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Garden Hackles and NightCrawlers

Garden Hackles NightCrawlers

Garden Hackles

Basic, run-of-the-mill earthworms (also known as “garden hackle“) continue to catch trout, but more so at higher elevation waters than at lower, municipal reservoirs. The best way to fish these is using just one or two on the hook, making certain to cover the point and the shank. Rig the worms through the sex collar, using a #8 to #12 bait-holder hook. For still-fishing from the bank, a more subtle offering of just one or two instead of an entire “gob” is preferred. This presumably looks more natural to the trout.

Nightcrawlers present another situation all together. Fish the ‘crawler with a #6 to #10 longshank bronze baitholder hook. Run the hook through the sex collar and then back through, re-embedding it into the ‘crawler, creating a weedless effect.

Another option is to do the same thing only this time fill the nightcrawler full of air with a worm blower (basically a crude syringe sold at tackle stores). This will force the bait to float off the bottom depending upon the length of the leader line.

Both red worms and nightcrawlers can be still-fished with the traditional sliding egg sinker rigs. However, with nightcrawlers, you might consider using a 4 pound test leader. Bigger trout chomp on these jumbo worms and are often not that particular about the diameter of the leader material. Hence, the heavy leader will give you a little more leverage against larger fish. But, if the 4 pound test doesn’t get bit, go back to fishing the ‘crawler on 2 to 3 pound test.

Be sure to inspect the bait before you leave the tackle shop. Most stores allow you to empty the contents into a metal or cardboard trough to determine that the bait is alive and represented in the proper amount.

20-Bait Fishing

Finally, keep nightcrawlers chilled for best results. You can store them in an insulated “Bait Canteen” or buy an inexpensive styrofoam ice chest with a lid containing coolant solution that you can freeze. You can keep ‘crawlers alive in this chest all day even through the hottest summer months.

Grasshoppers and Crickets

In some areas grasshoppers and crickets produce fantastic results when more conventional offerings fail. Some bait shops sell crickets in little cages. As for grasshoppers, you can easily catch your own. Take a woman’s nylon stocking and stretch it over a wire coat hanger frame. Attach a broom handle and you have a simple grasshopper net.

Hook live ‘hoppers and crickets right under the collar again, using light leaders and #6 to #10 baitholders. Large browns and ‘bows seldom see these morsels and jump on them like a rare treat. So be prepared for possibly tangling with a larger-class trout when you use either live grasshoppers or crickets!

Other Bait for Trout Streams

There are some subtle tricks that help catch trout with bait when stream fishing. Locally collected baits can be deadly on rivers and creeks.


As with all forms of troutin’, bait fishermen must be willing to “mix it up” as far as presentations are concerned. Sometimes, just when it seems that the fish are annihilating one bait, the bite shuts off and you have to switch to another. In our highly pressured California streams and lakes, light, delicate leaders and small hooks are a must when soaking baits. Western trout can be super finicky, so be certain to take the time to discretely hide the hook in the bait.

Effective Trout Bait of Salmon Eggs, Nightcrawlers, Christmas Trees and Crickets

Effective Trout Bait of Salmon Eggs, Nightcrawlers, Christmas Trees and Crickets

Effective Trout Bait

There is an amazing array of baits — both prepared and live — that can be tossed to catch trout in the Golden State. Let’s start with the most common offerings and then later talk about some of the more esoteric choices available.

Effective Trout Bait of Salmon Eggs, Nightcrawlers, Christmas Trees and Crickets

Effective Trout Bait of Salmon Eggs

Day in and day out, you can always count on salmon eggs as a effective trout bait. The biggest mistake trouters make in fishing this bait comes not so much from their presentation but from their selection off the shelf. Novice anglers sometimes see all salmon eggs as practically the same and hence opt for purchasing the cheapest jars available.

Cheap eggs are usually a waste of money and more often than not will result in an unproductive day of fishing. Better grade salmon eggs are cured longer. Some are typically larger and firmer; others are made to ’milk” more in the water. The “milking” aspect is an important feature, especially if you still fish with eggs. You want the egg to slowly soften up underwater, but not totally dissolve off the hook. As it softens up, it discharges its contents, creating a film or milky cloud in the water that “calls” the trout in for a look. Cheaper salmon eggs do not milk that well, are often overly soft, and dissolve too quickly. Super firm, premium eggs are not necessarily larger, but are made for faster currents such as rivers and streams so they stay on the hook longer.

