The Best Rainbow Trout Bait

April 21, 2020

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Rainbow trout are one of the most sought after and common freshwater game fish in North America. Their resilience to many types of water conditions and energetic feeding make them a great option for young fisherman and old. But what types of bait and lures work best for rainbow trout?

Since they are one of the most common types of fish to fish for, we thought it made sense to do a dedicated guide on the best types of bait for rainbow trout.

Best Rainbow Trout Bait


What are Rainbow Trout?

Rainbow Trout are the most common freshwater trout in North America. They can be identified by looking for a pink stripe on their sides, accompanied by many brown and black dots. Rainbow trout often grow to 4 or 6 lbs and live in both rivers and lakes. They prefer clear, cold water and enjoy eating various insects and small aquatic life. 

Because of their resilience, rainbow trout are one of the highest volume stocked fish. Many state wildlife organizations breed and stock rainbow trout to help fill their lakes and rivers with more fish for people to catch. Curious where your state stocks rainbow trout? Many states have an online directory (like this one provided by Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife) you can check. 

Where to Catch Rainbow Trout

Before we dive into the best bait for rainbow trout, we thought it makes to give a quick overview on where to find rainbow trout. We have a much more detailed article on how to fish for all types of trout, but here’s a quick summary.

  • Rainbow trout can be found in both lakes and rivers.
  • Depending on the time of year, trout enjoy feeding and living in both shallow and deep water.
  • In the spring and fall months, look for trout in shallower water near underwater structure. In the summer and winter, trout enjoy deeper water where it remains closer to the temperature they like (cooler in the summer, warmer in the winter).

What’s the Best Rainbow Trout Bait?

Alright, so what’s the best type of bait to use for rainbow trout? As with many things, the answer is that it depends. The time of year you’re fishing, if it’s in a lake or river, even the time of day can make a big difference. We’ll cover the best types of baits for all situations.


Rainbow Trout Bait for Rivers

There are several types of bait that work especially well in rivers and streams. The first thing you need to check is how fast the water is moving. For slow-moving water, using a bobber and hook with Powerbait (use the trout flavor) or a nightcrawler can be especially effective. Secure your bait to the hook and tie a bobber 2 to 3 feet higher up on the line. Cast the bait upstream of where you think the rainbow trout are, then let it slowly flow overtop them down the river. For trout in deeper water, you can ditch the bobber for a split-shot weight (the same distance up the line). This will sink your bait down to where the trout are hiding and will let the river slowly pull your bait downstream. Just be aware of any underwater structure your bait could catch on.

For fast-moving rivers and streams, you’ll need to switch to a cast and retrieval style bait. These include spinners, spoons, and other types of baits meant to imitate what rainbow trout eat (often smaller fish and insects). For spinning bait, we really like Vibrax Blue Fox lures. We’ve also had a ton of success with small to medium-sized spoons in either green or chartreuse colors. 

It’s also worth mentioning that after you tie your bait/hook onto your line, try covering it with a masking scented oil. These can be anise smelling or baitfish flavored. This helps convince the fish that your bait is natural and hides any weird smells you have given it while touching the lure. Fish have a surprisingly strong sense of smell!

Rainbow Trout Bait for Lakes

When fishing for rainbow trout in lakes and ponds, many of the same types of bait that worked well in rivers and streams will also work well. There are several additional factors, however, you’ll need to consider. 

If you’re fishing from shore, feel free to use the same techniques listed above. If you have a boat, there are a few additional options you can try. Trolling for rainbow trout can be effective if the lake you’re fishing is large and you have a lot of ground to cover. Troll at a slow speed (2 to 3 mph) and use an 8 to 12 foot rated diver to get your bait below the surface.

Your lure should be 4 to 6 feet behind your diver so it doesn’t scare fish attracted to the bait. You can use the same style of spinners and spoons you used when fishing in rivers/streams. This technique also works great for Bluegill.

Another option for fishing for rainbow trout from a boat is to jig. Once you’ve found a deeper part of the lake you think rainbow trout might like, try using a small Buzz Bomb or candlefish 30 to 40 ft deep. Pull your rod up in 4 to 5 foot strokes to give the bait a smooth jigging action.


Rainbow Trout Bait Depending on Season

 While the above baits and techniques can work year-round, your general strategy on fishing for rainbow trout should change depending on what season it is.

The best time of year to fish for rainbow trout depends on the elevation/ambient temperature of the body of water they live in. On average, the best time to fish for rainbow trout is in the transition months of April and May and September and October. These months the water is colder and the trout are more active. Try using more active fishing techniques and bait such as spinning lures and spoons.

In the summer and winter, rainbow trout are more sedentary and tend to hang out in the deeper parts of the body of water they live in. As mentioned before, this is because the deeper parts have the water temperatures that they like.

Since they’re not as active in these months, it makes more sense to get close where they’re hiding then use passive bait. Powerbait, worms and small fish all work great for the types of fishing. Try to avoid fishing in the middle of the day, and focus on fishing early in the morning and later in the evening. This is when the water temperature is most ideal for rainbows, and they’ll be more likely to bite.

Final Thoughts

Fishing for rainbow trout can be a ton of fun. They’ll go after many types of bait and put up a great fight when hooked. We hope that you now know the general strategies around the best rainbow trout bait depending on the fishing conditions you’re in.

If you’re still figuring out your trout fishing setup, be sure to check out our guide on the best trout fishing rods and fishing reels. Catch a monster rainbow trout using our advice? Share your story with us in the comments below. Be sure to check out our article on how delicious rainbow trout are!

Happy Hunting!

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