Best Bait For Brown Trout: 5 Most Effective Baits That Guides Use

I use small baits for trout like this one
Small baits catch large and small trout. Most of the biggest trout over 20 inches that I catch every year are on small baits like flies and beads.

It’s hard for new anglers to choose the best brown trout bait from all the trout baits that are out there, but it really doesn’t need to be so confusing. I’ll keep it simple and tell you the 5 best brown trout baits that I and other river guides use for brown trout.

The best baits for brown trout fishing in rivers and lakes are worms, egg baits, flies, grub-type baits, and aquatic invertebrates. To maximize the effectiveness of these brown trout baits, anglers should use rig them and fish them the same way that river guides do.

The keys to a good trout bait and catching more brown trout are the setup that I use and the presentation because even the best bait won’t be effective for me if my setup and presentation are bad. Also, not all baits are good all the time which is why I pick and choose which bait I use carefully.

The setup and presentation are the reason why many anglers struggle to catch brown trout even if they use a very good bait.

I’ll provide some tips for setups and presentations.

How To Choose Best Bait For Brown Trout

A large great lakes brown trout caught on a bead.
Another big brown trout caught on a bead by our team photographer Matthew. See more from Matthew-Kuesel-@wisco_castin by clicking on the image.

The first thing a guide does before they decide on the best bait for brown trout is to assess the situation.

They may consider the time of year, time of day, the activity level of the trout, water temps, and the trout’s prevalent food sources.

The reason for this is that guides know that under certain situations, one bait might be more effective than another bait and one setup or method of fishing might also be better.

As an example, I wouldn’t put on a grasshopper onto my hook in the middle of the winter because the chances are better that a small nymph or a single salmon egg that the trout have been feeding on lately would be a more effective bait.

Regular anglers do not always think like this, which is why I regularly see anglers using bad baits, with bad hooks, on bad leaders, and so on. This is why I will explain why some brown trout baits work better under different conditions and how I would recommend fishing that bait.

I also use some of these baits for large migratory brown trout around the great lakes region. I just ensure the hooks and line sizes I use are more suitable to these browns that can often be over 15 pounds.

How To Fish The Best Bait For Brown Trout Effectively

It takes more than the best brown trout bait to catch brown trout like this
It takes more than the best brown trout bait to catch brown trout like this! My clients and I caught this brown trout 5 times in one season, which shows that proper catch and release methods work well.

I will reveal the best baits for brown trout soon, but if you want to catch big brown trout, and the reason I don’t mention the best bait for brown trout now is that even a great brown trout bait that is fished poorly is not a good bait at all.

If I say the best bait for brown trout is a worm, and you stop reading and then go out and put a worm on the wrong size hook, or rig the worm on the hook poorly, or you use a leader that is so thick that the trout can see if from 10 feet away, you won’t catch very many trout.

Trust me, I see guys fish poorly all the time.

These are three very important things that will make the best bait for brown trout actually effective.

Methods For Bait Fishing

An angler spin fishing for migratory brown trout
An angler spin fishing for migratory brown trout.

Something every guide does before they start fishing any bait for brown trout is to determine the best method for that section of the river.

As an example, if the river in front of you is all pocket water that is 12″ to 30 inches deep, bottom bouncing will be a lot more effective than fishing a bait below a float.

But if you walk into a nice pool with a moderate current and decent depth of over 4 feet, float fishing or drift fishing is likely the better way to go. Click those links to see my methods, and the leader setups that I use.

If you fish still in water in a lake or a pond the best methods will be float fishing or the still fishing method known as plunking.

Set Up For Bait Fishing

The setup for the method that you are using is a critical part of fishing your bait effectively. Trout can be line shy, hook shy, and float shy. This means if they see any of these things they might refuse your bait and even be spooked and stop feeding for hours.

To me and many other river guides, this is common sense which is why we make sure our bait rig which includes the leader, hook, weights, and maybe a float is one that is proven effective.

However, I still see guys using horrible leader setups and bad hooks that prevent them from catching fish even if they use the best bait for brown trout.

I think that is why anglers will see me with a client on the river and it’s pretty clear that I’m a guide, and then they match the same bait as we are using but we still catch 10X more fish than that guy does.

I honestly think that most anglers believe catching brown trout is all about how good your bait is and they believe the bait is the most important thing, but it’s not.

I have said this many times before, “your bait is the least important thing when it comes to catching trout, steelhead, and salmon in a river”. So what is?

Presentation Is Key

Jordan Pockets streamer caught brown trout
A beauty brown trout caught on a streamer by Jordan from A Perfect Drift Guide Company.

