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Published Mar. 9, 2022

What’s the best bait for trout? It’s a tough question, and that’s a good thing. Today’s trout fisher has a wide range of store-bought trout bait to choose from, and there’s reason to be confident of catching with all of them. Maybe the better question is, what’s the best trout bait for the way (or ways) you like to fish?

The big advantage of commercially made baits is scent. That appeal to trout’s olfactory sense is missing from lures and flies. Live bait has scent, of course, along with movement, and that probably makes it the most effective way to hook a trout. But live bait can also be pricey and messy. Artificial baits can be picked up easily at your local tackle shop or ordered online with a few clicks. It comes in neat containers, easy to store and carry.

And the baits we’ve rounded up here offer different ways to fish. You can drift egg or egg-sac baits downstream; let a buoyant scented marshmallow hover over the weedy bottom of a spring-fed pond; or thread a minnow-shaped bait, fragrant with unnatural yet irresistible aromas, onto a jig hook and swim it through the river’s darkest pools.

Things to Consider Before Buying Trout Bait

While the attractive properties of scent and color have universal appeal, there may be solid reasons for choosing one kind of trout bait over another.

Water Type

Provided the water is cool enough, trout live in a huge range of habitats—from tiny Alpine lakes to reservoirs and rushing streams to tidal estuaries. Egg and egg sac baits are ideal for drifting in streams, large and small. Swim baits are great for covering large areas, and for getting the biggest trout to bite. Worms are great anywhere—under a bobber or on the bottom, in moving water or lakes and ponds. For those times when the water is off-color and high, think about using bright-colored baits for sheer visibility. Trout can’t eat what they can’t see.

Price

Since bait is a consumable product, bait brands know their prices have to be modest enough for re-supplying to be affordable. You can generally get at least a couple of outings from most packaged products. Still, some are considerably cheaper than others, so it pays to shop around.

Scent

The whole point of scented bait is to smell good (to a trout, NOT necessarily to an angler or their spouse). There wouldn’t seem to be a reason for garlic, for example, to make a trout hungry, since it doesn’t exist in their environment, but they seem to love it. If you know a scent to be effective, trust your experience; the confidence will improve your fishing. But don’t hesitate to try something new!

Best Trout Bait Overall: Mad River Scented Eggs

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Why It Made the Cut

Mad River Manufacturing is headquartered in Eureka, California, and its pro staff includes guides who specialize in fishing for salmon and steelhead on American and Canadian coastal rivers. That kind of local knowledge leads to effective tackle, techniques, and baits.

Key Features

  • Proven anise and shrimp scents
  • Realistic sizes
  • Two quantities, 25 or 50 per jar

Pros

  • Developed in salmon/trout country
  • Consistent size and quality
  • Synthetic design for ease of use

Cons

  • Limited selection of scents

Harvesting and curing one’s own salmon eggs is a time-honored tradition and a fun way to get more deeply involved with your fishing. But not everyone wants to take the time and trouble. Mad River’s synthetic eggs are ready to use right from the jar. They’ll always be the right size, shape, and consistency, and they’re easy to rig, often held a few inches above a bare hook by a bobber stop or a piece of toothpick. Mad River scented eggs are made of soft rubber and come in two scents that have long proven effective, shrimp and anise. Both scents come in cerise, orange, red, pink, pink pearl and chartreuse.

Best Bait for Brown Trout: Berkley PowerBait Power Swimmer

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Why It Made the Cut

One of many excellent bait products from Berkley’s ultra-popular PowerBait line, the Power Swimmer fishes like a trout lure and attracts like bait. Many baits are meant to be drifted naturally, like much of the food trout eat, but put a Power Swimmer on your favorite rig and you can cover all the water you can reach, applying movement to the bait that triggers a trout’s predatory instincts.

Key Features

  • Realistic baitfish profile
  • 2.8-3.8 inches long
  • Irresistible paddle tail action

Pros

  • Larger size attracts larger fish
  • Versatile and easy to use
  • Good choice of colors and lengths

Cons

  • Limited to this shape (but it’s a good shape)

Berkley’s PowerBait Power Swimmer is a versatile lure designed for a range of freshwater fish, from crappie to walleye to bass—and, most important here, trout. At 2 inches long, it’s big enough to be worthwhile for a bruiser brown. After all, most of the natural foods available to them are around that size or smaller. But it’s certainly not too big for your average eight- to 12-incher, which usually make up the majority of fish in typical trout waters. The paddle tail will definitely get a trout’s attention, and the PowerBait scent will remove any doubt the fish may have about its food value, at least until you set the hook. 

Best Bait Scent: Pro-Cure Trophy Trout Super Gel

Why It Made the Cut

Pro-Cure has been making bait scents for decades from real bait, and many anglers swear by their effectiveness. You can apply Trophy Trout to lures you already own, or add it to other baits for even more scent.

Key Features 

  • Super sticky
  • Made from real bait
  • Enhanced with amino acids

Pros:

  • Designed for trout
  • Sticks to soft & hard lures
  • Made from tui chub baitfish
  • Easy to carry & use

Cons:

  • Smelly and sticky (transport in a zip-lock bag)

Pro-Cure prides itself on making scents out of real bait fish, then enhancing them with amino acids to further trigger the bite impulse. Trophy Trout Super Gel is made from tui chub, a baitfish found (among other places) in Pyramid Lake in southern California, where it’s a key food source for enormous Lahontan cutthroat trout. Trophy Trout has proven itself far from sunny SoCal, including in the wintry steelhead fisheries of the Great Lakes, and has also been shown to be effective on muskellunge and Northern pike.

