Perhaps no area of angling is as dominated by fly tackle as trout fishing. That only stands to reason: trout can be finicky feeders, and the more realistic the presentation, the better your chances of attracting a strike.
It’s understandable why expertly tied flies are so effective. Not only do they look like real insects, but they act like a flying bug on the surface of the water, too.
But don’t let that dissuade you if you’re a dedicated spinning tackle angler. If you know what to look for in a lure or soft bait, you can elicit the same excellent performance with conventional fishing gear.
The secret to lure selection for trout is to understand their feeding behavior and senses. We’ll discuss these below, reviewing a few of our favorite choices.
Here's a quick glance at the best trout lures available today:
Table of Contents (clickable)
Yakima may have purchased the rights to Worden’s design, but I promise you that nothing about this ultra-effective in-line spinner has changed.
I’ve used these on everything from crappie to trout, and in the right sizes and colors, they’re murder on brookies, browns, and rainbow. Because they combine nearly everything that matters in a trout lure, they’re a staple in my tackle box and one of the first things I reach for.
Worden’s rooster tails are available in a stunning array of colors, but for trout, I particularly like black, glitter black, grasshopper, and any other shade that mimics real prey items. This lure’s spinning blade creates vibration and flash, and in combination with its tempting skirt, offers the vibration, flash, and action that drives trout wild.
A good friend and I hammered trout with these in a small, clear pond, catching trout on nearly every cast! I like 1/8 and 1/16 ounce rooster tails, but I would experiment with other sizes, too. It’s also worth sweetening the treble hook on these guys with a little Berkley PowerBait Trout Nibble.
The added scent really does increase interest in your lure.
One look at a dressed Aglia spinner from Mepps can tell you that this is just the trout medicine you’ve been looking for. Similar to a Worden’s rooster tail, but featuring a polished metal body with red highlights, these lures also offer a shiny spinning blade and natural-colored skirt.
I like these in-line spinners a lot, and I recommend the ¼ ounce #3 for lakes and the 1/12 ounce #0 for streams.
They cast beautifully, and I find that the wired bodies really hold up well to rocks and snags.
And much like the rooster tails, it doesn’t hurt to add a bit of Trout Nibble to give them a touch of scent!
If you’re beginning to see a pattern to our lure recommendations, it’s no surprise. If I were going to fish trout with only one style of lure, it’d be the in-line spinner, hands down. That’s true whether I’m fishing for brookies or rainbows, and it’s backed up by research as well as my experience.
Color, vibration, action: in-line spinners deliver these in spades. Among the best of its kind, Blue Fox’s spinner is a proven choice for all species of trout, combining the metallic flash and spinning blade of the Mepps with additional vibration provided by an internal cam that rotates and beats against the bell-shaped body. That may sound like a gimmick, but anglers the world over can tell you that it’s not!
Color choices should follow what we’ve discussed above, with black/black and metallic options being my top choices. Others may disagree, but I think these perform the best across various conditions. As far as weight, I find that 3/16 of an ounce works wonders in streams, while I’d throw ⅛ and ¼ of an ounce spinners in lakes.
As you’d expect, I recommend sweetening these with a bit of Berkley Trout Nibble.
The Dardevle spoon is one of those lures most anglers know, which is a testament to its effectiveness. In small sizes like 1/16 of an ounce, these flashing lures are fantastic additions to your trout arsenal, especially the polished metallic options.
They flutter appetizingly, creating vibration and flash, and they shimmer like the scales of a minnow or immature trout, calling predators in for a closer look. And like the in-line spinners, these are easy lures to cast, allowing both accuracy and distance.
A bit of Trout Nibble or live worm sweetening the hook is magic!
Rapala’s floating minnows offer legendary performance in shallow water. Designed with a sleek Balsa body that mimics a minnow or small fish, you can run them shallow or pop them from the surface to simulate wounded prey. Trout will devour them either way -- there’s something special about the action of these lures!
They wriggle like a wounded fish when cranked or jerked, quickly floating to the surface as they come to a stop. Whether because that imitates a fish with a burst swim bladder or not, in my experience, that leads to massive strikes when I work the lure and just wait. I’ll often pop-pop-rest, varying the number of pops until I find a cadence that works.
Gold is probably the most popular color, but give silver a try, too. Size 3 is an excellent all-arounder for trout.
Matching the hatch is important with trout, and the success of flies is dependent on their close resemblance to insects. Spinning tackle can’t cast them, of course, but the Rebel Bumble Bug is the next best thing!
Made in shapes and colors that mimic bees, June bugs, and other fat, flying insects, these ultralight lures create a life-like action as you twitch them on the surface and tug them just under the water. The details of the graphics are intricate and realistic, and that attention to detail is just what trout demand.
A delicate popping action can summon trout from quite a distance to check them out.
Like the Rapala above, I like a pop-pop-rest cadence as a place to start, but I’ll experiment to see what’s working in that moment.
Especially in lakes, soft baits make a lot of sense, and whether you pair them with a jig head or a properly sized hook and the right amount of split shot, borrowing techniques from bass fishing can be just the ticket for trout.
The Berkley Gulp! Minnow is one of my favorite soft baits. Soaked in scent, it offers an enticing aroma and flavor, while its realistic appearance and delicate flukes create the action trout are looking for. A gentle twitch is enough to send the Gulp! Minnow’s tail wriggling, and especially when rigged on a hook suspended off the bottom, this bait is at its best.
For trout, I’d recommend realistic colors like smelt, and I like the 2 ½ and 4” offerings from Berkley.
There are several effective ways to fish these little devils. One is to rig these soft baits on an appropriately-sized jig head. Let your terminal tackle hit bottom, lift your rod quickly, and reel in the slack. This will swim your jig back toward you, getting those flukes moving.
