Trout is among the most commonly farmed and fished for game fish on the planet. And, while everyone has an opinion on the best way to land the most (or biggest) trout; there are a handful of lures that continue to work wonders almost anywhere trout are found. Below you’ll find a list detailing some of our absolute favorite trout fishing lures.
- Top Trout Lures
- Spinners – The Lure we Grew Up With
- Spoons – The Flashy Eye Catchers
- Crankbaits – The Ultra Realistic Method
- Soft Plastics – No Dig Nightcrawlers
- Jigs – Our Current Favorite (non-fly fishing lure)
- Frequently Asked Questions
Trout fishing is one of America’s favorite pastimes. The image of an angler wading through clear mountain streams, or a fly rod launching line to the perfect spot, makes us all dream of enjoying life’s simple pleasures. There are few things more satisfying than a day spent in fresh air on a clear stream.
While fly fishing may be the stereotypical method of catching trout (where we’re from), a fly is certainly not the only lure capable of landing one. Trout fishing with a spinning or baitcasting reel can be more productive and just as fun.
Plus it is really simple (and more affordable) to get started. Mastering the art of casting a fly rod can take years. But, even a beginner can experience some success with a conventional reel in the span of a single afternoon. You can even use one of those telescoping rods to hook a nice trout. Something you wouldn’t want to attempt with a beast of a Striper.
Artificial lures coax strikes from freshwater trout by mimicking their natural prey. The most successful lure is one that effectively interacts with the trout’s habitat and convincingly imitates current food sources. Trout habitat and diet vary with the changing seasons, weather, water temperature, and underwater structure. So a well-stocked tackle box filled with an array of lures is an advantage for any angler.
However, choosing the right lures to stock your tackle box can seem overwhelming, especially to the novice trout angler. Local tackle shops complicate the matter with their rows and rows of lures in every size, shape, color, and design. It is hard to imagine the need for so many varieties of lures for the sole purpose of catching one type of fish.
It is always best to start with the basics. So here is a simple overview of the major categories of trout fishing lures.
Probably the most popular trout fishing lure, the in-line spinner is designed to imitate small baitfish and other creatures. The most common in-line spinner is the rooster tail, although there are several other varieties. The metallic blade creates a lot of flash as it moves through the water. Which often does the job of attracting fish more than the shape of the lure’s body.
The beauty of the in-line spinner is its versatility. Most commonly used in early spring and late fall, these lures can also be surprisingly effective in midsummer, or when fished deep and slow during winter months when fish are more reluctant to bite.
The weight of spinners makes them relatively easy to cast and also aids in getting the lure down to the depths where trout hang out. You’ll want to use a straight-line retrieve when fishing with an in-line spinner, but the rate of retrieval will vary depending on how deep you want them to run. Sometimes, figuring the right depth and retrieval speed is just a game of trial and error.
Getting their name from the shape they share with silverware, spoons are another popular lure choice among trout fishermen. Perfect for springtime fishing, when the rivers and streams swell with snow melt and water clarity is low, spoons create a dramatic flash to catch trout’s attention. Fish can’t eat what they can’t see after all, and the vibrant flash of a spoon is difficult for even reluctant trout to miss.
Although the design of spoons is fairly universal – a somewhat flat, elongated piece of metal trailing a treble hook – spoons come in a wide variety of sizes and weights. While the differences may seem minimal to the naked eye, slight variations greatly affect the way they cast, sink, and swim as well as the amount of vibration they create in the water.
As a general rule of thumb, larger spoons work better in larger streams. Although you will find that the effectiveness of any size spoon is ultimately influenced by a large number of factors. Things like current, water clarity, the size of the fish, and the size of the food naturally available. For these reasons, you’ll want to keep a variety of different spoons stocked in your tackle box.
Do not let the name fool you. A lot more skill goes into using a crankbait than just “cranking” them back to shore. While a straight consistent retrieve might work for some trout, using random light jerks causes the lure to mimic the erratic swimming action of an injured baitfish. You should experiment with your retrieve to find out what works best.
Trout crankbaits come in design varieties that float, suspend, or sink. Sinking crankbaits tend to work best for trout, especially when fishing in fast moving water since they tend to handle current better than their floating cousins.
Because crankbaits resemble minnows, shiners, and other bait fish rather than insects, they are most effective for catching large trout that are big enough to hunt rather than simply forage. If you’re looking to land a trophy trout, a crankbait is a handy tool to have attached to your line.
Soft plastic lures come in a variety of shapes, but the most popular is definitely the plastic worm. Some other varieties resemble grubs, crawfish, salamanders, and small fry.
Anglers use many different methods to rig soft plastics for trout, and a description of the different methods of fishing with them would fill volumes. You can easily rig the same plastic worm to fish the surface, bump along the bottom with a drop shot rig, or fish through brush and underwater structure with a Texas rig. Suffice it to say, soft plastics offer amazing versatility, although good technique is best developed through experience.
Fishing with soft plastics may not be the best bet for catch-and-release fishing. Because soft plastics have a more natural mouthfeel than hard plastic lures, trout are more apt to swallow them. This often results in deep wounds and higher fish mortality. If you’re trying to put trout in the frying pan, however, you cannot go wrong with a soft plastic lure.
Perhaps the most versatile lure for catching trout, jigs employ a rather simple design. A trout jig is constructed of a small weighted head with a body usually made of fur, feathers, or some similar material. Trout struggle to resist the convincing replicas of insects in their nymphal stage. Which you will learn is one of a trout’s favorite meals.
