When I get asked what my favorite target species is, the answer is simple: trout. My love affair with these incredible fish stems from my younger years, hiking along river banks in search of anything willing to bite what I was offering. Brook trout, brown trout, rainbow trout, or steelhead, it didn’t matter. The elusiveness and beauty of these fish amazed me, and to this day, they still do.
Long before I got into fly and float fishing, those days were spent casting lures. My attention span was short as a young kid, but the consistency and excitement of casting lures kept me going. It remains one of my favorite ways to catch trout in rivers and streams.
Whether you’re looking to start fishing for river and stream trout with lures, or you’re looking to add more lures to your arsenal, we’ve got you covered.
Quick glance at the best trout lures for rivers and streams:
- Panther Martin Spinner - Top Pick!
- Acme Little Cleo
- Mepps Aglia
- Rapala Original Floating Minnow
- Blue Fox Vibrax
- Luhr Jensen Krocodile Spoon
- Yakima Bait Flatfish Trout and Panfish
Table of Contents (clickable)
- 1 Best Trout Lures For Rivers & Streams Reviewed
- 2 Choosing The Lure For River And Stream Trout
- 3 Our Pick: Panther Martin Spinner
- 4 Final Thoughts
Best Trout Lures For Rivers & Streams Reviewed
Recommended Sizes: 1/32 oz (#1), 1/16 oz (#2) ⅛ oz (#4) and ¼ oz (#6)
Must-Have Colors: Gold, Silver, Brown Trout, Red Fluorescent
The Panther Martin is first up on this list for the simple reason that it is the inline spinner that has caught me the most trout over the years, whether that's small resident brook trout or big lake run steelhead. Part of the reason they’ve been such a successful lure for me is that I have a ton of confidence in them and will tie them on above anything else, but that confidence comes from knowing that a Panther Martin will catch fish.
Where most inline spinners use a clasp to attach the blade, Panther Martin blades are attached directly to the shaft of the lure, creating a unique vibration while ensuring that the blade spins freely even in the slowest current.
The weighted body not only means that even the smallest version casts well, but it can easily be counted down and fished at the depth needed, staying in the strike zone through the entire retrieve.
- Convex/concave blade produces unique sound and vibration
- Blade spins freely at any speed
- Weighted body for easy casting and retrieving
- Ultra-sharp premium treble hook
- Wire shaft can bend easily
Recommended Sizes: 1/16 oz, ⅛ oz, ¼ oz
Must-Have Colors: Nickel/Neon Blue, Nickel, Gold, Nickel/Chartreuse
Acme’s Little Cleo has been a proven trout catcher for decades, making it one of the most recognized and well-known trout spoons of all time. The humpback shape delivers an enticing wobble while producing a thump that will draw trout from anywhere. That humpback shape also makes the Little Cleo easier to use in a river setting when compared to many other spoons, reducing the dreaded spin that spoons are notorious for.
The weight combined with the spoon's shape result in long, accurate casts, perfect for clear water streams where fish can spook at the slightest hint of an angler walking the bank.
Of all the things a Little Cleo is, what it isn’t is a small fish lure. Can you catch smaller resident trout with it? Sure, but what it is great for is big, aggressive brown trout, resident rainbow trout, or migrating steelhead. Whether casting river mouths for staging fish, or stalking deep stream pools, a Little Cleo appeals to the aggressive and protective nature of big trout.
- Irresistible wobbling, thumping action
- Easy to cast
- Proven fish catching ability for close to 70 years
- Available in a wide range of colors
- Split ring holding the hook can bend under the weight of larger fish
Recommended Sizes: 1/12 oz (#0), ⅛ oz (#1), ⅙ oz (#2), ¼ oz (#3)
Must-Have Colors: Silver, Copper, Gold, Hot Orange
Hardcore trout anglers all over the country know how great the Mepps Aglia is at catching trout of all sizes in any river or stream. Many consider it the best inline spinner ever made and one of the best river trout lures of all time. Tie one on the end of your line and you’ll quickly see that those are hard points to dispute.
These spinners take up just as much space in my trout box as the Panther Martins, not only because they catch a lot of fish, but also because there are seemingly endless combinations of colors, sizes, and dressings that all have their time and place in trout fishing. Targeting small stream brookies? There's a Mepps for that. Chasing big migratory steelhead? There's a Mepps for that.
Constructed out of brass and finished with silver, brass, copper or scratch-resistant paint, the blade is positioned on the wire shaft with a clasp that allows it to spin freely at any speed. The free-spinning blade means that the lure starts working the second it hits the water and continues to do so fault-free throughout the entire retrieve, with vibration and flash that will drive any trout crazy.
