Trout worms catch fish

goldren rainbow trout in Arkansas caught on pink trout wormTrout worms catch fish of all kinds. The small thin soft plastic lures may not look like much. There’s nothing particularly glamorous or even authentic about them. But they absolutely work on a wide variety of freshwater fish. They are as easy to use as they are effective, making them as ideal for beginning anglers as they are for those with experience who simply want to catch fish.

I’ve already written here on how to fish trout worms and similar baits. Probably the best method is to present them in moving water, dead drifted, under a float. You can also fish them as you would a live redworm, drifted on a small hook, perhaps with just enough weigh on the line to get them in front of the fish you are after. In still waters or when all else fails, you can impart a little action in them by slightly twitching your rod.

Trout worms are available from a number of companies in different sizes and colors. My favorite variety by far is the Berkley trout worm. It has just the right firmness and buoyancy to allow for a good presentation. Pink works great on rainbow trout and steelhead. The yellow, white, black and natural brown versions work well on all fish. Chartreuse and orange can also catch fish. I have not had much success with the Berkley Gulp Alive trout worms, which although imbued with more scent are stiffer and dry out after use. The much larger steelhead worms made by Berkley can work, but I find that they are just too big for most Great Lakes applications. I know anglers use them successfully for steelhead on the West Coast, but I haven’t had a chance to fish there. The versions of trout worms made by companies other than Berkley also work.  

I first fished trout worms when I was 11 or 12 years old. My mom bought me a few packs of cheese scented trout worms made by Luck-E-Strike for Christmas. She was never an angler herself, but she took me fishing more than a few times when I was younger and almost always put some tackle under the tree in December. She would tell me she just picked what she thought looked good, and believe it or not she made some fine choices.

The bright orange and pink trout worms Mom bought me didn’t look like much. They were just straight pieces of limp soft plastic. I remember the first time I fished them the following spring. I was with my dad, fishing from the bank of Redstone Creek, a tributary to the Monongahela River in Pennsylvania. I rigged an orange trout worm on a pink 1/32 ounce jig head, eliciting some odd looks from pops, and then started working it near some drop offs. Within a few minutes, a big largemouth bass emerged from out of nowhere and slammed the worm. After a bit of wrangling I brought the fish to the net. It weighed in at four pounds, a good size fish for the Mon, and at the time one of the biggest bass I had ever caught.

I went on to catch bluegills, pumpkinseeds, crappie, rock bass and smallmouth bass on those same worms. I didn’t use them much for trout, usually preferring fly fishing or hand-tied micro jigs in streams and rivers and lures in still waters.

Years later, I started adding Berkley trout worms to my repertoire. First I would break off a small piece of a white or pink worm and add it to a hackle or marabou micro jig. This often brought more strikes than fishing the jig alone or with maggots. Finally, I started fishing the worms alone on a barbless jighead and that proved to be one of the most effective approaches of all.

On the well-stocked White and Norfork Rivers in Arkansas I caught countless trout on Berkley trout worms every time I fished them. I could literally catch as many of the stocked fish as I wanted, at rates of up to two dozen an hour. Local guides there in the Ozarks often fish a pink trout worm rigged on a small hook near the bottom, dragging it behind a boat  that drifts downstream a little faster than the current. This certainly catches fish, but the weight attached to the line to get it down constantly gets covered with the green algae that proliferates throughout the White River system. I found it more productive to fish trout worms rigged on 1/80 or 1/64 ounce gold or nickel plated jig heads under small floats in shallows and near banks and structure.  Pink always worked best, but I caught plenty of fish on yellow and chartreuse worms too. A number of fish that refused the pink worms would quickly strike at one of the other colors.

The same under-the-float method works just as well in the small and medium streams of Pennsylvania, where I have used it to catch hundreds of rainbow, brown and brook trout. Wild and experienced holdover fish seem to be just as susceptible to the worms as freshly-stocked trout, but I haven’t caught any giants. Incidental catches of smallmouth bass, bluegills, and especially rock bass have also been high.

Truth be told, the only large fish I have caught with consistency on trout worms have been steelhead in the Great Lakes tributaries. On those waters, a pink worm on a jig head has brought me many hookups, in all kinds of water conditions.

Some purists (whatever that means) like to look down their noses at baits like trout worms, but they’re really no different than any other artificial lure. Why is a fly like a San Juan worm superior to a trout worm? Because it’s made of chenille rather than soft plastic? What nonsense.

The simplicity and subtlety of trout worms allows them to be fished in any number of ways. They have great versatility and appeal to a wide number of species. If catching fish is your goal, it’s a great option to try.

