Back to bait: trout fishing basics
  |  First Published: December 2007

Much has been written on fishing for trout, probably more than for any other fish species. There have been many articles written on the art and skill of flyfishing. Similarly, a lot has been written about fishing for trout with lures, be it spinners, hard-bodied diving lures or, as has become popular recently, soft plastics. Both these techniques are deadly on trout, of course, but at times I reckon things can get a little over complicated. This article discusses the more gentle art of bait fishing for trout – and yes, there are still many anglers out there whose preferred trout technique is simply to dangle a worm or two!

Good bait fishers love to take their mates, or their wives and kids, out to the peace and serenity of one of our many beautiful trout streams. To me, nothing takes away the weekly work stress faster than sitting quietly on the banks of a stream, watching the water bubbling gently over rocks and flowing silently into a deep pool. In the background, the birds are singing and a gentle breeze rustles through the trees. You know you’re in God’s own country and you wouldn’t be dead for quids!

Some other anglers don’t seem to get it! I have watched some bait fishers pull up at the riverbank. They get out the chairs and eskies, carry them down to the water, then thump around on the riverbank laughing and shouting. They’ll crack open a couple of tinnies, throw some worms on a hook, chuck the lines in any old place, and splash around on the water’s edge. Not surprisingly, they end up going home without a fish, complaining there were no fish there. What they don’t understand is that the resident trout have been scared witless by all the noise and commotion, and have gone into hiding until long after the two legged monsters have gone.

Trout are one of the hardest fish to catch. That’s why I like to target them, especially the brown trout. They need a much more stealthy and specific approach than many new anglers realise. Let’s have a look at some of the basics.

Gear and bait

These days, the basic gear for bait fishing for trout can be purchased very cheaply. All you need is a small threadline reel spooled up with 3­–4 kg monofilament line, a light 2m rod, some small ball sinkers and some No. 4 baitkeeper style hooks (preferably chemically sharpened). It’s that simple!

The next step is the bait. Maggots and mudeyes both make good trout bait, but in my book, you just can’t go past earthworms, especially in the cooler months. A running sinker rig, with a tiny ball sinker stopped by a swivel or piece of twig or matchstick about 80cm above the hook is the quintessential trout rig. When baiting up with worms, I usually put three on, hooking each through twice and leaving some tantalising tails dangling. In the summer months, crickets and grasshoppers are the go.

Reading the water

Now that you have your gear, the next step is to assess the river or creek that you want to fish. The most important thing in trout fishing is streamcraft. You need to learn the basics of reading a river. It’s not that difficult really, but once you have learned what’s going on underneath the water, your catch rate will increase significantly, whether you fish with bait, fly or spinner. You just need to follow a few basic rules.

When you arrive, sit quietly for a few minutes and study the stretch of water you are about to fish. Pretend you are a fish in the pool. Look at all the backwashes and eddies. A trout loves to have good cover, and the bigger fish take up the prime positions in the pools, where most of the food is being washed in. They don’t want to use up too much energy, so they lie just out of the main current flow, which could be behind a rock, or under a log or an undercut bank. Once you have picked out the four or five prime spots where a trout could be lying, it’s time to fish.

Softy, softly

It’s just so important to approach the pool quietly. Walk softly, as vibrations can transfer through the bank into the water. Always try to walk upstream when fishing. Remember, trout always face into the current, so approaching them from behind means they are far less likely to be spooked. Stay out of the water if you can, but if you must wade, do it carefully and slowly. Walking in the water, even against the current in a fast flowing stream, you can create seemingly insignificant ripples that will spook trout.

Fish the tail (downstream end) of the pool first and systematically work your way up to the head (upstream end). Leave your bait in each spot for about 10 minutes. If you catch a trout in one spot, fish it again as you can often catch more than one fish in one lie. As long as you are working your way upstream, not downstream, you are unlikely to spook too many fish ahead of you.

When you cast your bait, get as close as possible to your chosen spot. In many cases if you are not right on target you are not going to get that bite. When your bait is in position, try to fish with some slack in your line. If you fish with a tight line, when a trout takes your bait it will feel the unnatural tension and let go. If you have slack line, there’s no tension and you will see the line moving out in small, erratic jerks. Pick your rod up and point the rod tip down to give the fish more slack line. As you see the line moving out, strike – and bingo, he’s on!

Play your fish quietly to the net. If you are going to release your fish, wet your hands before touching the fish. If the hook is easy to remove, remove it. If not, cut the line, take your photos quickly and release the fish with the hook still in place. The hook will eventually work its way out, but if you try to remove a deep hook you will surely kill the fish.


Fishing in the summer months can require different tactics. The streams will often be running low and the water will be very clear, so trout will be much more easily spooked. Early morning and late afternoon until dark will yield the best results. Grasshoppers and crickets are good summer baits, and are usually best fished without any weight, using a technique called baitdrifting. Baitdrifting can also be a very effective way to fish earthworms, and is a much more active form of baitfishing than your normal ‘sit and wait’ technique.

With baitdrifting, your bait needs to drift along as naturally as possible with the current. Cast your bait upstream into the main flow, as far upstream as possible, and let it drift downstream, keeping your rod tip high and winding in any slack line as the bait gets close to you. When it is level with you, or a little bit past you, retrieve it and cast it upstream again. Test out all the runs and riffles in the pool by drifting your bait through them. There will be a trout there somewhere and it will find it pretty hard to resist a free-drifting bait.

When baitdrifting grasshoppers and crickets in this way, they are best fished alive and kicking on the surface. A bit of line floatant on the section of line near the hook will help keep them on top – and it’s a great sight to see a decent trout slurp a ‘hopper off the surface.

Worms, on the other hand, can be fished beneath the surface. A bit of split shot a few centimetres above the hook will help get the worm down a bit and will also help you cast a bit further. Casting distance will also be enhanced by using as light line as possible. When baitdrifting I like to use 4lb Fireline as the mainline because its fine diameter makes casting small unweighted baits a whole lot easier. If you can’t see your bait, watch the spot where the line enters the water, and if you see it stop or move unnaturally, lift the rod to set the hook.

As with all types of fishing, it’s the little things that count and with bait fishing for trout, believe me, all the little things soon add up to a vast improvement in your success rate. Next time you go fishing, give some of these tactics a try and you should be happy with the results.



Over the last few years, a range of synthetic baits have become popular, including brands such a Powerbait and Gulp Trout Dough. Some manufacturers claim that these baits outfish natural baits, and this can certainly be true in certain circumstances. The synthetic baits have great advantages for mums and dads who want to take the kids fishing but don’t like the idea of catching and handling creepy crawlies like worms and grasshoppers. The synthetic baits are just like putty, and are specially formulated to smell and taste attractive to trout. They come in a convenient resealable jar, so when you’re ready to fish you just take a bit out and mould it onto the hook. For my money, the major advantage of the synthetic baits is that most of them float. This means that when using a running sinker rig, you can anchor your line to the bottom, but the actual bait will be floating off the bottom where the fish can see it. Synthetic baits can also be used in conjunction with natural baits. Just add a piece to your hook and your worm will float as well!

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