Unlike spoons or spinners which offer a lot of built-in action, trout jigs rely more on the angler to create action. Simply cranking them in might afford you some bites, but it is not the most effective method to use. Light rod twitches and varied retrieval speed help them look more lifelike in the water and offer greater trout fishing success.
Most trout jigs do not look very impressive. They are simple, small in size, and not at all flashy, but these lures catch trout. In fact, a simple marabou jig helped land the current world record brown trout. That is reason enough to keep a few in your tackle box.
What Hook Size For Trout?
This is a pretty common question. And, spoiler alert – the answer isn’t entirely dependant on the size of fish you want to catch. Generally speaking, if you’re not fly fishing Size 12 is about as small as we’d recommend. On the upper end of the spectrum we’d stop at Size 4.
So when someone wants to know which size hook they need we tend to ask them a few questions. First, where are you fishing? This is a good indicator of what size fish you’ll find in the area. But, it also gives us a good idea which bait or lure they should employ. Rivers and streams tend to require smaller hooks (larger numeric hook size). While lakes will house large trout that can handle a size 4 or so hook.
From there you can ask a few other questions? How are you fishing comes to mind. From a boat? Shore? Trolling? Combine this info with the answer to the where question and you’ll get a better idea of what bait they’re planning to use. For example worms from shore… something mid sized on the gauge hook scale (say a 6 or 8). Eggs or Powerbait on the other hand are better suited to smaller hooks (look at size 10 and / or 12).
Basically to go smaller than 12 on trout you’ll probably be fly fishing. Get into the larger gauge size hooks or ought sized stuff (1/0 – 2/0 – 3/0 etc.) and you’re probably going to struggle to find both bait and trout large enough to handle that set up.
“Trout typically require a hook size ranging from 12 to as large as 4. But, somewhere in the middle is where you’ll typically want to be.” – Editor
What is the Best Bait for Trout?
The best trout bait ranges from good old fashioned worms, to Powerbait, to leeches. It all depends on when and where your fishing. Common wisdom would say to mimic what they’re eating at the moment… but science has come a long way. If you’re looking for numbers… don’t hesitate to try synthetic bait. Just be sure it biodegrades.
Do I need the Best Monofilament Line?
If you’re asking about the best fishing line for trout… the answer varies. Just like everything else in the world of fishing. To put things into perspective let’s consider the extremes in the realm of catching trout. First, is the kids trout pond. A few years ago we took a half dozen grade school kids to the local kids-only trout pond to catch some fish for the first time. All six rods, reels, line… everything cost much less than a typical 5wt Fly Rod. The line was ridiculously cheap and wreaked of plastic. But, those six grade school kids couldn’t keep the trout off their Powerbait if the tried.
Contrast that with the Metolius River in Central Oregon. It’s a Gin Clear, fly fishing only stream that’s beauty is only surpassed by the number of expletives I whisper on a given trip. In this spot… you do need the absolute best monofilament fishing line money can buy. Think well over ten bucks for a single tapered tippet.
So the answer to this age old question… get an affordable line and try it out. You don’t need to get too crazy to catch trout in a stocked pond. As you notice problems; upgrade accordingly. But, don’t think that spending a bunch of cash on high-end monofilament is a sure fire way to catch trout.
Best Lures for Lake Fishing Rainbows?
As a general rule… Rainbows are not quite as aggressive or piscavarious as other lake bound trout. Browns for example are much more of a predatory eater. However, with that said Rainbows aren’t going to turn down the opportunity if something is sitting right in front of their face.
So don’t stop at worms and Powerbait, though they do work quite well on bows in a lake. You can always experiment with jigs, spinners, and crankbaits. We’ve caught fish on a lot of different stuff. In fact… give that Fuzz-e-Grub a shot.
But, do know that smaller rainbows tend to go for bugs and few ever attempt to take a fish 1/3 their own size. This UK page is laid out quite well and will give you some good intel without going overboard.
We’re not going to lie… we love dangling a bit of Powerbait in a lake while drinking a beer or enjoying a cigar. It’s a pretty low maintenance way to catch a nice rainbow.
What About the Overall Best Trout Lures for Lakes?
If you’re fishing for more aggressive and predatory trout species you can really double down on the crankbaits, stickbaits and other common lures. We think it’s pretty fun to go after big browns as they patrol along the lakeshore looking for smaller fish and crawdads.
If those fail however, our next best good time lure mix would have to be a medley of spoons, spinners, and jigs. We’ve been fishing successfully with Vibrax lures for years… but our love for fly fishing tends to push us over to the jigs these days.
Bottom line… when we’re lake fishing trout we are out there to have fun. It’s slower paced and requires less effort and finesse than fly fishing. You can enjoy people’s company more and you can really experiment with some crazy tactics and gear. So… what is the best trout lure for a day cruising the lake? We think that might be the wrong question all together. Just have fun and don’t take things too seriously.
Final Thoughts on Trout Lures
Now that you understand a bit more about basic trout lures, you’re ready to put together a well-stocked tackle box. Armed with this knowledge, the rows of lures at your local tackle store will not seem nearly as confusing. Of course, there is a lot more to trout fishing than simply tying a lure to the end of your fishing line, but everybody has to start somewhere. Understanding trout lures is a good place to do it.
Be sure to check your state’s trout fishing regulations before heading out on the water. Some states have restrictions on trout fishing with live bait and/or treble hooks. You can check here for more information on your state’s specific trout fishing laws.
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