UPDATED 08 SEPTEMBER 2023
by Robert Ceran
Using the right fishing rig is essential for catching trout successfully, and knowing which rig to use for what conditions can make the difference between catching your limit or getting skunked.
There’s a perfect trout rig for almost every situation, and that’s why it’s so important to master rigging for trout, as this will allow you to choose exactly the right fishing rig for your purposes.
In this article I’ll cover the 9 best trout rigs, and will discuss what each of them is ideally suited for.
How to rig for trout
In order to rig for trout, you need to choose one of three basic types of rigs:
- Rigs that present your bait suspended underneath a bobber or float
- Rigs that present your bait close to the bottom with a weight
- Rigs that enable you to cast and actively retrieve an artificial lure
While these three types of fishing rigs cover almost all trout fishing applications, they come in a variety of different shapes and forms, each of which is best suited for slightly different trout fishing setups.
So if you’re a beginner, chances are that you’re confused about all the different options of rigging for trout.
However, the great thing is that you can get started with just two or three of the most versatile trout fishing rigs, and then add more specialized rigs once you know what kind or rig works best for your pond, lake or stream.
Now let’s look at each of the most important trout rigs in more detail, to help you choose the best rig for your purposes.
And in case you’re also looking for the best bait to use with your trout fishing rigs, check out our article on what is the best bait for trout?
Trout fishing rigs with bobbers
Bobber rigs are among the most effective trout fishing set ups, and work especially well when fishing in shallow ponds and streams, as well as in shallow bays of bigger lakes, or basically in any situation where trout are active close to the water surface.
Now let’s look at the two main types of bobber rigging for trout.
Trout rig with fixed bobber
This is one of the simplest trout rigs, and consists of a fixed bobber attached to the line, as well as a hook and sinker to weigh down the baited hook in the water.
The depth at which the bait is presented depends on the distance between the hook and the bobber.
How to tie it: Attach the bobber to the line, and then tie the end of the line to the hook. The most common type of bobber used for this fishing rig is a round red and white bobber, but you may want to choose a pencil shaped bobber instead, which offers less resistance when a trout takes the bait.
If you’re not sure how to rig a fishing line for trout, take a look at our article on what fishing line should you use for trout?
When to use it: This is a great fishing rig to use in shallow ponds and streams, as well as any situations where trout are feeding close to the surface. It’s very easy to set up and a lot of fun to fish with, which makes it an excellent choice for beginners who want to try trout fishing in a stocked pond.
But keep in mind that the maximum depth you can fish this rig corresponds to the length of your rod, since you can’t cast the fishing rig effectively if you set the bobber higher than that.
How to use it: The best way to use this fishing rig is to cast it out with a baited hook and wait for a trout to bite, which is indicated by the bobber being pulled down underwater.
When you see this, set the hook immediately, so the trout doesn’t have a chance to spit out the hook when it feels resistance on the line. This is the best setup for trout fishing in streams and rivers, where you can use it to drift your bait into the best locations that hold trout.
Slip bobber rig
This is another commonly used trout rig, and should be part of every trout angler’s arsenal of fishing tools.
Using a slip bobber rig (aka sliding float rig) makes the fishing rig more compact and easier to cast with than a fixed bobber rig.
How to tie it: Tie a bobber stop on to your main line, and then thread the line through your bobber and tie the line to the hook. The best hook size depends on your bait, but generally lies somewhere between size 8 and 14.
If you’re unsure about choosing the right hook size for different trout line setups, take a look at our article on the best size hook for trout.
Attach a split shot or two to the line between the bobber and the hook. This stops the bobber from sliding down onto the hook and it also weighs down your bait, helping to present it at the right depth to the trout .
Keep in mind that some baits (like powerbait) float in the water, and you may need to add extra split shots to make the baited hook sink down to the desired depth.
When to use it: The slip bobber rig is the best choice when trout are feeding in midwater, and if you can’t reach them with either a fixed bobber rig or with a bottom fishing rig.
The great thing is that you can fish practically any depth with this fishing rig, as you just need to move the bobber stop up the line to whatever depth you want to set the bobber.
How to use it: Estimate the depth of the water you’ll be fishing in, and set the bobber stop to that depth. Then bait your hook and cast out your fishing rig to the desired spot and wait for a fish to grab the bait.
