Fishing With Worms For Trout and Steelhead: 10 Guide Tips

Fishing With Worms

Advice From A Pro About Fishing With Worms

Fishing with worms for trout and steelhead is nothing new but anglers now have many options when it comes to the type of worms, the color of worms, and the methods to fish with worms. This is advice from a professional guide that can make fishing with worms even more effective.

Anglers fishing with worms can use dew worms, smaller garden worms, and plastic worms. You can use float fishing and bottom bouncing methods when fishing with worms in rivers. Sometimes plastic worms have advantages over live worms. These tips on fishing with worms will help you catch more fish.

Fishing With Live Worms

Fishing with live worms can be very effective especially after rains and in the spring and early summer season. Most of the northern USA and Canada have an abundance of trout worms and trout and steelhead rarely pass up a well presented trout worm.

It’s no secret that trout and steelhead love worms, they are a big meal that is hard for them to pass up.

Worms will come up to the surface under heavy rains or after dark and they will wander around on the surface.

Some will wander too close to the river’s edge and then fall into the river where they will likely be eaten by the closest fish.

Fishing with live worms requires a little extra skill, and your setup and how you present the worm is important.

Live trout worms tend to fall off the hook if cast too hard so a slow lob type of cast is required. To make sure the worm doesn’t fall off some anglers will hook the worm multiple times so that the worm is almost in a ball but this is the wrong way to hook a worm.

Hooking your trout worm into a ball or blob of worm is a big mistake since it’s not natural for a trout worm to drift down the river in a ball. Every time I see a trout worm tumbling down the river they are extended and long and not all curled up, and that is how the trout see them so that is how you need to fish them for the most success.

I always rig my worms by hooking it only once or twice through the fattest part of the worm so they look and drift more naturally, and I just adjust my cast so the trout worm doesn’t go flying off during the cast. This works great for me.

If you are not skilled enough to lob cast a real trout worm without it flying off all the time I highly recommend using a plastic worm.

Dew Worms For Fishing

Dew worms are those extra-long fat worms often sold at the bait stores and gas stations. These can be good for trout and steelhead in rivers and lakes. Fishing with worms is also a great method for many species like bass, pike, catfish, carp, etc.

I will use dew worms in bigger rivers, in faster water, or when the water is dirtier or higher from rains, but I prefer to use the smaller garden type worms in clear water for trout. On smaller trout, an 8-inch long dew worm may be too big for them to get into their mouths and that may mean missed fish.

Garden Worms For Fishing

Sometimes those huge 8-inch long dew worms are just too big and too intrusive especially in clear low water when there’s not really a lot of worms in the rivers.

When fishing with worms for trout and steelhead, I prefer the smaller garden worms which some anglers call trout worms, red worms, or red wigglers.

These smaller worms are less intrusive and the entire worm can fit into those smaller trout and bigger trout’s mouths which help with hook sets.

Smaller trout worms look more natural but are still a good-sized meal for a trout or steelhead. Even when fishing with worms for very large steelhead, my go-to size on worms is 3 to 4 inches long.

Because trout worms are much smaller, one hook through the fattest part of the worm with a slower lob cast works great.

Fishing With Plastic Worms

Fishing with Plastic Worms
Fishing with plastic worms can be more effective than fishing with worms that are real.

I catch a ton of trout and steelhead on plastic worms and there are plenty of advantages of using plastic worms over live worms. 10 years ago I would put a pink plastic worm on my client’s hook and they would look at me funny.

I would tell them to trust me and that pink worms are like candy to a fat kid, they just can’t resist them! And I was always right.

In fact, I have experimented, many times with one of my clients fishing with live trout worms l and another angler using a plastic worm and the results were always the same, both caught equal amounts of fish!

Plastic worms catch just as many trout and steelhead as live worms do under most river conditions.

I have also had many resistant spawn bag lover clients that refused to put on a plastic worm until their buddy beside them started out-fishing them with plastic worms. I have converted thousands of spawn bag anglers too using worms.

There are advantages to fishing with worms made from plastic rubber or another type of material.

Plastic worms hold onto the hook better when cast hard, and plastic worms also don’t fall off on hard hook sets like real worms do. This means more time fishing and less time putting on new worms and less time drifting an empty hook through the pool because your live worm fell off.

Another advantage of plastic worms is that they come in many different colors that can attract more fish. Some days the pink is the best color while other days the red or brown will fish better.

When fishing with worms I use the conditions to determine the size of the worm which you can easily do with plastic worms.

If the water is very low and clear I may use a 2-inch worm but under normal conditions or slightly off-colored water, I will use a 3 or 3.5-inch worm. For steelhead, I will sometimes try a 5″ to 6″ plastic worm as a last resort, or when no other bait is working sometimes this huge worm will work.

A little trick I have done with steelhead is to fish the pool with all the regular-sized baits and worms and before I leave I’ll make a few casts with a large 6-inch plastic worm which sometimes works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Plastic Worm Colors

Pink Worms For Steelhead
The bubblegum pink worm is likely the best color for large steelhead trout.

The great when fishing with worms that are plastic is that they come in lots of colors.

My most productive color in clear and off-colored water is the bubblegum pink worm. I have also done great with a natural brown worm and a red worm.