Let’s talk stealth because you could have the best bait for brown trout on a great leader setup but if you make too much noise and are seen by the trout they might go lack jaw and then ignore everything your throw at them.

This means your best bait for brown trout is practically useless except for maybe a bunch of dumb little trout.

It is very important that you present your bait in a way that is natural to the trout and you need to do this each and every time your bait enters the water.

Most guides will tell you that presentation is critical.

There is a reason why river guides catch more fish than most people even when they use the same baits. Their formula to catching more fish isn’t that hard, know which bait is good at that time, know which method will be the most effective, put the bait on a great setup, then fish it really well. That’s it, it’s simple!

Something else to seriously consider is your presentation and how stealthy you are.

What Is The Best Bait For Brown Trout?

Best Bait For Winter Steelhead

Finally, this is what you came for, the best bait for brown trout!

Whenever you read an article about the best bait, consider the time of year and the conditions because that is what guides will do.

What the best bait for brown trout is not easy to answer because I know that a worm might be the best in April and May when the ground is moist and there are worms everywhere, but worms aren’t everywhere in August, and often a worm is not the best bait at that time.

As I discuss baits, I will add when to use them and maybe how to use them.

Artificial Flies Are The Best Bait For Brown Trout

The Polish Pheasant Tail Nymph is one of my best spring trout flies
This Polish Pheasant Tail Nymph is one of my best spring trout flies but is not limited to just spring. This is a great year round fly on most rivers. Click on the picture to watch the video.

The reason that I think artificial flies like the ones the fly anglers use are the best bait for brown trout is that these flies imitate the aquatic insects that are found in the river year-round.

These same aquatic insects are recognized by brown trout as a valuable and ongoing food source.

Trout will eat insects from the time they are born to their last days.

You do not need to be a fly angler to use flies since flies can be used with both bottom-bouncing methods and with float fishing. Click the link if you want to see how I use flies with spinning gear and the setups that work the best.

Flies can also imitate other types of insects that might fall into the river such as beetles, bees, moths, crickets, grasshoppers, or the many other insects that live near the river.

Even in the winter months, some aquatic insects will become dislodged from their rocky home and drift in the current and become food for brown trout.

Artificial flies imitate these aquatic insects, and other insects like grasshoppers, bees, beetle, or crickets that might fall in the water, which makes flies the best bait for brown trout.

Yes, there will be times when another bait like a worm or an egg sac will be a better bait, but 90% of the brown trout I catch are on flies, and even the big ones will eat flies (despite what some websites say).

I have caught hundreds of 20″+ brown trout on tiny flies. The other thing with flies is that there are times when brown trout will focus on flies on the surface and will ignore all other food sources. With flies, you can target and catch these fish that would otherwise ignore a worm or egg.

Weights for fly fishing are a good way to catch big trout like this.
This large 25-inch brown trout caught by one of my clients was caught using a size 18 fly with one weight positioned 4 inches from the fly.

Stonefly, midges, and Mayfly species like the tiny Blue Winged Olive are active during the winter and early spring. In the winter, I will use smaller flies in sizes 16, 18, and 20. During later spring through the fall, I will use some larger sizes and my flies will range in size from 6 to 14, but smaller sizes will still work at times.

Best Trout Flies

The Higa’s SOS fly has been a hot fly for me over the last few seasons. I have done very well with this red version but also with a bright green back too.

The most effective flies that I use for trout are:

Flies like the Pheasant Tail Nymph, Frenchie / Hot Spot Pheasant Tail Jig Fly, and the Davie’s Polish Pheasant Tail Nymph.

Other Great Trout Flies Include:

These are primarily nymphs, but dry flies and streamers can be very effective and I show you 29 of my best patterns with some unique patterns you probably haven’t seen yet and some tips that work very well for me.

Worms: One Of The Best Bait For Brown Trout

The Worm Is A Great Trout Bait
The worm is a great trout bait but only if it’s the right size and it’s presented well.

The worm is often the best bait for brown trout and it is easily available.

The thing with worms is they tend to be seasonal and fish best in the spring. However, it never hurts to fish a worm at any time of the year.

I find that smaller 2 to 4-inch garden or red worms work much better than large 7-inch or bigger dew worms.

It is always smart to have either real or fake worms on you when you fish for brown trout. Just make sure worms are not your only bait.

Also, learn how to rig and fish worms properly. Don’t be one of those guys that take huge dew worms, break them in half or use them full size and then ball them up on the hook because those guys rarely catch any good size wild trout.