16-Bait Fishing

Pautzke’s has become the generic name for salmon eggs in California. Even this brand has a series of grades available. The “Green Label” is their basic spread and is very suitable for most Western trouting. The “Premium” label is Pautzke’s best with a larger, firmer egg. Other equally viable salmon eggs are marketed under the Cossack, Mike’s, Uncle Josh, and Atlas brand names. Take the time to inspect the contents of the jar before you purchase it and try to buy the best-looking, firmest eggs available.

As for colors, fluorescent red is still overwhelmingly your best choice in salmon eggs. There are times however — for whatever reason — that a whitish or cheese-yellow egg is the hot ticket. Interestingly, cutthroats often prefer an orange egg. But also, changes in water action, weather, and/or light conditions can often have the effect of “turning the fish off” to one color of egg and “on” to another. You might consider carrying a jar of one of the more exotic colors for such situations. You can also combine these lighter colors with the red versions or with other baits such as marshmallows to field your own unique creations. Similarly, many brands are now manufactured with scent added such as cheese, garlic, or corn.

Small gold salmon egg hooks with the short shank and pronounced curve hooks are the most popular ways to fish this bait. Using a size 10 to 16, you can embed the small hook into a single egg, or sometimes through two smaller eggs. Often, the one large egg is preferred over two smaller ones.

Berkley Strikes

Take some Berkley Strike in the trout scent and add a few prominent drops to this cluster before you cast it out. The combination of the Strike dissolving and the eggs milking creates a sort of “vapor trail” under water that seduces trout even in the toughest conditions.

No matter how you fish salmon eggs, it is critical to always keep the hook embedded so it is hidden in the egg. It is truly amazing how even the basic Stocker trout in put’n take waters will shy off from the egg if the tiniest hint of hook is exposed. So, take the time to carefully cover the hook as cleanly as possible before casting.

Effective Trout Bait Velveeta Cheese

Velveeta Cheese

The Kraft people probably never realized that they would have such a satellite market for their processed cheese when they first introduced it. But, when you talk about fishing for trout with cheese, Kraft Velveeta is what comes to mind. You can buy it in small boxes with the cheese conveniently wrapped in foil at almost any supermarket.

The Velveeta is soft and fishes best when molded onto a treble hook as an effective trout bait. It is recommend that a size 12 to 18 depending upon how large and how touchy the trout are in the waters you are fishing. You might also try that little trick with the Berkley Strike, adding a drop or two on a gob of cheese.

Floating Baits & Cheese Concoctions

Like Pautzke’s for salmon eggs, and Kraft for cheese, Zeke’s has become the hallmark for floating baits. These preparations are whipped into a variety of flavors and allow you to fish bait off the bottom. This is done for two reasons:

  1. Sometimes the trout suspend off the bottom, feeding in a particular strike zone and,
  2. Getting the bait off the bottom lets it stand out from rocks, weeds, and similar obstructions.

Zeke’s is available in the original (anise scented) flavor, garlic, salmon egg, and corn-scents. It has observed on numerous occasions that the trout will go into a frenzy for one flavor and will pass on the others. A few hours later, they switch preferences and key into yet another scent. So it is best to carry at least 2 or 3 jars of this prepared floating bait with you if you are going to do some serious bait dunking. We might add that you can also mix the flavors together, creating a marbled effect that sometimes works amazingly well. Mold the floating bait onto a #12 to #18 treble hook.

The Targhee brand of processed cheese bait is another alternative to consider. It is similar to Velveeta in texture, but comes in flavors more closely resembling Zeke’s. There are times, particularly in stained water and lakes with bland muddy bottoms, where the Targhee spread really works.

Effective Trout Bait Marshmallows


As with cheese, Kraft found still another avenue for sales of marshmallows to the California trout fishing community as effective trout bait. Using Kraft Miniature marshmallows, West Coast anglers invented a simple floating bait before commercial compounds were ever sold. For a long time, trouters would impale a small white marshmallow onto a treble hook for some really hot results. Later, the marshmallow fad evolved into using the more exotic colored versions. Sometimes anglers put a white with a pink or yellow marshmallow on the same hook for an interesting twist on this bait.

