Trout vs Bass: Differences Explained

Trout and bass make up some of the best fishing in the U.S. These freshwater fish species share some similarities, but at the end of the day, they are different fish to catch and eat. So what’s the scoop on trout vs. bass, and which one should you fish for next?

After reeling in both, here’s my take on the trout vs. bass debate.

Key Differences Between Trout and Bass

Both trout and bass have at least a dozen different types. While you can find trout and bass in fresh rivers, and they are often similar in size, there are a few main areas where these fish obviously differ. This includes their appearance, habitat, eating habits, and behavior.

For the best chance of fishing success, you’ll need a different approach depending on if you’re trying to hook trout or bass. Bass may be easier to find, but they typically put up more of a fight than trout, which is why you want to be prepared for either fishing excursion.

Trout vs. Bass Appearance

So what do trout and bass look like? Let’s start with trout, which are part of the salmon family. Trout are longer and thinner than bass with smaller and softer fins. Trout are primarily brown in color and covered in spots from head to tail.

Most trout have a light yellow or white underside, with slight color variations depending on the species.

  • Rainbow trout are known for distinctive green, blue, and yellow gradients covering their top half and a signature pink stripe along the side. Rainbow trout weigh between 1-5 pounds with long and slender bodies shaped like a torpedo. They usually reach 10-40 inches long.

  • Cutthroat trout have a red-orange slash running from their gills to their jaw, with an olive or greenish-brown color on the back and silver sides. They measure 5-40 inches and weigh 2 to 5 pounds, although a record 41-pounder was hooked back in 1925.

  • Brook trout have an orange-reddish underside and brown base color, with pale yellow and red spots. Brook trout are smaller than lake trout, weighing around 0.5-6.7 pounds and measuring 5-30 inches.

  • Lake trout although are a member of the char family, are the largest type of trout, known for their brown/olive scales with silver and gray tones, plus light yellow spots along their body.

    Average adult lake trout may weigh up to 27 pounds, with lengths ranging from 25-40 inches long. Some lake trout are much larger depending on their environment and food sources, with rare 100-pounders recorded in very deep waters.

That’s trout covered, but what about bass? As a type of sunfish, bass live primarily in freshwater, although there are some saltwater varieties like black sea bass and striped bass.

Largemouth and smallmouth bass are the most common types you’ll find in freshwater lakes and rivers, but redeye and spotted bass are also fun to catch. Compared to trout, bass are rounder and wider with pointy, spiky fins.

  • Largemouth bass have a grayish-greenish color with dark, jagged horizontal stripes along the flank. The upper jaw is longer than the eye socket, with a deep, chunky body and wide mouth. Largemouth bass are usually 12-40 inches long and weigh 12-20 pounds. A five-pounder or anything bigger is counted as largemouth bass.

  • Smallmouth bass are brownish-green with splotches of black scales and yellow-white bellies. They have lateral lines on their scales and horizontal brown stripes on their head. Smallmouth bass are 12 to 16 inches on average, although some have surpassed 27 inches long. 4-8 pounds is the average weight for adult smallmouth bass.

Trout and Bass Habitats

Trout vs Bass

Trout tend to live in cooler waters than bass. The ideal trout habitat ranges from 33 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Trout prefer clear, cold, and fast-moving waters, such as rivers, streams, and lakes.

Certain species like the steelhead or sea trout are similar to salmon in that they spend much of their lives in the ocean and only return to freshwater rivers to spawn. In saltwater, brown trout is known as sea trout, and rainbow trout is referred to as steelhead.

Trout are usually found in shallower water compared to bass, which like deep lakes, ponds, and rivers. Bass don’t mind slightly warmer water temps either, usually living in 55-70 degree water.

Bass are slightly more adaptable and can handle a wider range of habitats and water temps, compared to trout that thrive in cold water. Largemouth bass mainly live in lakes while smallmouth bass make their home in moving rivers.

