As a top river guide, I use these top 5 trout baits when fishing for trout to increase the amount of trout my clients catch. I also discuss why and when certain trout baits work better and I also include 5 bonus trout baits that you may not have thought about yet.
Trout bait is what anglers put on their hooks to catch trout. The best trout bait will be something that imitates the natural food found in a trout’s diet. There are many trout baits available but the 5 best trout baits are worms, fish eggs, flies, artificial baits, minnows, and live baits.
Updated September 20th, 2021: Added 1 more great trout bait.
There are also methods that I use as a river guide that can make these and other baits more effective, this is something I will discuss below.
The best trout bait is the one that the trout are willing to eat at that time of year or that time of day and a trout bait that worked yesterday or last month may not be good today.
What I mean is that you may use a worm as your trout bait in the spring when worms seem to be all over the place because of all the spring rains, and you may do very well with that kind of trout bait then, but in the heat of the summer when the ground is super dry and there aren’t many worms around, a worm may be a poor choice for a trout bait.
During the heat of the summer or in the winter, the trout may be keyed in on another bait or food source which is more prevalent at that time, and imitating that food source is often best.
That’s exactly why anglers should have these 5 trout baits in their vest or tackle pack when they hit the river or lake.
The Best Methods For Fishing Trout Baits
Before I get into the best baits for trout let me just say that regardless of how good your bait is, it’s always more important to present your bait properly and effectively, especially if you are fishing for wild trout and not stocked trout.
A poorly presented trout bait might catch a fish or two but a well presented trout bait might catch 10 or 20 trout. The good thing is that presenting your bait well isn’t that hard, and with me as your online river guide, I will teach you my methods for fishing trout baits.
Presentation is the key when fishing trout baits and the two methods that I recommend for presenting your bait to the trout in a river are float fishing and bottom bouncing. For information, tips, and my tactics for doing these well visit my page on Bottom Bouncing – 5 Proven Guide Tips For More Fish and my page on Float Fishing: Tips From A Pro River Guide For More Trout
Best Time To Use Bait For Trout
Trout bait can be used at any time and in any type of water whether that be in clear water or dirty water, or even in very cold water.
I have read some articles that say that natural bait works better than imitation baits or that natural baits work better in high muddy water because the trout can pick up on the scent of the natural bait easily.
After fishing hundreds of days in muddly water I’m not convinced that a natural bait with scent is actually best.
Muddy water is full of dissolved dirt, and there is usually lots of debris in the water which masks or dilutes the scent from natural baits. This means any benefit of a scent coming off a bait is limited.
Also, if a fish actually picked up on the scent of natural bait, I and everyone around me would still be catching trout in muddy water, but we don’t! Muddy water is very tough fishing regardless of your bait choice and the scent it might have.
The only thing I will say is that I use bigger trout baits in dirtier water and smaller baits in very clear water so the fish can see them. In my opinion, bigger a brighter baits are more important than scent.
I don’t use bigger baits in dirty water because I want more scent, I just want a bigger bait that they can see easier if I get lucky and get my bait close enough to them.
A combination of the bigger bait and the scent combined might improve your chances in dirty water.
I also choose baits that look most natural to the fish.
In other words, if the fish are feeding on single eggs in gin-clear water and I chuck a golf ball-sized spawn bag at them I’ll probably scare more fish than I will catch.
The Best Trout Bait Is The Worm
The worm is likely the best and most well-known trout bait there is but there are times when worms do not work as well as other baits.
Worms enter the rivers after rains or during the nighttime by crawling along the ground or just under the ground and falling off the bank into the river.
The trout recognize worms as a large and nutritious food source that is easy to grab. This is why worms are such a great trout bait.
There are different types of worms in North America that anglers will use as trout bait.
Worms are also called earthworms, dew worms, nightcrawlers, red wigglers, red worms, trout worms, garden worms, and even garden hackle. Most of them are the same thing.
The dew worm, which is the largest of the worms is very popular at tackle stores and some gas stations near rivers or lakes. Dew worms can range from 5 to 10 inches and can be quite fat.
Dew worms of this size might be good for very large trout, but a full-sized dew worm of 8 inches is not a good choice when you are fishing a river full of 5 to 10-inch brook trout.
