I’ve got a few tattoos, one of which is a big hook-jaw brown on my leg. It’s fair to say that trout are my favorite freshwater species, and I’ve been fishing for them since I was a wee tiny tyke standing on the shores of Rosedale Lake near my childhood home in New Jersey. Since then I’ve chased every kind of trout in every kind of water, from opening-day stockers in Pennsylvania, to wild Rocky Mountain cutthroats, to behemoth browns in the Ozarks and beyond. I love them all, and over the years, I’ve come to rely on a variety of lures that get the line tight, time and time again.
I’ve also met trout addicts from all walks of life, all over the country, and I’ve absorbed the wisdom tied to their favorite lures, even if they didn’t become “go-to” baits on my home waters. The following is a list of 20 that I—and a whole lot of other trout nuts—believe should always be in your arsenal and will have you covered for trout in deep lakes, to monster rivers, to the smallest mountain tributary.
When it comes to in-line spinners for trout, many anglers are loyal to a particular brand (most of which made my list). Me? I’m a Panther Martin guy. The company might produce all sorts of new-age color patterns and finishes, but in my stream box, you’ll only find their classic teardrop body in sizes 1 and 2. In dirty water, the black body with yellow dots and a gold blade gets tied on first; in clear water, give me the yellow body with red dots and a silver blade. The weight distribution of a Panther lets even the tiny ones fly far, and in my opinion, the distinct thump produced by the blade riding directly on the post—not on a clasp—catches more trout.
2. Worden’s Original Rooster Tail
A Rooster Tail’s willow-style blade has a wide rotation, creating the illusion of a larger profile baitfish when it’s spinning at full steam. There are literally hundreds of color patterns to choose from, but where I grew up in the Northeast, plain white with a silver blade was always a ringer. If you didn’t grab some weeks before the annual trout season opener, good luck finding them the night before.
I’ll confess—I’ve never fished a C.P. Swing. However, I know these classics still have a cult following in many trout circles. They’ve been around for decades, and unlike some competitor offerings, you won’t find 200 color choices. Silver, brass, or copper are your only picks. Truth is, you probably don’t need any other colors to fool trout, and these simple spinners with a body of stacked metal beads and zero tail dressing have been fooling trout since your grandpappy was knee-high to a grasshopper.
Although originally designed in France, the Mepps Aglia has become an American icon, and the company is now based in Wisconsin. Models with no tail dressing are extremely potent trout catchers, but many fishermen favor those featuring Mepp’s signature squirrel tail dressing. Fun fact: Mepps still actively buys tails from hunters, and even has a video on its website explaining the best way to pack and ship them. You can opt to receive a check for your tails, or double the check amount in store credit so you can stock up on more spinners.
The Vibrax has been a staple for West Coast trout and salmon anglers for many, many years. That’s not to say that they don’t live in the boxes of trout hunters elsewhere, but their loyalists are largely left coasters. Even in smaller sizes, Vibrax spinners are heavy, so you can whip them farther than a lot of other brands. They also feature wide, cupped blades that thump louder than the rest—hence the name. They may not become your go-to on small streams, but in big rivers and lakes that hold heavy trout, a weighty Vibrax can be a serious meal ticket.
Fly purists cringe at these lures. That’s ironic because they were originally designed to be cast on a fly rod or a spinning rod. Joe’s Flies take classic wet-fly patterns like the Royal Coachman, March Brown, and Muddler Minnow to name a few, and rig them on a post with a big ol’ spinner blade at the other end. Love them or loathe them, this fly-spinner combo puts the hurt on trout. They might not cast a mile on spinning gear, but they land softly, have a strong thump, and are particularly effective when swept or swung across the current.
