We all know there’s more than one way to skin a cat. This old adage applies to catching trout in any number of locations and any time of the year.
It’s my belief, however, that we overthink the rig thing to the point of obsession. A few handy stock rigs are all the average angler needs to succeed.
Keep it as simple as possible and rig to conditions. I don’t think I can give any better advice than this.
We’re fishing for trout; we’re not trolling massive fresh mackerel at 8 knots in the hopes of marlin.
I’ve listed a handful of worthy trout fishing rig setups that’ll be useful for most trout scenarios outside of fly fishing.
Let me know your favorites, I’ll tell you mine at the end.
What Do You Need for Trout Fishing Rigs?
The question, “what do I need for trout fishing rigs?” should be rephrased. It’s more a case of what’s an ideal tackle inventory for trout fishing.
I’m not playing word games here. Truth is, all you “need” for a trout rig is some fishing line, a hook, and maybe a split shot sinker.
You don’t even “need” a rod and reel.
However, there’s an ideal kit for the average angler and it looks like this.
Spinning Rod and Reel
A spinning outfit is usually best as you’ll be using mono or fluoro to 4 to 8 pounds, rigged with light weights. It’s easier to cast light rigs using a spinning reel.
Reel sizes 1000 to 2500 are ideal, strapped to a rod 6 to 7.5 feet. The rod should be light to ultra-light.
See Also: 5 Best Trout Spinning Reels
The brand is a personal choice, and I have no loyalty here. I look for thin gauge hooks, sizes 12 through to 6.
The 6 is just in case I’m using big baits for big trout.
Some anglers like bait holder hooks, some like circle hooks. I have found circle hooks work for seamless release, so they’re a preference for some baits.
Generally speaking, go for a light gauge wire and narrow gap.
Standard Barrel swivels will do nicely. I carry size 14 to size 10. The 10 isn’t necessary except for targeting exceptional fish of trophy size.
I carry balls, running and split shot, and dropper rig led. I have sizes 00 through to 6 and beyond. I’m fussy about weight, and you should be too.
Only use the weight you need to get to the strike zone, as weight inhibits action and presentation. Sinkers can be the reason a fish drops a bait. But more on that later.
In the summer, when trout are deep, getting baits down quickly will require some weight.
The amount of lead you use is up to conditions and your patience. Again, I go with the minimum I need to get the job done.
Where does one begin? Trout will take a huge range of lures, and they’ll change their preference at the drop of a hat.
For the best chances of success get some local knowledge before you fish a particular location.
It’s best to get lures proven in that area, in the conditions you’re going to fish. However, I will carry ready stock of ‘general purpose’ trout lures.
I like jerk baits 4 to 6 inches. I also like minnows soft and hard, 3 inches to 6 inches. I also like inline spinners.
These lures in various colors and designs are my go-to standards, and it’s a great idea for you too.
The reason I like these is that they give me access to small trout and monster trout.
More importantly, I don’t need any crazy outfits to fish them properly, like trout beads, for example.
See Also: Best Spinning Rod For Trout Fishing
Mono or fluoro are great for trout. The latest fluoro lines are just as supple as mono and may have an edge with abrasion.
Mono, however, is more forgiving in the case of aggressive strikes. With trout, line stretch can help the average angler.
Carry bubble, ball, waggler, cigar fixed, and slip. Rigging floats annoys me no end because getting the balance is critical, especially with lake trout.
However, fishing bobbers is really exciting.
Smaller bobbers are best for trout, as you’re only fishing light. They should be rigged for sensitivity.
Ultimately, it will depend on your bait. If you’re using a large live bait, you might need a larger bobber.
How Do You Rig for Trout?
Let’s look at three very common and easy trout rigs. The first is a jerk bait/minnow lure rig. I like to tie a snap swivel to the end of my line – straight through, no leader.
I’ll use as much as 8-pound line here. I tend to up the line class as it gives me a little more pulling power when I get hooked up on weeds and other snags.
The next is my absolute favorite trout fishing rig because of its simplicity. I run a number 10 hook on the end of a 4-pound leader of about a foot and a half.
