Best Lures and Baits for Catching Trout in California

If you’re here, it’s because you’re eager to discover the most effective lures and baits for catching trout in California. In this article, I’ve compiled a list of 14 tried-and-true options recommended by experienced anglers who know the California fishing scene inside out.

However, it’s crucial to keep in mind that trout in California face immense fishing pressure, particularly in areas with convenient road access. As the state boasts the highest number of trout anglers nationwide, approximately 11% of all trout angling in the United States takes place right here. Such high demand can make streams and reservoirs crowded, and trout often find themselves being targeted multiple times each day. Consequently, it’s my belief that heavily pressured wild or holdover trout have become wise to the most popular fishing techniques.

While the baits and lures listed in this article have proven to be exceptional trout catchers, they may not always be the optimal choice in heavily pressured waters. These trout have encountered them countless times, making them more wary. Therefore, I’d like to leave you with a valuable piece of advice.

When faced with challenging fishing conditions and stubborn trout, don’t hesitate to venture into uncharted territory with unconventional or less popular lures. Sometimes, it’s the unfamiliarity of a lure that brings the best results, as the trout do not associate it with danger.

Now that we’ve covered this essential tip, let’s delve into the exciting world of trout fishing in California and explore the top 14 lures and baits that have stood the test of time, setting the stage for a successful angling adventure.

Top Bait Options for Catching Trout in California

When it comes to bait fishing, using worms and powerbait can be highly effective for targeting stocked trout in California’s reservoirs. Here’s a closer look at these popular bait options:

Worms – Great all round bait

The most popular bait to fish in California is most likely the earthworm.

Earthworms, such as Red Worms, Nightcrawlers, Large Nightcrawlers, Pile Worms, and Blood Worms, are widely regarded as excellent all-around baits. They are readily available at outfitters and bait shops. Worms stay on the hook well and are highly enticing to trout. Since worms are natural bait, trout are less likely to associate them with danger.

In rivers, suspending a nightcrawler beneath a float is a popular method. When fishing the shallow edges of reservoirs, Carolina and dropshot rigs work well. Some anglers also 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

Specifically designed for trout fishing, Powerbait is exceptionally effective for recently stocked trout. Similar to earthworms, it is commonly fished just off the bottom using a Carolina or drop shot rig. When targeting stocked trout, avoid casting too far from the shore, as they often prefer the shallows where they were raised in hatcheries. Many anglers tend to cast beyond where the stocked trout are located.

Powerbait is available in a wide range of colors, and different colors can work depending on the trout’s mood. While rainbow color is popular, it’s advisable to purchase several colors and experiment until you find the one that piques the trout’s interest. Trout can be selectively picky at times, favoring one color one day and a different color the next. Their preferences can be a bit unpredictable.

Spinners, Spoons, and Lures

When it comes to trout fishing in California, anglers have various approaches to choose from. While fishing with bait offers a more relaxed and patient experience, utilizing spinners, spoons, and lures adds an element of excitement and active engagement.

In this article, we will delve into the world of lure fishing, where you become the hunter, working the water to locate the elusive trout. While bait fishing may yield more catches, spinning with lures brings a thrilling dimension to your angling adventure.

So, let’s explore the realm of spinners, spoons, and lures and discover the techniques that make trout fishing in California an exhilarating pursuit.

Thomas Buoyant

Trout caught in California on Thomas Bouyant spoon.
Thomas Bouyant spoons are very effective trout lures, works well on both wild and stock trout.

When it comes to trout fishing in California, one spoon that has a strong following among anglers is the Thomas Bouyant. Its unique design, centered around a slow presentation, sets it apart from many other spoons on the market. As it glides through the water, the Thomas Bouyant sinks gradually, creating an alluring and erratic wobble that even the most cautious trout find irresistible, even at slow retrieval rates.

This spoon truly excels when fishing in shallow water such as streams or ripples. What makes the Thomas Bouyant even more remarkable is its ability to maintain action even at a slow speed, making it a versatile option for trolling or fishing early in the season when water conditions are still cold.

When it comes to selecting the right Thomas Bouyant for trout fishing, popular weights range between 1/4 and 1/12 ounces, allowing you to adapt to different conditions and depths. As for color choices, the red/gold combination is very popular.

For more suggestions on spoons to try, check my spoon guide here.

Panther Martin

Panther Martin spinners in a selection of popular colors for trout fishing

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.


Rapalas are excellent and versatile trout lures. I find wild brown trout are particularly fond of them.

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 pin minnows are effective trout catchers.

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.

Super Dupers

I like bright orange Super Dupers when targeting trout, but silver (or gold) with red head is probably more popular.

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.


Some of the most effective Kastmaster colors for trout

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. I usually fish plain silver / chrome, and sometimes gold. 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.

Luhr-Jenseen Needlefish

Needlefish are a proven trolling lure.

When it comes to trolling lures for trout in California’s lakes, the Needlefish stands tall as one of the best choices. Its reputation for consistently catching rainbow trout has made it a favorite among anglers. What sets the Needlefish apart is its ability to maintain a high-action wobble even at the slower trolling speeds suitable for trout.

The long, slender body and small flashing blade of the Needlefish possess a captivating allure that can truly excite trout and even Kokanee salmon. As you troll through the waters, the Needlefish’s enticing action and visual appeal become irresistible to these fish.

In late summer, when trout tend to hold deep, consider running the Needlefish on a lead core line. This keeps the lure deeper down where the trout are more likely to be holding in hot weather.

For those looking to enhance the effectiveness of their Needlefish, some anglers like to tip the hooks with small pieces of worm. The theory goes, this added scent and bait combination further entice trout to strike. I am personally not convinced this trick actually helps but I know many who swear by it.

Popular color options include silver, gold, and a range of vibrant patterns. However, don’t hesitate to experiment with different color combinations, as trout can exhibit varying preferences depending on their mood and environmental factors.


In conclusion, when it comes to trout fishing in California, having the right lures and baits can significantly enhance your chances of success.

Remember to experiment with colors, sizes, and techniques to adapt to the trout’s preferences and the specific conditions of the water you’re fishing. By incorporating these top lures and baits into your fishing arsenal, you’ll be well-equipped to tackle the challenges of catching trout in California’s breathtaking waters and create memorable fishing experiences. Happy fishing!

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