish go deep in warmer weather, try lake trolls on a downrigger or add a 1 to 2 ounce banana weight in front.  A line counter is useful in this situation and helps you estimate the approximate depth.

From experience, we found the best trolling speed for tiger trout to be around 1.2 mph.  Sometimes going even slower is necessary when the fish are deeper and less active. Occasionally, 2 mph is the hot ticket when the bite is hot.  

Use frequent “S” turns to vary the presentation of your gear.  I also like to hand hold the rod when using cranks or spoons so I can intermittently pump the rod to add action to the bait.  I’ve had countless strikes doing this.

Live bait tactics

Bait fishing for tiger trout is not the most effective way to catch these fish but there is a time and place for it.  Not to mention, the Washington State record for tiger trout, weighing in at 18.49 pounds, was caught using just a worm and egg.

Good bait choices include worms, eggs and live or dead minnows (depending on local laws).  Powerbait is not generally considered premium tiger trout fare as it is for stocked rainbows.  

The easiest way to fish bait for tiger trout is by using a slip bobber rig where you can adjust the depth of the bait or a Carolina style rig with a buoyant bait like a marshmallow and worm.  

Keep in mind that trophy tigers are looking for large, lively meals so be generous with the worms and consider using minnows if you are allowed to.

Cast the bait to areas where trout typically hunt for forage.  With shoreline space limited on most water ways, fishing with bait is a sit-and-wait affair.

Are tiger trout good to eat?

Like other trout, tiger trout meat is firm and flaky.  Although, most anglers don’t consider it fine dining.  Most of the fishing efforts in trophy waters emphasize catch and release to sustain this quality fishery.  

If you do decide to eat tiger trout, expect it to be similar in taste to brown and brook trout.  Pan fried in oil with a coating of seasoned flour is the preferred way to serve up tiger trout.


There is a lot to love about tiger trout and they’re fast becoming one of the most popular trout species among anglers.  Apply some of our advice on your next quest for tiger trout and get ready to experience a thrill!