A common strategy for many kinds of fishing is to downsize during winter, with the logic being that fish require less and therefore eat less and that if they get a bit fussy, a smaller offering is more likely to trigger strikes.

With most kinds of fish and many situations, that strategy is sound. Trout are a little different, though. For a few different reasons, winter tends to be the best time of the year to pursue stream trout with minnow-imitating plugs (which, generally speaking, are larger than most fly- or spin-fishermen’s offerings for trout).

For starters, trout are cold-water fish. Through the southern half of their U.S. range, the water temperature through all except the coldest part of the winter actually tends to be more conducive to feeding than through most of the year. Even when the water gets colder than a trout’s ideal range, it only slows feeding a bit.

At the same time, available forage almost invariably becomes less plentiful. With far fewer aquatic insects hatching, even fewer terrestrials coming from the banks, and crawfish all burrowed up, trout have to feed more opportunistically, often seizing opportunities to eat larger forage items. The most readily available forage species are small fish, sometimes including darters, shiners, sculpins and even young trout. A minnow-imitating lure, therefore, “matches the hatch.”

Also related to natural forage, Tracdown Minnows (slow sinkers) tend to work better than floaters through the winter. Most food, including forage fish, stays pretty close to the bottom through the cooler months, so that’s where trout spend the most time. Lacking hatches and displaced hoppers, they look down far more than they look up, so it’s generally best to work lures low in the water column.

Because these are slow sinkers, you can still work them shallow when necessary by reeling right away and keeping the rod up and the lure in motion. However, by waiting before starting a presentation, adding significant pauses or simply slowing way down, it’s easy to work these baits deeper to get down among the trout.

Minnow Options

Rebel sinking minnow options include the regular Tracdown Minnow, the slenderer Tracdown Ghost Minnow and the Tracdown Micro Minnow. The Tracdown TD50 and Tracdown Ghost TD47, both 2 ½ inches long, are the most popular for trout and the best fit for the most situations. That said, don’t overlook the 3 1/2-inch TD10 or 4 ½-inch TD57, especially in larger rivers that support larger trout. At the other end of the spectrum, when the fish do seem extra fussy, try a 1 5/8-inch Tracdown Minnow or a Tracdown Micro Minnow, which is 1 ½ inches long and slender and has a built-in single, barbless hook.

Whatever minnow you choose, aim casts generally upstream and work your lure with the current. Beyond delivering the most natural presentation in most cases, it’s much easier to keep baits low in the water column if you’re not battling resistance from current. Work lures slowly overall and experiment with both steady retrieves and more erratic presentations and pay attention to what makes the fish respond.