The leader is unnecessary, but the swivel connection can help mitigate line twists. Add some Powerbait, a worm, or minnow, and away you go.
I like 6-pound line for this, and it’s ideal for mid-depth to deeper waters but works pretty well anywhere, depending on the lakebed structure.
The third is a bobber rig that works very nicely for stocked trout and is one of the most fun ways to catch trout.
I would use a small, fixed bubble/ball float weighted for sensitivity.
Leader length will be determined by the depth I want to fish, but this would be a go-to rig for fishing shallows with a busy, snag-ridden lakebed.
Yes, there are many others, but these 3 rigs are stock standard and, with the exception of the boober rig, easy to rig.
While the bobber rig is a little more complex to tie, it’s one I will teach kids early.
This is because there are a lot of fishing skills to be learned when mastering bobber rigging and fishing.
What is the Best Trout Fishing Rig Setup?
Location, geography, species, season, and weather can impact the performance and efficacy of any trout rig.
The best trout fishing rig for a windless summer’s day in a local pond may be troublesome in a shallow lake on a windy fall morning.
The best trout rig is circumstantial and often peculiar to the moment.
However, for simplicity, versatility, and incredible success, it’s very difficult to beat a live minnow rig.
Use a hook 10 to 6 with a sinker (small as practical), running directly onto the hook.
I like this for all-size trout, but it’s brilliant for a larger class of fish.
Whenever conditions remotely permit, I will use this fishing rig. Again, simplicity and great presentation win the day.
Great Rigs for Trout Fishing
To increase your chances of trout success, you should know a variety of rigs and when to deploy them.
I’ve mentioned my favorites above, but I’ve not included a dropper/paternoster rig in those, and it’s a brilliant rig I use frequently.
Let’s look at some great rigs for trout fishing that can be very successful when your go-to options might not be appropriate.
Several of the rigs below will be the sworn go-to rigs of many trout anglers.
Trout Rig with Fixed Bobber Setup
I mentioned this trout rig earlier, and it’s one of my favorites. This is a killer rig for fishing shallows when you want to keep your baits above the snaggy cover on the bottom.
You can fish this rig from a boat, jetty, or bank and it’s by and large, an all-year-round rig.
Be aware that fishing it on a hot summer’s day around noon is not ideal, as fish are running at depth.
You can fix most styles of floats, but the most versatile is a bubble float. I like this rig for holding baits from 2 to 5 feet below the surface.
Beneath your float, run split shot to a weight that keeps the float above the surface yet reacts easily to bites.
Connect a number 10 hook to the end of your line, and fish live/dead minnows, worms, and powerbait.
The float will move with the wind, so you will have to work it to keep it in the strike zone.
Cast, wait and watch for subtle dips, indicating bites, and then strong pulls beneath the surface, indicating the trout has taken the bait.
Timing your strike is a combination of visual cues and feel. Explaining at any depth is a little futile; this is something you will have to experience to learn.
Slip Bobber Rig for Trout
Choosing a slip bobber over a fixed bobber comes down to versatility. I use a slip bobber when fishing deeper water and need adjustment to keep my baits at the right depth in the water column.
The difference with a slip bobber is adjustability and the fact that the bobber is free to move between the leader stopper, and the stopper you place above the bobber.
The placement of the stopper above the bobber is what determines the depth your bait will sit in the water column.
When you’re fishing deep, landing fish can be tricky as you reel your bobber right to the tip guide of your rod.
You’ll still have quite a bit of line out, so netting your fish can be an awkward dance, particularly in a small boat.
Despite the tricky landing, a slip bobber is by far the best option for getting floating rigs to work at significant depth. These rigs are ideal in the warmer months (or any time) when the trout are hanging deeper.
Slip Sinker Rig for Trout
A classic fishing rig and another of my favorites. This can be used anywhere at any time of day or season and at any depth.
The first version is to simply run a sinker directly to the hook – no swivel, no leader. I like this when fishing at depth and when the bite is a little timid.
A timid fish will take the bait, and the sinker is interpreted as integral to the bait. It is less likely to be spooked.