It’s simple to use: rub it on a soft plastic (or even a swim bait or metal spoon) and fish. Like sunscreen, it’s best to reapply every hour or so. Pro-Cure’s bait scents come in pocket-sized two-ounce and less portable eight-ounce sizes. It’s very sticky and very smelly, both of which make it effective but pose challenges in use. You may want to segregate the bottle from the rest of your gear with a zip-lock plastic bag, and keep treated lures in their own compartments in your box.

Best Trout Bait for Streams: Berkley PowerBait Trout/Steelhead Egg Clusters

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Why It Made the Cut

Considering how much trout love individual eggs, it stands to reason they would love egg clusters just as much or more. Eggs in mesh sacs and flies designed to imitate a glob of roe are top performers on trout and steelhead rivers, and Berkley has nailed the look with these synthetic clusters. Combine the form factor with the legendary PowerBait scent and you’ve got high-confidence bait on your hook.

Key Features

  • Lifelike egg cluster design
  • Orange or shrimp colors
  • 25 clusters per Jar

Pros

  • Easy to use and store
  • That proven PowerBait scent
  • Instinctive appeal to trout, steelhead, salmon

Cons

  • Only one size cluster available

You won’t waste any time wondering what to offer the fish if you have a package of PowerBait Trout/Steelhead Egg Clusters. Bait a size eight hook, use a split shot or two to help it sink and perhaps an indicator to telegraph the strike, and toss your cluster upstream of a walking-speed run. The soundness of the strategy is obvious during fall or spring salmon seasons, but believe me, a gob of fish eggs is effective any time of year.

Best Scented Artificial Worm: Pautzke’s Fire Worm

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Why It Made the Cut

Everyone knows trout love fragrant natural worms. Every bass angler knows plastic worms are effective. A trout-sized artificial worm with a trout-proven garlic aroma? Anyone can see that’s a great idea. This new offering from the venerable Pautzke’s can be rigged many ways, comes in many colors, and won’t die in your fridge.

Key Features

  • 2.7 inches of very stretchy artificial worm
  • Seven colors
  • 15 worms per bag

Pros

  • Multiple rigging options
  • Garlic scent is a proven catcher
  • Suited to rivers, creeks, or stillwaters

Cons

  • Thin diameter limits baitholder use

Threaded on a jig head or whacky rigged, the Fire Worm gives you lots of options for fishing small streams, larger rivers, ponds and reservoirs. Color choices include natural, peach, pink, orange, white, yellow and chartreuse, setting you up for the conditions of the day and the mood of the fish. Their elasticity gives Pautzke’s worms plenty of durability, so a bag of 15 should last a number of trips. The size is just right—not like a nightcrawler, but a regular garden worm, the classic trout bait.

Best Bait for Stocked Trout: Atlas-Mike’s Super Scented Mallows

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Why It Made the Cut

Marshmallows is another bait that lots of anglers enjoying brining themselves. But if you’re not so inclined, Atlas-Mike’s saves you the trouble. The company offers jars of mallows in a wide range of hues. Not only do they catch fish with their scent and color, but they can also function as a float to keep a worm or section of nightcrawler above the snaggy bottom.

Key Features

  • Eight colors, including glo, glitter, and assorted
  • Garlic, anise, shrimp, cheese scents
  • Use alone or with other bait

Pros

  • Wide selection of colors and scents
  • Reasonably priced
  • Multiple methods of use

Cons

  • Can be difficult to separate individual mallows
  • Care must be taken to keep them on hook when casting

The toughest part of using Atlas-Mike’s Super Scented Mallows might be guessing which color and scent your local trout will like best. Fortunately, the price is reasonable, so most anglers can afford to try a few over the course of a season. You can impale the mallow on a hook, adding a couple of split shot or a bobber for casting weight. Or you can first thread on a garden worm or nightcrawler segment, then poke the point out through a mallow to let it suspend your bait. Between the wiggle of the worm, the color of the mallow and the scent of both, you’ll create a sensory event that few trout could resist.

How We Made Our Selections

I’ve been fishing for trout for as long as I can remember. I called on my years of trout knowledge and reviewed commercial baits from both well-known and lesser-known brands, with an eye toward a diverse range of styles. There are also regional bait purveyors, usually owned and operated by veteran anglers, and I recommend you consider their products. They know the local fish.

FAQs

Q: What is the best bait for trout?

The best bait for trout is the kind of food they eat naturally. Typically, that includes fish eggs, aquatic insects, worms and bait fish. You can fish confidently with any of them. If I had to give an edge to one of them, it would be egg-type baits: They’re instantly identifiable, and trout know instinctively they are highly nutritious, and easy to eat, since they can’t swim away.

Q: What attracts trout the most?

Scent probably attracts trout the most. Trout have an acute sense of smell. They may or may not notice a lure, no matter how skillfully it is worked, but there is no avoiding a scent. And once a scent has triggered the impulse to eat, the trout’s mission becomes finding what smells so good.

Q: What is the best bait for rainbow trout?

Unlike brown and brook trout, which reproduce in the fall, rainbow trout spawn in late winter and early spring, right around the time trout fishing gets going in earnest. Here again, egg baits get the nod, as eggs are likely to be the most abundant food source in rivers with naturally reproducing trout populations.

Final Thoughts

Catching natural live worms or bait fish, curing your own fish roe, making doughballs, and even marinating supermarket corn kernels in Jell-O are all enjoyable pursuits that also happen to result in good fishing. Maybe you’ll try it someday; maybe you did it years ago. But commercially made bait is consistent in quality, convenient to own and use and easy to acquire. It’s one less thing to worry about when you head out for a day on the water.

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