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Choosing the Proper Bait for Spring Trout Fishing

In many states, the opening day of Trout Season is one of the true signs of Spring. Every Spring millions of anglers from 3 to 93 participate across the country. Some anglers fish hard from the opening bell till dark, whereas others seem just happy being outside and watching the spectacle. In many areas of the country, trout fishing is brought by the stocking truck, where millions of browns, rainbows and brook trout are released into streams, lakes and rivers by the States and fishing clubs. Because these trout have lived nearly all of their lives in a hatchery, their diet is much different than their wild cousins. Stocked trout also seem to tolerate angler pressure much better and will feed in the same conditions that would send a wild trout scurrying for the nearest rock.

Just because the stocked trout are not that selective doesn’t mean that they are always easy to catch, particularly when they have been hooked and lost (or released) a time or two. By selecting the proper hardware, processed or natural bait, and presenting it in the proper manner, catching these trout will be much easier.

The vast majority of fishing for stocked trout nationwide is conducted on streams, rivers and small lakes. The majority of trout caught are between 9 and 20″ with a few “breeders” stocked that can be significantly larger. For most bait and lure fishing for trout a spinning rod and reel are used. Some anglers, particularly those who started fishing before spinning gear became popular in the 1960′s, fish bait on a fly rod. Many traditionalists scoff at this technique, but every year thousands of trout are caught with a fly rod and worm, salmon egg, or “strung minnie” on the long rod. New anglers in particular like the simplicity of the closed face spin casting gear, but most move to spinning gear as their skill progresses.

There are many good serviceable spinning rods suitable for trout. Among the less expensive models are the and the Shakespeare Agility. These rods in the light and ultralight sizes are excellent choices for the angler on a budget. Moderately priced rods provide a lifetime of service and are often backed by a reasonable warranty. Rods such as the St. Croix Triumph, the Fenwick HMG and the Lamiglas G1000 Series. High end rods such as the St. Croix Avid and the G. Loomis Classic Spinning Rod. Most of these rods are offered in 4.5′ to 7′ lengths. Rods less than 5.5′ are usually reserved for smaller streams, whereas the longer sticks are most popular on rivers and lakes. For fishing floats with long leads, primarily on lakes, ultralight steelhead (noodle) rods from 8-11′ are gaining popularity.

Most spinning reels in the smaller sizes are adequate for stocked trout fishing. Budget priced reels such as the Okuma Avenger, the Shimano Sienna and the Shakespeare Agility all have been responsible for stringers of trout. Mid-Range reels such as the Okuma Epixor, Shimano Symetre and the Daiwa Exceler have more bearings and tend to be more reliable and smoother. Higher end reels such as the Okuma Helios and the Shimano Stradic all have a devoted following with experienced anglers.

Spinning combos are also available which match the rod and reel. These are usually well balanced and slightly less expensive than purchasing the same items separately. Popular combos include the Shakespeare Agility and the Shakespeare’s Ugly Stik. Fishers who travel like to travel light will like the Daiwa Mini Systems which break down into a package barely a foot long.

While braided lines are very popular right now, trout fishing, in most cases, is best done with monofilament. Popular mono lines include the Trilene XL, Original Stren and McCoy’s Mean Green. Fluorocarbon lines are also popular but to a lesser extent. Lines such as Trilene Pro Grade Fluorocarbon, Seaguar InvizX, and P-Line Fluoroclear are the more popular fluorocarbons. Many anglers use a short leader of fluorocarbon at the end of the mono main line.

There are a plethora of lures and baits suitable for trout. Lures are broken down into four main categories; spoons, spinners, crankbaits and jigs. While there are a few other styles of lures, this covers over 90% of lures used for trout.

Spoons are a popular throughout much of the trout’s range. Spoons sink quickly and are relatively heavy for their size. This allows the angler to fish quickly and cover water fast. Some of the more common spoons are the Blue Fox Pixee, the ACME Little Cleo and Kastmaster, the Luhr Jensen Krocodile and the long time favorite Eppinger Dardevle.

Spinners are most popular in fairly small streams rivers and lakes as they do not cast quite as well nor sink as quickly as spoons. Spinners should be retrieved slowly in most cases with a speed just fast enough to turn the blade. This allows the spinner to reach it’s maximum depth. Popular spinners include the Rooster Tail, Mepps Aglia and Comet, the Blue Fox Vibrax and the Panther Martin. Quality ball bearing swivels such as those from Sampo prevent frustrating line twist. Spinners have been popular since before use of the spinning rod became popular, with many depression era anglers taking strings of trout with small spinners fished like a streamer on a fly rod.

A rather new type of lure for trout fishing is the crankbait. Many anglers reserve crankbaits for bass, walleye or pike, but small cranks produce trout and often big ones where other hardware fails. Most crankbaits used for trout are between 1.5″ and 3″. Most crankbaits used for trout fishing do not dive much below 5 feet. This makes these lures effective in smaller waters or locations where fishing are feeding high in the water column. Boaters often have good success trolling these baits, either as a “flat line” or with a downrigger. Popular crankbaits for trout include the Yo-Zuri Pin’s Minnow, the Matzuo Nano Minnow and the Original Floating Rapala.

