Have you ever asked the following questions, “what are they hitting on” or “What are you using”? Every trout fisherman wants the best bait to catch trout. Please pardon the pun. But, one of the “lures of fishing” is trying to find the “best” bait that catches fish. So what is the best bait for catching trout year-round?
The best bait for catching trout year-round? The “best” bait isn’t about a specific type of bait but rather when and how you should present these baits to trout. Presentation is the key to trout fishing. Even the best bait for catching trout won’t, if not presented to a trout naturally and to his liking and at the right time.
So, let me ask you, how many times have you seen commercials trying to sell the lure or bait of all time, the magic “works every time” or “can’t be beaten” gimmick? Well, there have been some good baits, lures, and flies over the years that have been able to catch lots of trout from time to time, but sorry to say there is nothing foolproof. So why is it that some guys seem to catch fish all the time when everyone else seems to struggle to even get a bite? The answer to this question you are about to find out lies in the understanding of three basic elements – a trout’s habitat, behavior, and diet.
Why Is Presentation More Important Than The Bait?
If it doesn’t “act right” trout won’t touch it. Over the years I have tried many types of baits, lures, spinners, flies what have you. Many have been very successful at catching trout. What I found is nothing is as consistent, productive and time tested as to how you present your offering. But before the cast, you need to know these things in order to catch trout.
First and foremost is learning about trout habitat. Many people walk up to stream fish it for hours and go home empty. Why? Many times they are on a good trout stream but have no idea they are fishing a section in which trout don’t live.
Trout need well-oxygenated water and a steady current or flow. The general pattern of creek flow is called “current”. Sometimes these currents pinch off sections and create circular currents of water called “an eddy”. The swirling motion of eddies in the creek cause nutrients that are normally found in colder, deeper waters to come to the surface.
Obstacles like rocks, logs, depressions in the creek bed, for example, create eddies as water rushes by and swirls in around or behind. Trout like to lie behind or near these obstacles so they can move into the stronger current to feed on food particles caught in the current.
In addition to the right water conditions, current flow, temperature, and oxygen, trout need cover. Places to hide from predators especially herons. Downed trees laying in the creek, overhanging embankments, deep holes are a few examples of where to find trout.
Animals and people are very similar. They want to feel safe and have enough to eat. Understanding habitat is a knowing where your quarry prefers to spend its time. When it comes to trout fishing, finding good habitat comes first.
Learn to Read the Water
I believe anyone on any given day can cast a reasonable bait into a stream and catch a trout. In other words, anyone can get lucky. But to be the guy who catches trout consistently requires more than luck. He’s the guy who learns to “read the water” by gaining the understanding the flow of water and how it is affected by the obstacles present in the water. Secondly, learning what obstacles create hiding places for trout to feel safe.
This then lays the groundwork for you to start thinking differently as to how to approach a stream. Each of these situation described above is directly affected by uneven current flow. Trout thrive where current speeds conflict, hiding under and around obstacles just in reach of the food “conveyor belt”, that of the stronger current. The trick you need to master is placing your offering into this “conveyor belt” in a way that is natural-looking and free-flowing. It needs to ride in the current and present an irresistible morsel a trout can’t refuse.
Presentation Is The Key Factor To Catching Trout.
Developing the ability to “drift” bait to make it look as natural as possible dramatically increases the catch rate. Why? Because of a trout’s feeding behavior. Trout like picking food particles out of the incoming current.
It is important to understand this basic behavior of a trout to catch them consistently. Trout live in an environment whereby everything is flowing past them. They need a constant flow of water to survive. Yet, at the same time, a trout prefers to expend as little energy as possible. Trout like areas of the stream where different current speeds contact one another. Often referred to as “edges” these currents are areas whereby faster water meets slower water. Trout like to sit near the edges in slightly slower water to preserve energy and where they can easily move into the faster current to take incoming food particles.
What Do You Mean By “Delicate Balance”?
