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Bait Fishing for Trout
This page was updated 3/24/08





Definition of natural and scented baits: a natural fish food such as bait fish, crayfish, frogs permitted as bait, grubs, insects larvae, worms, salmon eggs, cheese, corn and other food substances not containing any ingredient to stupefy, injure or kill fish. Does not include flies or artificial lures. Includes dough bait, putty or paste-type bait, any substance designed to attract fish by taste or smell, and any fly, lure or bait containing or used with such substances.

Missouri Department of Conservation Home Page
Missouri Wildlife Code: Sport Fishing



Bait fishing is a wonderful thing, and bait fishing for trout requires intelligence and finesse, just like fishing with artificials. Ask any bait fisherman who has spent any real time on the water. They'll tell you stories about many times when most people were catching very little while one or two fisherman were just tearing them up. The reason? Simple. They were using the right size, shape, color, taste, smell, and feel of bait, they were presenting it correctly, and they were casting to the fish that were actively feeding. Getting all those variables to line up just right can be quite difficult.

Now while trout fisherman in general can be downright snooty about their chosen sport (catfish and crappie just aren't good enough for us!), some of us are guilty of being judgmental toward our fellow trout enthusiasts. Many fly fisherman fish with barbless hooks so the fish can be quickly released after being caught, and that's great. But some of those fishermen just shake their head in disgust when faced with a fisherman who does not pinch down the barbs on his hooks. If you don't pinch down your barbs, you can even expect to get lectured once or twice on what a big idiot you are, believe it or not. If emotions can run high over something so insignificant as that, you can imagine how big the differences can seem between those fishing with $1000 worth of equipment on their person and the local guy fishing with a Zebco and some Velveeta mixed with bread crumbs. It's unbelievably silly.

While some fly fishermen look down on bait fishermen as uncultured uneducated knuckleheads, bait fisherman often view fly fishermen as insufferable bourgeois snobs. Those trout people who have superior attitudes such as these should read a good book by a well-known doctor that will hold a mirror before their faces. The book addresses the question of perceived superiority based on silly attributes. It has a happy ending though. "The Sneetches forgot about bellies with stars and whether they had one, or not, upon thars." Silly. Sneetches are Sneetches, and trout fishermen are trout fishermen, so get a grip people.

It has been said many times that old men are responsible for keeping the practice of bait fishing alive by teaching their grandchildren to fish. If you're like many of us, you started fishing with a hook and a bobber at a local pond or lake. You may have been using minnows or worms or pieces of hot-dog. You may have caught a bluegill or a little catfish. What was really hooked, though, was you. As you grew in the pursuit of fishing, perhaps you began experimenting with plastic worms, crankbaits, etc., and maybe you even tried your hand at fly-fishing. If you could look into the future, you might find yourself not having the energy or the money to get all decked out with the right equipment or tackle, or perhaps your interest in fishing with artificials simply begins to go away. You may have grandchildren who need to learn how to fish, so, you might find yourself bait fishing more frequently and leaving the lures at home. If you're like most of us, you never gave up on bait fishing, even if you had great success with lures and flies. Is it possible that even "dedicated" fly fishermen still have a jar of Uncle Josh's or Zeke's Floating Bait hiding in the old tackle box? And if you are a die-hard bait fisherman and simply have no interest in lures, good for you.

Many trout fisherman view bait fishing as a simple pursuit. Just slap some Powerbait on a hook, cast it into a hole. Sit and wait… sit and wait… sit and wait… check the bait. And, yes, many bait fisherman do just that and catch fish. They cast into an area that will probably hold some fish, and they wait for the fish to find their bait. They use salmon eggs, corn, and homemade dough bait (i.e. Velveta mixed with bread crumbs), but floating baits are exceptionally popular. Berkeley makes a series of Powerbaits, including Power Eggs. Uncle Josh's floating bait is the old-timers favorite. Even mini-marshmallows in various colors pushed onto a treble hook will do the trick. Place your sinker a foot or two from the bait, and the bait will float a foot or two from the bottom. The downside is that commercially produced floating baits are expensive. If anyone out there has a recipe for homemade floating bait, please let us know so we can post the recipe here. Below are a few non-floating dough recipes and a couple of interesting ideas sent in, but we're still looking for our first true floating dough bait recipe.