Jigs are also relatively new to the trout fishing scene. Jigs are very versatile and can be used effectively in water 1-100 feet deep. While traditionally fished near the bottom, anglers have found that a jig 2-6 feet under a float to be a deadly technique. Often, these lures are tipped with a small natural bait, which can greatly increase there effectiveness particularly in cold water. There are two main types; natural (hair or feathers) and plastic (or a biodegradable bait such as Berkley Gulp). Popular jigs for trout include Weldon’s Minifoo and the Berkley Powerbaits in the smaller sizes, and the smaller Foodsource Lures. While not specifically a jig, the Storm WildEye Swim Shad is quickly becoming popular. This is technically a swim bait and can be hopped like a jig or swam like a crankbait.

While artificial lures are exciting to use, many anglers prefer the simplicity and productivity of bait, either live or processed. Popular live baits include, redworms, minnows, waxworms, mealworms and nightcrawlers. Most of these baits are available at bait shops nationwide. Some local areas have some local favorites, such as mousies in Wisconsin, Wigglers in Michigan and Wood Sawyers in Pennsylvania. While live bait is usually most productive, preserved baits, such as salted minnows and Magic Product Wax Worms and Emerald Shiners are convenient and very effective in moving water.

For years trout anglers have used baits more commonly used for human consumption than fishing, such as marshmallows, corn, bread balls and processed American cheese. These baits still take trout today, but baits designed specifically for trout fishing have overtaken them in popularity. Anglers like the fact that these baits do not spoil and remain usable in all weather. Most of these baits produce more scent than “people food” thus attracting the trout from a further distance. Some of the more popular baits are the Berkley PowerBait Trout Bait, Berkley Gulp! Trout Dough, FoodSource Salmon Eggs and the Berkley Gulp! Salmon Eggs.

Recently, Berkley as well as other manufacturers have offered scented artificial baits that are becoming more popular every year. Old favorites like Berkley’s Power Trout Worm and Power Nymph continue to produce. Newer baits like the Berkley Gulp! Alive! Angle Worms, Corn and Waxies and FoodSources Mealworms and Earthworms are all solid choices for trout angling.

A well rounded selection of trout baits would not be complete without the old standby the salmon egg. Although all trout take salmon eggs, rainbows in particular are notorious roe eaters. Salmon eggs are available in several colors sizes and “flavors”. Atlas-Mikes Eggs are very popular and are very easy to use. For large trout, or in very stained water, egg sacs are an excellent bait. These are made by clustering several eggs shrouded in netting. The extra eggs add more visibility and scent. The netting helps the eggs stay on the hook much better as well.

Bait, both live and prepared, are usually presented on a single hook from #6-#14. Economical choices include the Eagle Claw #181 and #038, the Mustad #3366 and the Matzuo #100. While slightly more expensive, hooks such as the Daiichi Salmon Egg Hooks or the BlackBird SabreTooth Hooks, are sharper out of the package and can increase the hooking rate. Some anglers, particularly with soft baits prefer a treble hook #12-18 such as the Mustad #3551 or the Matzuo #230. While the treble hooks do hold the bait better, they are more difficult to remove from the fish reducing their chance of survival if released.

Presenting live bait can be as simple as resting the rod in a forked stick and as complex as an angler would like to make it. In lakes, most fishing is done either under a float or fishing the bottom with a slip sinker rig. For most stream and river fishing, split shots of varying sizes are used to control the depth of the bait. In most cases, moving water trout will be located within a foot of the bottom and baits should be presented in that zone.

The use of floats has increased immensely in moving water in recent years. Anglers are finding that a float rig will prevent the bait from snagging on the bottom and to relay the bite to the angler. In clear water, floats such as the BlackBird Phantom, the Sheffield Floats, and Drennan’s Loafer and Crystal Avon are popular. The bottoms of these floats are all molded from transparent plastic and are nearly invisible from below. In water that has more color, standard balsa floats, such as the Raven, Blackbird Balsa Floats. When fishing water deeper than the rod is long, a slip float such as the Blackbird Slip Float allows presentation as deep as required to get to the fish.

There are a few other items that will make a trout outing more enjoyable and productive. Stream anglers will find waders or hip boots useful to wade to a promising area. Fishing vests, originally used by fly-fishermen, are convenient for carrying bait and other assorted tackle, and are much more convenient than leaving a tackle box on the bank. Bait containers such as the StrikeMaster Bait Puck, the Lindy Grub Getter and the StreamWorks Bait Jar Lids keep bait handy and protect. The Quick Minnow by Kuhl Enterprises is an excellent way to transport and dispense live minnows when on the stream. Anglers in lakes may want to consider the Fishin Stix to hold their rod and a Backpack/Stool to sit on as well as transport gear. Whether fishing moving or still water, a pair of hemostats to remove the hook from the trout is essential. If an angler plans to keep fish, a stringer or creel will keep them fresh until the end of the day. Once the fish are home, a fillet knife makes quick work of cleaning the catch. Of course, most anglers are required to have a fishing license and appropriate permits for the area. These can usually be purchased on-line through each State agency’s website.

Spring Trout Fishing is excellent relief for cabin fever and by choosing the proper equipment, an angler will experience much less frustration and have a more productive day on the water.