With a sinker sitting above the leader, a timid fish having taken a bait may drop it when it feels the weight of the lifting sinker.
Slip Sinker/Carolina Rig
This is an all-fishing classic. Tie a hook to a 4-pound leader to 2 feet (leader can be 1.5 to 4 feet).
Connect the swivel to the leader then put a running sinker on the main line.
This is THE fishing standard and works in countless conditions. I like this for working the bottom on a drift.
As the wind slowly drifts the boat, my sinker hits the bottom, creating a bit of disturbance. This attracts the fish to the trailing minnow on my number 10 hook.
You can use a stopper to limit the movement of the sinker. I’ve never really understood the benefits of this, hence never do it.
Split Shot Rig for Trout
The split shot rig is simply a bobber rig. Split shot sinkers are used on the leader to keep the bobber barely floating so that it is sensitive enough to react to the smallest of bites.
Drop Shot Rig for Trout
Drop shot rigs are ideal at any depth but great for fishing deeper. I use a drop shot when I want to fish the bottom but keep my hook from the structure and cover such as weeds and rocks on the bottom of the pond or lake.
With a drop shot rig, the distance between the hook and the sinker is determined by the depth of the structure.
If the top of the weeds sits two feet off the bottom and you want your bait a foot or two above the top of the weeds, then your sinker to leader length should be 3 to 4 feet.
Hook size will be determined by your bait. I like to use worms, powerbait, bread, and dead minnows on my drop shot rigs.
These are all-year-round rigs and a standard.
Often when I find myself without an appropriately weighted drop shot sinker. I simply use a ball and tie it off with a simple hitch or fisherman’s knot.
If I’m not running a sinker to the hook, bobbing, or casting jerk baits, then I’m using a standard single hook drop shot.
It’s very successful for stocked, pond and lake trout of all species.
Here’s a great video showing how well it can work.
Best Lure Rigs for Trout
The simple rigs are often the best for trout. Let’s take a look at some of the best lure rigs for trout.
Spinner Rig for Trout
My preference for spinners is inline spinners. I like gold and silver blades when the water is clear and go for strong whites and chartreuse if the water is a little murky.
Weights depend on wind, depth, and whether I’m trolling or casting. I’ll carry weights as light as 1/32 up to 1/8 ounce with everything in between.
You can troll or crank these guys at a pretty fast pace. The best way to get a sense of what works that day is to mix up the retrieve.
To get the best action from your spinner you should fish as light as you dare. There has to be some trade-off here. Yes, 2 pounds will have your spinner screaming at peak action. However, hook a trout of size with cover on their mind and you’re in trouble.
If I’m trolling along the banks, I’ll go as high as 8 pounds with a 6-pound leader. Otherwise, I’ll have a 6-pound main line and a 4-pound leader.
The rig is simple. Leader of three feet with a snap swivel – connect your spinner. Connect your leader to the main line with an appropriately sized swivel.
Trout Rig with Bobber and Jig
You use this rig when you’re fishing a river or creek with plenty of flow. Rig a slip bobber rig based on your water depth estimation.
The Jighead weight will be determined by the flow.
This can be hard to estimate, but the lighter you go, the more chance your jig will follow the bobber on the surface – you have to keep it down.
A floating fishing line is a must for this style of fishing, as is a robust bobber. Cast your rig upstream, and let the flow do all of the work.
This is a pretty busy style of fishing; it requires winding to keep the bobber on the line you want, as well as keep the line in a position where you can strike effectively.
This is an ideal setup for fishing flowing water while keeping your jig off the bottom.
Here’s a great video explaining the technique.
Ned Rig for Trout
This is the perfect rig for working the bottom, bouncing muddy banks, light grass, weed, and rocks, or gravelly bottoms.
The rig is very simple and best attempted with worm style or crawfish profile. In reality, lots of different profiles are effective here.
The jig head varies based on conditions. If you carry 1/16 or 1/32oz Jigheads you’ll cover most situations.
