Tiny Soft Baits that Catch Fish!

I was fishing a lake for trout and even though I knew there were rainbow and brown trout, nobody on the lake was catching fish. I pulled a bag of tiny soft baits out of my tackle bag and rigged it up under a bobber. The effect was like night and day, the trout started biting and I caught and released over a dozen trout. Not only rainbow trout but brown trout couldn’t resist this bait!

Crappie baits are small baits made of a soft rubber-like material. They are typically an inch and a half to two and a half inches long. Many crappie baits have a pronounced wiggle action. When presented under a bobber and gently reeled in, the bait tended to rise up and down with a provocative wiggle action in the tail.

A rainbow trout fooled by a lifelike soft bait.

Another large rainbow trout fooled by a lifelike soft bait.

After that first experience I purchased multiple packs of different kinds of crappie baits and took them out to a lake to test. Wow! Crappie baits were more successful for catching trout than I had anticipated. When the conditions were right I was catching trout with nearly every cast and quickly limiting out.

There’s a kind of fishing lure called a crappie bait that works great for catching all species of trout. In fact, it catches almost every species of fish that swims in freshwater.  Most often you’ll see these baits marketed as crappie baits or panfish bait but the truth is that they will catch pretty much every kind of freshwater fish that swims in a lake, river or pond.

A list of freshwater fish I’ve caught on tiny soft baits:

  1. Rainbow Trout
  2. Brown Trout
  3. Largemouth Bass
  4. Smallmouth Bass
  5. Crappie
  6. Bluegill
  7. Pickerel
Berkley Ripple Shad

Berkley Ripple Shad – Note the lifelike 3D eyes.

How to Fish with Soft Baits

A great thing about soft baits is that they can be fished in multiple ways. This makes soft baits a versatile lure that can be used in under most any circumstance you’ll find while freshwater fishing.  Here are just a few ways to fish with tiny soft baits:

  1. Under a bobber
  2. With a fish finder or slip sinker rig
  3. A high low rig
  4. Cast weightless on a hook
  5. On a jig head
  6. Cast with a split shot 6 inches up
Berkley Minnow soft bait

Berkley Minnow soft bait that caught this rainbow trout.

How to Fish Soft Bait Under a Float

Fished under a bobber, a tiny soft bait creates all of the action that can trigger a feeding frenzy in trout. I prefer a bobber that can cast for distance when fish are feeding further out. However most times you’ll be able to catch trout and other fish surprisingly close to shore. Casting far out to the distance is overrated.

Use Soft Bait that Wiggles

The key to this technique is to use a soft bait that is wiggly. A vigorous wiggle is one of the most important qualities of a lure, regardless of species of fish you are trying to catch. Whether you are fishing for largemouth bass, striped bass or walleye, a lure that wiggles is one of the most provocative actions of a lure. Many of the most successful lures feature a provocative left to right wiggle. Many crappie soft baits are designed to create a provocative wiggle. This is why crappie soft baits work so well.

Trout Prefer Small Bait Sizes

One reason anglers don’t catch enough trout is that their lures are too big. Downsizing your lure makes sense. If you ever looked inside a healthy trout’s stomach what you’ll see is that it’s been eating very small insects, tadpoles no bigger than an inch and a half and nymphs. Large trout eat bigger prey like minnows and crawfish, but most trout eat very small prey. Small crappie baits work so well because their size, general silhouette and movement are a near perfect illusion of food that trout eat.

Panfish and crappie baits that are slender and have a worm or minnow profile work best for catching trout. I have successfully used a shad profile bait from Mister Twister by cutting off the fat belly portion, giving it a slim minnow profile with the added attraction of the boot-style tail that kicks left and right like a real fish. Crappie baits are jiggly-wiggly trout catching machines!

A new and old way to fish with a bobber

Many years ago an experienced angler told me that a good way to catch trout was to use a fishing fly under a bobber. I was skeptical because I never heard of anyone fishing this way. I tried it once without success. The reason I was unsuccessful was because his instructions were missing details. I’m going to fill you in on the details that I worked out fishing And here’s the thing, catching trout using bobbers works but not with the same bobbers you grew up with. Here are the details.

 

Get Rid of the Round Bobbers

The first detail is don’t use those plastic red and white bobbers. If you have some in your tackle box throw them out. There is absolutely no use for them. They cast poorly and they are not sensitive to nibbles. Round bobbers are generally a bad choice. Yes, you can still catch fish with a round bobber. However you will catch more fish with slender bobbers.

The better bobber to use is the plastic kind that can be filled with water. Adjust-a-bubble is the leading brand. I recommend getting them in the chartreuse color because they’re slightly easier to see, although you can always paint a regular transparent one with some primer then paint it fluorescent orange. You’re going to be able to cast these bobbers impressively far so you’ll need to be able to see it.

