The Best Trout Fishing Lures

If you walk into a tackle shop you will be bombarded with what looks like a billion different lures in many different colors.  How do you know which ones will catch fish, not just fishermen?

This article covers the best 10 lures I’ve used when fishing for trout.  These lures can be used from boat or shore, and will catch fish year round.

Of course even the best lures aren’t going to product fish if you are fishing the wrong places.  My guide on understanding stillwater trout will help you figure out where and what depth you should fish.

10. Hot Shot

Our countdown starts with the Hot Shot.  This is a classic lure from Luhr Jensen.  In the Pacific Northwest it is well known as a steelhead lure, where the art of “Hot Shotting” has inspired fishing rods designed specifically for this technique.

Since steelhead are simply an ocean going rainbow trout it isn’t surprising that Hot Shots work well for freshwater trout.  The fast wiggle, combined with some diving action, make fish just want to bite it.

Trout Hot Shots

Trout Hot Shots

My favorite colors of Hot Shots are:

If you desire a scent trail, then add a scent to the body of the lure.  Avoid attaching bait to the hook, as it will reduce that fish catching wiggle.

From the bank of rivers Hot Shots are best fished by:

  • Cast straight out across the river – ideally above a pool or other fish holding area
  • Reel in just fast enough to “feel the beat” of the lure wiggling
  • As the lure drifts downstream and starts to swing across the river, slow down the retrieve
  • Once the lure is directly downstream, finish the retrieve and try again
  • Strikes will usually be arm jerking hits

From a boat in rivers:

  • Position the boat about 40 to 50 feet upstream of where you want to fish
  • Let out about 40 feet of line with the Hot Shot at the end
  • Put the rod in the rod holder
  • Slowly move the boat downstream, at about half the speed of the current
  • Allow the fish to completely take the lure, before grabbing the rod

In lakes Hot Shots are best trolled.

  • Let out 75-150 feet of line
  • Slowly drive the boat around fish holding areas, usually 1.0-1.5MPH
  • Split shot can be added about 4 feet above the lure, to get the lure deeper

9. Apex

The Apex lure is a simple piece of bend plastic from Hot Spot.  But this simple bend plastic produces a fish killing wiggle.

Trout Apex Lures

Trout Apex Lures

It comes in a variety of sizes and colors.  For trout stick with the 1 inch or 1.5 inch sizes.  My favorite colors are:

Like Hot Shots it is better to add scent to the lure instead of bait, as the movement of the lure is what makes it effective.

These lures don’t weigh much, so they aren’t suitable for casting, but do make great trolling lures:

  • Let out 75-150 feet of line
  • Slowly drive the boat around fish holding areas, usually 1.0-1.5MPH
  • Split shot can be added about 4 feet above the lure, to get the lure deeper

8. Rapala

Rapala lures are a classic for bass fishermen, and come in a wide range of sizes, colors and styles.

Trout Rapala Lures

Trout Rapala Lures

To keep things simple I usually stick with the original floating Rapala line, but the other styles work great too.  Stick with the smaller sizes – like size 3 and 5, but go bigger if that matches the bait fish where you are fishing.  Ideal colors to use include:

These lures can either be casted or trolled, and used in lakes or rivers.  Scent can be added to the body if you desire some added attractant.

When casting:

  • Cast the lure a bit past where you think the fish are
  • Retrieve with enough speed to feel the lure wiggle
  • Remember if you stop reeling, then lure will float back up to the surface

When trolling use the classic formula of:

  • Let out 75-150 feet of line
  • Slowly drive the boat around fish holding areas, usually 1.0-1.5MPH
  • Split shot can be added about 4 feet above the lure, to get the lure deeper

To get the maximum fish catching wiggle out of the lure attach it to the line with a loop knot, like the non-slip mono knot.

7. Spoon

Spoons are great lures which have a nice wobble back and forth.  The movement is similar to a fish swimming – which make them great when small bait fish are being targeted.

For trout I like using the lighter trolling spoons, rather than the heavier casting spoons.  Dick Nite spoons are great for your average trout, while the larger needlefish spoons are good for targeting larger trout.

Trout Spoons - Needlefish on the left and Dick Nite on the right

Trout Spoons – Needlefish on the left and Dick Nite on the right

My favorite colors for Dick Nites are:

My favorite needlefish colors are:

If the water is cold I use the bright colors.  Once the water warms up I mostly stick with the silver colors.

Generally speaking bait shouldn’t be added to the hook, as it will deaden the movement.  Instead add a scent to the spoon if you desire added attractant.

