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Field Skills: Do-It-Yourself Trout Bait

Save cash by concocting trout jar baits in your own kitchen.

Field Skills: Do-It-Yourself Trout Bait
Part of the fun of DIY jar baits is trying different color and scent combinations. Label your concoctions for future reference. (Photo by Gary Lewis)

The first step is admitting you have a problem. Say it with me: I am addicted to jar baits and I spend far too much money on them.

There, doesn’t that feel better? Like most addictions, an unchecked obsession with jar baits can put a hurt on the wallet. Unlike other addictions, there’s a way to get your fix without having the shell out beaucoup bucks: Do like me and roll your own. What started as a fun project with my favorite fishing partners (my grandchildren) has turned into more hookups and faster limits for all my friends.

marshmallows
Depending on the size of the trout you’ll be targeting, you might want to cut marshmallows in half before adding scent and color. (Photo by Gary Lewis)

TAILOR-MADE

We began our DIY bait journey with the guiding principle that we wanted to tailor our baits to the water conditions and use color as an attractant as well as scent. And when the fish want extra garlic, as our local trout do in the winter, well, we’re going to give them extra garlic. We came up with five recipes, color-coded for year-round fishing.

Blue is a good color for summer fish and anise is a good summertime scent. Purple is a solid choice for early autumn and pairs well with fish oil and anise. Orange fishes great in late October and into November, while garlic and krill make a killer scent combo for the colder water that time of year. Red is for winter, and we selected a winter steelhead combo from Pro-Cure for the attractant. Finally, green, with a blend of trout scent and garlic, gets us through late winter and into early spring.

GETTING STARTED

The ingredients are surprisingly simple and inexpensive. A bag of mini marshmallows costs $2. A four-bottle pack of food coloring is $5, and a bottle of bait scent is going to run another $5. Want to save a little money? Raid the spice rack for garlic powder and anise. Other attractants that you may already have on hand include salmon eggs, fish oil and gourmet cheddar cheese powder. The only other materials you’ll need are zip-top bags, a permanent marker and jars with lids.

STEP BY STEP

In this example, we will try to achieve a purple coloration, using a blend of fish oil and anise scent that should trigger trout in clear water.

  1. Start with a clean, empty, sandwich-size zip-top bag and a bag of miniature marshmallows. Depending on the water you plan to fish and the size of the quarry, you might want to cut some or all of the marshmallows in half.
  2. Fill the sandwich bag two-thirds full of marshmallows, then add six or seven drops of food coloring. In this case we pre-mixed blue and red for a nice purple hue. Now shake it. Add more food coloring as necessary to achieve the proper tint.
  3. Next, add three squirts of fish oil (we used trout oil). Give the bag a good, hard shake so the oil has a chance to touch all the marshmallows.
  4. Add two to four squirts of anise oil and again shake the bag hard.
  5. Give it a sniff test and add more fish oil or anise as suits your olfactory sensibilities.
  6. Empty the finished product into jars and screw the lids down tight. Put a piece of masking tape or a label on the lid and record the contents, then write down the recipe so you can replicate or improve upon it later.

PRESENTATION

Floating baits are meant to be fished off the bottom. Use a sliding sinker on the main line with a barrel swivel. The leader might be anywhere from 15 inches to 3 feet long, depending on the weed growth and where the fish are feeding.

My preference is a 3-pound test leader terminated at a single No. 10 egg or bait-holder hook. In addition to the floating bait, I like to add a small piece of nightcrawler. Push the marshmallow up to the top of the hook shaft, then add the bit of worm. The ’crawler contributes additional attractant that trout have a hard time turning away from. The marshmallow floats the offering while bringing additional scent triggers like anise, garlic and fish oil.

Cast the bait and let the weight take it to the bottom. Close the bail and reel up a little slack, then set the rod against a limb or a forked stick and don’t touch it again until a fish is on the line. You’re now well on your way to an easy—and inexpensive—limit of trout.




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