Why Slow-Sinking Lures Catch More Fall and Winter Trout
Oct 23, 2022
Why Slow-Sinking Lures Catch More Fall and Winter Trout
Slow-sinking hard baits rank as some of the best trout fishing lures for the cool season. Learn how these baits can help you catch more fish.
As I reeled in my fourth or fifth trout from the same spot, my buddy asked what I was doing different from him. We were standing side by side, fishing the same run, with similar-sized minnow-imitating trout lures. Yet he hadn’t gotten a strike.
It was more about what I was using than what I was doing, and the difference wouldn’t have been obvious from a glance. My lure was slow sinker. His was a floater/diver. The fish were feeding near the bottom and weren’t active enough to move up to feed. Although his lure had a good profile and action, it simply was not getting down among them.
Slow-sinking lures rank among the best trout fishing lures during late fall and through the winter. We’ll look at the advantages these lures provide and examine how to fish them effectively.
Sinking Hard Baits
Several types of trout fishing lures, including spoons, inline spinners and jigs, sink on their own, and some of the same techniques we’ll look at would apply with these styles of lures. However, our focus is on hard-plastic baits, which typically have a darting or wiggling action and are weighted so they sink slowly when not in motion. The slow sink rate is part of what sets apart these lures from most other sinking baits because it allows for easy control the depth.
Rebel Tracdown Minnows and Tracdown Ghost Minnows, thus named because they “track down” in the water column when not in motion or when moving slowly, are good examples. They look like floating versions of Rebel Minnows and offer a similar swimming action. However, their ability to move down in the water column comes from the way they are weighted, more so than from the influence of a lip.
Some slow-sinking lures, like the Rebel Raider, don’t have a lip at all and are designed to dart with each twitch of the rod tip.
Sinking Bait Advantages
Lures that sink on their own provide a few important advantages for trout fishing from fall through spring.
First, and most importantly, trout mostly feed low in the water column when the water is cold. Aquatic insects are in nymph and larval stages, drifting or crawling along the bottom, and other important trout forage, including crawfish, sculpins and various kinds of minnows, stay near the bottom. The bottom of a typical trout stream also holds boulders or consists of ledges and other uneven rock formations, so trout find refuge from the current and plentiful ambush positions.
The colder the water gets, the more bottom oriented most trout forage becomes, keeping fish from even looking up with food in mind. At the same time, trout become less inclined to chase as the water gets colder, so if a lure doesn’t get down to them, they aren’t apt to go after it.
It’s worth noting that close to the bottom doesn’t necessarily mean deep. Trout use a broad range of water depths this time of year. They could be atop a shallow gravel bar or at the bottom of a deep run. With a slow-sinking bait, you can control the depth and effectively work it quite shallow or allow it to drop down in a big pool.
Because of the extra weight, most sinkers also cast better than comparable sized floater/divers. That’s important for covering water and for hitting specific eddies or pieces of cover that are apt to hold trout.
The same weighting of the lure also causes sinkers to handle current better than similar floating lures, which sometimes roll up or run off-center in swift water.
The Slow Sinker Approach
Getting the most from slow-sinking lures is all about depth control, which is achieved through pauses, variances in retrieve speed and rod angle. Generally speaking, you want work near the bottom, whether the bottom is 2 feet deep or 10 feet deep, and the ideal depth commonly will change within a presentation.
If you cast into a shallow bank pocket, start the lure moving immediately so the fish will react to a would-be meal potentially escaping, instead of giving the fish too good a look. If the bottom drops off just out from the bank, though, your presentation should mirror that. Pause the retrieve as the lure crosses the drop and let it sink before putting it back in motion. If the bottom depth tapers down, instead of dropping sharply, you can just slow the presentation enough to allow the bait to sink a bit.
For the deepest runs, pause long enough let the lure sink to near the bottom right after casting or at least to work the bait slowly at first and with the rod held low so your bait drops toward the prime zone as it begins its dance.
In many trout streams, you can see the bottom and your offering throughout many presentations, making depth control visual and intuitive. In deeper runs, at the far ends of long casts, or in places where water color or current make the bottom tougher to see, it’s more of a “feel” and timing proposition. If you aren’t feeling the bottom from time to time, you’re probably not fishing deep enough. Lengthen pauses or slow your retrieves.