Christmas Trees, “Shasta Flies”, and Other Combos

Working with a base stock of salmon eggs, Velveeta, floating cheese and marshmallows, trouters in the Golden State have devised some rather “bizarre” combinations that often produce striking results because they are effective trout bait!

One popular combo is called the “Christmas Tree“. Take three quality salmon eggs and plant them on each point of the treble hook. Now, using either Velveeta, Targhee, or Zeke’s, mold it over the eggs to cover the remainder of the hook. Use a variety of the “toppings” to determine what the trout prefer that day.

A variation of this theme is to run a small #14 to #18 treble hook all the way through a miniature marshmallow. Temporarily slide the marshmallow above the bare hook. Next, put a single red salmon egg on each of the three hook points. Then slide the marshmallow back down, molding it above the eggs. This is humorously known as the “Shasta Fly“.

Another very unusual combination is to thread a miniature marshmallow onto a long shank #8 bait holder hook. Then lace a live meal worm onto the tip of the hook. The marshmallow floats the “mealie” and it must present one heck of an edible package to the trout — because it really works!

Fly Fishing Tips: Dry Flies


When neophyte anglers think about “fly fishing“, the image of the lure they usually have in mind is a small dry fly softly dancing upon the water’s surface. Dry flies are designed to imitate mature, hatched insects that have either floated to the surface or have landed upon it. In either case, the dry fly is presented to the fish on the surface of the water where it presumably stays “dry“. Hence the term “dry” fly.

Fly fishing tips: Dry flies and hackle

Fly Fishing Tips: Dry Flies

The hackle on a dry fly is commonly made from the neck feathers of a roaster. They are tied and spread around the head or tail section of the fly to imitate the legs of an insect. The hackle feathers also help to keep the dry fly afloat. Some dry fly patterns are constructed with very delicate hackles, sparsely tied to the bottom. These are best fished in clear water conditions where the trout can closely scrutinize the lure. Dry flies with bulkier, more prominent hackle feathers can be fished in stained water or overcast and dim light conditions. Patterns with the “bushy” effect will also float best when a surface presentation is paramount to getting the trout to strike.

Important considerations

Perhaps the most critical consideration for successful dry fly fishing is learning to match the fly to the corresponding size of the natural insects that are landing on the water. Proper coloration and pattern matching to the specie of insect are obviously important, too. But many expert fly fishermen agree that above all, it is most important to present a silhouette that most closely resembles the natural insect’s size and shape.

Dry flies are tied in larger #12 sizes down to tiny #26 patterns. For most California conditions, the beginner can usually get by with a light assortment in size #14 with some #16’s for super clear water. Popular patterns for our waters include the Adams, Black Gnat, Caddis, Cahill, California Mosquito, Coachman, Dusty Miller, Ginger Quill, Gray Hackle, Humpy, Light Cahill, Peacock, Renegade, Royal Wolff, and Royal Coachman. Another style to keep handy, especially when grasshoppers fill the mountain meadows is Joe’s Hopper — a larger specimen that fishes great as a dry fly.

Best time to use Dry Flies

Obviously, the best time to fish dry flies is when the trout are “rising” to the surface and feeding on the insect hatch. Interestingly though, a rise on the water does not always mean that the trout are actually feeding on the surface.

Quite often the fish are chasing emergent larvae floating up or hatching from the bottom. This gives the angler the illusion of surface-feeding trout. Under these circumstances, it might be better to fish a nymph or a wet fly rather than a dry fly.

Soft Bait Storage

soft bait storage

The first prerequisite of the angler who would like to keep his bait fresh and alive is a refrigerator. An old kitchen model kept in the garage or outhouse is ideal. Bait tends to smell and may upset other members of the household, so be warned about trying to keep bait in a refrigerator intended for food storage in the kitchen. You can pick up an old fridge for very little money. The best types for soft bait storage are those with both refrigerator and freezer compartments. Obviously they are more economical should you wish to freeze bait as well as keep it alive.


Lugworm keeps well in clean newspaper for three to four days. For longer periods, use a shallow cat-litter-type tray with just enough water in it to keep the worms wet, stored inside the fridge. Submerging worms in water allows bacteria to travel from one to the other, and may spread diseases that will kill them all.