George Magyar's Trout Bait
5-6 slices White Bread, Cream Cheese, Water, and Baking Soda.

Remove crust from bread, bake in oven at 250F until rock hard, closly watching for any burning, crumble and crush crumbs, then sift till fine. Mix bread crumbs in bowl with philly cream cheese, stir in baking soda, add water and knead to a ball. Bait should be the consistency of Play-Dough. You can add food color to dye the dough any color desired, and for added flavor appeal add garlic juice or anise oil. Pinch off a small amount and put it on a number 18 or 20 weighted jig hook under a small bobber about 18-24 inches, then HOLD ON!


Joel Spalding's Trout Bait
This recipe was passed down to me from my father who got it from an older gentleman when he was in his twenties. It has never let us down, even during those slow times of the day. Mix 6 (uncooked) brown and serve rolls with 1 stick of cream cheese. Work the mix until completely smooth with a consistancy of playdough. Then cook a few strips of bacon and pour the bacon grease onto the ball and work it in. Then add food coloring for desired color and place in fridge to firm.

A Tip from James
It's the oldest trick in the book and works best with worms but given the right "pocket", it can be done with almost anything. Go to the pharmacy and buy some hypodermic needles like diabetics use. Yes you may get that "Are you a junkie" stare but whatever. Pull back on the plunger to fill it with air. You can inject worms, marshmallows, even cheese (tightly packed and needle inserted directly in the middle. The air acts like a bobber and will make most bait float. You can double up by adding a bloated worm to a cheese or power baited hook. Same with marshmallows as they hold air great, are already a good bait and will float even better with some added air. Marshmallows tip. Pinch the end you inserted the needle into to close the whole. Worms will automatically heal and close making them the absolute best for air injection fishing. Trust me been doing it for decades now.

Baitfisher Bill's Dough Bait Recipe
I have the ultimate trout bait that will work ALL day long. First, get a bag of hatchery food from whatever hatchery is near you. Get yourself some flour And HOT (to the point of boiling) water and some heavy duty 1 gallon plastic zip lock freezer bags. Put the hatchery food in the bag and slowly add water just a little at a time, kneading it like bread dough until the fish food dissolves mostly to a wet powder form -- not too wet and not too dry. Next slowly add little amounts of flour and knead like bread dough just until it's to the point of sticking together and falling apart at same time. To fish this bait, press it onto size 8 strait bait hook and make it flat to resemble a spinner. This does two things: it makes the bait float slower down to the bottom, and it makes a cloud of bait as it goes down (which is why you want it to stick together but also to fall apart). Its killer if more than one person uses it in the same fishing hole. Now occasionally lift your rod tip up and down, and seel the bait in very slowly. Since the bait is flat, it should spin on the way back to you, making the fish look at it even more. This bait has also caught close to 40 lunkers in the past 8 years for myself and my friends.

An Interesting Idea from Clinton Becker
Recently I have found soaking new colored ear plugs soaked in an old power bait jar works great as cheap floating bait, they look and feel just like marshmallows, some are even striped in differant colors, and soaked in a power bait jar, pinch flat, put under a washer in the fluid, and as it expands back out it soaks in some of the juice. then put on hook like a marshmallow, first off center, then push all the way through, turn and push hook back into the center, when done right, it will be snag free.

Our thanks to George, Joel, James, Baitfisher Bill for sharing their ideas. If you try these out, be sure to let us know how they worked!

Floating baits, which require the sit-and-wait technique, work fine on hatchery fish that have not yet figured out how to survive in the natural world. But, once a trout learns they can sit still and allow the current to bring food directly to them, they will almost completely stop cruising in search of something to eat. They will migrate between holding areas, and they will chase down food that runs away, but they will rarely move in search of stationary food. It is for this reason that local bait fishers are often quoted as saying the creek has been "fished out" within a couple of weeks of being stocked. There are plenty of fish still there. They've just learned new dining habits.

Creative bait fishermen have learned a new trick. They've learned to fish like fly fishermen and lure fishermen, but they're using natural bait to give them a greater advantage. A trout that has learned to survive in the wild will sit in a safe spot and wait for bits of food to drift to him. A fly fisherman catches this fish by tying on an appropriate artificial and casting it to a point where it will drift down to the fish. The fish opens its mouth, lets the fly float in, and the rest is up to the fisherman. It's actually a fairly simple process -- it just takes some (okay, a ton) of time to really get the hang of it.