When manageable for the layout of a creek and where it can be accessed, working upstream, angling casts upstream and presenting lures with the current, is generally advantageous in a trout stream. That keeps you downstream of the fish, which means staying behind them based on how fish mostly orient in current, and allows you to make natural presentations.
Orienting casts upstream becomes extra important for slow-sinking lures that you want to get down in the water column. When you need to work lures back upstream or even across a stream, line and lure resistance cause sinking baits to rise, making depth management far more difficult. Casts directed upstream or at least angled upstream allow the bait to fall uninhibited and for you to control the depth with your rod with your retrieves.
This is not to say you can’t work your way down a stream and catch trout. Sometimes a stream’s configuration provides no other option, and you can adjust with shorter presentations and by staying back from promising runs and orienting upstream with individual casts when possible. Whenever the situation allows, though, casting upstream and working baits back downstream definitely makes it easier to get sinking baits down and to control depths.
Trout commonly react to specific cadences and movements, but those preferences vary from day to day, often for no obvious reason. If you work a lure the same way all the time, you’ll have catchable trout look at your lure and reject it without ever knowing it some days. Varying presentations and paying careful attention to what produces fish or prompts strikes or follows is critical for maximizing fish-catching opportunities.
Some days slow and steady is the way to go, and any unusual flares or darts will cause fish to turn away. Other days erratic darts are needed to prompt strikes. Often, it’s somewhere in between, and a mostly steady retrieve broken by pauses or gentle twitches will prompt the most strikes. Note the overall retrieves that produce best and, more specifically, what you just did whenever a fish hits.
Of course, different lures call for different presentations. Because the Rebel Raider doesn’t have a lip to make it wiggle, reeling steadily is seldom the best approach. Some type of rod movement is necessary to impart action. That said, slight twitches and sharper tugs create vastly different action, and this lure can be walked rhythmically or moved more sporadically.
Lure related, it’s best to have a handful of options in a box so you can mix up sizes, profiles and actions to find what the fish want. If you are getting a lot of follows but fish aren’t quite committing to any presentations, switching to a bait that gets to the same zone but has a different swimming action could be all the difference between followers and fish catches.
Top Slow Sinkers from Rebel Lures
Tracdown Ghost Minnow – A slender 2 1/2-inch minnow, the Ghost Minnow has a tight wiggle when reeled steadily but darts erratically with twitches or jerks
Tracdown Minnow – The Tracdown Minnow, which comes in 1 5/8-, 2 1/2-, and 3 1/2-inch sizes, is slightly thicker than the Tracdown Ghost Minnow, comes in flashy patterns and has a bit of roll in its swimming action.
Raider – The Rebel Raider doesn’t have a diving lip. It sinks naturally and darts with twitches of the rod tip. Small twitches and slow pulls are key to the right action for cool-season trout.
Hellgrammite – Hellgrammites, which are dobsonfly nymphs, provide important forage to trout in many streams. They stay close to the bottom, so the sinking Rebel Hellgrammite offers a natural match in appearance and behavior.
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.
Casting natural offerings to drift in the current is a highly effective way to catch trout. Learn the tricks to this time-proven approach.
Trout fishing has its share of stereotypes, with one being that trout fishing always means fly-fishing. Another is that trout fishing with bait only means sitting beside a heavily stocked lake or a big pool with bait on the bottom to collect trout for a stringer.
While that certainly is a popular way to catch trout and a fine way to spend a day, anglers who prefer to work streams more actively – moving, casting and making active presentations – should not overlook the virtue of using natural offerings. Drifting bait is a fun and highly effective way to tap into outstanding action in a trout stream.
Some of the best baits for catching creek smallies were not made for that application, but we don’t need to tell that to the fish!
“It was designed to be jig trailer,” Patrick Marbury said with a knowing smile as he reeled in yet another creek smallmouth on a YUM Craw Chunk, “but I’ve learned that it works REALLY well on its own!”
A creek fishing enthusiast from northwest Ark. who heads various marketing projects for Lurenet.com and associated lure brands, Marbury often goes outside the box with the soft plastic lures he chooses for creek smallmouth bass from Ozarks streams – and in doing so he finds exceptional success.
Marbury’s favorites include some baits that offer natural attraction and subtle action and some that kick hard to move water and prompt attacks. The common denominator is that most are at the small end of the spectrum – baits that would be considered “finesse soft plastics” for bass fishing.