6 Best Live Baits for Trout

Keith ‘Catfish’ Sutton, WorldFishingNetwork.com

6 Best Live Baits for Trout

6 Best Live Baits for Trout

Fly fishing is fun if you want a challenge, but if you want to catch trout, instead of just fishing for them, natural bait should be part of your fishing arsenal

Naturalbaits are especially important when trout fishing during periods of high, muddywater. Under these conditions, trout cannot see flies or other lures, but theycan easily detect the odor of natural bait.

Naturalbait also is a good choice in heavily fished streams where super-wary troutclosely inspect every potential food item. They’re likely to recognizeartificials as fake, but properly presented naturals may sucker them in.

Troutmay swallow natural baits so deeply it’s difficult to remove the hook withoutinjuring the fish. Therefore, if you plan to release your catch, don’t usethese baits.

Also,in some waters, using natural baits when trout fishing may be illegal; or itmay be against the law to use certain baits—minnows, for instance. Always checkregulations so you know your fishing tactics are within the law.

Anastounding variety of live creatures can be used for enticing trout. Let’s lookat some of the best.


Nightcrawlers, red wigglers, garden hackle—a worm by any name is always an odds-onfavorite for charming trout. Probably the most widely used bait of all, wormsare as attractive to fishermen as they are to fish, because they’re easy toobtain, keep and rig.

Usea No. 10 to 6 bait-holder hook for worms. Bait-holder hooks have barbs on theshank that keep the worm from slipping down or off. Thread the worm on thehook, leaving the ends dangling.

Wormsare bottom baits as a rule. Some anglers prefer to use very little weight,letting the bait drift with the current. Others like fishing the wormdead-still in the bottom of pools or weed pockets.

Forthis style of fishing, use a slip-sinker rig. Put a small egg sinker on yourline, and tie a small barrel swivel below it. To the swivel’s other eye, tie alight 18- to 24-inch leader on the end of which is a bait-holder hook.

Usea worm inflator or hypodermic needle to give the bait a shot of air that floatsit above the bottom. Cast the bait, and let it sink. The egg sinker holds thebait on bottom, but when a trout nibbles, the line slides through the sinker sofish don’t feel any resistance. It’s a great setup for nabbing finicky trout.


Youmight read reams of trout-fishing literature without finding a single mentionof the lowly waxworm. Nevertheless, this little critter is one of the besttrout enticements available.

Waxwormsare larvae of bee moths. They grow from eggs moths lays in beehives, feeding onwax in the hives. They can be purchased at many trout docks or in bulk through severalinternet companies.

Thestandard waxworm setup is a slip-sinker rig like the one described for night crawlers.Instead of the bait-holder hook, use a tiny No. 12 gold hook tied on a leadermade of 2-pound-test monofilament. Once you’re rigged, be sure to adjust yourdrag to the proper tension.

Threeor four waxworms are impaled through the midsection on the hook, leaving theends to wiggle enticingly. Then a miniature marshmallow is added to the hook orsquished on the leader a few inches above the bait. The marshmallow serves as afloat, giving the bait just enough buoyancy to keep it off the river bottom.

Crickets andGrasshoppers

Cricketsand grasshoppers are easily obtained and make exceptional trout baits. Securethem with a thin-wire hook pushed under the collar just behind the head. Then pushthe point of the hook through the insect’s abdomen.

Youcan fish them on top or below the surface, but crickets and grasshoppers areespecially effective when used as surface lures. Fish them somewhat like a fly,using light line and no weight. Give the insect a little twitch to ripple thesurface, then hang on. Action is never long coming.


Bait-storeminnows are effective year-round trout baits, but they’re overlooked by mostanglers. Fatheads are easiest to keep alive, but almost any kind of minnow inthe 1-1/2 to 3-inch range will work. Trophy-sized trout, especially giantbrowns, eat lots of fish when they are available, so minnows are a good choicewhen you want to hook a jumbo fish.

Sculpinsand madtoms also are excellent trout baits, as both those small fish ofteninhabit cold trout waters. Both can be collected with minnow seines or minnowtraps where permitted.

Hookbaitfish through the lips with a size 4 or 6, thin-wire, short-shanked hook. Liveones always work best, but even dead ones work in current. Fish them beneath abobber, tightlined on the bottom or while trolling or drifting.


Crayfishare another often overlooked, yet deadly, trout bait. They sometimes availablein bait shops, but you may have to collect your own.

Smallcrayfish are OK for stocker trout, but if you’re after trophy fish, don’thesitate to use jumbo specimens. Some people use the entire crayfish, alive andwhole. Others prefer removing the pincers so the bait won’t grab objects on thebottom. Still others favor using the tail only, either peeled or in the shell. Underthe right conditions, all these methods will produce nice trout.

Threada No. 6 to 2 bait-holder hook up, through and out the top of the tail, then mimica crayfish’s natural action by retrieving the bait backwards with short jerks. Bigbrown trout are especially fond of these natural bait morsels.

Aquatic Nymphs andLarvae

Manyinsects spend part of their lives in water and are important in the diet oftrout. The art and science of catching fish with artificial flies is founded onthe study of them.

Allbait bugs mentioned below can be collected by having someone hold a small-meshdip net or wire screen downstream, while you turn over rocks, rubbing yourhands across the underside. The larvae and nymphs will be dislodged and sweptwith the current into the net. Pick them off, and store them in a container towhich you’ve added some damp vegetation.

Hellgrammites are black, centipede-like bugsthat live under rocks in the riffles of clear, cool streams. The larvae of the Dobsonfly, these ugly critters are super trout bait. Hook them under the collar justbehind the head, but beware their nasty pincers. Hellgrammites are tough baitand stay on the hook. Several trout may be caught on one bait.

Caddisfly larvae are often called stickbaits orcase worms. Each builds a case of plant fragments, pebbles or sand gluedtogether to protect the creature’s soft wormlike body. Most people remove thecaddis worm from its tube for angling, though trout will eat them case and all.To hook one, thread it on a fine, short-shanked No. 12 or 14 hook, covering thebend and allowing the point to stick out slightly from the bait’s head. Severalcaddis larvae fished on one hook may bring more strikes.

Mayfly and stoneflylarvae closelyresemble each other in appearance and habits, and both are excellent troutbaits. Many live in cool, well-oxygenated streams and can be collected, keptand fished as you would hellgrammites. They’re fairly tough and last quite awhile on the hook.

Runa fine wire hook through the hard segment just behind the head, or thread thenymph tail-first onto a short-shanked hook, following the hook’s curve andallowing the barb to just penetrate the bait’s head.

Dragonfly anddamselfly nymphsare found in quiet stream backwaters hidden in piles of leaves or debris on thebottom. They’re best collected with a dip net or seine raked across the bottomor through plants growing in water. Carry them in a container filled with wetleaves or moss. Hook and fish them like you would other nymphs.

Nexttime you’re trout fishing, give naturals a try. You’re certain to hear a fewchuckles from the feather-fishers, but you’ll be the one who gets the lastlaugh.


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