Hard baits, including minnow imitators and specialized crankbaits like Rebel Crawfish and Crickhoppers provide major advantages for stream trout and produce great results.
“This is all they’ve been hitting,” the guy behind the fly shop counter advised my son, Nathaniel, showing him a midge so tiny it was barely visible on the tip of his finger. “With it being all catch-and-release, those fish get very fussy.”
Nathaniel wasn’t planning to fly-fish, so the suggested pattern didn’t matter, but he listened politely and nodded, maybe wondering slightly if a small jig might work best when we got to the stream the next morning. Shortened version: The trout were highly aggressive, and Nathaniel caught most of his fish on Rebel Wee-Crawfish and his best fish on a 3 ½-inch jerkbait that he had equipped with a 1/O single hook. Other young anglers we saw that day were having minimal success.
Only artificial lures with a single barbless hook may be used in the youth-only stream he was fishing, and the trout see a LOT of flies and a fair number of in-line spinners, spoons and micro jigs. His wobbling and darting lures, which suggested a bigger meal, seemingly got the trout’s attention and prompted them to react, instead of studying slow-drifting flies and eventually rejecting them.
Hard Bait Advantages
Except by tailwater anglers targeting jumbo browns with bass-style jerkbaits, minnow style lures and crankbaits are largely overlooked by anglers casting in streams for trout. To ignore these lures, though, is to ignore several genuine fish-catching advantages.
For starters, even small versions of these lures tend to be larger than many popular trout stream lures, and they are therefore easy to cast. Similarly, they have built-in action and are very easy to fish effectively. Even a new angler can cast a minnow bait or crawfish and simply crank it back and enjoy good chances of succeeding.
Adding stream appeal, Rebel Crawfish and sinking lures like Tracdown Minnows handle current well and aren’t easily rolled over or overpowered by moving water.
Many of these lures also match natural forage. Minnow baits can suggest chubs, darters, sculpins, fingerling trout and a host of other forage fish species while Rebel Crawfish, Hellgrammites and Crickhoppers match exactly what their names suggest. With these types of menu items being favored forage for larger trout, lures that match them increases your chances of appealing to big fish. That said, typical “stocker” trout will readily attack any of the same offerings.
As alluded to already, hard baits also show trout something different than much of what they typically see, which provides an important advantage at times. Closely related, these baits are generally fished quickly, and they prompt reaction strikes. Trout that are rejecting even very good fly presentations because they get such a good look might ambush a Rebel Crawfish that suddenly wobbles past a boulder and already looks like it’s getting away.
Two of the best specific lure options for many stream trout situations are a Rebel TD47 Tracdown Ghost Minnow and Deep Teeny Wee Crawfish. Both can hit a range of depths allowing you to work shallow shoals or deeper pools, along with handling current well and having an enticing built-in action. They are also both small for hard baits (Ghost Minnow 2 ½ inches, but very slender; Craw, 1 ½ inches), yet heavy enough for easy casting on light tackle. The Tracdown Ghost Minnow has a tight wiggling action when swam steadily but darts erratically when jerked. The Deep Teeny Wee Crawfish has a broad side-to-side wobble and deflects enticingly when it bumps cover or grinds the bottom.
The Teeny Wee Crawfish offer same profile and action as the Deep Teeny Wee Crawfish but stays shallower. The Middle Wee-Craw and Wee-Crawfish provide slightly larger version for bigger water or heavier flows or for targeting larger trout.
Good alternatives to a Tracdown Ghost Minnow are the Tracdown Minnow TD50, which is the same length as the Ghost Minnow but a little less slender and with a different swimming action, and the TD10, which is an inch longer.
Two specialized baits that work very well for stream trout are a Rebel Hellgrammite and Crickhopper. Hellgrammite shaped, as you would expect, the Rebel Hellgrammite is a sinking lure with a subtle action. It’s an excellent option when trout are close to the bottom in rocky runs and feeding on hellgrammites or other large aquatic insect nymphs. The Crickhopper, which has the profile of a Cricket or Grasshopper, allows you target fish that are keying on terrestrial insects that find themselves afloat.
With minnow baits, productive presentations range from steady reeling to moving the bait exclusively with snaps of the rod, and the best retrieve for a day often falls in-between with a cranking retrieve broken by pauses, twitches or jerks. For sinking lures, like a Tracdown Minnow or Hellgrammite, allowing the bait to sink to the level of the fish or keeping it moving to skim over a shallow shoal can be important.
With any of the Rebel Crawfish, it’s tough to top a steady reeling presentation that engages the lure’s natural swimming action. Major variables are cast angles and retrieve speeds. For upstream casts, the best retrieve speed often is slightly faster than the current – just fast enough to make the lure dive and trigger the action. In swift current, a great way to work a Rebel Crawfish is to cast cross-current, engage the reel and simply hold the line tight so the lure swings out from the bank and dives and wobbles as it battles the current.
Crickhoppers call for a different approach. Although you certainly can catch trout on one by casting and reeling, the best way to match a real cricket or grasshopper is to cast near the bank, let the lure drift in the current on top and twitch the rod tip from time to time to make it dance. Strikes are apt to be decisive!
For any hard bait presentation, surprise can be an important factor. Look for boulders, brush and defined eddies that should hold trout and plan your casts so the trout first become aware of your lure as it passes within ambush range.
Special Hook Requirements
Many trout streams across the country (including some really good waters) have special regulations that include a requirement to use single hooks, barbless hooks or even single, barbless hooks. Don’t let such requirements deter you. Most hard baits are simple to modify, and you’ll often be the only angler showing trout those types of lures in special regs waters.
Barbless is super simple. Tracdown Ghost Minnows come with barbless trebles out of the package, and for other baits, conversion requires nothing more than pinching barbs flat with pliers.
When a single hook is required, simply remove both trebles from their split rings and replace the back one with a single hook. Use a single hook that is two or three sizes larger than the trebles that came on the lure both for the sake of lure balance and having plenty of hook with only one point. I like short-shank bait hooks for this application.
A too-often overlooked factor for stream trout is the importance of stealth. Once the trout become aware of you, they become much less likely to bite. Because trout tend to inhabit clear water and shallow runs, remaining undetected often calls for a stealthy approach.
That doesn’t mean you have to go full camo and crawl (not usually, at least!) However, just learning to stay out of the stream when you can or at least back from likely trout lies and to avoid abrupt movements will make a bigger difference than most anglers would guess. Using boulders and other instream cover for concealment, staying somewhat low, and dressing in drab colors don’t hurt.
Not surprisingly lower flows and clearer water increase the need for stealth, as do specific spots where the water is extra calm or extra shallow.
Beyond being a bit sneaky, stealth includes examining runs and making the best casts first or working a pool from the bottom to the top to minimize the trout’s awareness of you and your lures.
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