The Best Trout Baits For Rivers: Natural Baits For Wild Trout

Video bait for river trout

Trying to pick the best bait for trout is like picking the “best” dessert; apple pie might be your pick at thanksgiving, but an ice-cream sundae would be better at a summertime barbecue.

The point is that there are tons of great trout baits for different species, situations, and even fishing styles. But although some baits work better than others at different times, the best trout baits (like the best desserts) are always a good choice, no matter where, when, or how you fish them.

In this post, I’ve put together the best trout baits for any time, place, or species (though I am focusing on wild trout in rivers; stocked trout will love these baits, too). Read on for the breakdown and tips on how to use them for the best chance of success.

First things first: what is “bait,” and what makes it the best?

Bait is a little bit of a slippery definition in the angling world. In the simplest terms, bait is something that is attractive on its own, either because it is or was alive (i.e. worms), or because it has an attractive scent that mimics food (i.e. Powerbait).

Many anglers (bass anglers especially) use the term “bait” to apply to almost anything, including soft plastics, billed lures, or really anything that mimics fish food. But for the purposes of trout fishing, I’m sticking with the old-school definition: bait is either natural fish food or artificial bait designed to look and smell exactly like it.

If you want more info on the best trout lures, or the best trout spoons, check out my articles on them.

There’s a reason that the most iconic trout bait is a simple worm: because it just flat-out catches fish.

Worms are the best trout bait for a few important reasons. The first is that wild trout eat aquatic insects more than anything else, and live worms look very similar to the wriggling grubs that trout are so accustomed to seeing.

The second is simply size. Trout are opportunistic feeders and will look for the food source that provides the biggest bang for the bite. As long as it looks legit, trout are inclined to pick a big chunk of worm over a mayfly larva because it’s easier to see in fast moving water.

And the third is the scent. It isn’t so much that a worm is a great attractor, but the dirt and oil on a live worm are great at masking human scent. It’s hard to say whether the actual scent of a worm is particularly attractive to trout, but I’d be willing to bet that it is.

For most trout in most of the situations I fish, I prefer live worms over artificial ones. As long as they’re rigged right, their live wiggling action is hard to beat.

But there are different types of live worms, and the one I use depends on the situation.

In streams with brown trout or big rainbows, big chunks of nightcrawlers (also called dew worms) are the way to go. When I say big, though, I don’t mean use the whole 10-inch worm. Cutting it down to around 4 inches still provides enough food to attract big fish, but isn’t so big that it becomes intimidating.

In smaller brook trout or cutthroat trout creeks, little red wigglers or small chunks of nightcrawler are usually better. Red wigglers are harder to find than earthworms, but most sporting goods stores should have a selection of these thinner, shorter worms. They are typically more lively than nightcrawlers, which is a nice bonus.

In really small streams, I might even drift a couple of mealworms that just barely cover a size 10 hook. Mealworms are actually insect larvae, so it’s debatable whether they belong in the “worm” category, but they are the smallest option that still looks like a worm.

