To catch a big trout the next time you go stream fishing, ditch all the usual stuff — salmon eggs, small spinners and worms — and give the fish something meatier: Jerk Baits!
While aquatic invertebrates account for the bulk of the average stream trout’s diet, the largest fish in the creek prefer to dine on smaller fish. Jerk baits imitate forage fish extremely well and by using them you will see the average size of your catch go way up.
Jerk Bait is a term that refers to a wide array of minnow shaped plugs that are designed to be retrieved with a JERK-JERK-JERK-PAUSE type of retrieve. In my early days of throwing minnow baits 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 this technique among bass anglers, there are now more plastic baits than you could hope to try in ten trout seasons. In the warm-water world they’re often called “rip baits” and are pretty slick tools designed to solicit reaction strikes from bass. It just so happens that big trout love ‘em too!
The old balsa and plastic baits I used as a kid were basically cast out and crank-in types of lures. The modern ripbait’s function is to be tossed out and retrieved with an aggressive popping (ripping) of the rod trip 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 jerk bait 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 these things 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!
The Best of the Best
As I noted earlier, there are dozens of companies making ripbaits – and there are a lot of really good lures out there. In fact, if you wander the aisles of your local tackle shop or flip through the pages of one of the big tackle catalogs, there’s a good chance you’ll get a little overwhelmed by all the choices. 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 to $16 a pop), but the little Pointer 65’s will get straight up medieval on rainbows, browns, cutties, dollies and brookies. They’ve got an erratic side-to-side darting action that I just don’t think any other lure can touch. I actually started fishing the larger versions for stripers and eventually added Pointers to my trout kit. Now, I hardly throw anything else – spinners, spoons and crawlers included.
At first glance, a 65-millimeter (2 ½ inches) lure seems kinda over-the-top in a small stream. It takes a little getting used to throwing them, but what you’re doing is targeting the biggest fish in the creek. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to have to sacrifice quantity for quality as the smaller fish eat ‘em too. While the 65’s are my all-around favorites, bumping up to the Pointer 78 size is a good call on larger rivers. When fishing big browns and macks on lakes (a topic I’ll cover in a future article), Pointers as large as the 5-inch No. 128 can solicit some punishing strikes.
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. Some of my favorites include Rainbow Trout, Ghost Minnow and American Shad.
That being said, color isn’t as important in this style of fishing since the lures are moving through a trout’s territory so rapidly. The idea here is to present the bait quickly enough to a fish that he doesn’t have much time to think about things.
I run my rip baits stock out of the package with only one minor modification: I pinch the barbs, which makes releasing fish much easier. Also, be sure to tie your line direct to the bait – swivels and clips will compromise the lure’s action.
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 from a position above the water (as in a bass boat), 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.
When you’re tossing a ripbait in still water, the majority of the bites will come when the lure’s lying motionless on the pause. It’s a different deal, however, in moving water. You still want to throw pauses into your retrieve but they need to be a lot shorter in duration. Perhaps it’s better to think of them as “hesitations” instead, but they’re still extremely important. I think it’s that change from the darting action to the stop that really makes fish want to eat the lure.
Depending on the type of water you’re fishing, casts can be made directly up or downstream, though the down and across swing type of presentation seems to draw the most grabs.
As is the case with so many of the other “outside the box” methods I’ve written about in the past, nobody makes a technique-specific rod for throwing small rip baits for stream trout. Luckily, there are some light bass rods designed for drop-shotting and small darter heads that fit the bill pretty nicely (check out the Daiwa Aird, which is a nice stick for under $50).
Basically, you want a rod with a soft tip and a little bit of beef in the back end – something that won’t collapse on the hook set. Most of us are used to throwing hardware for trout on ultralight gear, but the standard 5 ½-foot ultralight stick is going to be way too soft for this style of fishing – and you’ll lose most of the fish you hook.
Pair the rod up with a quick-retrieve spinning reel. The Abu Garcia Revo S in a sweet reel in the $100 range, while the Orra S is still nice but a few bucks less. I usually run 6-pound mono when fishing smaller streams and then bump it up to 8- or even 10-pound on larger waters. Line with some stretch like P-Line CX is a good choice because you want a little “give” in your mono when a trout decides to try destroy your plug.
In addition to being a super-effective technique for catching trout in moving water, tossing ripbaits is a total blast. The strikes are awesome and the results can be, too! So, go ahead and feed those big fish what they want…give ‘em “meat for dinner.”