Many anglers will break dew worms in half or in 3 or 4 pieces and although this can work sometimes, it’s not the best method for fishing large wild trout.
The garden worm or red wiggler worm is a smaller worm ranging from 2 to 5 inches in length and this is the type and size of worm that I prefer to use. Garden worms are easy to get and are a good size bait for both small and large trout and even for steelhead. In fact, most of the large steelhead I catch are on 3 to 4-inch worms.
Plastic Worms For Trout
Then there are plastic worms or worm imitations that can replace live worms. The honest truth is that I use plastic worms 90% of the time and I find they are very effective.
Since the water is moving the trout need to react fast so they don’t stop to inspect the worm and instead, they just grab it and since plastic worms come in multiple colors I think they often work better.
These plastic worms are my preferred choice when worm fishing for trout because the plastic worms work equally well in moving water and they stay on the hook better when cast out.
So aside from not getting your hands all dirty when putting the worm on the hook, these plastic worms also don’t come off every time you set the hook. In the long run plastic worms will likely be more economical too because they last longer than live worms.
I rarely find that a reel worm is much better than a well-presented plastic worm in moving water. I also like the fact that the plastic worms come in multiple colors and some of them are deadly.
I have experimented many times with one angler using a live worm and another using a plastic worm to see which one catches the most trout, steelhead, and salmon.
Let me just say that I rarely use live worms anymore! Plastic worms work equally well and sometimes even better in moving water.
I have even caught huge 30-pound salmon on plastic worms
Check out my page Fishing With Worms: Guide Tips For More Trout And Steelhead. On this page, I discuss the best worm rigs, the best colors, and brands of plastic worms that I use, as well as the best hooks for using worms. I’ve even included what not to do when fishing live and plastic worms so you don’t look like a total newbie and you start catching more trout.
Worms can be fished under a float or using a method called bottom bouncing. These are the two most productive methods and ones that I use and teach when guiding my clients.
Some anglers will also cast a large weight and worm and let the bait just sit stationary on the bottom waiting for a trout to swim by and pick it up. In a river, this is not a great method since trout usually stay in one place for long periods of time, and therefore, the bottom bouncing method and the float fishing method covers a lot more water which puts your bait in front of a lot more trout.
Some new anglers will even add a worm to the hook of a lure which is also not a great method for using worms since it really does nothing to entice a trout in bitting the lure or not.
If you are going to use a worm for bait it’s important that you rig it up properly and that you fish it effectively.
Even though worms are a great bait for trout, some trout will ignore your worm if you rig it up wrong or fish it poorly. You might think this is common sense but I still see lots of anglers doing it wrong and I have some great tips to fish worms better.
A really small and very hot worm that has been very effective for me over the last couple of seasons is the Berkley Angleworm. It’s only 1 inch long which is great for both large and small trout.
Fish Eggs Are A Great Trout Bait
Fish eggs are a great trout bait since they are a great source of protein for trout and are readily available at certain times of the year.
Fish eggs are also known as spawn, spawn bags, roe, roe bags, trout eggs, or salmon eggs.
I have used the eggs from rainbow trout, brown trout, brook trout, char, salmon, and suckers and they all work well as bait for trout.
There are also a lot of alternative egg imitations like beads, and plastic or rubber eggs.
Just like worms, there are right ways and wrong ways to rig up and fish eggs. For my guide tips on using eggs as trout bait go to my page Spawn Bags: Guide Secrets For More Fish. On this page, I discuss colors, sizes and provide tips on the best types of eggs and even how to preserve them.
I sometimes use the eggs from fresh-caught fish but most of the time I use hatchery spawn which is what you will find in stores.
You can buy spawn in pre-tied spawn bags just like these ones at many tackle stores and online but just be careful because some of it is crap.
The best-pretied eggs that I have tried that are available to buy online are the Spawn Sacks by Superior Outfitters, plus they get great reviews. Check below to see where you can get these.
If you are like me and you like to tie your own spawn bags because you like them to be certain sizes or certain colors that work best for you then I prefer to buy loose eggs. These are eggs that are not tied into bags.
Loose eggs are readily available online and I have tried most of them which is why I want to warn you that many of them are crap. Crap eggs just do not work as well.
Some of the not-so-good eggs are cured wrong or with chemicals, or they are oil-packed in jars, which I believe can prevent the eggs from scenting into the water well, or it can make them turn a lighter color faster.