There days when I catch more trout and steelhead on the red worm than other colors so it’s always good to rotate through colors to see if one color worm is fishing better than others.

I have tried other colors like white, orange, chartreuse, and purple. I have had limited success with those colors except for a light purple color that I found that works very well for trout and steelhead.

My favorite brands of plastic worms are:

Rubber Worms

Rubber worms are the exact same as plastic worms although some anglers call them rubber worms and others call them plastic worms. Some fake worms like the Berkley Gulp worms are even made from an organic material that has a scent that trout might pick up on.

Hooks For Worms

I want my worms to drift naturally in the current and I want a hook that allows the worm to do this. Hooks that are too big and too heavy will weigh you worm down and make it sink and drag across the bottom. A hook that is too big will also been seen by the fish.

I use different sizes depending on the size of the worm. For a big fat dew worm I will use a larger hook but for a 3 inch plastic trout worm I will use a smaller hook.

For plastic trout worms around 3 inches try a size 10 Raven Sedge Hook or a size 10 Gamakatsu Hook.

I have an entire page on the best hooks and when and how to use them for trout and steelhead baits which includes fishing with worms. Check out my page 4 Best Float Fishing Hooks

How To Rig A Worm

How to rig a worm
Any of these methods to rig a worm will work but I prefer the middle rig.

If you are going to be fishing with worms you need to know how to rig them up properly. A properly rigged and properly presented worm will always catch way more fish.

When guiding and fishing with worms, I have experimented with multiple ways of rigging up the worm, and the one I do the most is the one in the middle. This method is known as wacky rigging and although you would think the fish might see the hook it doesn’t seem to matter.

These are 3 common ways to rig a worm for both trout or steelhead fishing. I rig live worms and plastic worms the same way. What you don’t want to do is bunch up the worm into a ball, doing so will mean less or no fish.

When I am fishing with worms made of plastic or rubber I like them to have a little bit of action which is why I find a single hook through the middle of the worm gives the worm the most life-like action and this is the method that I use the most for trout and steelhead. It’s also the easiest and fastest way to hook a live or plastic worm.

If I am fishing with worms for very finicky trout I will try to hide the kook more like in the picture on the right or on the left. The far left is easiest to rig and cover most of the worm but it’s still in the middle which provides more action to the worm.

Fishing For Trout With Worms

Fishing for trout with worms
Fishing for trout with worms in smaller pools and runs is better done with a bottom bouncing method

Fishing for trout with worms can be exceptionally effective especially early in the morning and after big rains which get the worms active. When fishing for trout with worms I prefer worms from 2 inches to 4 inches. Both big and small trout will pick up a well-presented worm that is drifted below a float or bottom bounced through a pool.

When fishing for trout with worms I rig them up and fish them the same way that I fish worms for steelhead. The only thing I do differently is to adjust and adapt my presentation to the spot that I am fishing.

Since many trout rivers are much smaller and have much smaller spots, the traditional float fishing method may not work as well. My most productive method for fishing for trout with worms or even with any bait in low clear water is my advanced bottom bouncing method. This method is deadly on nervous trout and on big trout and is easy to fish with.

Fishing For Steelhead With Worms

Fishing for steelhead with worms
Fishing for steelhead with worms in bigger pools is often best with the float fishing method.

When fishing for steelhead with worms I mostly use 3 to 4-inch plastic pink, red, or brown worms instead of a live worm and I will use the float fishing method.

Fishing for steelhead with worms is one of the most productive ways to catch steelhead. I always run a worm through the pool before I move to the next pool because most days the worm will catch some steelhead that may not want to eat a spawn sack or a bead.

When fishing for steelhead with worms I will either drift the worm below a float or I will use a bottom bouncing method. For more information on float fishing check out this page Float Fishing: Tips From A Pro River Guide For More Trout

Sometimes the best method when fishing for steelhead with worms in shallower or faster water is to use the bottom bounce method. Check out my page on the advance bottom bouncing method.

I use the same type of hooks that I use for spawn bags or beads. you can see my favorite hooks on my Best Hooks page.

Guide Tip: Worms tend to float or are neutral buoyancy so I do not use worms when I’m trying to find the bottom and instead I will use a bait that sinks better like a glass bead or a spawn bag. Because worms tend to float I will sometimes add a single BB and AB sized split shot about 8 to 10 inches up from the worm to keep it down and in the strike zone.

Fishing With Worms With A Fly Rod

I have caught thousands of trout and steelhead using a worm fly pattern.

In the great lakes region, my steelhead worm fly has caught me more BIG trout and steelhead than any other fly.

I fish with worm flies the same way I fish with other subsurface flies.

Check out my best flies for steelhead page which includes my favorite worm pattern, or visit my best flies for trout page – Coming soon

Got A Question About Fishing With Worms?

I’m a professional fishing guide with multiple guides on staff and we use worms for trout and steelhead a lot so we know fishing with worms better than most anglers. If I missed something and you have a question or even an idea or trick that works for you just add it to the comments section below.

Tight Lines



    1. Hi John, I added a section above about the hooks to use. For plastic trout worms around 3 inches try a size 10 Raven Sedge Hook which are the ones in the section on rigging up worms or use a size 10 Gamakatsu Hook. For more detailed info go to the page on 4 Best Float Fishing Hooks. good luck.

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