Live Minnows, the secret way to catch trophy trout

I first heard of catching trout on live minnows from my father, who told me stories of how his grandfather, use to net tiny baitfish before using them to catch large fish. It was not until I was in my early twenties, when a guest speaker at my local freshwater angling club explained in details how he went about catching trout on live bait.

There was a lot of experience, and highly successful fishermen in the club, but none caught more big trout than the live minnow angler.

In my experience, live minnow anglers are a secretive bunch. They usually arrive to the rivers late in the day, sometimes even after sunset. Some use surprisingly complicated methods to decide when to fish based on tide tables, moon phases and even air pressure… Others just head out when their wife’s allow them. You always catch more trout when fishing, than sitting at home waiting for the right moon phrase.

Why I rarely live bait for trout myself

Fishing live minnows for trout is catch and keep only. Most of the time the trout will swallow the minnow making it very difficult to remove the hook.

I prefer to catch and release, so I very rarely get to fish live minnows for trout. I typically use lures and flies which are less likely to result in badly hooked trout.

I only live bait for trout when I need one for the table. I also only do it on large rivers where there is a healthy population of trout. Slowly fishing a floating Rapala or other jerkbait at night can have similar results with less swallows.

When is the best time to fish live minnows?

Night is the best time of day to catch large trout on minnows. It is no secret, that large trout often go on the hunt after dark. I assume, the cover of darkness makes it easier for them to sneak up to their prey.

Trout in general, are more confident at night. They are more likely to leave their hides beneath overhanging banks and move into the shallows where they are easier to cast to.

Can I fish live minnows during the day?

Yes, it still works during the day. but it is more productive at night.

When fishing in deeper water, say when kayak fishing, then daytime live minnow fishing can be very productive. I much prefer night fishing live minnows when doing it from the shore.

Does moon phrase matter?

I have never taken much notice of the moon phrase, fishermen have many different theories regarding the moon. But, I have had good fishing over any stages of the moon. Whenever I start to form a theory of my own, the next trip out usually proves the opposite.

I suspect the moon, at least the amount of light it gives of certainly impacts the feeding habits of trout, but I go fishing any chance I get, and the moon phrase is never going to stop me.

Click here for more information on the moons impact on trout fishing.

How to catch live minnows?

Well, there are many ways to catch live minnows, and the best way might differ depending on exactly which species you are trying to target. Below I will outline several methods I know that people use to get them.

Tiny hook

This is the method my great grandfather used. Apparently, he will bend a tiny sewing needles into a round hook sharp, which he will attach it onto some line with a tiny piece of split shot. He will then lower the bait near to where he knew the minnows were living.

Today, we have access to many tiny hooks thanks to fly fishing, so there is no longer any need to create our own hooks out of needles. But the same princple applies, just catch them on a tiny hooks and thin lines.


Others use a small baitfish or butterfly style of net. They will stalk the river bank with a powerful headtorch looking for the minnows out in the open. Some minnows, freeze in panic when the light is on them. They then stealhily use the net to scoop them up and into a holding bucket.

Baited net.

Others use a trap style of net with a little bait. The minnows, looking for an easy feed will swim into the net and are trapped.

Or simply buy from the store

Sometimes, it is just easier to purchase live minnows from the local bait store. This is the easiest option when bait stores sell live fish.

Which minnow is best for trout fishing?

The term minnow covers a vast number of different small fish. While there is a technical definition, most anglers, myself included use the term minnow more casually to refer to any small baitfish. So any small bait fish wither it is a minnow,  shiner, chub, herring can be used. The trout do not care what we call them.

The best minnow to use for trout fishing is the tiny baitfish which lives in the river or lake you are fishing. The resident minnow population is the best one to use because that is what the trout know and already feed upon.

When there is a choice, I always prefer a minnow which swims around actively, rather than ones which try to barrow under rocks and hide.

How to rig and fish a live minnow?

There are many ways to rig up a minnow for trout fishing, I like to thread a thin gauge hooks into the minnows mouth and out through its nose. This holds the minnow securely, while still allowing it to swim around.

This video gives some alternative methods on rigging minnows.

When fishing, I like to strayline my minnow. I use as little weight as possible. The heavier the weight, the faster the minnow tires and the sooner it will become a dead minnow.

When fishing from a shore, sometimes minnows want to dive down and hide beneath rocks. To prevent that, I use a small float to keep the minnow near the surface.

Very gently, cast the minnow out and just let it swim around, keep it away from the shore and any hidey holes.

I fish with very little drag. That is because, large brown trouts are cunning. They sometimes smash into the minnow once, stunning it and carrying it a few feet. They then turn around before swallowing it.

If the drag is too strong, the trout can sense something is wrong so will lose interest before actually taking the minnow. Once you see the line peeling off fast, tighten the drag and strike and prepare to fight.

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