Current, water depth and clarity play an important role in presenting the bait in a way that is attractive to the trout. Even though to get the bait down to the fish weight may be added to the line, the delicate balance is to still have the bait flow with the current as if it is caught in and controlled by the current. Unnatural movement usually means the bait will go untouched or spook the trout off. I’ll touch on this aspect again in a moment.
Additionally, the bait itself must look natural. To glob a hook full of worm rather than weaving the hook through the worm will be less productive. Trout can be finicky creatures being very selective as to what they are willing to eat, especially native or wild trout. Consistently catching trout, comes down to the ability to present the bait, in this case, a worm, to look as if it fell into the water and is caught in the current. If the angler takes care to present his baits as if free-flowing in the current, his or her success rate will dramatically increase.
What Is “Dead Drifting”?
When fishing natural baits, like garden worms, nightcrawlers, mealworms, grubs, and salmon egg, you’re offering must travel at the same speed as the current to look natural. Fly fishermen refer to this technique as “dead drifting”.
Imagine, if you will, throwing a cork on the water. As it floats downstream carried by the current, it moves along at the same speed as the current through the riffles just bobbing along.
Unlike the cork in our example, these natural baits are going to have a hook, additional weight and a line attached to them, of course. The trick will be to have everything flowing like the cork. As you can imagine, it’ll take a little practice to get everything to work just right. But once you do you’ll catch more trout. Because your offering fits the natural way a trout are used to seeing food, you’ll spook less trout and your catch rate will go up because of your presentation.
When fishing natural bait for catching trout, I like to make my cast directly upstream. Then the trick is to reel your line in at a speed consistent to the flow of the current. You will need to experiment with the amount of weight needed to get your bait down towards the bottom or more importantly the strike zone of the Trout.
Why is a Different Presentation Needed To Fish Minnows or Crayfish?
Minnows and crayfish live in the streams alongside trout and other fish. Unlike food caught in the current, you’ll need to mimic their behavior. Their survival depends on their use of camouflage and the ability to hide going undetected by predators. When fish move, their swimming motion reflects light and produces a flash as light reflects off of their scales. This is the time when that fish becomes vulnerable to predators.
As it is in nature, the sick and injured are the most vulnerable and are targeted over healthy individuals. Often sick or injured individuals act differently than healthy ones making them stand out and more noticeable.
Another vulnerability to minnows and crayfish are getting caught in strong currents. As they struggle to get out of that current, their erratic behavior draws the attention of stronger and larger predators who can easily deal with the stronger current.
How To Make It Appear Like It’s Injured Or Struggling.
When using minnows as bait for catching trout, make them appear injured or struggling. When you do the greater the chances you will attract attention. Unlike a worm that is drifting in the current, minnows are a good example of a bait that you should put some action too because the flash coming off of a baitfish draws attention. If done right your presentation should appear as an injured or struggling baitfish.
When fishing a minnow, to have it look like it’s struggling or injured, I cast at a 45-degree angle up and across the stream. Again, reeling at the speed of the current will mimic a minnow caught in the current and struggling. Add a slight jerk with your wrist holding the rod as you reel will dart the minnow creating an erratic action. Experiment with the amount of weight needed to get your bait down towards the bottom and into the strike zone of the trout.
Crayfish, on the other hand, are darters. What I mean by that is, they swim backward, tail first as they move through the water in short spurts. So naturally, you need to be able to swim these whereby you replicate they’re swimming action. Keep them on the bottom or as close to the bottom as possible for this technique to be effective.
A simple effective technique for fishing crayfish is a slight jerk motion as you reel. Use the tip of the rod pulling and stopping while you reel. This technique will help to make the crayfish appear more natural. It will appear as if it is darting between rocks. Trout like to chase and will usually pick up your crayfish during this darting action. As you can imagine this will take some practice to get the feel.
What Is The Difference Between Natural And Artificial Bait for Catching Trout?