Bottom fishing rigs
Bottom fishing rigs are often the best choice when trout are found in deeper water, as they tend to feed close to the bottom most of the time. There are several options available to you in this rig category, so now let’s look at the most important ones.
Slip sinker rig
This is the simplest bottom fishing rig around, and is the one most often taught to novice trout anglers. This rig has been in use for more than a century, and continues to perform well in many situations where trout hold close to the bottom.
How to tie it: Thread a 1/8 or 1/4 oz sliding sinker (either a bullet or egg sinker) onto your main line, and then tie the line to a barrel swivel. Attach a leader to the other end of the swivel, and tie your hook to the leader. Choose the type and size of hook depending on the type of bait you want to use.
When to use it: This rig is most commonly used in lakes where trout hold in water deeper than 5 or 10 feet. It’s a great rig to use from shore, since you can cast it relatively far, and cover a lot of water with it.
It’s important to use this fishing rig with floating bait, since you don’t want your baited hook lying on the bottom where trout won’t notice it. You can use it with either powerbait (which is designed to float), or worms injected with air to make them float.
How to use it: This is the most common bait rig used for trout fishing setups, and is usually fished passively. Most anglers cast it out to a promising fishing spot and then wait for a bite. If you do this, make sure to check your rig regularly to see if the bait is still on the hook, and also test different fishing spots.
This rig is very similar to the slip sinker rig, but unlike the slip sinker setup it is often fished actively with artificial lures instead of passively with bait, which is why we list the two options separately.
How to tie it: Start by threading your main line through a 1/8 to 1/4 oz sliding sinker. Next, thread the line through a plastic bead, and then tie it to a swivel or snap swivel. The bead stops the weight from banging into the swivel during retrieval, which protects the knot on the swivel from being damaged while fishing, and this is more important if you want to fish it actively.
When to use it: You can use this option anywhere where trout are feeding close to the bottom. It’s a great option to use when fishing in lakes, reservoirs and ponds, but you can also use it in rivers.
How to use it: While you can also use this fishing rig with a baited hook and fish it passively until a trout comes by and bites, the strength of the Carolina trout fishing rig lies in fishing it actively with a floating lure.
You can use a floating jig head with plastic lures such as trout magnets or power worms. After casting out, let your rig sink to the bottom, and then slowly retrieve it with a jigging movement.
Split shot rig
This is basically a finesse version of the Carolina rig, and instead of a sliding sinker it uses one or more split shots attached to the line. Since trout can be finicky at times (especially when fishing in heavily fished waters), it’s always great to have some finesse techniques up your sleeve.
How to tie it: Tie your main line to a swivel or snap swivel, and then add one or two split shots to the line right above the swivel. Next, tie a 1 to 2 foot long fluorocarbon leader to the swivel, and then tie your hook to the other end of the leader.
Next, thread a soft plastic lure onto the hook, and your trout fishing line setup is good to go.
In most cases you’ll want to use a floating lure on this rig, which will result in presenting your lure right in the strike zone every time the split shots sink to the bottom.
When to use it: This rig is a great option if you notice that the trout are finicky. This is most often the case in heavily fished waters, and especially in clear water it can be advantageous to use a finesse rig that’s harder for the fish to spot. It’s also a great trout fishing set up for small creeks.
How to use it: Cast the rig out and let it sink to the bottom. Then slowly retrieve it with jigging movements of your rod tip. The main disadvantage of the split shot rig is that it can’t be cast as far as the Carolina rig, since it comes with less weight on the line. Because of this, it’s better to use it when fishing in smaller lakes, rivers and streams.
Drop shot rig
This is another great trout fishing rig setup for bottom fishing, and one of it’s key advantages is that it allows you to place your lure in the strike zone and keep it there for a long time. Similar to the two previous rigs, it’s most often used with soft plastic lures.
How to tie it: Start by tying your main line to a 4 or 5 foot fluorocarbon leader with a double uni knot, and then tie the end of your trout leader to a 1/8 to 1/4 drop shot weight.
Next, take a bait hook and place it facing upwards, and form a loop with the leader line about 1 foot above the drop shot weight.
Pass the loop through the eye of the hook from below, and then tie an overhand knot with the loop. Finally, pass the hook through the loop, wet the line, pull tight, and you’re ready to start fishing.