Eating Habits for Trout and Bass

For the most part, trout are slightly smaller than largemouth bass and feed primarily on aquatic insects, crustaceans, worms, and leeches. Snails, crayfish, and crickets also make for a good trout feast and excellent fishing bait. Smaller fish may also find themselves in the mouth of a hungry trout if they aren’t fast enough.

Largemouth bass are powerful and agile predators that eat a variety of smaller fish, including trout in many circumstances. Even smallmouth bass are opportunistic feeders, eating just about anything that swims in front of them.

Common bass prey includes bluegills, herring, crappies, snakes, crayfish, lizards, ducklings, and insects. If their survival is on the line, bass may resort to eating smaller bass.

Fishing for Trout and Bass

If you want an easy, relaxed day on the water, bass may be your best bet. Bass are less picky than trout, which have earned a reputation as fussy fish that won’t bite unless they are really in the mood. Lighter tackle and hooks work for trout whereas bass fishing requires heavier gear and hooks.

Keep in mind many parts of the country have strict regulations on trout fishing to protect spawning seasons and stocked populations. While you can fish for bass any time of the year, trout fishing may be limited to certain times depending on your location.

When you do hit the water for trout, you need a lighter hook and rod. As the shyer and pickier of the two, trout may respond better to fluorocarbon line that’s nearly invisible in the water compared to monofilament that’s easier for fish to spot. Size 8-14 hooks work for trout along with artificial or live baits like minnows, worms, flies, and fish eggs.

Typically you need a bit more patience for trout fishing, while bass are more likely to bite whatever rig you drop in the water. Even so, the best bass fishing setup is usually a medium-weight rod at least seven feet long.

Braided or mono line is better for bass that leave a heavier bite and struggle more on the line. To catch these hungry carnivores, try proven bass bait like live minnows, shiners, or shad. Sizes 4 to 6/0 hooks are ideal for largemouth bass, and slightly lighter for smallies.

Weather conditions also play a role in successful trout and bass fishing. Trout are more sensitive to weather and water temps, as they hang near the surface and stay in cold water. In shallow streams and rivers, you may spot trout feasting on insects at the surface or just beneath the water.

You’re more likely to get lucky with trout on relatively seasonable days with cool winds, while bass bite most when the water is slightly warmer. Bass nest in protected weeds and a mild spring or fall day is your best chance at reeling one in. Bass are more selective on hot summer days as they move to deeper waters.

Cooking Trout and Bass

Trout vs Bass

Finally, it’s also important to note a slight difference in taste for trout and bass. While generally, both are delicious when made fresh, trout are better-tasting due to their super clean water habitats. Bass are more likely to feed off the bottom of lakes and rives, so sometimes they can have a slightly murky taste.

Trout have more bones than bass, but most people would still pick trout if they had to choose just one to eat. I agree as nothing tastes better than freshly grilled trout with lemon and veggies. That being said, I’d never say no to a fresh bass meal, either!

Conclusion

Trout and bass are two of the most popular freshwater fish for recreational fishing and delicious dining. Commonly found in lakes, rivers, and streams, trout and bass have some key differences to keep in mind while fishing. Bass are bigger and broader with deep, wide bodies. Trout are slender with smaller mouths and less aggressive feeding habits compared to the powerful largemouth bass predators.

Both fish are fun to catch, although trout offer more of a challenge as the pickier of the two. Trout are shy and skittish around the line, and bass need heavier hooks and rigs as they put up a fight. Remember the best time to catch trout is late spring when they travel up streams and rivers, and the best bass fishing happens in the spring and fall.

If you want the best-tasting fish, try to hook trout, which taste incredibly fresh and clean due to their clear water habitats. Bass tastes good too with fewer bones, although you may get a slightly murky taste sometimes. At the end of the day, you can’t really go wrong with either trout or bass fishing! Both are fun, fierce, and fantastic to catch and eat.