See also  .30-30 Winchester for Moose Hunting? Best Ammo (Round, Load, Cartridge) for a Successful Moose Hunt Hunting Calibers 04 Apr, 2020 Posted By: Foundry Outdoors Is the .30-30 Winchester a viable caliber/load/round/cartridge for moose hunting? The accurate answer is “it depends”. However, the goal of this article is simply to address the question of whether the .30-30 Winchester is within the ideal range of suitable calibers to harvest moose. As with anything, the devil is in the details. To answer the question completely, we would need to evaluate the downrange distance to the moose, the bullet type, the grain weight of the bullet, the physical condition of the firearm, the size of the moose in question, the shot placement, the local wind conditions, the expected accuracy of the shooter, the ethics of the ideal maximum number of shots – the list goes on. [Click Here to Shop .30-30 Winchester Ammo]What we can do is provide a framework to understand what average conditions might look like, and whether those are reasonably viable for a shot from the average shooter to harvest a moose in the fewest number of shots possible, i.e., ethically. Let’s dive right in. In the question of “Is the .30-30 Winchester within the ideal range of suitable calibers for moose hunting?” our answer is: No, the .30-30 Winchester is UNDERKILL for moose hunting, under average conditions, from a mid-range distance, with a medium grain expanding bullet, and with correct shot placement.Let’s look at those assumptions a bit closer in the following table. Assumption Value Caliber .30-30 Winchester Animal Species Moose Muzzle Energy 1890 foot-pounds Animal Weight 1200 lbs Shot Distance 200 yardsWhat is the average muzzle energy for a .30-30 Winchester? In this case, we have assumed the average muzzle energy for a .30-30 Winchester round is approximately 1890 foot-pounds. What is the average weight of an adult male moose? Here we have leaned conservative by taking the average weight of a male individual of the species, since females generally weigh less and require less stopping power. In this case, the average weight of an adult male moose is approximately 1200 lbs. [Click Here to Shop .30-30 Winchester Ammo]What is the distance this species is typically hunted from? Distance, of course, plays an important role in the viability of a given caliber in moose hunting. The kinetic energy of the projectile drops dramatically the further downrange it travels primarily due to energy lost in the form of heat generated by friction against the air itself. This phenonemon is known as drag or air resistance. Thus, a caliber that is effective from 50 yards may not have enough stopping power from 200 yards. With that said, we have assumed the average hunting distance for moose to be approximately 200 yards. What about the other assumptions? We have three other primary assumptions being made here. First, the average bullet weight is encapsulated in the average muzzle energy for the .30-30 Winchester. The second important assumption is ‘slightly-suboptimal’ to ‘optimal’ shot placement. That is to say, we assume the moose being harvested is shot directly or nearly directly in the vitals (heart and/or lungs). The third assumption is that a projectile with appropriate terminal ballistics is being used, which for hunting usually means an expanding bullet.Various calibersA common thread you may encounter in online forums is anecdote after anecdote of large animals being brought down by small caliber bullets, or small animals surviving large caliber bullets. Of course those stories exist, and they are not disputed here. A 22LR cartridge can fell a bull elephant under the right conditions, and a newborn squirrel can survive a 50 BMG round under other specific conditions. Again, the goal of this article is simply to address the question of whether .30-30 Winchester is within the ideal range of suitable calibers to harvest moose - and to this question, the response again is no, the .30-30 Winchester is UNDERKILL for moose hunting. [Click Here to Shop .30-30 Winchester Ammo]This article does not serve as the final say, but simply as a starting point for beginner hunters, as well as a venue for further discussion. Please feel free to agree, disagree, and share stories from your own experience in the comments section below. Disclaimer: the information above is purely for illustrative purposes and should not be taken as permission to use a particular caliber, a statement of the legality or safety of using certain calibers, or legal advice in any way. You must read and understand your own local laws before hunting moose to know whether your caliber of choice is a legal option.Foundry Outdoors is your trusted home for buying archery, camping, fishing, hunting, shooting sports, and outdoor gear online.We offer cheap ammo and bulk ammo deals on the most popular ammo calibers. We have a variety of deals on Rifle Ammo, Handgun Ammo, Shotgun Ammo & Rimfire Ammo, as well as ammo for target practice, plinking, hunting, or shooting competitions. Our website lists special deals on 9mm Ammo, 10mm Ammo, 45-70 Ammo, 6.5 Creedmoor ammo, 300 Blackout Ammo, 10mm Ammo, 5.56 Ammo, Underwood Ammo, Buffalo Bore Ammo and more special deals on bulk ammo.We offer a 100% Authenticity Guarantee on all products sold on our website. Please email us if you have questions about any of our product listings. 1 Comments Jerry Peach - Jun 02, 2022I have to take broad exception to this “expert” opinion piece. Hunting and living in Newfoundland and Labrador, my father only ever owned a 1957 Mod 94 .30-.30. He took down more moose than I can remember, with stock ammunition and in all types of terrain and weather with this rifle. His mantra was; be a good enough hunter to get close enough to your game to ensure a two bullet kill (one to down and one to ensure) before sighting on a moose. In turn, I used this same rifle to down my first bull moose which “dressed” 650 pounds of meat. A properly placed shot that I took at approximately 250 yards in a clearing. Your article seems to advocate for larger calibers that would excuse the lack of ability of the hunter to get close enough to ensure a kill with a smaller caliber. Shouldn’t the opposite be true? Shouldn’t someone purporting themselves to be offering an “expert” opinion on the subject of hunting calibers be more inclined to encourage better skill sets in the field and encourage people to hone their hunting skills for in-close shots? This would a) limit long shot misses, b) potential danger from over-kill heavy calibers at close range, and c) practically guarantee a kill/recovery of meat as opposed to losing an animal because of poor tracking skills (or interest) hit with a heavy caliber at maximum distance. Be a hunter……..not a sniper. Leave a commentComments have to be approved before showing up Your Name * Your Email * Your Comment * Post Comment

Then there are plastic worms, and the options here are nearly limitless.

