When you’re fishing for trout, details matter.
And as confusing as choosing the right bait or trout lure can be, hook selection is positively bedeviling. Pick the wrong style of hook, and the brookies will give even the most enticing baits a pass. Pick the wrong size of hook, and you can lose fish, end up dragging the bottom, or have a real bruiser bend it straight.
If you’re wondering what the best hook style and size is for trout, keep reading!
We’ll demystify hook selection and set you up for success.
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Trout 101: Why Hook Selection Matters
Five species are called trout by American anglers, and though they’re far from identical, they share some common traits that affect hook selection.
Whether you’re fishing for brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), brown trout (Salmo trutta), rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss, or steelhead (Oncorhynchus m. irideus or O. m. gairdneri), you’ll find that they inhabit crystal-clear streams and rivers.
Trout of all kinds are sight predators that rely on their keen vision to locate prey.
Hunting in water as clear as glass, they can identify a potential meal from below - or to the side - at quite some distance. When the current is fast and prey are likely to be swept away in an instant, they strike with little to no hesitation or go hungry. But when the water is more sluggish, or you’re casting into a pool or eddy, they’ll study what they’re offered and make an informed decision.
The longer a trout has to access your lure or bait, the more important it is that you make the right hook choice.
Trout will keenly observe what they’re offered, and if they can see your hook, they’ll take a pass and look elsewhere for food.
And if they feel your hook when they take your lure or bait, they’ll do everything they can to spit it and escape before you have a chance to drive the point home.
The Best Hook Styles for Trout
I’ve thrown white rooster tails to brown trout and had them hammer my lures again and again and again, rising from the depths to hit my ⅛-ounce, 2 ¼-inch spinners every time I cast. And while not every day on the water looked like that, I don’t hit a trout stream or river without a few in-line spinners - ever.
Lures like these sport sharp treble hooks on the business end, and those hooks are sized in proportion to the length of the lure. Smaller spinners wear smaller hooks; larger spinners are armed with larger trebles.
I’d leave the hook sizes alone on these lures. If you need to swap a treble out, select the same size that you removed. In my experience, and in the experience of legions of other anglers, the manufacturer has done an excellent job picking the right size treble for their lure.
For instance, the 1/16-ounce Wordens Original carries a #12 treble, which is very, very small. If you step up to the ⅛-ounce, you’ll find a #10 instead. The ⅙-ounce rooster tail wears a #8, and the big ¼-ounce has an appropriately-sized #6.
These are excellent treble hook sizes for trout, and keep in mind that even large rainbows and steelheads will hit the smaller sizes.
While the grip afforded by a single hook of a treble isn’t great, in combination, they offer a very secure hold.
The downside to treble hooked lures is two-fold.
First, in some areas, a barbed hook is illegal. You should always check the law and know which hook styles are allowed where you plan to fish.
It may be legal in your area to file or pinch the barbs on your treble hooks, and if that’s the case, rest assured they’ll hold nearly as well as when the barbs were intact.
Second, barbed treble hooks can make a mess of a trout’s mouth, really tearing it up, especially in a hard fight.
Bait such as soft plastics, crawfish, minnows, and roe sacks can be effectively presented to trout only with the right hook style and size.
There are dozens of hook styles available to anglers, but only a few that are really good for catching trout.
Check out our recommendations for the best hooks for trout
Generally, the ideal trout hook has a relatively short shank, a relatively wide gap, and a bend and point that drive home easily.
Unfortunately, you’ll see otherwise excellent hooks - like this Gamakatsu Kahle design - advertised for trout. It looks right enough, but a closer inspection reveals some problems.
Though they’re designed for live bait, Kahle hooks don’t perform that well on trout as the bend places the point where it can’t penetrate and lock up well. And though I’ve used Kahle hooks on redfish to speckled trout with great success, I’d give them a pass for trout.
Maybe it’s the shape of their mouths, or some trout-specific behavior. Whatever it is, trout have mastered bait theft, and you’ll miss too many fish with a Kahle.
Circle hooks are a bad choice, too. Among my favorite hooks for live bait on pretty much any species, circle hooks are designed to be self-hooking. When tension is placed on the line, the hook is designed to slide into the corner of the fish’s mouth, locking up perfectly.
As great as this design is, it’s tough to find a circle hook small enough to fool a wary trout, as these hooks tend to be on the larger side. Owner’s excellent Mosquito circle hooks are about the smallest you’ll find anywhere, and they aren’t available in smaller sizes than #6. That’s way too large when you’re trying to hide a hook from a suspicious brown or brook trout.
Some anglers have also found that they just don’t perform that well on rainbow and steelhead. Perhaps it’s the shape of their mouth or user error (circle hooks should not be set hard and fast), but I’d probably skip them even for the larger species.
These hook designs offer everything you want. They’re made with short shanks that won’t attract undue attention, wide gaps that lock up tight, and excellent points that penetrate easily.
If fishing with barbed hooks is illegal in your area, simply file or pinch those barbs down.
You’ll often hear that the best hook sizes for trout range from #8 to #14.
That’s true to a certain extent, but there are a number of factors that influence hook size, most notably how easy it will be for trout to spot it.
If a trout sees your hook, it’s over.
In slow moving or still water, trout are going to have a long time to examine your bait before committing. They won’t be in a hurry, and a hook that’s oversized for your bait is going to tilt the odds decidedly in the favor of the fish.
The most important rule for selecting your hook size is to match it to the bait, not the fish.
You want your hook to be barely visible, offering only the bend, barb, and point to the trout.
I typical start with a #10, moving to a #12 if it’s too exposed for the bait I’m using. Rarely, I’ll move up to a #8 in fast currents or down to a #14 if absolute finesse is called for.
Remember, big hooks are heavy, and while your bait with a #10 may be suspended in the water column right where you want it, that #8 may pull it to the bottom.
That said, I throw #10 and #8 (or even larger) hooks to steelhead, as the bait is typically bigger and I need a stouter, stronger hook for big fish.
But if I could only hit the water with one hook size, it’d be #10. That’s the Goldilocks number for trout, and you’ll find that every trout specific hook is available in this size.
When you’re fishing for trout, hook selection is critically important.
All five species of trout are blessed with remarkably keen sight, and they’ll spot an oversized hook and give your bait a pass. But if you go too small, big fish may bend a light-wire hook and escape.
The trick is to size your hook for your bait - for the most part - and only step up to larger hooks when you really need to. Even then, you’ll need to increase your bait size to match or risk having your offering rejected almost immediately.
Hook style is specific: you’ll want specimen hooks fashioned from relatively thick-gauge wire. They’ll be easy to hide, hook up well, and survive a hard fight.
We hope that this article has helped you pick the right hook for your trout fishing, and as always, we’d love to hear from you.
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