  1. Devin

    hey, i loved the page. but i was wondering i just fish native trout.and what weights do iput on the line. i heard you can put them on the tag end of the line to hook. how would you do this? and second, when can you fish this. im going the first day of april. in northern mi. any tips for early season plastic worm fishing for native trout? thank you

    • admin

      Hi. Thanks for the comment. To answer your question, trout worms work year round. I’ve caught fish spring, summer, fall and winter with them. I usually fish them on a small collarless jig head in 1/124, 1/80 or 1/64 ounce, and then add 1 – 3 micro split shot (in a size like BB2 or BB3) up the line as needed. It sometimes take more weight than you would think because you want the worm to get down into the strike zone quickly to give you more of a chance of hooking up. If the worm is just floating around in the first few inches of water for half of the drift, you’re missing a lot of opportunity. If you don’t want to fish the worm on a jig head just use a hook as you would live bait and affix the split shot on the line in the same way. If you tie on a leader with a blood knot (as I often do) you can leave one of the tag ends and put the split shot on it. That allows you to pull free if the weight snags up on the bottom. That’s a popular way to drift fish on the Great Lakes tributaries and it works anywhere. That sort of rigging is usually not used with a float though.

      • Devin

        Thank you for all the info. You are a expert on this. One last question. You said the native trout react the same as the stokies. So this will work for small stream brookies? Can’t wait. When do natives start hitting plastic worms? And finally do you ever have any problems with setting the hook? Any tips for that. I promise these are my last questions. Thank you so much.

        • admin

          No problem. I’ve caught plenty of native and wild brooks on trout worms. Pink is a good color, as are natural (worm) brown, red, and black. If there is open water, they’ll hit them. I’ve caught them with snow on the ground and in the middle of Summer.

          • Devin

            thanks so much. I just ordered 3 packs of berkley trout worms. you are a true expert. see you later.

  2. John

    Great article! I just started fishing for trout and use the smallest sized floating Rapala. I wanted to try something else to switch it up and the Berkley trout worms seem great. Just one quick question… for smaller trout (10-14″ range) do you find it better to fish the plastic worm whole at 3″ or is it better to break the worm in half at 1.5″?

    • admin

      Glad you found it useful and took the time to comment. In many places a 10-14″ trout would actually be considered above average. I would use the full 3 inch worm. In fact, I never cut the worms down, even for the smallest trout. They’re little enough to be eaten even by tiny minnows, as you’ll surely find out at some point. I will sometimes tear a small piece off of a worm that has been chewed up from a few catches so I can re-rig and use it again, but that’s about it.

      Check back to let me know how you do with the worms if you have a chance. Thanks.

      • John

        Finally got some of the Berkley trout worms to try out after some looking for them at a few places. They do work on freshly stocked (this last weekend) browns. I didn’t catch any hold overs on them and haven’t had a chance to try them out on native brookies in a small creek yet.
        I replied earlier but got some weird message that it couldn’t be sent so if the rest is a repeat just ignore.
        I found that little stickbaits seem to be faster to fish and catch trout but the trout seem to wise up to them quickly so you need to keep moving upstream. Do you find you can keep fishing the Berkley trout worms longer before the trout wise up? Have you tried the Power Nymphs or any other Berkley offering and do you switch up if so?
        I wanted to try some Trout Magnets but I wonder if I’m just duplicating something like the Power Nymph. I can’t get the trout Magnets in Canada so maybe they aren’t worth the effort to track down.
        I don’t really fish spinners because of line twist and find them sort of boring anyhow. Stickbaits seem more fun.

        • admin

          Thanks for the update.

          The trout worms tend to work best in moving water, but they can work very well in still water too. In a decent current you can cover a lot of water with them pretty quickly, but in slower stuff you’ll usually need to work each likely holding area methodically.

          I’ve caught plenty of hold overs, wild trout, and native trout on trout worms. Pink (either “Bubblegum” or “Pink Shad”) is usually the best all around color, and it is especially effective for stocked fish. I tend to catch more browns with the natural colors like “Natural” (brown), “Smoke” (grey) and “Rainbow Sparkle” (black with glitter), but they’ll hit pink, white and yellow too. I’ve done very well on brook trout with pink, Natural and Avocado Red Fleck. Colors like “Cheese” will sometimes catch fish when no others will.

          I can often take a few fish in a single hole with trout worms. Sometimes changing up the color will get me more fish after the original stops drawing strikes. I might catch two fish on pink then switch to white or chartreuse and catch another. In any case, I almost always keep moving along a stream when fishing. Sometimes fishing your way upstream and then back down will get you even more fish out of a hole on the return.

          Trout Magnets aren’t much different than short soft plastic lures like “Crappie Busters” / “Beetle Spins” (with the spinner blade taken off) to be honest. They are just very good at marketing. If you want to know how they fish but can’t get a hold of any, try fishing some other 1 or 2″ straight soft plastic lure on a small jig head. They’re not bad, but I would almost always fish a trout worm or hackle jig (see below) over a Trout Magnet.

          I’ve only fished Power Nymphs a few times, always in pink. They look like they’d be great but I’ve only ever caught chubs with them in trout streams. To be fair, that’s probably largely because I usually would fish a trout worm first. And I have had banner days fishing them for crappies.

