Live natural baits are a real winner when fishing for trout in rivers that are heavily fished. On certain days, trout just don’t seem interested in taking any artificial bait no matter how hard you try.
If you have the luxury of targeting trout with natural bait, there are several options that you need to have on hand. While most fish are more than happy to strike these living baits, trout are especially eager to go after them.
Trout while taking live bait, tends to hold onto it longer and “suck it down”. This results in the fish invariably swallowing the hook, making the catch and release practice more of a challenge.
Be sure to take a look at your local regulations before you target trout with any live bait! Once you’re in the clear, make sure you have at least a couple of the following in our list on hand for your excursion.
In this article I will cover:
The 7 Best Natural Live Baits and How to Fish With Them
Nightcrawler (Our Best Overall Pick!)
Crickets/Grasshoppers (Our Most Versatile Pick!)
When to Use Live Bait
7 Best Natural Live Baits for Trout
While there are numerous options for live bait, the following seven are going to produce the most fish. However, it’s always smart to check with local anglers or bait shops to know what’s working best before you make your decision!
Nightcrawler – (Our Best Overall Pick!)
It’s hard to argue with an old-fashioned nightcrawler. Whether you’re digging them up out of your backyard or purchasing them at the local bait shop, never underestimate the power of a worm. Worms are easily accessible, attractive, and quite easy to fish with.
The first thing to know about fishing worms is to know where the fish are feeding. Depending on the time of day and even the time of year, fish are feeding on different levels! As long as you know the fish aren’t feeding on the surface, you’re good to go ahead and fish a worm.
You can fish them along the bottom by attaching a weight or you can let them drift throughout the current! Again, it’s important to know the trout feeding habits before you get going. Slip-sinker rigs are great options if you’re targeting them at the bottom of the water column.
Make sure you use somewhere between a size 4 to 10 baitholder hook when fishing with worms. Attach the worm to your hook several times to make sure it stays on while you cast, but always make sure you let a bit of it hang off the end of your hook. This will help it with its natural appearance.
Crickets And Grasshoppers – (Our Most Versatile Pick!)
If you see trout on the surface late in the summer, you can assume they’re looking for terrestrials. Crickets and grasshoppers are like candy to trout! Since they aren’t always available, trout are eager to feed on them when they have a chance.
To rig a grasshopper, it’s best to use a thin-wire hook. Push the wire just behind the head and stick the hook through the abdomen. This will create a more natural appearance and ensure the hopper isn’t going anywhere.
To keep these on the surface, you need to fish with a light leader. Cast near the banks or near vegetation. Hoppers and crickets will often fall into the water off of these and trout are often waiting. Let your hopper or cricket float naturally and you’ll quickly have a strike.
For fly anglers, throwing a crayfish fly almost automatically means a strike. Crayfish are a hearty meal for trout and in many trout rivers throughout the United States. If you know they’re in the river, get there an hour or so before you want to begin fishing and do some hunting.
Flip over rocks or look in slack parts of the water near shore. It won’t take long for you to gather a dozen or so crayfish. Cast these through pools or riffles and wait for the trout to strike. To attach crayfish in the most realistic manner, hook them through the tail. You will need to use large hooks for crayfish, a size 2 or 4 baitholder hook is the best option, and always let the natural movement activity of the crayfish do the trick.
Trout can be extremely aggressive. If you see one chase down your crayfish, keep up the action. Eventually, it will become too appetizing that they have to strike.
Note:In the United Kingdom, it is illegal to use crayfish as fishing bait – dead or alive!
Any northern angler knows the power of a Fathead Minnow. These minnows will work on most predatory fish. Perhaps the best thing about Fathead Minnows is that they stay lively for quite a long time. You’re easily able to get four or five good casts with these minnows before they lose their luster.
Use a size 2 or 4 baitholder hook and hook the minnow through the lip. This will keep it liveliest the longest. You have several options on how to fish with minnows! You can dead drift them through the current, fish them below a bobber or keep them near the bottom. Again, do some research on your local water before you make the decision as to what would work best.
Note:In the United Kingdom live bait can ONLY be used if it is caught in the same water as it is being used. There are no other restrictions on using live bait.
If you’re fishing anywhere out west in Montana or Wyoming, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with Stoneflies. These live in some of the most famous rivers in the west and trout love them! You don’t have to only reserve insects for fly fishing! Live stonefly nymphs are amazing trout bait.
Stonefly hatch works well throughout its life cycle. You should always look for the insects’ presence at the riverbank especially when the stonefly emerges. Timing to use Stoneflies is key, water temperature and the type of Stonefly alter their emergence.
To fish with a Stonefly nymph, fish with a wire hook. A size 6 to 8 hook will work fine. Run the wire behind the head of the fly and place the hook through the abdomen. Your other option is to use a short-shank hook and run it through the tail and out behind the head. Either option would work great.
Yes, there is a major difference between wax worms and nightcrawlers. Waxworms are a common ice fishing bait, but they can work equally as well in the summer. These are bee larvae and trout love to feast on them.
Rigging them properly can be a bit tricky since they’re so small, but once you get the hang of it, it’s not nearly as much of a challenge. The slip-sinker rig works just fine! Attach a small egg sinker on the line above a barrel swivel. Tie a two-foot leader to the opposite side of the swivel and attach it to your hook.
Your hook should be smaller with waxworms than most other natural baits, any size between a 10 and 14 is the best. Don’t only use one waxworm! Use four or five to make your hook look irresistible. Some anglers will place a float a few inches above the bait to keep it off the bottom.
Sculpin or Bullhead
In true trout fishing water, Sculpin needs to be at the top of your bait list. These are rough looking fish and live in similar water that trout inhabit. If your trout waters are on the warm side, odds are you’ll find all the sculpin you’ll ever need. They have a similar appearance to suckers!
In the United Kingdom they are called Bullheads. They usually grow to around 3″ to 6″ inches, using the smaller ones tend to attract more trout.
Hooking one of these through the lip is going to create the most effective movement. Use a size 4 or 6 hooks when fishing with them!
When to Use Natural Live Bait For Trout?
Live natural bait is productive at almost any time of the year! However, when trout are picky or the when the water is a bit stained, then natural live bait is going to be the number one bait choice. Essentially, at any time you know the fish are going to be hard to catch, throw on any natural live bait and see what happens – your chances will increase over using artificial lures.
If you are going for trout with flies or insects then make sure that you check out the hatch period charts to maximise your chances of catching trout.
It’s hard to ignore the effectiveness of live bait. Some anglers even call it cheating! However, there are days when we just want to catch fish and we always know live bait will do the trick.
Choose any from the list above and you’ll quickly find yourself with a limit.
Danny Mooers is a high school English teacher in Arizona with a love for fishing. Growing up in Minnesota gave him the opportunity to experience all types of fishing and grow his skills. After living out in the Western United States for several summers in college, his fishing obsession grew. Having the opportunity to share in his passion for fishing through writing is a dream come true. It's a lifelong hobby and he strives to make it understandable for people of all skill levels.