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
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Sometimes the trout suspend off the bottom, feeding in a particular strike zone and,
- 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.
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!