There are plenty of worms that are just designed to imitate live ones, both in scent and color. These stay on the hook better than live worms and still have that real worm scent. So in places where real worms typically work well, these can be easy-to-use alternatives.

A few of my favorites are Berkeley Gulp! Earthworms, Berkeley Honeyworms (which are like large maggots), and Berkeley Gulp! Red Worms. Then there are some small scented colored options, and my favorite by far (for trout and all panfish) are Pautzke’s Fire Worms.

Then there are big senko-style worms. They’re more common as bass bait than trout bait, but in big, fast water, they can be a great alternative to live worms.

The bigger and faster the water, the harder it is to keep a live worm on a hook. The liveliness of a worm also doesn’t matter as much, because the turbulence and speed leave little time for trout to analyze the realism of what’s in front of them. Most bites will be highly reactive, so big artificial worms work well.

They also work well because bright, flashy colors like pink, orange, or even chartreuse can help entice reactive strikes. These colors are best for shallow water and sunny days; on overcast days or deep, cloudy water, dark blues, purples, and greens work better.

I wrote a whole post on fishing with worms that covers everything you need to know about both live and artificial ones, so check that out for a more detailed breakdown.

Though they’re more popular as salmon bait than trout bait, fish eggs are undeniably some of the best bait for catching trout.

Like any wild animal or fish, trout love to eat anything that’s easy to grab and packed with nutrients. Trout eggs check both boxes, and during the spawn, eggs become a major food source for trout. You can take advantage of this even outside of spawning season by using real eggs or fake eggs; either one can be killer bait when presented naturally.

In rivers, that means either floating under a bobber just off the bottom, or bottom-bouncing eggs with just enough weight to keep them down. Eggs work great in lakes, too, especially near the mouths of creeks. I find that a Carolina rig works best, but floating under a bobber works well, too.

Real, cured salmon or trout eggs typically work better than fake ones, but they’re not nearly as easy to find. In coastal salmon and steelhead towns, you can usually get them at sporting goods stores, and you can order them from Sunrise Baits in the summer. You can also get Pautzke’s Balls O’ Fire, which are natural, cured trout eggs in small bait jars that are ready-made for trout stream fishing..

Another fun option is to harvest them yourself. Wild, native trout should be left alone during the spawn and allowed to reproduce, but when you catch stocked rainbows or any invasive trout for food, check to see if they have eggs. Spawning seasons vary wildly based on region, water body, and elevation, but trout typically spawn in the spring.

If you keep some spawn sac material on you, you can use them fresh from the trout you’re catching to catch even more. Rigging trout eggs is another article’s worth of info, so check out this breakdown for how to do it.

If you catch a bunch of spawning trout and want to save the eggs for later, you can also cure them. The easiest way to do this is to use a commercial cure like Pautzke’s Fire Cure. You can also DIY it with borax, salt, and sugar.

For more info on curing eggs, check out this great article from Midwest Outdoors.

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Though there’s nothing quite like the real thing, imitation eggs are still very effective for trout fishing and much easier to work with. They’re less fragile, so you can run them straight onto a hook, or tie them into spawn sacs like regular eggs.

My favorite artificial eggs are Pautzke’s Fire Balls or Mad River Eggs. Both come in a variety of scents, and pretty much any of them will work well. Garlic, anise, and shrimp scents tend to be top performers, though.

Trout beads are all the rage with steelhead fisherman these days, but they’ll work just as well in an Idaho creek as they will in a coastal river. They’re essentially an egg imitation, albeit a large one, that’s “pegged” inline above the hook. Though they usually sit only an inch or two above the hook, they are technically illegal in some places because the trout can be hooked outside the mouth after they bite the bead. Make sure to check your local regs (or call your Fish and Game office; there’s grey area here) before you fish.

Where legal, beads are some of my favorite tactics for trout fishing for any species. I love the BnR soft beads in 12mm or 16mm sizes for most of the trout I fish (you can get a variety pack here). I’ll also add scent (I like Smelly Jelly in Crawfish or Shrimp) to mask my own scent and entice more strikes.

In the wild, trout eat insects more than anything else. The whole concept of fly fishing is based on that fact, but using the real thing is at least as effective, if not more so. Both insect larvae and full-sized live insects can be phenomenal trout bait.

Most of the insects trout eat are aquatic insect larvae (also known as “nymphs”) like mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies, and the good news is that you can find these yourself just about anywhere.