For ragworm, especially white ragworm, use coral sand in a cat-litter tray. King ragworm will stay alive for up to a week in damp peat; for longer periods, use the same method as for lugworms.

Peeler Crabs

Peeler crabs can be kept alive by covering them with damp newspaper or hessian sacking in a wooden box inside the fridge. Be careful that the crabs do not dry out by using a garden spray bottle containing seawater to damp them down regularly.

Other Live Baits

Many live baits – sandeel, prawns, edible crabs and small pout, for example – will need to be kept in a tank of seawater which is oxygenated using an aquarium pump and air stone.

Frozen Baits Storage

All baits that are to be frozen should be washed first and stored inside small plastic bags. Only store enough in each bag for a single trip, so you do not have to thaw out an unduly large quantity just to get at a handful of bait. Label the bags with details of their contents and the date on which they were frozen so that you can use them in order of freshness.

Crabs, clams and shrimps can be peeled or removed from their shell and frozen separately, either wrapped in foil or cling film. Use only fresh live bait and freeze it as quickly as possible. Also rotate your supplies and don’t freeze large amounts together. Freezing baits in small batches prevents the need to defrost them all to access just a few.

Trout Fishing In California: Species


There are five dominant species of trout for trout fishing In California Angler: rainbow, brown, brook, cutthroat, and golden. All of these trout are members of the salmonidae family of fish that also include varieties of salmon, mountain whitefish, arctic grayling, and char. There are a few lesser known members of this family that are also found in some isolated waters. These include the Kokanee (Sockeye) salmon, silver (Coho) salmon, and lake (Mackinaw) trout.


Rainbows are far and away the most abundant of the five species found in California. They have been extensively studied in both hatchery and natural environments, more than any other type of trout. They comprise the bulk of trout in the daily creel totals throughout the state.

The rainbows are an exceptionally strong, hearty fish. They can survive in water temperatures ranging from 32 to 80 degrees. Rainbows are a true native American, indigenous to many of the lakes and streams in California. These trout are excellent swimmers, but in creeks and rivers look for them on the downstream side of large rocks or boulders. Rainbows will locate here both for an ambush point and as an energy conserving measure. They are very territorial, seeking good cover among logs, roots, and tree stumps in lakes and rivers, and especially the shady undercut edges of little streams.

Rainbow trout feed primarily on insects in streams, preferring stonefly and caddisfly larvae. In many of our man-made lakes, threadfin shad minnows comprise the major portion of their diet. Thus, Rainbows are susceptible to both fly fishing techniques and casting artificial lures that represent the shad baitfish. Rainbows are also the easiest to fool with bait offerings. Garden worms, nightcrawlers, marshmallows, cheese concoctions, grasshoppers, crickets, live shad, and of course, the ubiquitous salmon egg, will all take a share of these fish on most lakes or streams. Rainbows are probably the least wary of all the trout family, and thus, the easiest to catch.


The brown trout is actually not a native to the western hemisphere. It was imported here from Europe in the late 1880’s. It gets its name from a dominant golden brown coloration. Browns will also have large reddish-brown or black spots on their sides, backs, and dorsal fins. These fish are overwhelmingly the most voracious and territorial of the five primary species, whether they are found in lakes or rivers.

Browns are not quite as adaptable as rainbows. They thrive in slightly cooler waters, preferably 54 to 64 degrees. These fish are also very touchy feeders. Biologists note that because of their basic diet, you will see little surface action from brown trout. Unlike rainbows, browns will usually not feed on insects, although I have discovered that they do find grasshoppers exceptionally tasty! They will seek out larger larvae and bigger prey including crayfish, frogs, newts, and worms. Brownies are also piscivorous, i.e. they are fish eaters — consuming both forage baitfish and smaller trout.

Figure on catching browns at greater depths than other trout. They like deep pools and steep banks in rivers as well as steep alpine lakes. Thus, I suggest throwing somewhat larger and deeper running lures for browns including spoons and medium to deep-diving plugs. Most of the bigger brown trout caught annually in the Golden State will be taken by faster trolling methods. Flashers with bait trailers will work, but forget about using small spinners — they will twist too much. Browns will also hit artificial flies, but prefer more of the “wet” patterns that represent larvae and larger aquatic insects or small baitfish. For bait fishing, it is hard to beat live worms, ‘hoppers, or nightcrawlers.