However, if you want to reach the fish on the other side of the lake or if the wind is blowing hard, use a wooden egg bobber. The use of a wooden egg bobber is a saltwater angling trick. Wooden egg bobbers are expensive to buy (if you can find them at a tackle shop) but they’re cheap and easy to make (read how to make a wooden egg bobber here). I was fishing with my father once and he expressed frustration with the plastic water bobber. Said he couldn’t get it out far enough. So I rigged him up a wooden casting egg that weighed about a half ounce. One cast put a smile on his face. “Now that’s what I’m talking about!” he shouted over his shoulder as the egg bobber sailed out of sight like a home run in Yankee Stadium.

Small Baits Catch Lots of Fish

I suppose  you can fish these bobbers with a traditional fishing fly, but I prefer to use a wiggly soft bait between 1 3/4 inch to 2 1/2 inches long. In shallow conditions, like at the inlet of a lake, you can dispense with the bobber altogether and simply tie a split shot about six inches above the lure and cast and let the current bottom bounce it to the trout. I fished a shallow lake inlet this way using a 2 inch Berkley PowerBait Ripple Shad in the pearl color and caught my limit of trout in under five minutes, boom, boom, boom, almost one fish with every cast.

Last fall I headed out to a windy lake near my house, this time armed with ripple shads and the ridiculously named Crappie Minnr by Big Bite Baits. The Crappie Minnr has a funny name and looks pretty funny as well but it was a hit! Rainbow trout from 12 inches and up couldn’t stay away from it. This presentation under the bobber worked excellently for hours and when it slowed down my other rod rigged with a slip sinker rig started bending, apparently the trout started to orient themselves closer to the bottom.

Up and down movement catches trout

When fishing a crappie bait under a bobber, give the lure an occasional hard tug or fast reel. The fishing line pulls the bobber and the bobber lifts the lure to the top of the water column. The lure will then float downward as you slowly reel in the slack. This up and down movement resembles the upward movement of a bait that is trying to get away or an insect that’s transforming from a nymph to a flying insect. The downward movement can also represent the downward flutter of an injured creature.

Either one is something a trout loves to eat. Trout, like other fish, look for patterns that indicate that something is a food item. The potential food item doesn’t have to look exactly like something it has eaten, it just needs to fit the pattern of how food behaves. That’s one of the reasons why the up and down movement of a crappie lure incites trout to chase it down and try to eat it.

Panfish and crappie baits that are slender and have a worm or minnow profile work best for catching trout. I have successfully used a shad profile bait from Mister Twister by cutting off the fatter belly portion, giving it a slim minnow profile with the added attraction of the boot-style tail that kicks left and right like a real fish. Crappie baits are jiggly-wiggly trout catching machines!

Best Soft Bait Colors

It’s unlikely that there is a best color for catching trout. The purpose of color is to have your lure noticed by the trout while also not frightening it away. I’ve caught trout with white, brown, black and gray, pink, orange, chartreuse, silver and red. Color matters less than the general impression of a food source. Here’s a good example. I fished a small lake that was experiencing an extraordinary tadpole hatch.

Thousands of black legless tadpoles were swimming around, crawling onto the bank, they were everywhere and the trout were eating them. I matched the tadpoles with a lure that consisted of a round pink head with a white tail. It was also twice as large as the tadpoles. It didn’t look like a tadpole but it had the same general pattern of a tadpole and that was enough. I tossed the lure in and proceed to catch more trout in that particular lake than at any other time. It was wild! Read this article for more information about the best colors for catching trout.

The Best Soft Baits for Catching Trout

I suspect you can use most any crappie and panfish bait that has a strong wiggly action in the tail end. It’s the size and the action that matters, not the brand. I’ve seen anglers catching loads of trout with an el cheapo rubber worm rigged on a drop shot rig.

List of soft baits successfully tested for catching trout:

  1. Big Bite Baits Crappie Minnr
  2. Big Bite Baits Crappie Thumper
  3. Berkley PowerBait Ripple Shad 2 inch
  4. Berkley PowerBait Realistix Power Minnow 2 inch
  5. Gulp Minnow 2.5 Inch
  6. Mister Twister VIE Shiner 1.75 inch
  7. Mister Twister Sassy Shad 2.5 inch
  8. Kalin’s Crappie Scrub 1.75 inch
  9. Kalin’s Sizmic Grub 2 inch
  10. Southern Pro Tube Baits

How to Use Soft Bait to Catch Fish

Put about 12 to 18 inches of leader beneath the bobber. At about six inches beneath the bobber put a split shot. If the water is somewhat rough then add another splitshot about three to six inches beneath the first split shot. The second split shot is only necessary if there’s a strong current. Two split shots should be plenty to keep the bait from floating up and riding at the top of the water. If you don’t put a split shot on the line what happens is that the current will carry your bait up in the water column and toss it about on top, making it look like something that’s not alive. Adding the split shot helps keep your bait down where the trout are.

At the end of  the line add a standard wire or fine hook (more about fishing hooks here). I like to use an Owner Mosquito Hook or a circle hook, from size 12 to a size 6 hook. A size hook might seem a little big but that’s what you’ll need to get a good grip, especially on the bigger trout.

