Best Lures and Baits for Catching Trout in California
If you are reading this, you probably want to know what lure or bait to use to catch trout. In this article, I am going to list 14 of the most consistent baits and artificial lures that come highly recommended from experienced California based fishermen.
Before heading out, and spending your hard earned money on trout tackle. I will note that Californian trout, especially ones with reasonable road access see a lot of pressure throughout the fishing season.
That is because California has more trout anglers than any other state, or approximately 11% of all trout angling within the United States takes place within the borders of California. That is a lot of fishing pressure for such a dry state.
It is not uncommon for trout streams and reservoirs to become crowded, and trout frequently get fished over multiple times every day. It is my belief, that heavily pressured wild or holdover trout are able to and do learn to be way of the most popular fishing methods.
So, while all the baits and lures on this list are excellent trout catchers, in heavily pressured waters they might always be the best option. Simply because the trout have seen them so many times. So I will end the introduction with this piece of advice.
Sometimes the less popular lure, the lures which the trout has never seen before bring the best results simply because they do not associate them with danger.
When the fishing is tough, and the trout are being stubborn do not be afraid to experiment with strange or less popular lures.
Bait fishing is a popular way to target stock trout across California. Most bait fishing takes place in stocked reservoirs and two of the most popular baits are worms and power bait.
When bait fishing, use thin diameter line. No thicker than 4lb. The water can be very clear and unless recently stocked the trout pressured.
Worms – Great all round bait
The most popular bait to fish in California is most likely the earthworm. They come in many forms such as Red Worm, Nightcrawler, Large Nightcrawler, Pile Worm and Blood Worms.
Worms are readily available from many outfitters and bait shops. Worms stay on the hook reasonably well and all trout seem to love them.
Because they are natural bait, trout are less likely to associate them with danger.
In rivers the most popular way to fish a nightcrawler is to suspend it beneath a float. Carolina and dropshot rigs work well when fishing the shallow edges of reservoirs.
Some fishermen like to trail worm pieces behind a spoon or spinner while trolling.
For more advice on how to fish worms check my guide here.
Powerbait – Excellent for recently stocked trout
Powerbait is certainly one of the most effective options to target recently stocked trout. Similar to earthworms, fishermen usually fish powerbait just off the bottom using a Carolina or drop shot type rig.
One hint, when targeting stocked trout, do not cast too far from the shore. Stock trout often prefer the shallows, they grew up in shallow hatcheries so that is where they prefer to cruise. Many fishermen cast far beyond where the stock trout are.
Powerbaits come in a large range of different colors, and depending on the trout’s mood they all seem to work. While rainbow color is very popular, I advise purchasing several different colors and swapping between them until you find a color that the trout are interested in.
For reasons, I do not pretend to understand, trout seem to favor one color one day, but an entirely different color the next. Trout are weirdly selective at times.
Spinners, Spoons, and Lures
Fishing lures and spoons are popular for a more active style of fishing, while fishing with bait often requires a lot of sitting and waiting.
Lure fishing is more like hunting, you have to work the water and find where the trout are. While, bait fishing sometimes catches more trout, spinning with lures is a lot more exciting.
One of the most popular spoons for trout fishing in California is the Thomas Bouyant.
Unlike many spoons, the Thomas buoyant is designed around a slow presentation. It sinks slowly and has a very enticing and erratic wobble even at slow rates of retrieval.
The Thomas Buoyant is an excellent spoon for fishing shallower water and because it maintains action even at a slow speed it works particularly well while trolling.
Popular weights for targeting trout range between 1/4 and 1/12oz. While red/gold is the most popular color.
For more suggestions on spoons to try, check my spoon guide here.
Panther Martin inline spinners are popular across North America, and California is no exception.
Panther Martins are a great spinner for bigger waters, they cast well and sink relatively fast. The larger than average blade creates a lot of vibration and flash which can attract trout from far away.
Unlike some inline spinners, the blade rotates even on the drop. This can trigger strikes even before starting the retrieve.
Popular colors include Silver, Gold, gold/brown, and black/gold. In saying that, do not be afraid to experiment. I suspect trout will take (or ignore) almost any color when they are in the right mood.
Panther martins of almost any size can catch trout, below are a few guidelines.
Size 1 and 2 for shallow waters and small trout streams.
Size 4 to 6 for large lakes and fast water where distance and sink rate is more important than finesse.
For more information on how best to fish Panther Martins and other inline spinners check my comprehensive guide here.
Rapala Jerkbaits work extremely well on trout and are one of the better lures for tempting larger fish.
Depending on the depth the trout are holding will determine which version works best. If the trout are in the shallows, then a floating Rapala is excellent at working the edges.
When the trout are in deeper water, might want to try a X-rap or countdown which are sinking or suspending lures.
In cold conditions, the jointed Rapala with its exaggerated retrieved even at the slowest of speeds can tempt trout when nothing else works.
All color Rapala’s catch trout, but do not be afraid to fish bright colors. They can drive both Brown’s and Rainbow crazy. While Fire tiger is a very popular color, my personal favorite is the Gold Fluorescent Red pattern.
The Rainbow trout pattern is a very popular option for a more natural pattern, but I tend towards using Yellow Perch patterns because it resembles a juvenile trout fry.
For more more effective jerkbait and crankbaits for trout fishing check my guide here.
Yo-Zuri Pins Minnow
Yo-zuri makes some excellent trout lures, and the pin minnow is among the best.
The pin minnow shares a lot in common with the Rapala’s above, but due to their internal weight transfer system, they are easier to cast. They also seem to be slightly more durable.
If there is one downside to the Pin Minnows, is that the smallest one is the 2”, this does somewhat limit its effectiveness in smaller streams. But, in medium size or bigger waters, trout will happily take a 2” lures.
Popular colors include the natural rainbow trout, and Gold and Black.
If I had to describe the super duper I would say it is unconventional. It almost looks like fingernail nippers without the blades.
This U shape lure is very effective on rainbow trout. When cast and retrieved the curvature of the U traps water and causes it to wobble through the water similarly to a spoon.
Alternatively, it can be jigged and bounced through the water where it will zig, zag just like a dying minnow. This peculiar lure certainly has more than one way to trigger the predatory instinct of trout.
It is also possible to fish the super duper downstream, simply hold it against the current and it will dance around.
The Kastmaster is simply a classic spoon that excels at long distance casts. It is also a very versatile lure that can be fished in a number of ways including casting, jigging and trolling.
In a basic retrieve kastmasters have a tight back and forth wobble. The bright chrome finish gives off plenty of flash. They can also be jigged, either from the shore or off a boat.
One issue I have with the Kastmaster is that their action seems to be best at a fast retrieve which can put some trout off. For this reason, the occasional pause or jerk, to slow down the lure and give trout a chance to strike can be very effective.
The two situations, I feel Kastmasters really excel in searching large bodies of water for trout, but also when casting into a powerful headwind. Most trout lures are difficult to cast, the Kastmaster is an obvious exception.
The needlefish is one of the best trolling lures when fishing Californian lakes. It catches a lot of rainbow trout. The needlefish maintains a high action wobble even at trolling speeds suitable for trout.
There is something about the long slender body and small flashing blade that can really get trout and Kokanee salmon excited.
When the trout are holding deep in late summer, consider running them on a lead core line to keep it in the strike zone.
Some fishermen, like to tip the hooks of their Needlefish with little pieces of worm.