Did you ever read Hemingway's novella "The Old Man and The Sea"? Our Hero, Santiago, wrestles a MegaloMarlin around the ocean for three days in a rowboat (while eating bait) and finally brings it up...with a hand-line; a baited hook tied to the end of a string. Period. I consider that to be enough gear to catch trout, with the addition of a rod and a reel to be a luxurious improvement. See that picture over there <--? That barely two-year old girl caught her first trout (shown) with a hand-line. She was as proud and surprised as Santiago...but her story had a happier ending.
ABOUT LINE: There are many line materials, but since this article's intentions are, a) to get beginners started fishing for trout in Northeast Iowa's magnificent trout streams, and b) having the experience not suck, I'm going to only discuss three basic types; monofilament, superbraids, and heavy nylon braids. Monofilament is typically a single strand of extruded nylon or fluorocarbon. Superbraids are way better. Superbraids are tightly spun, multi-strand lines made from a blend of polymers. Heavy nylon braid is that thick black stuff on your Grandpa's old aluminum reel that nobody can figure out how to use. Fishing line is measured in "test pounds" which is theoretically how much tension the line can take before snapping. All of my trout fishing reels are loaded with superbraid (my brand of choice is PowerPro) in 10 pound test, which is the same diameter as 4 pound mono. Not that I expect to catch a ten pound trout, but the strength helps me pull out of inevitable mishaps like overhead branches, underwater branches, branches I'm walking through, etc. Superbraids are three times the price of mono, but are a much better value. Mono degrades in sunlight, is weakened by DEET, retains the shape of the reel's spool (this is called "memory" and causes LOTS of hassles), is prone to snapping once it gets abraded by say...the streambed, your reel, your rod-guides, the woods, and gets brittle if it's not replaced every year. Superbraids will last on your reel literally for years, snarls and tangles are MUCH easier to wrangle, and superbraids don't have a memory. Superbraid's only drawbacks are that you can't bite it off; you need to keep nail-clippers or mini-scissors handy, due to superbraid's amazing abrasion-resistance, it is slippery, so all knots need an extra securing loop in them, and because superbraids are slippery, your reel needs a layer of electrical tape on it prior to spooling-up otherwise your whole wad of line will spin when you crank the reel. I only use mono for my leader material (we'll get to leaders in Trout Fishing For Dummies: Part 3.2 – Gearing Up (or Gearing Down); Knots & Tackle). Heavy nylon braid is for hand-lining. Ya take one end of a 30' section, tie a square-knot in it, put it into an empty plastic pop-bottle and screw the top back on. Then ya wind the 30' of line around the pop-bottle, then tie on the tackle rig and sling the baited end into the water. Fun, cheap, and if it gets broken there's no cussing involved.
ABOUT REELS: We're bait-fishing or spinner-fishing for trout in trout streams. We'll discuss two types of reels; spin-casting and spinning reels. In both cases a line-winding mechanism spins around the spool of line and is disengaged when casting out then engaged when reeling line in. Spinning reels have an exposed spool (open-face) and to cast out, the line is held on the fingertip, the metal half-circle (bail) is flipped open, the rod is swung in an often awkward and awkwardly graceless arc and at the right (or wrong) moment a relaxing of the fingertip allows the baited line to go out. The bail is then closed by hand, or by turning the crank. With practice, they become much less intimidating to use than they look and if one remembers to never allow line to be slack, these reels are mostly hassle-free. I usually move my kids to spinning reels as soon as their fingers are long enough to reach the line, about age six or seven.
Spin-casting reels have closed faces, a button on the back, and the line comes and goes through a hole in the face. It's almost everyone's first reel. They're easy to use; push in the button, swing the rod, let go of the button at the desired point in the rod-rip's arc and the baited line goes out. I strongly dislike spin-casting reels. If you trust me, you'll use a spinning reel and practice until you're comfortable. Spin-casting reels used to be well-made and reliable. Anymore...Not so much. The way the line retraction system and spools are designed, getting a loop of line snarled INSIDE that closed face is inevitable and will go undetected until the reel is hopelessly fouled. Unfortunately for parents like me who like to start our kids young, all the set-ups that will fit tiny hands only come in spin-casting varieties (obnoxiously polluted with children's media characters). The kiddie-pole section of the tackle cabinet looks like Nickelodeon/Disney Celebrity Rehab; fourteen are in there but only three are functional.
ABOUT RODS: I could write at least 2000 words about different rod types, but I won't. This blog is about Northeast Iowa and this article is about simple bait or spinner fishing in Northeast Iowa trout streams and the rod choices are fairly narrow. The rod style you use is going to be determined by the type of reel you're comfortable with using; spin-casting or spinning. I hope you choose a spinning reel, read the manual, and practice. If not, spin-casting reels fit casting rods and the reel is mounted on top, while spinning reels fit spinning rods and the reel hangs below. Rods are typically specified in two ways; weight/power and action/speed. Weight/power is the rod's "strength" and what type of weight it is designed for and ranges from Ultra-light to Heavy. To give you an idea of scale, I own one Heavy rod. It's for Flathead Catfish. The smallest Flathead I ever caught was eighteen pounds. The rod barely bent. For trout fishing in Northeast Iowa, anything from Ultra-Light to Medium will work just fine. Action/speed refers to a rod's flexibility and how far down from the tip the rod's optimum bend occurs. A "fast" rod will bend closer to the tip than a "slow" rod. Either is fine for stream trout. For now, don't sweat it much. Personally, I like a long 8' "Light" & "Fast" rod for bait-fishing and a shorter 5'-6" "Light" & "Slow" rod for spinners. Starting out, look for a 5' to 6' Light or Medium-Light weight with a Fast or Medium action. Look for graphite rods but don't over-spend...just yet.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER: Beginners should buy "combos"; rods & reels already paired-up to perform together, strip off the miserable line the manufacturer provided, buy a spool of 10lb test PowerPro and then go home and do this
After some water-time you may want more rods and reels. It's kind of inevitable. When I buy a set-up I consider the reel's main function to be to reliably and solidly retract line. That's it. The rod factors more strongly in my consideration; it is the extension of my body to my prey. My advice, if asked, is to buy inexpensive (but solidly built) reels and spend up a bit on the rod & line.
Check back soon for Trout Fishing For Dummies: Part3.2 – Gearing Up (or Gearing Down); Knots & Tackle and don't worry...we'll be ready to fish very, very soon.