One more thing — browns are primarily nocturnal feeders. This makes early dawn and late afternoons near dusk the optimal (legal) times during the day to fish these tough fighters. Some veteran brown trout anglers estimate that 90 percent of the trophy class browns are caught in the last half hour before darkness sets in.


These scrappy fish are technically not a true “trout” in the strict sense, but rather are a member of the char group. They are characterized by the brilliant red and blue spots on their sides. Brookies are second only to rainbows in sheer numbers. They have exceptional reproductive capacities, often spawning under rather diverse conditions not conducive for other trout. This is both good and bad.

On the positive side, brook trout will be found in a wide variety of higher elevation lakes and streams. The negative aspect of this proliferation is that they often overrun other species and the water becomes crowded with a population of stunted brookies.

In streams, look for brook trout in the more sheltered areas, particularly in the shady undercut banks. They can be found in the shallow sections of alpine lakes, preferring gravel banks and downed timber for shelter. Brookies can actually actively feed down to 34 degrees, which makes them a prime candidate for the ice fisherman’s creel. This trout is most active, however, in water temperatures ranging from 57 to 61 degrees. They are rarely found in ponds, lakes, or streams where summer temperatures reach 68 degrees or above. Interestingly, this species is very short-lived, seldom exceeding four years of age.

Brookies are similar to rainbows in their preference for lures and baits. Smaller spoons, spinners, and occasionally even scaled down minnow-like lures will be effective. Live red worms have to rank right at the top as far as favored baits go. However, salmon eggs, Velveeta Cheese, and floating cheese mixes will also work quite well, especially in lakes and small ponds. Fly fishermen can test their prowess with a dry fly, as brook trout will readily rise to an insect hatch on the surface.

Golden Trout

The golden trout have been designated the official state freshwater fish of California. These are spectacularly colored trout, identifiable by the carmine red stripe down the lateral side, the yellow-white side side portions, and the brilliant bronze belly. Goldens are found primarily in the southern portion of the High Sierras. Mostly in Fresco and Tulare Counties, at elevations between 8,500 and 12,000 feet. Because the feeding and growing season is dramatically restricted with the cold winters and ice, a golden over 12 inches in length is truly a trophy catch.

Trout Fishing In California

These high country residents have a tremendous appetite for insects and larvae. Mosquitoes, ants, caddisflies, midges, and damselflies, in addition to small leeches and freshwater shrimp, comprise the bulk of the golden’s diet. Hence, both dry and wet fly patterns that replicate this menu will definitely work on many of the remote lakes and streams where goldens are found. Both traditional fly rods and spinning fly and bubble combinations are effective in these back country golden haunts. A wide range of spoons and spinners primarily in gold finish are also dynamite on golden trout.

Golden Trout of California

Compared to most rainbows and brookies also found at these higher lakes, goldens are the most touchy of all. They primarily feed in the morning and late in the afternoon towards dusk. It requires some very stealthy maneuvers to approach these wary little trout in either shallow streams or crystal clear lakes.


There are actually three separate sub-species of Cutthroat trout found in California. The coastal variety is the most common, and has feeding patterns and a life history most closely resembling rainbow trout. The other two types, the Lahontan and Piute Cutthroats, have very limited distributions. Most ‘cutts will be found in coastal streams from Humboldt County north.

Cutthroats are often mistaken for rainbows. Upon closer examination, you will see prominent double red-orange stripes underneath the lower jaw, giving this trout its unusual name. A more subtle feature separating cutthroats from rainbows is that rainbow trout do not have teeth on the back of the tongue as do their cutthroat cousins. You can stream fish cutts in pretty much the same way you would rainbows. Spoons and spinners are productive, along with red worms, nightcrawlers, and especially, salmon eggs.


This post should have provided a very broad overview of the five dominant types of trout found in the Golden State. Although these trout are members of the same family of gamefish, each has its own unique feeding and behavioral patterns. Trout anglers should keep this in mind when they set out to do some fishing. It is important to familiarize yourself with the different species that are in a particular lake, the kind of terrain where they are typically found, favorite n