STORIES OUT THERE FISHING By: Keith 'Catfish' Sutton 3 Super Natural Winter Trout Baits Using natural bait instead of artificial bait will guarantee you more trout at the end of your line than the other anglers out there Live-bait fishing may seem like a sacrilege to some anglers, but naturals like waxworms often entice trout when artificials won't. (Keith Sutton photo) I have two trout-fishing buddies who are fly-fishing purists. They frown on using spoons, spinners, jigs and other hardware to catch trout, and the idea of using natural bait (my favorite tactic) is even farther down their list of intolerable tactics. At least that’s what this pair would have you think during the first hour or two of every trout-fishing trip we make. “Ok, you guys,” I’ll say as we’re purchasing supplies. “I’m buying just enough waxworms and night crawlers for me and me alone. If you intend to use any bait when the trout won’t eat those little feathers, buy your own before you leave. I’m not giving you mine.” “We don’t need bait,” Gregg and Cliff will reply, crinkling their noses in a gesture of disgust. “We’re fly fishing today, and flies will do quite nicely.” Of course, I already know that Gregg and Cliff will be using natural bait before the day is over, and Gregg and Cliff know that I will break down and give them some if they grovel and whine enough. We always play the game to its fullest, though, pretending that I, the self-proclaimed bait fanatic, am the only one in our party who would stoop low enough to cast bait for trout. Fishing with natural bait is as old as fishing itself. Sure, fly fishing is fun if you want a challenge. Casting other lures will nab some trout, too. But if you want to catch more trout than other anglers, use natural baits where laws permit. Trout almost always prefer a real meal over metal, plastic or feathers, so live baits like the following three can increase action on cagey winter fish. Worms Night crawlers, red wigglers, garden hackle: a worm by any name is always an odds-on favorite for charming trout. Probably the most widely used bait of all, worms are as attractive to fishermen as they are to fish, because they are easy to obtain, keep and rig. Use a No. 10 to 6 bait-holder hook for worms. Bait-holder hooks have little barbs on the shank that keep the worm from slipping down or off. Thread the worm onto the hook, leaving one or both ends dangling a bit. Worms are bottom baits as a rule. Some anglers prefer to use very little weight, letting the bait drift along with the current. I seem to have better luck fishing the worm dead still in the bottom of pools or weed pockets. For this style of fishing, I use a slip sinker rig. I run a small egg sinker up on my line, and tie a small barrel swivel below it. To the swivel’s other eye, I tie a light 18- to 24-inch leader on the end of which is a bait-holder hook. I use the biggest worms I can find – night crawlers, usually – and I use a worm blower to give the bait a shot of air that floats it above the bottom so it’s more visible to hungry trout. After “inflating” the worm, I cast it into the stream and let it sink to the bottom. The egg sinker holds the bait down near the bottom, but when a trout nibbles the bait, the line slides through the sinker so fish don’t feel any resistance. It’s a great set-up for nabbing finicky rainbows, browns, brookies and other trout. Waxworms You might read through reams of trout-fishing literature without finding a single mention of the lowly waxworm. Nevertheless, this little critter is one of the best trout enticements you’ll find anywhere. Waxworms are larvae of the bee moth. They grow from eggs the moths lay in beehives, and they feed on wax in the hives. They can be purchased for a reasonable price at many trout docks, or you can buy them in bulk from many online suppliers. Waxworms are about 1/4-inch long, off-white and dry, not slimy. They’re usually packed in small styrofoam or clear plastic containers filled with sawdust and covered with a plastic lid. The containers are kept refrigerated until use so the larvae won’t metamorphose into moths and fly away. The standard waxworm setup is a slip-sinker rig like the one described for night crawlers. Instead of the bait-holder hook, though, use a tiny No. 12 gold hook tied on a leader made of a 2-pound-test monofilament. Be sure to adjust your drag to the proper tension so the line won’t break if a nice fish strikes. Three or four waxworms are impaled through the midsection on the hook, leaving the ends to wiggle enticingly. Then a miniature marshmallow is added to the hook or squished on the leader a few inches above the bait. The marshmallow serves as a float, giving the bait just enough buoyancy to keep it out of mud and gravel on the river bottom. Waxworms also can be used to enhance the attractiveness of artificials. A jig or fly tipped with a waxworm will often outfish an unembellished lure. Baitfish Bait-store minnows are effective year-round trout bait, but they are overlooked by most anglers. Fatheads are easiest to keep alive, but almost any kind of minnow in the 1-1/2 to 3-inch range will work. Trophy-sized trout, especially giant browns, eat lots of fish when they are available, so minnows are a good choice when you’re hoping to land a jumbo fish. Sculpins and madtoms also are excellent trout baits, as both those small fish often inhabit cold trout waters. Sculpins are rather grotesque-looking fish with a broad flat head, a slick scaleless body and oversized pectoral fins. They’re often called muddlers or bullheads and are common in many clear, cool headwater streams in both eastern and western states. Madtoms, or stonecats, are tiny, widely distributed catfish seldom over 2 or 3 inches long. Both of these baitfish – sculpins and madtoms – can be collected with minnow seines or minnow traps where permitted. All baitfish keep best in cool, well-aerated water. Hook them through the lips with a size 4 or 6, thin-wire, short-shanked hook. Live baitfish are always best, but even dead ones will work in current. You can fish them beneath a bobber, tightlined on the bottom or while trolling or drifting. They also can be used to tip jigs and other lures. My purist fly-fishing buddies Gregg and Cliff often compare bait-fishing to wife-beating and other inhumanities. When it comes down to catching trout or not catching trout, though, both are quick to tout the virtues of live bait – my bait, of course. I urge you to try naturals yourself. You’re certain to hear a few chuckles from the feather-fishers, but you’ll be the one who gets the last laugh.