When to use it: While the drop shot rig was originally developed for vertical fishing in deep water from a boat, most bass anglers can tell you that this rig works equally well for fishing from shore, and can even be fished in very shallow water. It’s a great trout fishing setup for beginners fishing in lakes and rivers.
How to use it: Cast the rig out and slowly retrieve it by hopping the weight along the bottom, while jigging the lure up and down. If you figure out where the strike zone is, you can keep the drop shot fishing rig there, and simply wiggle the lure in place without moving the weight. That way you can keep your lure right in front of the fish for a long time, without having to retrieve it and cast again.
While all of the fishing rigs discussed above can be used as trout fishing setups with either natural bait or artificial lures, some options for rigging for trout are only intended to be used with lures. Let’s take a look at the most important rigs of this type that you should know.
The spinner rig is the most commonly used lure fishing rigs for trout. It is most often used with spinners (such as a rooster tail or panther martin), but it can also be used when fishing with any other artificial lure designed for casting and retrieving.
How to tie it: Tie your main line to a swivel or snap swivel, and add one or two split shot weights just above the swivel. Next, tie a 2 to 4 foot fluorocarbon leader to the other eye of the swivel, and then tie your lure to the other end of the leader.
Depending on the size and weight of your lure, adjust the number of split shots to achieve the right depth during retrieval. The swivel prevents line twist of your main line, but if you’re using a lure that doesn’t generate twist, you can also tie the main line directly to the leader.
When to use it: This is one of the most versatile trout set ups, and can be used in almost any setting, from small streams to deep lakes. In most cases you should try to fish this rig in the middle of the water column, but can also go deeper than that if the trout are holding close to the bottom.
How to use it: Simply cast out the fishing rig and start retrieving. Depending on how deep you want to fish it, you can adjust your retrieve speed, and you can also experiment with letting the rig sink to the bottom before you start reeling it in. However, if you’re trout fishing over weed beds, make sure to keep your lure above the weeds.
If you’re interested in fishing with trout spinners, check out our complete guide to trout fishing with spinners.
Trout fishing rig setup with bobber and jig
This is a great rainbow trout rig to use if you’re fishing over weeds, as you can fish it slowly without getting the jig snagged in the weeds.
How to tie it: Depending on the depth of the water, you can use either a fixed bobber or a slip bobber.
So start by setting up one of the two bobber rigs (as described above), and instead of tying a bait hook to the end of the line, tie a 1/16 or 1/8 oz jig head to the line. Next, you can bait the jig head with any of a wide variety of plastic lures, and you’re ready to start fishing.
When to use it: This is a great trout fishing setup for beginners when fishing over weed beds, and when want to keep your lure just above the weeds. You can achieve this by setting exactly the right depth with your bobber.
This trout rig setup is also great for drift fishing in streams and rivers, and again you should adjust the setting of your bobber to present the lure just above the bottom.
How to use it: If you’re trout fishing in a lake, cast out the fishing rig and let the jig sink as far as it can (at which point the bobber stands up straight). Then lift your rod tip to retrieve the fishing rig about 4 to 5 feet, and then pause to let the jig sink down again.
What this trout fishing setup achieves is that your jig will be slowly pulled up and then allowed to sink again. In the case of a plastic worm, this results in the worm wiggling through the water, which is highly attractive to most trout.
See also: How to rig when trolling for trout
The ned rig is most familiar to bass anglers, but few people know that it also works really well for catching trout. The key feature of the ned rig that makes it so effective when fishing for trout is that it is usually fished with a floating plastic tail, which is ideal for catching trout.
How to tie it: This is the simplest fishing rig to tie in this collection. If you’re using fluorocarbon as your main line, you can tie that directly to the mushroom jig head of the ned rig and you’re ready to start fishing. If you’re using braided line as your main line, it’s best to use a 2 to 4 foot fluorocarbon leader, since that’s much less visible in the water.
When to use it: You can use this rig whenever trout are feeding close to the bottom, and it works equally well in lakes, rivers, and streams. The only situation when you shouldn’t use this rig is if you’re fishing in a lake with a lot of vegetation on the bottom, which is likely to get your ned rig snagged.
How to use it: Cast it out and let it sink to the bottom, then retrieve it for 3 or 4 feet with a jigging motion, and let it settle on the the bottom again. Repeat this until you get a bite.