You might fool some dumb stocked brown trout, but hooking a worm once or twice on the right size and shaped hook so that it looks natural will catch you 10 times more trout.

Honestly, hooking and properly presenting a worm makes a huge difference. You can see how to do this well on my page Fishing With Worms For Trout and Steelhead: 10 Guide Tips.

fishing brwon trout at night is a good way to catch massive brown trout like this one.
Bill from Wild Bills Guide Service is holding a massive brown trout. Bill is a master at brown trout fishing at night. See more massive brown trout on his Instagram.

Guide Tip: Live worms are also one of my most effective baits for night fishing for trophy-size brown trout and brook trout in the dark.

Another thing you should seriously consider is using plastic worms instead of real worms, especially during the day and when fishing current water.

I now fish plastic worms 95 percent of the time and when fishing in the current I find plastic worms work equally as well as live worms, except that the plastic worms are more durable and rarely fall off and they are much easier to pack into a vest or fishing pack than real worms.

these are some of my favorite artificial worms.

Berkley Trout Worms

Berkley Gulp Earthworms / Red Wigglers

Berkley Gulp! Alive! Angle Worms

Eggs Are One Of The Best Baits For Brown Trout

A large brown trout caught on a bead.
Brown trout love beads and eggs especially in the spring and fall. See more from Matthew-Kuesel-@wisco_castin by clicking on the image.

Egg baits are either spawn sacs, single salmon eggs, beads, or artificial egg baits. Even skein can be a very effective bait for brown trout.

Egg baits can be seasonal and eggs are often great in the fall and spring when there are rainbow trout, other trout, or other fish like suckers spawning in the river.

Their eggs are often drifting in the current during the spawn and brown trout will gorge on them without hesitation.

Egg imitations are great baits for brown trout and steelhead without the mess of reel eggs yet many anglers shy away from them. There have been plenty of days when a well-presented bead has out-fished a spawn sac.

There are some things that river guides do that average anglers don’t when fishing eggs.

Rigging your eggs, and knowing the right sizes and colors can pay off with a lot more and bigger brown trout. Spawn Bags – Guide Secrets For More Trout And Steelhead and at Bead Fishing For Trout – Easy Guide Secrets

Grub-type Baits For Brown Trout

Baits like grubs, mealworms, maggots, and wax worms can be excellent baits for brown trout, especially from spring to early fall. You find them at your local fishing store or at your local pet store since people use them for their pet reptiles.

You could also choose the imitation plastic grubs like the Berkely Power Wigglers which can usually be found at your local fishing store or online.

Be sure to use the correct hook sizes like a size 10 to 14 hook.

Imitation Grubs Are A Great Trout Bait

Power Wigglers

Berkley PowerBait Power Wigglers are a great grub/maggot imitation.

Lil Hellgrammites

Plastic Nymphs like this 2″ Lil Hellgrammites is a good trout bait.

This Plastic Mayfly Nymph is a good trout bait

Savage Nymph

This 2-inch Savage Gear plastic nymph is a great trout bait.

Leeches And Crawfish Are Good Baits For Brown Trout

Berkley Gulp Leeches are a good trout bait
Imitation leeches like these Berkley Gulp leeches can be a great trout bait.

I have seen huge brown trout nosing into the rocks looking for crawfish and I have seen them smash a well-presented live or fake leech so these types of baits are great for both big and small brown trout.

One of my favorite baits is the Berkely Gulp Leach

A crayfish from a local river.
Crayfish are a great bait for trout.

The other great thing about leeches and Crayfish is that they live in rivers and lakes so they are there year-round which means these are good baits for brown trout almost any time of the year.

For Crawfish, I prefer 1 to 2 inch live or fake ones. If you use crawfish hook them once through the tail with a size 10 wide gap hook such as the Raven Specimen hook.

For leeches, 2 to 4 inch leaches are great sizes for most brown trout.

Minnow And Baitfish

Minnows and other baitfish are probably the bait that I use the least for brown trout but that is only because they are so hard to carry with you and the other baits above are usually more than enough.

Most of the time I prefer to use imitation minnows like the Berkley Gulp Alive minnows. They have a scent that attracts fish, they have good movement in the current, and they hold on to the hook well. They also come in some great colors and their size is perfect.

The Best Bait For Brown Trout Q&A

That wraps up the best baits for brown trout article with some great baits for you to try on your next outing.

If you have any questions, or comments, or would like to share your favorite brown trout bait let me know in the comments section below.

Tight Lines,


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One Comment

  1. Great information. I never thought that it depends on the time of year on what fish eat. Also your comment on plastic worms. Great idea. Alan from Scio Oregon