When you get to the river, flip over a few rocks at the water’s edge and you’ll almost certainly find a few insect larvae to rig up. The great thing about pulling bait from the river instead of buying it at the store is that you know for absolute certain that the trout in front of you are eating that exact insect. This makes it the most natural trout bait there is, but the small size means you need to have a great presentation to entice the fish.

The easiest way is with a small slip float, a size 12 hook, and just enough split shot to keep it down near the bottom. Hook whichever bugs you find just behind the head and through the carapace, and drift it through different sections of the river. You can also fish big may fly or dragonfly larva on jig heads, letting them sit and flutter on the bottom for a few seconds at a time.

Be ready to reel down and set the hook as soon as that bobber dips down, because trout have a tendency to gulp down insects quickly.

If you don’t want to catch your own, you can buy maggots, mealworms, and sometimes even mayfly larva (called “wigglers”) from local tackle shops.

Adult insects are bigger and more lively than larvae, so they can be great for big fish or big water. They’re a little harder to catch yourself, though; if you want to do it effectively, bring a bug net to the river.

Some of the most common insects to use as trout bait are grasshoppers or crickets. They’re tough, hard-shelled insects (unlike adult mayflies), so they stay on the hook and stay lively, too. Fish these the same way as you would larvae. Float them downstream near the bottom for the best chance of catching trout.

If you notice that trout are actively feeding on the surface, you can fish these big insects on the surface using an Adjust-A-Bubble. It’s basically a slip float that you can fill with water, which gives you enough weight to cast but floats when it hits the water. It’s the fly-fishing of spinning gear, and it’s one of my favorite secret weapons for mountain lakes or wide shallow mountain creeks.

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Like any natural bait, there are artificial options that work well, too. It might be a little blasphemous, but you could drift some nymph-pattern flies under a bobber (like Hare’s Ears or Prince Nymphs). You can fish artificial flies with Adjust-A-Bubbles as described above, too. It might get you some sideways glances from fly anglers, but you’ll catch tons of trout nonetheless.

I also really like to use artificial rubber mayfly larvae, like these from Berkeley. They’ve been especially effective on my local brook trout, but they can work well for any species. Black Berkeley Gulp! Hellgramites are another killer artificial insect bait.

Leeches aren’t found everywhere, but where they are found they’re a favorite trout food source. That makes them great trout bait, but you’ll need to check if they’re allowed before fishing with them. Regulations vary greatly depending on the state you’re fishing in because live bait like leeches can be harmful to places where they’re not native.

Where they’re native and allowed though, they can be killer. They’re easy grub for hungry trout, and they’re even more lively than worms on a hook. The key is to hook it right through the sucker at the end of the tail so it can still move naturally in the water.

If leeches aren’t allowed in your area, leech pattern flies can be drifted with bobbers. You can also use soft plastics like the Berkley Gulp! Alive! Leech, which are always a solid option to have in your tackle box.

As mean and aggressive as crayfish can be (also called “crawdads” where I’m from), they make great trout bait. Basically all predatory fish eat crayfish, and you’d probably be surprised to see just how many of these things end up in a trout’s stomach.

Crayfish are another bait where regulations vary, though. In my state (Idaho), they’re legal if caught directly from the body of water you’re fishing. In other places, you can fish with them anywhere, and in some states, they’re completely illegal.

Where you can fish them, bottom bouncing works best. Hook it through the end of the tail with a size 6 or 8 octopus hook and slowly drift it downriver. When fishing for trout, small crayfish only a couple of inches long work best.

Crayfish also work great when fished on a jig head. That’s because real crayfish move in short, quick movements before settling down to the bottom again. You can mimic these movements with a jig head in fast runs or even lakes to catch trout.

This list wouldn’t be complete without a mention of good ol’ Berkley Powerbait. Though it isn’t the bait I would use for wild trout, it’s so good at catching stocked trout that it had to make the list.

The reason it’s great is that it perfectly mimics the feed that stocked trout are raised on, and comes in some eye-catching colors too. For rainbow trout raised on fish pellets, Berkley Powerbait is as good as anything else on this list. Pink and Chartreuse are my go-to colors.

All that said, any of the baits listed above are better for wild rainbow trout.

If you use any of the baits listed above, you’ll have a solid chance at catching trout on your next outing. I’ve successfully caught trout with everything I’ve mentioned on this list, and any one of these baits could net you your next personal best. Good luck and tight lines!

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>