What are the best trout rigs?
The 3 best trout rigs are:
- Slip bobber rig
- Slip sinker rig
- Spinner rig
Between them, these three setups cover all the three main types of rigging for trout, and if you can set each of them up and fish them effectively, you’re off to a great start.
The slip sinker rig is perfect for presenting a bait close to the bottom, which is the best depth to target trout in most situations.
The slip bobber rig, on the other hand, can be used to present a bait suspended underneath a bobber, which is great when fishing for trout that are active higher in the water column.
And the spinner rig is a great basic setup for active trout fishing with lures, which is an ideal way to cover a lot of water in search of hungry trout.
If you’re currently looking for a new trout rod, check out our article on what is the best rod for trout fishing?
What are the best trout bait rigs?
The 3 best trout bait rigs are:
- Slip sinker rig
- Slip bobber rig
- Fixed bobber rig
Each of these fishing rigs is well suited for baiting your hook with natural baits like worms, maggots, minnows, corn, salmon eggs, or scented baits like powerbait.
In addition, all of them can be used for fishing passively, by casting out your fishing rig and then waiting for a trout to pass by and take the bait.
Trout worm rigs
The best rigging for trout to use with worms is either the slip sinker rig, or the slip bobber rig. The former rig is the ideal choice if you know that trout are feeding close to the bottom, and the latter rig is better if trout are feeding higher in the water column.
When using a slip sinker with a worm as bait, it’s important to make sure that your baited hook floats in the water, as trout will not eat it if it’s lying directly on the bottom. Traditionally, this has been done by injecting air into the worm with a worm syringe (which you can get in most tackle shops).
More recently, many anglers are fishing with floating jig heads baited with worms to make their bait presentation float in the water, and another great trick is to put a small marshmallow on the tip of your hook, which also makes it buoyant.
Finally, no matter which trout worm rig you use, it’s usually best not to use a whole nightcrawler on your hook, as this is too big to fit into the mouth of a trout. Instead, cut off a 1 or 2 inch piece of the worm, and thread it onto the hook.
The best hook type to use for this rig is a baitkeeper hook, which prevents the worm from sliding down the shank of the hook.
The best trout rig to use with minnows is either the slip bobber rig, or the fixed bobber rig. Your hook size should be between size 8 and 12 (depending on the size of the minnow). The best way to hook a minnow for trout is through the upper lip.
Small fish form a large part of the diet of many trout species, which is why they can be such a good bait.
Bobber rigs are great for fishing with live minnows, since you can easily spot a trout bite when the bobber goes down, and this allows you to delay your hook set long enough to give the trout a little extra time to get the minnow fully inside its mouth.
Which one of the two bobber fishing rigs you choose depends on the depth of the water you want to fish in, and on the depth at which trout are active.
When fishing with live minnows as trout bait, it’s important to weigh them down with split shots, so they stay at the right depth.
Salmon egg rig
The best trout rig setup to use with salmon eggs is one of the following:
- Slip bobber rig
- Fixed bobber rig
- Drop shot rig
Your hook size should be between size 8 and 14, and if you use a larger hook, you can thread several salmon eggs onto your trout hook. No matter which fishing rig you choose, you need to cast very gently in order to avoid ripping the eggs off the hook during the casting process.
If you’re trout fishing in a lake or pond, the best choice is a bobber rig, as that allows you to present the salmon eggs suspended in the water. But if you’re trout fishing in a stream or river, you can use a bobber rig to drift the salmon eggs with the current.
Alternatively, you can also use a split shot rig to drift the salmon eggs right on top of the bottom of the stream. The latter approach is better for getting it right in front of the trout, but it’s harder to detect bites with this style of fishing.
Egg rigs also work very well for steelhead fishing, and it that’s something you’re into, check out our article on how do you rig for steelhead bank fishing?
This concludes our article on rigging for trout, and hopefully we’ve helped you find exactly the right rig for your fishing technique.
Different trout rigs are ideally suited for different trout fishing tactics – bait fishing, lure fishing, trout fishing from shore, trout fishing from a boat, as well as fishing in diverse bodies of water, ranging from small streams to big lakes.
Now that you understand the basics of what each of these fishing rigs is designed for, this should help you to choose the best trout setups to help you to catch more fish in your local trout fishery.