The best plastic worm colors for steelhead

The cat is out of the bag. Plastic worms work very well on steelhead in rivers and streams. I’ve been catching steelhead on worms for over a decade now. When I first started using them I wouldn’t see any other people tossing worms. Now I see lots of people using them. Normally they throw pink worms. That makes sense because pink worms are great for steelhead. But there are other colors of worms too.

steelhead on white pink trout worm

There are times when pink worms simply won’t catch fish. That is when I throw on some of the other colors. You could carry every color in the rainbow. But you’d need a mighty big vest or backpack for that. Through trial and error, me and my fishing friends have found that a small number of colors seems to work most times. Those colors are:

  • Pink and White
  • White
  • Black
  • Watermelon
  • Purple

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Pink and white is funny. It will sometimes catch fish when steelhead are turning their noses up at either pure white or pure pink worms. So it’s good to have a pink and white combo in some form available. You can buy Berkley Pink Shad Trout Worms which are basically half white and half pink. But another option is to carry pink and white jig heads. Then you can fish a white worm on a pink jig head. Or a pink worm on a white jig head. Sometimes this will make the difference.

Other times pure white will work wonders. You can fish white worms on white jig heads or plain lead jig heads. Or you can wacky rig them on a regular hook. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Once you find the fish the next step is to figure out what they want to eat.

That’s where black comes in. This is a good color for a few specific situations. One is night fishing, where that is allowed. Another is fishing in high water. The dark black color seems to be easier for fish to find in either case. Finally, you can try black worms in low water conditions where fish are highly pressured or acting skittish. Sometimes a basic black worm will do the trick.

Watermelon and purple are outliers. They are sort of like pink worms in that they don’t necessarily look like any sort of natural food that a steelhead would come across. Yet at the same time they definitely attract and catch fish. I have caught fish on purple trout worms when nothing else I tried would work.

Another time I was ready to call it quits after a long day of fishing and coming up empty handed. My friend and I threw everything at a pod of fish we found holed up during early season. The water was low and clear and the fish had been hammered for days straight by countless people fishing. They wouldn’t even look at anything we threw. Finally my friend put on a watermelon colored trout worm on a whim and instantly hooked up. I put on the same color worm and we caught several fish in a row. Without those worms we would have gone home skunked.

What about worm length? Out in the native range of the steelhead on the West Coast people tend to use much bigger baits. That includes worms. If you’re in a place like Washington State or Alaska you might see people throwing 4″ paddle tails for steelhead. On most of the Great Lakes tributaries that would be overkill. Around the Great Lakes, regular trout worms and even 2 3/8″ micro trout worms catch plenty of fish. In these smaller and clearer waters big “steelhead worms” can actually spook fish!

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