It’s a simple cast and retrieve with pauses, changes in direction, and small speed bursts. Again, varying the retrieve allows you to find the most enticing presentation.
Beware sticking to a retrieve type that’s worked before if it’s not working today. Fish are moody and changeable, just like us. Give them an array of options.
The trick is to cause some commotion on the bottom. The fish respond to sight and sound.
Puffs of mud and bangs on rocks caused by the impact of your Jighead do excite fish.
What are the Best Bait Rigs for Trout?
Trout will take a lot of bait types. They’ll take bread, shrimp, minnows alive and dead, as well as other bait fish. They’ll eat corn, garden worms, and bugs of all types.
They’re opportunistic, predatory, and at times very aggressive feeders. At other times, they’re very timid and cautious.
Some days you swear they’d eat the leather from an old boot. Other days, your perfect presentation of the best bait will account for little.
Mix it up, don’t hit the water with one bait in mind. Have a plan, yes. But be prepared to throw it out and get creative.
The best bait rigs for trout are the running sinker, carolina rig, and the drop shot/paternoster rig.
If these three are the only three trout rigs you ever use, you’ll still have a heap of success with stocked, wild, and lake trout of all species.
What Weather is Best for Trout Fishing?
Bottom line? Fish the weather you’re faced with. I’ve fished days where the moon, the barometer, the wind, and temperature were perfect…and caught nothing.
I’ve fished days we’re I thought we may not make it home alive, and cleaned up.
After 45 years of fishing, I found two critical constants for fishing success – time on the water and good baits. Everything else is a secondary consideration.
The weather should be conducive to safety, and the necessity of getting your line in the water and holding it there. Force 10 wind gales will prevent this.
However, just because it’s a cold, wet, and windy day doesn’t mean fish aren’t feeding. How much “weather” can you handle?
Fish will move about based on the weather, just like we do. Essentially, we move to areas of greater comfort to mitigate the weather consequences.
On scorching hot days, they hang deeper where it’s cooler. On cooler days, they’ll feed happily in the shallows.
There’s plenty of science available to research how barometric pressure, heat, and cold, will determine the movement of fish. Think of it as a guide only.
The only way to be sure if the fish are biting is to fish – regardless of the weather. The best weather is any weather you can safely fish.
There’s only one fishing guarantee: you’ll never catch fish if you’re not fishing.
I’ve taken a lot of pushback for my thoughts on the weather over the years from old anglers who swear by perfect weather systems for fish bonanzas.
The very same guys will tell countless stories of how they caught trophy fish in horrendous conditions or spent a week fishing perfectly to come home with nothing.
You’ve no doubt heard the stories yourself.
Fish when you can; weather should be a safety and practical concern only.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I Need a Leader for Trout Fishing
The simple answer is no, a leader is not necessary for trout fishing.
The use of a leader will be determined by the rig, which will usually be determined by the geography, conditions, and target zone.
In places where you’re fishing heavy cover, a leader can be advisable. However, unlike saltwater fishing, we’re often using a lighter leader than our mainline for trout.
If you’re lure fishing using mono or fluoro, a leader is not necessary. If you’re using braid, then yes, you will need a fluoro or mono leader.
What Size Hooks for Trout Fishing
I carry hooks with a narrow gap and short shank of sizes 14 to 6. I rarely use the 6 because this is pretty big for trout, and big wily trout recognize a big hook as potentially bad news.
Sizes 10 to 12 are very common and useful for a wide range of baits. Bait is usually the determining factor in hook selection.
What lb Test Line Should I Use for Trout?
Mono or fluoro lines from 2 to 8 pounds are great for trout. My go-to rig for a lot of trout techniques will be a 6-pound mainline with a 4-pound leader.
I will rarely use 2 pounds as there’s no room for error, and I’ve lost far too many spinners to this crazy cotton.
I like 8 pounds for trolling along the banks as I have a little forgiveness should I hook a snag.
If the cover is light, I’ll fish light. If the cover is heavy and gnarly, I’ll up my line class to save some tackle.
For simplicity, you can’t go wrong with modern 6-pound mono as both mainline and leader.