I troll them similar to other lures –

  • Let out 75-150 feet of line
  • Slowly drive the boat around fish holding areas, usually 1.0-1.5MPH
  • Split shot can be added about 4 feet above the lure, to get the lure deeper

6. Wedding Ring

Be careful talking about this lure around your girlfriend.  The Wedding Ring lure is the classic beaded spinner from Mack’s Lure.  It gets its name from the rondelle bead, which looks like a small version of a real wedding ring.  The rondelle is centered between 2 bead stacks.

Wedding ring with large colorado blade

Wedding ring with large colorado blade

Between the various sizes and colors of beads and spinner blades, the variations of the wedding ring are almost endless.   This is also one commercial lure that is pretty easy to make yourself.  Here are some simple steps to tie a custom wedding ring lure.

Regardless if you use a store bought one, or one you’ve made yourself, my general rules for color are:

  • If fishing cold water use florescent colors (mainly red or chartreuse) on both body and blade.  Use a larger blade since you’ll be trolling slower.
  • If the water is warm and fishing water with bait fish, then use metallic colors but with not much flash.  Smaller copper or brass blades are usually best.
  • If imitating a worm or leech, then the non florescent reds & greens work well – usually with a smaller brass blade.

Wedding rings are great with bait.  You can put almost any bait on the hook behind the lure.  Nightcrawlers are my favorite bait, and I rig it so the worm is stretched out long between a couple of hooks.  I’ve also added maggots and even herring & anchovies.

One nice thing about wedding ring lures is that they are very tolerant of different speeds.  As long as you are going fast enough for the spinner blade to spin, then it is working fine.

Since the wedding ring doesn’t weigh much, it is a lure best trolled rather than casted.  Follow the general trolling guidelines:

  • Let out 75-150 feet of line
  • Slowly drive the boat around fish holding areas, usually 1.0-1.5MPH
  • Split shot can be added about 4 feet above the lure, to get the lure deeper

5. Kastmaster

Growing up I remember standing on the bank of mountain lakes in Colorado fishing.  My dad would stand nearby throwing his favorite lure – a gold kastmaster.  I’d like to say that I held my own doing things my way, but the truth is my dad and his kastmaster formed a fish catching machine.

Trout Kastmasters

Trout Kastmasters – My Dad’s favorite lure

When it comes to using the kastmaster today I like sticking with the basics – the solid silver and solid gold colors.

As the name indicates this lure is designed to for cast and retrieve, rather than trolling.  It’s heavy weight makes it easy to cast long distances, and sink to the depths the fish are at.

It requires a decently fast retrieve to get the right wobble, which is good because you also need a fast retrieve to keep it from getting too deep.  Because of this kastmasters are best in summer months when the water temperature makes the fish very active and deep.

From boat or bank what I like to do is:

  • Cast out towards my left
  • Count down to the desired depth
  • Perform a fast retrieve
  • On my next cast I’ll aim a bit further to the right.  I keep doing that so the casts form a fan pattern.
  • If I’m not getting fish, then I’ll move to a different spot and repeat the process

A critical component is remembering the count down where you were getting bites, so you can repeat that depth consistently.

4. Flatfish

Flatfish are a classic lure that has accounted for an untold number of fish.  I’ve not only caught trout on them, but perch, bass and even salmon.  There is something about that wiggle that drives fish crazy.

Trout Flatfish Lures

Trout Flatfish Lures

If you look in my tackle box you’ll see flat fish in all sorts of colors and sizes.  Generally speaking my lure selection is:

  • If the water is less than 50 degrees then I’ll use the larger F5 size in bright colors
  • If the water is in the 50s then I’ll use the small F3 size in duller colors like frog
  • When the water is over 60 degrees I go with the F4 in silver and perch colors

I often replace the treble hook with a single hook, to aid in catch and release.  I think it also holds the fish better.  If you like the treble hooks, then there are some modifications you can make to ensure a better hookup.

Flatfish don’t have much weight so they work best when trolled.  Follow the standard formula:

  • Let out 75-150 feet of line
  • Slowly drive the boat around fish holding areas, usually 1.2-1.4MPH
  • The lure dives a few feet when used, but split shot can be added about 4 feet above the lure, to get the lure deeper if needed

One thing to keep in mind with flatfish is they tend to have a pretty narrow speed window where they work well.  It should have a fast side to side wiggle.  If it isn’t wiggling then you are likely going too slow.  If it spins – even occasionally – then you are going too fast.

Adding bait to the hook usually interferes with that wiggle action, so smearing on sent is usually a better choice.

3. Spinner

I love spinners, and so do trout.  I couldn’t decide on which brand of spinner is my favorite so I’m cheating a bit and combining them all into my #3 pick.

