Look into rip baits for trophy stream trout
“Aquatic invertebrates account for the bulk of the average stream trout’s diet, but the largest fish in the creek prefer meat for dinner…”
I read that little nugget when I was 8 years old in a Sports Afield article about using live minnows for big trout. I was captivated by the photos of the author holding up his limit of (in those days) 20 jumbo rainbows and browns that he’d bonked while fishing live bait in a small creek.
I guess what really struck me was the thought that there could be much larger trout in the streams I fished than I was catching on my usual fare of single salmon eggs, tiny Panther Martins and red worms. Without a car, I couldn’t get to the tackle shop for a bucket of minnows, but I did have the next best thing in my box — a rainbow trout-pattern Countdown Rapala.
On my next trip to the Silver Fork of the American near Kyburz, I not only caught just as many fish as my buddies who were using small spinners and bait, but I also landed a much better grade of trout. And thus, I became a fan of throwing hard minnow baits for trout.
Fast-forward 30-plus years and I’m still tossing these things for stream trout — and they work better than ever thanks to advances in tackle technology.
The Modern Rip-Bait
In my early days of throwing bodybaits for trout, we had a few basic ones from which to choose — chief among them were Rapalas and Rebels.
Thanks to the explosion in the popularity of bass fishing over the past couple decades, there are now more plastic baits than you could hope to try in 10 trout seasons. In the warm-water world they’re called ripbaits and they’re pretty slick tools designed to solicit reaction strikes from bass. It just so happens that trout love ‘em too!
The modern ripbait’s function is to be tossed out and retrieved with an aggressive popping (ripping) of the rod tip and cranking of the reel, punctuated with frequent pauses. These new baits feature all kinds of fancy technology like tungsten rattles and weight transfer systems for bomb-like casting (remember the way a light wood plug would pinwheel when you’d throw it?), but the most important feature is their neutral buoyancy.
How far down these lures dive is governed by the size of the bill, but once you’ve cranked it down to its working depth and pause it, a ripbait will hold its place in the water column. There’s no sinking or rising up like the baits of yesteryear and that’s one of the things that make ripbaits so deadly.
The new generation of minnow baits is designed to be fished fast (though they also work well in cold water on a painfully slow retrieve), which allows you to quickly cover lots of water. Additionally, they’re adorned with some extremely sexy laser finishes and super realistic paint jobs.
When you look at all the attractive attributes of rip baits, it’s easy to see why bass of all persuasions love ‘em – and it doesn’t take much critical thinking to understand why big trout also fall all over themselves for them too!
As I noted earlier, there are dozens of companies making ripbaits — and there are a lot of really good lures out there. I’ve fished a bunch of different models and brands of rip baits for trout and have pretty much settled on one for most stream fishing situations: Lucky Craft’s Pointer 65.
They’re a bit pricey (typically around $14 a pop), but the little Pointer 65’s will get straight up medieval on trout of all varieties. They’ve got an erratic side-to-side darting action that I just don’t think any other lure can touch.
As far as colors go, the best advice I can give you is try to match the shades of the natural trout forage in the waters you fish.
As the name “ripbait” implies, the basic technique is to “rip” the lure aggressively through the water with a combination of sharp pops of the rod tip and corresponding turns of the reel’s handle. Ideally, you fish these things with the rod tip pointed down and across your body towards the water.
Obviously, that’s not practical in most stream fishing situations, so a modified approach is in order. Depending on the water I’m fishing, I’ll hold the rod parallel to the water or with the tip slightly up.
I generally start out with a rip-rip-pause-rip-rip-rip-pause type of retrieve and then experiment from there. The fish will tell you how they want it on a given day — just keep varying your cadence until a pattern develops. And try to keep the speed up — remember, we’re looking for a reaction strike here.
It takes some patience and dedication to get used to throwing bass style baits into a trout stream, but stick with it — you’ll eventually see how effective this technique really is!
J.D. Richey is a 1986 Placer High graduate whose outdoors pieces have been published nationally. Find him online at www.fishwithjd.com.