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 isn’t so much 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 so even the best bait won’t catch trout if not presented 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 that question lies in the understanding of three basic elements – a trout’s habitat, diet, and behavior.
What Do Trout Eat?
Generally, trout eat just about anything from insects to mice, believe it or not with insects making up the majority of a trout’s diet. For example, trout feed on nymphs or larvae of Mayflies. One of the reasons why fly-fishing is such a popular way to fish for trout is the use of flies tied to imitate insects during various stages of their development, matched to the time of year. (learn how to read trout water)
In addition to insects, trout feed on crayfish, various baitfish, worms, and leeches. Especially larger trout. As trout grow in size they become more dependent on minnows, crayfish and generally larger prey to sustain them. So as you can see there are lots of food sources that make up a trout’s Understanding the food sources available to trout, what is available, and when, throughout the year is a key to figuring out some of the best baits that you could use.
When Do Trout Eat Is Equally As Important?
You often hear people ask “are the trout biting” or for fly fisherman, it’s the classic “have you seen any rises?” All of these questions are referring to trout who are actively feeding. Several things play into a trout’s activity but water temperature, I believe, is probably the most important. Time of day is also an important consideration as it directly relates to water temperatures. Trout seem to become less active towards the middle of the day, especially on sunny days as the sun rises higher in the sky and warms the water.
A general rule, water temperatures between 45 degrees and 65 degrees are when trout are most active. Above 65 degrees there is less oxygen available in the water for trout and they become sluggish and don’t feed nearly as often. When water temperatures drop, usually below 45 degrees, again the trout become sluggish and don’t feed as often.
You will often hear guys say the best time to fish for trout is in the morning or the evening. Generally, this is true, but due in large degree to cooler temperatures. Naturally, the water temperature is slightly cooler in the morning because of the colder nights and later in the evening as the sun has gone down and shadows cover the water, the water then begins to cool.
What Is The Difference Between, Naturals And Artificial Bait?
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, like garden worms, nightcrawlers mealworms, grubs, salmon eggs or minnows.
- Artificial baits, like Power bait, Trout Magnet 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 your ability to present your offering in a way that a trout would want to take it. I’ll explain this in a second but first, we need to look something else.
When To 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 “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.
When Is It Time To Go Natural?
Now let’s take a look at the other natural baits that were mentioned earlier, nightcrawlers, garden worms, salmon eggs, mealworms, grubs, minnows, crayfish, and various other naturals. 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 almost year-round, especially minnows. Nightcrawlers or worms are also a good choice to be fished year-round with maybe the dead of winter the exception. Egg patterns work especially well between November and January.
Okay, so now that I’ve set the stage, let’s take a look at what I mean by “presentation”. By now you should understand, 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, the use of certain types of baits will be a key factor.
Presentation Is The Key Factor To Catching Trout.
Many people who fish for trout typically do so in the same fashion. They like to cast the bait out into the water and let it dropped to the bottom. Then sit on a bucket or the bank and wait for something to happen. This can be an enjoyable approach to trout fishing and a sociable one at that, sharing stories and just relaxing. And they do catch fish.
But, I learned a long, long time ago that waiting wasn’t a style for me and isn’t as effective as “presenting” an offering. 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 we’re 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 are very 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, 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”? (Learn about Dead Drifting with a fly rod)
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 fisherman 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 baits, 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.
A Different Presentation Is Needed To Fish Minnows.
We had talked earlier about minnows and crayfish as creatures that live in the streams alongside trout and of course other fish. Their survival depends on their use of camouflage and the ability to hide to go 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.
Make It Appear Like It’s Injured Or Struggling.
When using minnows, 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, I reeling at the speed of the current will mimic a minnow caught in the current and struggling. Again, you will need to 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. Another effective way to fish is to have these crayfish appear like they’re caught in the current and tumbling. Keep them on the bottom or as close to the bottom as possible for this technique to be effective. Both of these techniques will take a little practice.
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.
This article touches on the concepts and basics of fishing natural and artificial baits. Each 0f these approaches take practice and time to master. But regardless of which way you choose, the presentation will be the key the 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 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, you will be pleasantly surprised.