Spinners are great because they can be fished at a variety of speeds.  Panther Martin spinners work well at slower speeds, while Rooster Tails work well fast.  Mepps fall in the middle.

Trout Spinners - Panther Martin in the upper left, and 2 Rooster Tails

Trout Spinners – Panther Martin in the upper left, and 2 Rooster Tails

I follow the same basic color rules as with other lures – bright UV colors when the water is cold.  Duller colors when the water is warm and fish are near the surface.  Then start bringing back the color and UV as the fish get deeper.

Spinners can be casted or trolled, although I mostly prefer them for casting – and use wedding rings for trolling.

When I cast spinners I usually avoid adding extra weight, and instead use a heavier spinner if needed.

I fish them similar to kastmasters.  Work my casts in a fan pattern to cover alot of water, and then move to a different spot once I’ve covered an area.  By counting down the sink time you can achieve consistent results for depth.

2. Slow Death

Not many people have heard of this lure, because it isn’t really a lure at all.  Slow Death is a special hook which has a bend in it.  You thread on a worm, and then as it is pulled through the water the shape of the hook causes the worm to spin.

I think of it as the worm version of a cut plug herring.

Trout Slow Death Hooks

Trout Slow Death Hooks

The name comes from two aspects –

  • Slow – meaning it works best moving slowly through the water
  • Death – meaning fish that get hooked really well

Assuming you get the presentation right this setup can be absolutely deadly.  It is so deadly in fact that I rarely use it anymore, since it doesn’t allow for ethical (or legal) catch and release.  Often I find when using this that fish are deeply hooked, and often bleeding when you remove the hook.  This would result in a very high mortality rate if the fish were to be released.  In addition here in Washington state if you use bait, fish caught on bait count against your limit even if released.

As you might have guessed Slow Death requires nightcrawlers to work.  In a pinch you can use artificial nightcrawlers (hint think steelhead worms), but I don’t think they work as well as real nightcrawlers.

The trick is following the instructions closely, and making sure you have that spin before you let it out behind the boat.  If it ain’t spinning, then it ain’t catching.

Unfortunately it tends to be pretty sensitive – both in initial setup, and later one.  If you have a strike that doesn’t hook up then make sure to pull it in and verify it is working right – cause chances are it isn’t.

To troll with slow death:

  • Put a nightcrawler on the hook
  • Run it next to the boat and verify it is spinning
  • Let out 75-150 feet of line
  • Slowly drive the boat around fish holding areas, usually 1.0-1.2MPH
  • Split shot can be added about 4 feet above the lure, to get the lure deeper if needed

1. Flies

My #1 favorite and most productive lure for trout – day in and day out – is flies.  Now before you say “I’m not a fly fisherman” and stop reading, please give me another minute.

You do not have to be into fly fishing to use flies.  I often tie the fly onto the end of my spinning gear.  If you are trolling then you can treat a fly just about like any other lure.  If you are casting, then a casting bubble is the way to go.

Selecting a fly can be a bit overwhelming as there are hundreds of patterns, colors and sizes.

My Favorite Fly Patterns

My Favorite Fly Patterns

If you are starting out using flies then keep it simple.  Use a Woolly Bugger (or Denny Rickard’s Seal Bugger).  I catch most of my fish on 2 colors – black and olive.  Smaller sizes, like size 8 or 10, generally work best.  Once you get used to flies then you might want to expand to some of these other great stillwater flies.

Casting flies works best when fish are in the top 5 feet.  What you should do is:

  • Fasten the casting bubble to your line.  Fill with enough water that you can cast it well, but it still floats.
  • Add a 4 to 5 foot leader
  • Tie your fly onto the leader
  • Cast out
  • Wait for the ripples to go away
  • In a smooth motion pull the casting bubble about 1 foot towards you
  • Wait a couple seconds
  • Repeat the pull/wait steps until you get a fish, or you need to recast

My favorite way to use flies with conventional gear is to troll them.  Flies don’t have any action of their own, so I like adding an action disk to provide the action.  Spinner blades or dodgers also work.

Fly behind a Wiggle Fin Action Disk

Fly behind a Wiggle Fin Action Disk

  • Setup your gear
    • Have a swivel at the end of your mainline and attach about 4 feet of leader
    • Slide the action disk on the line
    • Slide a bead on the line
    • Tie on the fly
  • Deploy the gear about 75-150 feet back
  • Troll slowly, about 1.0-1.2 MPH
  • Add split shots right above the swivel to go deeper, if needed

What Do You Think?

What is your opinion on these top 10 lures?  What are your favorite lures, and how do you use them?

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