Trout Magnets are funny. When you buy a pack or kit of these micro mealworm imitators, you almost don’t believe they’ll work. It doesn’t look like they’d have much action, and they don’t have any scent. Yet when you rig one on the tiny, slanted, shad dart-like jighead that comes with them, it becomes a trout-catching machine. The secret is to not overwork a Magnet; just let the current deflect off that unique jighead, and it’ll dance. If you’ve got a skilled hand, you can fish one solo on light line, though they won’t cast very far. Fishing a Trout Magnet under a small float is more effective. There’s no doubt these lures are most associated with chasing stocked trout, but I promise wild browns and rainbows will gulp them, too, especially those donning natural colors.
If you’re looking for a specific brand of marabou trout jig to pick up, try Zig Jig. But the truth is that this entry is about a category of lures more than a specific brand or model. Marabou jigs are potent for trout anywhere, yet their popularity is largely rooted in states like Arkansas and Missouri, where fishing them teeters on being an art form. There are also lots of small-time regional jig makers in those parts with devout followers. A seasoned jig fisherman on the White or Little Red River knows how to make the morsel work in place without moving it forward too quickly. The trick is jigging with almost a completely slack line while reeling very slowly. It sounds easier than it is, trust me. It takes practice, but once you get it, you’ll be shocked by how often a small marabou jig finds its way into the mouth of a really big trout.
9. Mister Twister Curly-tail Grub
There’s a strong possibility you’ve been chucking Mister Twisters or something similar on jigheads at smallmouths for a long time. Have you ever taken them to a trout stream? If you haven’t, you should. A grub might not be a “numbers” lure on any given day, but when a trout gets pinned on one, it’s often a hefty player. If you think about it, big browns eat the same forage as smallmouths, and a grub’s versatility holds the same merit in trout water. In black, it’s a hellgrammite. In brown, it’s a crawfish. Swimming along in white, it’s a baitfish. One of the biggest trout I ever caught growing up in New Jersey smashed a root beer grub on the first cast in a deep hole I’d spent an hour bombing with spinners and jerkbaits without a touch.
10. Rapala Original Floater
In truth, this lure ends up on just about every “best-of” lure list that’s ever written about any freshwater species. As it should, because it catches them all, including trout of all sizes. Different styles of jerkbaits and more modern offerings have a place in the trout game (read on), but you can’t take away from the potency of a simple black-over-silver floater. In small sizes, it pounds “pan-sized” trout. Beef up to a number seven or eight, and the heaviest brown in the run just might move to take a shot. These lures aren’t overly flashy and they don’t even rattle, but the buoyancy and roll of their balsa wood bodies gives them a wobble and hover ability that’s been crushing fish for well over 50 years.
11. Smithwick Rattlin’ Rogue
Similarly to marabou jigs, Rogues are staples in the arsenals of trout anglers in the Ozarks region. Unlike the jigs that will catch trout of all sizes, however, the Rogues tend to come out only when hunting “the one.” The available colors are vast, and Smithwick offers a plethora of styles that dive to different depths, sink, float, and suspend. Working a Rogue all day the right way—hard and fast—will give the arms, wrists, and shoulders a workout, but the unique darting action and sound of these hard baits often turns pain into glory.
The X-Rap Slashbait is considered by many to be the modern equivalent of Rapala’s Original Floater. The massive color palette features new-school tweaks like holographic cores and 3D eyes, but it’s the lure’s action that really makes these baits shine. No doubt, the Slashbait is my go-to hard bait for trout in larger streams and rivers, as its ability to dive fast, change direction, jackknife, and hover on the pause has caught me more browns and rainbows than I could ever count. I’m partial to the 3 1/8-inch model, as it seems to appeal to fish of all sizes, but you can scale up or down in length and still count on the same aggressive swimming and darting action to score from the river to the lake.
Often referred to as a “broke-back” Rebel, this little minnow plug packs a serious wallop on trout. Don’t worry, Rebel loyalists, I realize the unbroken Rebel Minnow is a killer, too, but there’s just something about the jointed version that makes it deadly in small streams. Unlike other hard baits that need to be worked aggressively to catch trout, a jointed Rebel Minnow shines on a straight retrieve, and it doesn’t take much to get that tail section kicking. In clear water especially, I’ve watched a slow-crawled jointed Rebel running just under the surface, waking ever so slightly, get positively pulverized countless times. I tend to tie these on whenever a finesse presentation is necessary and I want the lure to remain in play on the pause, which doesn’t really work with an in-line spinner.