The best eggs to buy if you want loose eggs are the Pautzke Balls O’ Fire Trout Eggs. I like the Natural color but they also have the black eye and the premium which is a darker orange and all 3 colors have been great.
Other good options for loose eggs that work and are liked by many anglers are the that can be used as single eggs or that can be tied into sacks work and are liked
Salmon Spawn Sacks
These are Pre-tied spawn sacks using Coho eggs. These Spawn Sacks by Superior Outfitters get great reviews from users.
Loose Trout Eggs
The Pautzke Balls O’ Fire Trout Eggs are some of the best loose eggs for tying your own spawn bags.
Single Salmon Eggs
The Pautzke Balls O’ Fire Salmon Eggs are great when you need to use a single egg on a hook. I have even tied them into spawn bags
Beads Are A Great Trout Bait
Beads are an egg imitation type bait that has gained a huge following in some areas because of how well they imitate the natural eggs and because they catch a lot of trout and steelhead.
Beads are one of my favorite bonus baits that you may now have considered yet but you should.
Beads are a hot bait for trout in all seasons and I would say that I use beads on almost every steelhead trip that I do when I am float fishing or bottom bouncing.
Unfortunately, beads only work well if you know how to set them up properly and if you know how to present them properly.
If you are interested in learning more about trout fishing with beads, which ones are best, and how to rig them, check out my page Bead Fishing For trout or my Fishing With Beads: 5 Guide Tips For More Fish which is geared towards fishing for steelhead with beads.
I use beads from 2 specific brands of trout beads and I will often use the 6mm and 8mm beads the most for trout. For plastic beads, I use beads from a brand called Trout Beads which are great in all types of water and they come in lots of sizes and colors.
The trout beads brand has been the most consistent quality with few to almost none having issues with clogged holes from the manufacturing process and their colors are consistent.
Glass trout beads are heavier and they often catch more trout than the plastic beads simply because they get down to the trout faster and they stay down in the strike zone longer.
For this reason, this is often a better trout bead for newer anglers.
For the best glass beads that come in all the best sizes and a ton of colors, I use the ones from Creek Candy Bead Company.
Don’t forget to get yourself a good bead box to keep those beads organized and safe. I prefer boxes with individual compartments that open one at a time so if you ever drop your box or the box opens inside your fishing vest or pack you won’t have a huge mess to pick up.
Plastic and Artificial Eggs As Trout Bait
There are also a lot of other trout bait imitations like plastic egg sack imitations, single rubber eggs, and Berkley PowerBait Dough.
These can be great for catching trout, steelhead, and salmon in rivers.
I’ve even caught large and smallmouth bass as well as carp and panfish on single eggs and the trout doughs.
One of my favorite single egg imitation eggs which can also be tied into spawn sacs is the Pautzke Fire Balls.
I really like the Brown trout color, and the Chinook and Coho color the most. They have lots of other great colors to choose from.
One of these eggs on a size 12 or 14 wide gap trout hook can be deadly.
There are actually a lot of imitation egg patterns from single eggs to egg clusters that I have used for trout and had good luck with. There are even some like the dough baits that can be molded into eggs shapes that can be effective and inexpensive.
Some of the best egg imitations that I use are these ones from FishUSA.com and Bass ProShops:
Live Baits For Trout
Other than worms there is an assortment of other live baits that can be used for trout, and at certain times of the year, these baits can be a great choice.
Wax worms, Maggots, Grubs, Meal Worms – These are are basically small grub like worms that can be placed on a hook and presented to trout.
I have also done well with maggots and mealworms. With these types of trout baits, I use a size 10 or 12 egg hook to secure these guys to the line.
Since finding these types of bait is difficult, instead of live bait, I will use imitation grubs with good success. A small hook under a float with the right sized leader and these imitation grubs can be deadly on big and small trout.
You can also fish them using the bottom bouncing method.
This 2 inch Savage Gear plastic nymph is a great trout bait.
Also, check pricing at FishUSA.com and Amazon.
Crayfish – Also Known as CrawFish or Crawdads- Trout eat crayfish and many rivers in North America have crayfish in them.
If you can get your hands on 1 to 2 inch long crayfish they can work well all year long.
A single hook through the tail on a good quality size 8 hook should do the job.