Another option--admittedly unconventional--is to drop shot rig these minnows. That provides a super-realistic action that no other technique matches, and it lets you control your depth with precision.
It’s quickly becoming a go-to technique in the bass world, and for lake fishing trout, I’d give it a try and see how it works.
John Murray gives a masterful demonstration of this technique for bass in the video below:
If you’re not sure how to drop shot rig, this simple tutorial will get you started:
Bass anglers have tested the effectiveness of worms for a while now, and they’re just as awesome on trout! The only difference is the size: trout worms are a lot smaller.
I recommend a super-sharp Gamakatsu #4 circle hook and would nose hook this worm. The magic comes by borrowing a play from the bass angler’s handbook: drop shot rigging. This simple technique creates superb action, really letting the worm strut its stuff. And because all Gulp! Products feature scent and taste, you’ve got all your trout bases covered.
The trick to drop shotting is to use the lightest weight you can get away with and to gently twitch the soft bait. You don’t want to bounce the weight--the idea is to impart a gentle undulation to the worm. The easiest way to do this is to allow a touch of slack in your line and use your wrist to gently twitch your rod.
Our final pick is the superb Zoom tube. Available in realistic colors, it features a trout-attracting scent and smell, as well as a skirt that dances alluringly with the slightest motion.
Especially when trout have retreated to deeper water in high summer, a jig head armed with a glittering tube can be just the recipe for an exciting morning.
I like to jig vertically with these soft baits, rigging them on a realistically colored--usually dark--jig head like the YUMbrella Money Head Jig.
Be sure to tie the jig properly to get as horizontal a position as possible. That creates a more lifelike action and presentation, and you’ll get way more bites by following this simple tip. I also like to stuff a Trout Nibble or two inside the tube, adding scent and flavor. That never hurts!
If you’re not familiar with tying jigs, this is what you want to avoid. Note the position of the knot on the eye.
Instead, you want to shift the knot to the top of the eye, as in the picture below.
When trout are immature, they’ll feed on a variety of prey items, irrespective of whether they make their home in a mountain stream or quiet lake. From flying insects to shrimp to zooplankton, they’re not picky!
But as they mature, they’ll move to a diet dominated by other fish, often swallowing prey as large as ⅓ of their size. That’s as true of brookies as it is of monster rainbows.
That doesn’t mean that mature trout will ignore a well-thrown fly, but it does suggest that flies aren’t the only way you can catch them. And they never lose their taste for the foods they chased when young--you just need to know how to present lures and baits that mimic these items.
The trick, then, is to understand what makes a trout’s senses tick.
All species of trout possess keen vision, though conditions affect this greatly. Chop, wind, riffles, clouds, and shadows impact the way they perceive color, but it is widely accepted that trout see color particularly well, even shading into the ultraviolet spectrum. But keep in mind that cloudy water and other conditions that lower light levels can dramatically impact what trout can see.
In the clear water where you’ll often fish for trout, their vision is precise, explaining why realistic flies are a proven method for eliciting a strike. In part, this is because their eyes focus particularly well on objects above them. But it’s also due to the acuity of their vision: realistic is almost always better than the garish colors you might use for other species.
That said, Mike Depew, a fisheries biologist for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, explains that fluorescent, day-glo colors can still help attract trout. "Small bits of fluorescent color don't imitate anything natural, but they can create a hot spot. A bit of fluorescent orange, yellow or pink absorbs UV rays and projects that back into the visible spectrum. It's not really visible to them on the surface or just under the water, but it gets more visible the deeper you get."
And in lower light or cloudy water, bright colors and metallic flash can help trout spot your lure.
But vision isn’t everything, and trout also sport tiny scent organs called “nares” that provide them with an acute sense of smell. They use this to find spawning locations as well as to detect prey items. In combination with their sensitive lateral line, trout are well-armed predators.
Angling for trout in lakes can complicate color choice, because the deeper you’re fishing, the less light penetrates the water, changing what trout can see.
You probably already know that color choice is one of the stickiest issues anglers face. If you’ve watched a buddy using a different color lure pull fish after fish out of the water in the same spot you’re casting, you know exactly what we mean! Talk with a few fishermen for more than a minute or two, and the discussion will turn to favorite lures and colors--guaranteed.
As a basic precept of physics, color disappears the deeper you go. Even the clearest water quickly absorbs light, changing how color is perceived as a lure drops deeper. Red is the first to go, followed by orange, yellow, green, and blue.
Take a look at the chart below, and note that if you’re fishing shallow water, color matters a lot. If you’re jigging for crappie on the bottom, however, red and orange may not show up very well, depending on just how deep you’re fishing. In general, the shallower your quarry, the more color matters.
Trout are aggressive feeders, and small hooks will often get swallowed, leading to deep hooks and injured or dead fish.
If you’re keeping your catch, we’d recommend size 8, 10, and 12 hooks in streams, but as large as 4 in lakes. Size 14 or 16 treble hooks are an excellent choice, too.
But for catch and release, you’ll want to run larger hooks to prevent swallowing.
Lures can be quite large--trout are aggressive predators and will hit large prey items. 5” soft baits are a common sight among pro trout anglers.
For anglers, it’s important to keep these facts in mind when selecting lures.
Trout can be finicky about what they strike, and their keen senses make them hard to fool. But the more you know about their behavior and biology, the better you’re prepared to make smart choices when selecting a lure or bait.
By choosing lures that mimic real prey items, providing flash, vibration, color, and action that attracts attention, you can improve your odds of netting a nice trout. And by borrowing a few techniques from bass fishing, you can tilt the odds a bit further in your favor.
We hope our advice has helped, and we’d love to hear from you!
Have we forgotten a favorite of yours? What’s worked for you?
Please leave a comment below.