- Solid brass blade with metallic or scratch-resistant painted finish
- Precisely balanced to run true cast after cast
- Wide range of color, size and designs
- Continuous vibration and flash at any speed
- Smaller versions can be hard to cast
Recommended Sizes: 1 ½ inch, 2 inch, and 2 ¾ inch
Must-Have Colors: Silver/Black, Silver/Blue, Gold/Black, Brown Trout
The beauty and fish-catching power of the Original Floating Minnow lies in its simplicity. There are no fancy bells and whistles with this lure, just outstanding design that results in a lure for any fish, river and stream trout included.
Yes, there are other minnow baits that will catch trout, but when it comes to catching weary, small stream and river trout, the Original Floating Minnow is a lure that won’t overstimulate and send those fish swimming for cover. They’re not super flashy and they don’t make any noise; what they do is accurately mimic bait fish or other fish that trout may see as a threat. Even when not looking for a meal, trout are territorial creatures and will chase down anything and everything they perceive as a threat.
The smaller sizes are deadly on small, clear water streams, but if it’s bigger browns or rainbows you’re after, you can always bump that size up, even in smaller rivers, to elicit those aggressive strikes. Fishing for trout with an Original Floating Minnow isn’t just an effective way to catch trout, it’s possibly one of the most exciting, as you can often watch big trout come out of their cover to chase the lure down.
- Realistic and lifelike action
- Available in many trout catching colors
- Easy to fish
- No flashy bells and whistles that can spook weary trout
- Plastic lip can require some adjustment from time to time to keep the lure running true
Recommended Sizes: 7/64 oz, ⅛ oz, and ¼ oz
Must-Have Colors: Silver, Copper, Black, Silver/Hot Pink
Known on West Coast tributaries as one of the best trout and salmon spinners around, the Blue Fox Vibrax spinner is a big water lure famous for catching big fish. Even in the smallest version, these lures are heavy and produce more sound and vibration than any other spinner, and while that’s great for bigger trout in bigger waters, it's not ideal for smaller streams where trout can be lure shy.
The unique low-frequency vibration, combined with an incredible amount of flash, can be deadly in bigger water, but it’s those same attributes that can easily spook fish off. The Vibrax spinner is still one that I’ll carry with me on smaller streams for those days when the water is high and dirty and the fish need a little extra incentive.
The inline blade is set at a 30-degree angle that all but eliminates the line twist spinners are known for, and its weight makes casting a breeze. The result is a spinner that's easy to use, whether you’re fishing the slower flows of a river mouth or quicker runs further upstream. If you’re after big trout, in big rivers, the Blue Fox Vibrax is hard to beat.
- 30-degree blade reduces line twist
- Loud thump and vibration attracts big fish
- Casts easier and farther than most other spinners
- Larger sizes include single Siwash hook to replace treble if desired
- Too loud and obnoxious for small stream trout
Recommended Sizes: ⅙ oz up to ½ oz
Must-Have Colors: Chrome, Chrome/Neon Blue, Brass, Chrome/Fluorescent Red
For anglers that are new to using lures to catch river and stream trout, a spoon can be one of the toughest to master. Where most lures are relatively basic in that a simple cast and retrieve at any speed is all it takes, a spoon can take a little patience to get dialed-in properly. Reel it in too slow, and it will quickly sink to the bottom; too fast, and it will spin wildly, losing its appeal. Combine that with the fact that smaller spoons can be tough to cast, and you’re left with a lure that many new trout anglers will shy away from.
Even with all that being said, no trout box is complete without a couple of spoons in it, and Luhr Jensen’s Krocodile spoon ranks up there as one of the best for catching any trout, in any river or stream. The narrow, heavyweight design means this lure is easy to cast and provides a trout-attracting thump and flash like no other.
The design isn’t the only thing that sets the Krocodile spoon apart from others. They also come equipped with an attached barrel swivel to reduce line twist, a red flapper tail for added attraction, and a single siwash hook to replace the treble, important for the overall well-being of smaller stream trout.
- Narrow design produces a great combination of thump and flash
- Included barrel swivel reduces line twist
- Available in a variety of trout catching sizes and colors
- Heavyweight for easy casting
- Light wire hooks on smaller versions can bend on bigger fish
Recommended Sizes: 1 ¼ inch to 2 ¼ inch
Must-Have Colors: Metallic Blue/Silver Scale, Black/Silver Flake, Metallic Silver
Crankbaits and plugs are synonymous for catching big steelhead and salmon. Whether trolled in the open water or back trolling them in rivers, there is no question they catch fish. But casting from the bank of a river or stream? It's something very few trout anglers do, and those who don’t are missing out on one of the most exciting ways to catch active trout.