I use imitation crayfish under a float or with the bottom bouncing method with good success.
I actually prefer the imitation crayfish over the live ones in faster-moving water because they stay on the hook better and in fast water, the trout can’t tell the difference anyway.
Imitation Crayfish are also easier to store and carry with you and there are some really great ones that the bass guys use to catch a ton of bass. These are also great for trout.
When fishing crayfish I will usually use the float fishing method or the bottom bouncing method.
You can also fish these like a jig for trout, the same way the bass guys do, and jigging or crawling imitation crayfish along the river bottom can be deadly on big trout.
Leeches – You may not like to touch these wiggly blood suckers but trout love them and leeches are a great trout bait if you can find them. If you do not have live leeches there are some great artificial leech baits that work for me.
Leeches are a bonus bait that many anglers do not consider when fishing for trout but leeches have put many big fish in my net when other baits wouldn’t.
Many tackle stores will sell live leeches as bait for the bass anglers, but trust me, they work for trout too if you rig them and fish them properly.
If you can’t get live leeches I have done well with the Berkley Gulp Leeches under a float.
You can also check the price at FishUSA – HERE
If they are live leaches, let them wiggle, I use a small single size # 10 egg hook and I only hook them once in the mouth so that they stay alive longer and so they wiggle like crazy which attracts more trout.
Crickets and Grass Hoppers and Beetles
During the heat of the summer when there are no worms around the trusty old worm can stop working.
Grasshoppers and crickets and other beetles can be all over the place at this time of year and that makes them an excellent bait for trout.
I use a single size 12 or 14 sedge hook to secure these to the line.
You can drift them below the surface or on the surface.
You can also fish imitation crickets that can work well and one of the best ones I have tried is the Berkley Gulp Crickets.
I have used these Berkley Gulp 1″ crickets from FishUSA.com or from Bass Pro shops with good success.
Aquatic Insects As Trout Bait
Despite reading some blogs that say that big trout drop insects from their diet once they get big, (which is BS) my clients and I seem to keep catching lots of large trout, and steelhead, and even salmon on insects and insect imitations that are less than a half-inch long.
You can catch them yourself but some tackle stores will sell aquatic insects for anglers to use as trout bait.
Since trout feed on insects a lot when they are younger, they and the larger trout still see them as a good food source that is hard to pass up. A size 12 or 14 hooks should do the trick with real insects.
In fact, there are many days when I will catch 10 times more trout with small imitation insects, also known as flies, than all the guys around me fishing with worms and live bait.
The simple matter of truth is that if the trout are feeding on flies all day and you put another fly in front of them they will eat it. That is providing that you present it well enough.
If they don’t eat a fly, you have my list of other great baits that you can try.
Flies Are One Of The Best Trout Baits
You do not need to be a fly angler to use flies for trout.
I use flies with spinning rods and Centerpin rods all the time and with great success.
You can drift flies under a float or with the bottom bouncing method.
Check out my page How To Fish Flies With Spinning Gear: 2 Best Methods
Flies are one of my all-time favorite baits in trout rivers and if I had to choose only 1 bait to use for the rest of my life I think I would use flies. Flies can be so versatile and do not need to look like bugs. I have flies that imitate leeches, minnows, crayfish, and even mice.
Every trout angler should have some of my most productive flies in their vest or pack. If you want to know my favorite flies check out my page on the Best Trout Flies.
Minnows And Baitfish Are A Great Trout Bait
Fish eat fish and trout are no exception. This means minnows and other live fish like sculpins can be a great trout bait in rivers.
You can get minnows from your local tackle store or you can buy a minnow trip and catch your own. One of the best minnow traps on the market is the Frabil Minnow Trap from Bass Pro Shops.
I use the same hooks when using minnows as bait as I do for other trout baits like worms and spawn bags simply because those are the best hooks. See my page on The Best Hooks For Trout and Steelhead.
Minnow imitation baits and real minnows can be drifted under a float or using a bottom bouncing method.
The best imitation minnows that I have used are the Berkley Gulp! Alive! Minnows. You can also jig these imitation minnows with great success.
I like these minnows in colors emerald shiner, smelt, and watermelon pearl.
Jigs For Trout Fishing
When it comes to trout bait most anglers do not think about jigs or jig fishing for trout. However, jig fishing can be a very effective way to catch big and small trout.