          One of the best options are hackle jigs. They are usually either hand tied or made by someone locally, though there are some companies with wide distribution like Weldon Tackle (with the “Mini Foo” and “Mini Eye”) and Lindy (with the “Little Nipper”). These work great on all trout, in all kinds of waters. Blacks, browns, greens, reds and yellows are the best colors. Fish them like you would a trout worm. Tip the hook with live bait like maggots if you desire. I’ve caught more fish out of single holes with these than probably any other lure.

          Here’s what one of the jigs I tie looks like:

          Search the internet for the Mini Foo to get an idea of one of the more common styles. Both are very good.

          If you’re looking for a quick searching lure stickbaits definitely work, as do spoons and spinners. You’ve said you don’t like spinners (I don’t necessarily like them either, but the Blue Fox Flash Deep works very well and never gives me a problem with line twist). Why not try some spoons? Little Cleos are great. They come in a number of colors and sizes and can be fished with a steady retrieve, jigged, or jerked through the water.

          If you can’t find any of the things mentioned here in a store near you, consider ordering them online. Sometimes that’s the only option.

          I hope this helps. Let me know how you do.

          • John

            I do like the trout worms for a plastic/jig role on trout. I’ll pick up another couple of colours to round it out some more. They are a good addition to the tackle box and what I was hoping for.

            Thanks for the feedback on the Trout Magnets. The company seems good at putting together a “system/marketing” and their EZ floats seem nicely designed so I might try to hunt those down as they seem unique from where I’m from. But with the trout worms and power nymphs (I cut the two long tails off – I seem to get more strikes that way) and some of those hackle jigs that would be plenty of options for me in the plastic/jig department for trout. Next time I’m in the fishing store I’ll look out for some of the hackle jigs you mentioned or some marabou in smaller sizes. The ones you tied yourself are nicely done. I have too many hobbies already to get into tying my own, but am jealous you get to do your own… lol.

            Stickbaits are fun for me personally because I impart more of the action in them. Plus I use floaters and I find I never lose a lure or in danger of it even in the shallowest river stretches or in farm country with weedy bottoms or tree limbs on the bottom. If I want to pause for a long time I can, with spoons or in-line spinners I can’t. You get a different type of control with a floating stickbait I find.

            One of the local rivers was freshly stock with browns so I have been throwing in-line spinners for shear numbers of fish. Spinners are hard to beat for numbers I find, but aren’t that fun to fish personally. I usually throw spoons in lakes (EGB spoons are popular up North and nicely made).

            Thanks for the feedback once again. I was looking for 2 or 3 plastics/jigs to throw at trout in river and think I’m going to be happy with them.

          • admin

            No problem. Glad to help at all if I can.

            The EZ floats do work well. I use them too. There are other companies that produce what is basically the same thing. Weldon Tackle is one that comes to mind (“slotted bobbers”), but there are several.

            Lately I’ve been using floats from Redwing (Blackbird Phantom Floats) and Thill (“mini shy float”) a little more often.

            All of these are available at if you can’t find them anywhere else. They also have some hackle jigs.

            You should have no trouble getting the Redwing floats if you’re interested though, since they’re made in Canada.

            Stickbaits are definitely a good option. What’s your favorite? I like the 2″ Rapala “original floater.”

            I haven’t tried the EGB spoons, but I will look into them if I get the chance.


  3. John

    I like the EZ float design. It looks simple to put on a float or take it off if you didn’t want to fish with a float for a while and also looks quick to adjust the height.
    The shipping rates to Canada are more than the floats… lol. Next time I travel to the States I’ll stock up. Yes, the Redwing floats are popular for steelhead and big browns in the Great Lakes areas.
    My favourite stickbait is a Rapala F3 or F5 floater, Yellow Perch or Hot Steel or the Trout patterns for colour. The smaller brook or brown trout, less than 10″, don’t seem to hit them as often as a spinner. Less fish, but bigger. I also find them better to fish in low water/shallows and over material where hangs are a problem. For smallmouth in rivers a F5 or F7 can be fished as a top water – it is versatile. I like less gear than more. When trolling in a canoe on a lake you can stop and the stickbait will float to the surface as opposed to a spoon which will get hung up on the bottom. A Shad Rap is also nice for a little deeper. You get constant depth that way, whereas a spoon or spinner you have no idea how deep you are fishing. For casting to structure an EGB spoon is tough to beat, nice swivels built in and heavy like a casting spoons should be.

  4. RMAU

    A thing to remember about fishing in rivers is if you can see the trout, they can see you. Blue and green clothing is rumored to be harder for trout to see. Trout are also sensitive to vibrations so walk softly and avoid jumping, shouting or anything else that is noisy

    • Angler

      Camouflage is best of all. A lot of small stream anglers won’t fish without it.