There are more than a few effective crankbaits and plugs that I could have added to this list, but when it comes right down to it, none of them have caught me more trout than the Yakima Bait Flatfish. The trout and panfish version of this proven lure is a shallow-running, wide wobbling plug that produces erratic action at very low speeds, ideal for those holes that are 3-5 feet deep with little current. With subtle flash and nearly completely silent, the Flatfish relies on its action to appeal to clear water, weary trout.
This small Flatfish is very lightweight and can be difficult to cast, but on those small rivers where long casts aren’t necessary, it can be an effective way to catch trout of any kind, and in my opinion, it’s one of the most under-utilized lures when it comes to river and stream trout.
- Wide wobbling action
- Proven fish catching ability downsides for stream trout
- Shallow diving
- Sharp and strong single treble hook
- Lightweight design can be hard to cast
- Does not run true on higher speed retrieves
Choosing The Lure For River And Stream Trout
Trout can be fickle creatures, so it’s important to be able to adjust to their habits and attitude on the fly, which is why the most successful anglers are the most versatile ones. With that in mind, there are a few things you can take into consideration when selecting the best lure for river and stream trout.
Water Being Fished
When we consider the water being fished, we’re not talking about river vs. stream vs. creek, but rather the water within those bodies of water. Each river, big or small, can be broken down into smaller sections. It’s important to be familiar with the water you’ll be fishing because what works in one section might not in another. As an example, fishing a faster-flowing, shallow run might be best-suited for a spinner that can be controlled by the speed of the current. On the other hand, a slower-moving pool might be better fished with a lure that can be retrieved and controlled easily, as you don’t have the current there to do that for you.
Water conditions are quite possibly the most important factor to any successful trout fishing excursion, and a successful angler will have decent knowledge and a fair understanding of those conditions. A simple rain storm can take a river from crystal clear to mud.
When rivers are running clear, trout are going to want something subtle and natural - a lure that doesn’t make too much noise or isn’t too flashy. High running dirty water, on the other hand, is full of silt and debris, and trout will most likely need that noise and flash in order for them to pick up on the lure better.
The Trout Themselves
This might seem like an obvious one, but knowing which trout you are after in any given body of water is going to narrow down your lure selection considerably. If you’re chasing big, aggressive brown trout or migratory steelhead, tiny spinners and spoons aren’t going to cut it. Instead, you’re going to want something bigger and more flashy to appeal to the larger fish.
On the other hand, those larger lures aren’t going to get any interest from smaller fish and might even push them further into hiding.
Lure size isn’t the only factor that fish can determine. A trout that willingly hit a spinner one day might prefer a spoon the next. This part will take some experimenting, but if you know the fish are there, a little trial and error can go a long way.
I am a big believer in confidence when it comes to any type of fishing, but even more so when trout are involved. More often than not, trout can leave even the most experienced angler scratching their head, wondering what went wrong. When that happens, I see many trout anglers start to scramble, hoping they can dig something out of their box that’s going to work. While it's good to be versatile, doubting yourself and constantly changing things up can also be a fault. Having confidence in what you’re using will lead to less time tying on new lures and more time in the water where the fish are.
Our Pick: Panther Martin Spinner
It isn’t easy to pick one lure as the best one for river and stream trout, but if there was one type of lure that has caught me more trout than any other, it would be an inline spinner. And if there is one spinner that stands out among the others for me, it’s the Panther Martin.
Not only does this lure come in a wide range of trout catching sizes and colors, but its design also makes it one of the most versatile and easy-to-use spinners out there. The tear-shaped, weighted body makes even the smallest version easy-to-cast, and it’s clasp-free, though blade spinner is as effective in slow water as it is in fast.
Each lure on this list has its time and place for trout, and each can be just as effective as the next, but if I had to choose a single lure to fish trout with for the rest of my life, it would be the Panther Martin.
Of all the different methods I use to catch trout, bank fishing with lures is one of my favorite ways to do so. It’s fast-paced, it’s exciting, and it’s extremely effective. Over the years, many trout rivers I fish have seen a steady decline in the amount of anglers fishing with lures, and those anglers don’t know what they’re missing out on.
Leave a comment and let us know if this article was able to help you narrow down your selection and bank more river and stream trout using lures!