Jigs come in all types, from your standard twister tail jigs, marabou jigs, bucktail jigs, tube jig, and creature jigs.
The same jig and same jig techniques that the pro bass anglers use can work well on trout.
Simply add a jig hook that is the right size to get the jig down to the fish, cast it out and let it hit bottom, and then start an up and down jig motion all the way back to you.
The trick is to maintain some tension on the line so you can feel the trout take.
On days when the trout are really aggressive, I will use a faster retrieve or lift the jig off the bottom 24 inches or more, but and on days when the trout are less active, I may choose a crawl and drag type of retrieve with more subtle lifts off the bottom.
The benefit to jigs is that not many anglers use them so it’s not something the trout will get used to seeing. Jigs for trout also get down to the fish even in 30 feet of water so you can use them anywhere.
Some anglers, myself included will use a drop-shotting method in rivers with great success. The same drop-shotting method you can see here in this Drop-Shotting video is being used on bass or walleye.
My advanced bottom bouncing rig uses a similar drop-shotting rig which is what I use when fishing jigs and other baits.
Some anglers will also use small marabou-style jigs under a float and use the same float fishing method used for other trout baits like spawn bags and worms. These Anglers International Jiggy Bugger Steelhead Jigs, these VooDoo Jigs, or these Eagle Claw Jigs are my favorites for trout and steelhead under a float.
Bonus Bait – Skein
This is a trout bait that I was going to keep for myself because it can be extremely effective. Skien is basically immature fish eggs that are still attached to the membrane and for some reason, skein eggs produce a lot of scent in the water, and often times that means the trout can’t resist it.
In fact, I have had many days when skein would catch all the trout even when all other baits failed.
It often won’t matter if the skein is from a trout, steelhead, or a salmon, the trout don’t seem to care which is why most anglers will use salmon skein.
When I fish with skein, I either tie it into small spawn bags or even better is to use small chunks of skein on a small size 12 hook.
Most anglers have difficulty getting skein or don’t like to use it because it can be difficult to cure. I have used packaged skein from well-known brands like ProCure.
Pro-Cure Salmon Roe
These premium natural egg skeins are individually selected and hand-packed on a sturdy tray pack.
A secret process handed down over the years assures a soft, yet durable cluster. Needs no refrigeration.
Lures For Trout
Other Stuff To Make Trout Fishing Easier
Forceps – If you are going to use natural baits for trout you should have a good set of forceps/hemostats. You want ones that are made for fishing and small enough to get deep into small trout’s throat. Check out these Forceps from FishUSA.
Polarized Glasses – A good pair of polarized glasses are a great tool when fishing trout in rivers and I wear mine all the time.
Not only do they provide protection for your eyes but they are great for reading the river and finding those trout holding spots, as well as seeing the rocks and snags. I could not do my job as a guide as well without them.
Polarized glasses are a valuable asset to any river angler. I am currently wearing the Orvis Men’s Superlight Backwater Polarized Sunglasses
Trout Net – You should also have a good trout net that is suitable for river fishing. I have been using the 17″ x 21″ Frabill trout net for around 10 years and it is inexpensive and it works great. The 13″ x 18″ net is a good all-around size but We catch a lot of 20 to 25″ trout every year.
I will have a whole list of recommended river fishing gear on my Best Gear page.
Bait Fishing Regulations
Using bait may not be legal where you live or it may not be legal in some rivers or just some sections of river so check your local regulations before you go fish.
Got A Question About The Best Trout Baits
I hope I covered most of the things regarding the best trout bait, but if you have a question, comment, or want to add some tips of your own let me know in the comment section below.
Cool River Fishing Accessories
Simms Taco Bag
It’s a wet wader bag for storing your waders after a day on the water and it’s a mat to stand on to keep your feet dry when getting your waders on and off.
Duffel Bags and Stream Packs
Having a dedicated bag to pack and carry your waders, vests, boots, jackets, and more is a good idea. Waterproof and mesh bags are available.
Waterworks Release Tool
Protects your flies from damage caused by forceps, This tool gets all hooks out easily. Even deep hooks come out with this tool.
When I flip these down to tie knots a lot of guys say ” I need to get some of those”. These are great for anyone that ties knots. Make sure they are lined up properly for the best view.