So taking all of the above into consideration, let’s narrow down our definition of “bait” into the following two categories of popular offerings.
- Natural baits: garden worms, nightcrawlers, mealworms, grubs, salmon eggs or minnows for example.
- Artificial baits: Power bait, Trout Magnet, Gulp or Mini Marshmallows along with other favorites such as corn.
Generally, all of these baits can catch trout, but in my opinion, what makes it the “best bait” is again, how is it presented.
When Should I Use Artificial Baits?
Pennsylvania like many states has a stocking program. The stocking program places hatchery-raised trout into streams, creeks, and rivers generally in the spring and sometimes again in the fall. These fish have been raised in hatcheries where they are used to being fed daily with fish food pellets.
When trout are introduced to the streams they are relatively easy to catch because they are willing to eat just about anything put in front of them. During this early part of the season many of the types of baits that are effective, such as the mini marshmallows, corn, the trout magnets, power baits, work simply because trout have not acclimated to their environment. Assuming they can survive past the opening stages of the season, trout will naturally begin to feed more on natural foods available in the stream and many of the above mentioned baits will become less effective.
Native trout, on the other hand, will most likely pass up these types of offerings simply because they are not natural to the environment. It is true that from time to time you will catch native trout with these baits because of the curious nature of trout. Trout sometimes they “taste” things out of curiosity to see what they are but to rely on this as a means to catch trout won’t be in your best interest.
So we just talked about artificial baits and as you can see they are effective early-season or sometimes in the fall, but primarily on stock trout. As I said they don’t work that well or consistently on native trout or wild.
When Is It Time To Go Natural?
The beauty of natural baits is you can match the bait to the time of the year. Let’s take a look at the other natural baits that were mentioned earlier like nightcrawlers, garden worms, salmon eggs, mealworms, grubs, minnows, and crayfish. All of these baits can be found in or around a trout stream. Minnows and crayfish are always available because streams are their natural environment. Grubs, nightcrawlers, worms are usually present because they live along the streamside. Salmon eggs represent many types of fish eggs as their eggs become present during their respective spawning seasons.
Minnows and crayfish can be fished year-round, especially minnows. Nightcrawlers or worms are a good choice to be fished year-round too, but slow during the dead of winter. Egg patterns work especially well between November and January.
Okay, by now you should understand too, the time of the year plays an important role in the use of various baits. Additionally, if you’re fishing for stocked trout vs. native trout or wild, the use of certain types of baits will be a key factor.
This article touches on the concepts and basics of fishing natural and artificial bait for catching trout. Each 0f these approaches take practice and time to master. But regardless of which way you choose, the presentation will be the key to consistently catching trout.
Remember, trout position themselves in the edges of differing currents. It’s important to keep in mind what seems to be a very simple fact many people seem to ignore. Trout face into the current and the current is like a conveyor belt. It’s constantly bringing food into their location. Your presentation should drift naturally. It should match the conditions and at the level, trout are feeding. This will dramatically increase your catch rate.
As a final note, fishing should be fun and experimentation should be part of fishing as well. I don’t believe there is one specific “best” or “magic” bait for catching trout that works all the time. What I have found though, matching your offering to the time of year, to the existing conditions and present it naturally, will certainly increase your catching ability. Try it, you will be pleasantly surprised.
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What Hooks Are Best For Natural Baits?
As a general rule, hooks should be chosen according to the target fish, tackle, technique, and water. A common hook shape that most are familiar with is the Straight-shank J hook. Resembling the letter “J,” this traditional hook shape has been in use for hundreds of years and is still popular worldwide—mostly for bait and lure fishing.
What is a Good Rod Size For Catching Trout?
Generally, the best option is an ultralight spinning rod. Depending on your stream sizes and the size of fish you are targeting, a good length is anywhere from 5 feet to 7-1/2 feet. Action should be fast and power should be light/ultralight. My favorite is a light 5-foot spinning rod.