After the hook is on, slide the hook into the top of the bait right in the middle. This is where the line is going to come out. Then push the hook into the soft bait and turn it around inside the bait so that the sharp end of the hook pops out at the bottom of the bait, with the shart end of the hook pointing back to the tail.

If you’re having trouble getting the hook in, you might want to try a bait threader. There are some that look like needles and my favorite, called a Worm Threader manufactured by Uncle Josh. The worm threader has a wooden handle and a hollow tip where you insert the hook then push it through where you want the hook point to come out and pull it out where you want the line to come out. Then you insert the sharp tip of the hook into the hollow tip of the worm threader and push it back into the bait and out. Your hook is perfectly inserted into the bait.

The important thing is to rig them in a manner that does not hinder the action of the lure. Avoid making the hook stick out close to the rear of the lure because this will often kill the action and make it cut through the water like a lifeless stick. Make it so the line pops

How to Fish the Soft Bait

The next step is to take note of the current. If the current is moving from right to left, cast to the right and let the current swing your bait to the left. Cast close to you first and gradually increase the distance. Many anglers try to cast as far as they can at first but often times the fish are close to shore (for a variety of reasons). Casting far away may spook the trout that are closer to shore.

If the water is calm, give the tip of your rod a slight jiggle now and then. Often a fish will follow a lure trying to identify if it’s something edible. That wiggle is often the trigger needed to get a trout to snap at it. This is  is not a set and forget it way of catching trout. The current is going to move your lure around in the direction the current is flowing.

Fishing for trout with worm and shad style soft baits is not something trout see very often. For that reason it can be extra effective.

Southern Pro Tube Baits

Southern Pro Tube Baits. The green one in the photo is a Rainbow Tube in Firetiger color.

Southern Pro Tube Baits

Tube baits resemble little squid. The right size for trout can be tubes from 1.5 inches to 2 inches.  Southern Pro is the leading maker of these baits, with several versions of tube baits. I especially like the Southern Pro Rainbow Tubes because the tentacles have two colors and the head portion has tiny black squares on it, which makes it look a little more natural (solid colors are unnatural, not an issue when a lure is moving too fast for the fish to get a good look at it but solid colors can become a problem when the lure is moving slow).

Tube baits can be fished in rivers, creeks, ponds and lakes. Because they float they can also be fished like a floating worm. In moving current it’s best to hook them on a bare hook with or without a split shot or with a jig then tossed into the current to let it tick bottom as it flows down current. On still water it’s best to toss it out and slowly creep it back. But I’ve also caught fish by swimming it back  as well as jigging it up and down.

Big Bite Baits Crappie Minnr

Big Bite Baits Crappie Minnr – A subtle bait that works great in the fall.

 

Big Bite Baits Crappie Minnr

The Crappie Minner is a 1.5 inch bait that is a subtle bait that works great when more aggressive presentations fail to catch fish. From my experience using this lure throughout the seasons, it seems to work best in the fall, after the leaves have changed colors. I believe that fish may be feeding aggressively in preparation for winter and that this bait looks like an easy meal. Whatever the reason, this bait shines in the fall. I have also caught fish with this in early spring, just after ice out. The Crappie Minner is a useful bait, worth having a bag of it in the tackle box for use during those times when nothing else seems to work. It also makes me chuckle to say the phrase, “Crappie Minner…”

Berkley PowerBait Ripple Shad Soft Bait - 2 inches in Pearl color

Berkley PowerBait Ripple Shads. If Brown Trout could talk they’d ask for them by name.

Berkley PowerBait Ripple Shad

This bait is unique because of the eyes. It might be the only widely available bait in this size that features a realistic 3D eye. Trout tend to zero in on the head of their prey and it seems to me that it’s the eyes on this bait more than anything else that triggers a ferocious attack response. These work well all year long but they’ve worked especially well catching brown trout in the spring.

Mister Twister Sassy Shad

Mister Twister Sassy Shad – The bait on the left is the original big belly shad profile. It works great on species like largemouth bass. The bait on the right features a slim minnow profile after I trimmed away a bit of the belly. Mister Twister manufactures soft bait that wiggles significantly more than many other baits its size. It’s their signature characteristic.

Mister Twister Sassy Shad

This bait is works great for big largemouth bass as-is. But if you trim a bit of the belly off the Sassy Shad becomes a Sassy Minnow, the perfect profile for catching trout, crappie and other panfish. The Mister Twister brand excels at creating baits that have a lot of wiggle and movement in them. Mister Twister baits are the lures I reach for when fish are in an aggressive feeding mode and I need a bait that is going to trigger a chase response. In my opinion they are not subtle baits and aren’t my first choice for when fish are in a hesitant feeding mode. These baits are for when fish are actively feeding. Works great on brown trout.

You now know enough to go out and catch a limit of trout!
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