A 2 inch long Pins Minnow might be my all-time favorite pocket water hard bait. It’s tiny, for sure, but the internal weight-transfer system helps this little guy fly straight and accurately—a major benefit when trying to hit small target zones. It’s just as effective on a steady retrieve as it is when aggressively whipping the rod tip. The finishes on these lures are extremely flashy, and they land with the slightest splash. It’s hard to go wrong with silver-and-black, though I’ve whacked some chunky trout on the rainbow pattern.
In my opinion, the Rebel Hellgrammite is one of those lures that if you know about it, you know about it. It’s been around for a long time, yet it’s not exactly a staple in many boxes, let alone the first hard bait anglers who do carry them will tie on. But sometimes—often during low-water periods—this little wobbling bug kicks butt when nothing else will. On those days when the water is clear, and I know I need to keep my distance from a pocket-water hole, I can send a Hellgrammite far on 4-pound-test. It makes very little commotion when it lands, and a couple of cranks will make it dig fast. Get this lure ticking along the bottom and sometimes even the most lock-jawed browns are suddenly starving.
The Phoebe is so cute, isn’t it? This shiny little fish with anatomically correct fins and tail almost looks like a gimmick lure. It’s not. The Phoebe has been around for decades, and there’s a strong chance that when you swing one across a fast-water run, a big trout will think it’s so cute it just has to kill it. I don’t use Phoebes often, but I love them in gold when the water is high and off-color. These little spoon hybrids give off heaps of flash, and something about their unique twisting wobble is irresistible to stocked and wild trout alike.
You’re more likely to find a Kastmaster in the tackle bag of a guy chasing bluefish and striped bass in the salt than the one being toted by the average trout guy. Available in a wide range of sizes, Kastmasters fly for miles and sink like stones. That sink rate isn’t usually what you need on a stream, but those who target still-water trout can benefit from that fast drop. In smaller sizes, Kastmasters let you cover lots of water on foot, and because of their weight, they can help you hit drop-offs and ledges in lakes and ponds that lighter lures can’t reach. From a boat, these sleek hunks of metal can be lethal when jigged vertically.
Though somewhat of a sleeper in the overall scheme of the trout game, the Buoyant Spoon has its share of fans. I happen to be one of them. The unique design—which features a cut-away taper that mimics fish fins—gives these lures a very erratic wobble. You can also get them to dart from one side to the other using a more aggressive retrieve. I may not tie one on often, but in lakes and larger rivers that are off-color, I’ve had a lot of success firing a Buoyant to a deep hole or drop-off, letting it flutter down, and popping the rod tip hard to get it to jump back up into the column. Keep a tight line, because it’s often during the fall that these metals get smoked.
19. Keitech FAT Swing Impact
This ribbed swimbait has been making massive waves in the bass world for a few years now. It was designed in Japan, and while it’s widely known that smallmouths and largemouths clobber these soft-plastics, trust me, monster trout smash them too. Paired with a jighead and retrieved steadily, the FAT Swing Impact pitches and rolls while its tail thumps away. I know what you’re thinking; lots of lures do that, but there’s something about this one that seems to make it get plowed faster than similar baits. I’ve been using the 3.3-inch model for a few seasons now, and more than a couple good trout have swung on my Swing Impact.
20. Berkley PowerBait Power Floating Trout Worm
Stocked trout and PowerBait go hand in hand, but many of the offerings in the PowerBait line-up are just that—bait. This worm qualifies as a lure, and a potent one to boot. Because of its ability to float, there are several presentation options that score. Rig one on a drop-shot and bounce it through a hole. Another popular delivery method is pinning the worm in through the middle with a small jighead. This essentially qualifies as whacky rigging, which allows the worm to flutter on the drop when jigged, but also keeps it in play when it’s just lying on the bottom.