A creative bait fisherman can accomplish the same thing, though. By being mobile and wading the stream in search of likely holding spots, they can cast to a number of fish that are actively watching for a bit of food to float by. The basic plan of action is like this. Wade upstream so you'll always be approaching the fish from behind his back where he is less likely to see you coming. Fish with a small hook and a small bobber or strike indicator. Use something that will sink down below the bobber, like some homemade dough bait, a salmon egg, or a small worm -- nothing with the words "floating" or "power" in their name. If you're really feeling frisky, try crickets, caterpillars, very small crayfish, very small frogs, or even hellgrammites. As you approach a possible holding spot, you have to make a decision regarding the desired depth of your bait and adjust the location of your bobber and sinker up or down appropriately. Cast your bait at least 15 feet upstream of where you think the fish is holding and allow the bait to drift toward the fish. If the bobber stops -- even for a moment -- hit him. This strategy will net you bunches of trout when others complain that all the trout have already been pulled out.

There's another benefit in fishing in this way, however. If you like catching trout more than you like eating them, bear this in mind. Unlike trout caught on stationary bait, fish caught using this method have a great chance at survival if you decide to let the fish go. The reason is that you set the hook the moment the bait enters the fish's mouth -- no swallowed hooks.

If you'd like to duplicate the success of the lure fisherman, it's the same idea. Just imitate what they're doing, but use natural bait to give you a greater advantage. Lure fishermen are attempting to trigger a trout to pursue their lure to eat it. They mostly use lures that imitate minnows or worms swimming erratically. So, here are a couple of tips. Try fishing a small night-crawler in the same fashion as a plastic trout worm (see the Lure Fishing page of this site for details on how that works). Some talented bait fishermen will actually inject a bit of air into the worm with a syringe so it floats just above the bottom as they retrieve it. Of course, another option is to use minnows. There are two things you can try.

The easiest method is to use a live minnow hooked through the tail. Put just enough of a sinker on the line to allow you to cast the minnow where you want him, but be sure the weight is a good long distance from the hook -- perhaps 3 feet. Cast the minnow into a deep hole not far from cover, and you should do fine. The 3 foot length between hook and sinker will allow the minnow to swim in a 6 foot wide dome. It will swim strongly at first, but it will begin to tire after a few minutes. Once it begins to tire, expect a hit -- pay attention. The downside of this method is that you're not very mobile. When you cast your bait into that hole, you should expect to sit there for 20 minutes or more before checking your bait. So, if you don't have patience, this may not be the option for you. The next tip will be more to your liking.

Using a longer shanked snelled hook, try threading a dead minnow onto the hook so you can retrieve it nose first. You can even buy in-line spinners to attach to the front of the hook. Then simply fish the minnow like you would a lure. Again, see Lure Fishing for details on this method.

Bait fishing using techniques similar to those employed by lure fishermen and fly fishermen will help you catch more fish than you've ever caught before. This is because you have the advantage of using bait. Flies and lures may look real to the fish, but they don't have an odor and they generally don't feel real to the fish. So, a fish will try to spit out a lure or a fly quickly after they try it. With bait, they're planning on eating it. Your strikes will be more aggressive, and you'll have more time to set the hook. You'll also have the opportunity to practice catch and release when using these methods.

Regarding catch and release, no one should be ashamed to harvest trout legally. The Missouri Department of Conservation has established regulations to allow for trout harvest, after all. Keeping trophy fish is also controversial, but it shouldn't be. The mortality rate of trophy fish is horrible after being caught. They often fight so hard for so long that they build up a toxic level of lactic acid in their system. Releasing a trophy is certainly noble, but removing a dominant fish from an aquatic ecosystem actually helps the fishery as a whole, allowing the smaller fish to gain access to the primo shelter and feeding spots. In other words, it allows more trophies to develop more quickly. Over-harvest of trout, on the other hand, is damaging and often illegal. It's up to each of us to practice responsible harvest practices to protect our trout fisheries. A good rule of thumb is to only keep enough fish for 2 dinners or what you plan to take to the taxidermist.



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