Many fly-fishermen are purists. I’m not. I’ll admit there aren’t many things more enjoyable, relaxing or rewarding than gracefully working a tuft of feathers on the business end of fly line and dropping it exactly where you want to put it. Excitement and anticipation build as a big trout rises up from the depths to cautiously eyeball your offering before engulfing it in a splashy rise.
But if I have my mind set on securing the main ingredients of a trout dinner and live bait is the best way to do it, then you’ll probably find a worm on the end of my hook. I will admit it. I’m addicted to having a big bend in my fishing rod, regardless of what I’m using on the other end.
Using natural bait for trout has a number of advantages over hardware or flies. It looks, smells and acts like the real thing because it is, and no spinner or fly can duplicate that. You simply can’t get anything more natural.
More trout have met their demise via a nightcrawler on a hook than any other offering. It makes sense. Nightcrawlers are readily available at just about every convenience store and tackle shop, and trout love them. A nightcrawler to a trout is like putting a thick, juicy steak in front of a human. It’s more than we can resist.
Sometimes, though, a whole nightcrawler is a little much for trout. Most times I find myself pinching off about a third of a crawler and using that instead of a whole crawler. A piece seems more manageable for the 8- to 15-inch trout that I normally catch and eat. Worms work too, although many anglers don’t use them. They’re a little more difficult to keep on a hook and it doesn’t look like you’re getting as much for your money when you buy them, but the traditional garden hackle wiggling on a thin, wire hook is deadly for trout.
Fishing with nightcrawlers or worms can be a little messy. The dirt or bedding that they come in gets all over everything and it will take a week to get the dirt out from under your fingers after a day or two of fishing. Before I start, I dump out the crawlers and dirt/bedding and place the worms in a small bucket. Swish the worms or crawlers around in some cold water so the dirt separates from the worms. Put the bait in another container with a few ice cubes if it’s going to be warm. Preparing them that way keeps your hands cleaner, pumps up the crawlers or worms so they’re lively and juicy, and makes them easier to handle.
Single salmon eggs are used for trout in various parts of the country, but rarely do anglers tie eggs or spawn into sacs or bags for resident trout. They should. Micro, two- to- four-egg spawn bags are deadly on trout and are much easier to keep on the hook than single eggs.
Eggs or spawn is readily available to resident trout at various times of the year. Rainbow trout spawn in the spring and trout get keyed in to searching for drifting eggs when the ‘bows are spawning. Brook and brown trout are fall spawners so trout will find delectable eggs drifting in the autumn. Micro spawn bags can catch some surprisingly big trout at those times.
It’s a fact that once trout reach trophy proportions they become meat eaters. They’re looking for something substantial to fill their gullet, not a tiny insect in most cases. Minnows rate very high on the menu of larger trout, but how many anglers do you know who use them for bait? Not many, but the ones that do are serious about catching big trout. Minnows can be used live to entice trout or preserved to be used at a later date. The sight of a hapless minnow tumbling in the current triggers the predatory instinct in a trout. Savvy anglers use a log needle to thread the line through and out the vent of the minnow before tying on a small treble hook. It’s a deadly rig.
Another big-trout bait that few anglers use is a crawfish. Trout love crawfish, especially big trout. Last season I caught a fat rainbow whose stomach had an obvious bulge. Upon cleaning the trout I found 10 medium-sized crawfish in its stomach. Trout will key in on crawfish above everything else when the mudbugs are available during the molting stage. The crawfish come out from their hides to shed their skin at certain times of the year. When they do, they’re easy prey and they’re soft, and so hungry fish can easily gulp them down.
Two baits that trout relish and are readily available, but few anglers use, are grasshoppers and crickets. Hoppers and crickets can be especially good during the summer and early fall when they are abundant. Using them for trout then is like matching the hatch. Whereas a big nightcrawler would look totally out of place during the clear, low flows of summer, a struggling, hapless grasshopper or cricket looks perfectly natural.