Trout Fishing Without a Fly Rod: Other Trout Fishing Techniques

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Danny trout fishing in the river.

Anglers can catch trout with spin fishing setups, bait casting setups, and even a stick and line. As long as you have a line, hook, and realistic bait, you can catch trout. Bait choice and presentation are the things to prioritize regardless of your rig.

Novice anglers hear trout fishing and think of scenes from “A River Runs Through It” or YouTube videos with cinematic shots of clear streams, fly rods, and tiny flies. While trout fishing purists argue that fly rods are the best option to catch trout, they’re not the only fishing equipment that can catch these beautiful fish. 

Fly Fishing Alternatives 

Don’t consider yourself less of a trout angler because you don’t use a fly rod. I grew up in Minnesota and spent most of my early years catching fish on a medium-light spin fishing setup. I had a blast catching trout on that rig in Northern and Southeastern Minnesota. 

It wasn’t until I hit college that I fell in love with fly fishing. I occasionally spin fish for trout and appreciate its effectiveness every time. 

Spin Fishing with Lures

An ultralight, light, or medium-light rod paired with 6 to 10-pound braid and a 4-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon leader is a great place to start. Attach the lure to the end of your leader, and you’re good to go. 

Lure fishing is easy because they’ll dive and move for you. All you have to do is retrieve it. 

Best Lures for Trout Fishing 

Panther Martins, Mepps Spinners, and Rooster Tails are some of the most well-known spinners for trout. They move around in the water, have a good amount of color and flash all over their body, and cover various levels of the water column. Plus, they do well in areas where snags quickly happen. 

Their small presentations and spinners deflect the lure off of any logs, rocks, weeds, or sticks that get in the way. 

Jerkbaits, like the Rapala X-Rap, and Spoons, like the Thomas Lures Buoyant Spoon, are some of the other lures you need to keep in your tackle box. Jerk baits are a great representation of a fleeing minnow or smaller fish. When large trout see a struggling minnow, they always pursue it. 

Spoons reflect light and move water. If you’re fishing clear water, the reflection and water movement are exactly what you want. 

Lures imitate minnows, leeches, crayfish, smaller trout, and other prey trout might find in the water. Keep various sizes and colors of lures in your arsenal to prepare you for your next trip to the water. 

Lure Fishing Techniques

Presentation and retrieval methods are the two things you need to focus on when fishing with lures. Trout want to eat, but they need their food to look natural. If you unnaturally present your lure, you’ll struggle to land fish. 

Lure Fishing Techniques in Still Water 

When fishing still water, I look for all the areas where trout might sit. Trout’s most common hiding areas are fallen trees, rock piles, weed lines, and drop-offs. They want easy access to food and a place to hide in case any larger predators swim in their direction. 

I’ll throw my lures next to, past, and within these areas of cover and structure. I always let my lure sit a few seconds before I start the retrieve. A steady retrieve doesn’t always work. Start with a few slow reels and then a few fast. If that doesn’t work, try something different. Staying married to one method isn’t the best choice. 

You’ve succeeded if you can find where the fish are sitting and use your lure to move them out of hiding. When trout commit to your lure, expect a strike. 

Lure Fishing Techniques in Rivers 

In moving water, you want to avoid casting directly into the “strike zone.” The strike zone is the section of water you think the fish might eat. Cast upstream of the strike zone and retrieve your lure through it. This makes your lure look like it drifted into the strike zone instead of falling into it. 

Look for bends in the river, pools, riffles, cut banks, and seams when fishing with lures in moving water. Trout want to sit in slower-moving water with easy access to food. They’ll still spend time near fallen logs, rocks, and vegetation because it provides somewhere to hide. They’re happy as long as they don’t have to fight the current and can find food. 

You can also cast downstream of a strike zone and retrieve the lure through it as an alternative method. When I do this, I’ll retrieve a little slower than if I retrieve downstream. I want my lure to represent a fish fighting upstream. 

Let the current naturally move your lure while you retrieve it back to yourself. You don’t need to go over the top when you’re trying to create movement. 

Danny and wife riding on a boat Trout fishing in South Dakota.
Trout Fishing in South Dakota

Spin Fishing with Live Bait

Live bait catches the most fish. The natural movements and scents are challenging to replicate regardless of the type of fishing you’re doing. Plus, fishing with live bait is one of the easiest methods. Let the live bait do the work while you wait for the strike. 

I’ll use my ultralight, light, or medium-light rod paired with 8 to 10-pound braid and a 4 to 6-pound fluorocarbon or monofilament leader when using live bait. 

Depending on what I want, I’ll fish live bait under a bobber, dead-drift it, or use it in a Carolina Rig where a weight sits at the bottom and the bait floats directly above it. 

Best Live Bait for Trout Fishing 

Minnows, worms, leeches, insects, and crayfish are the best live bait options for trout. When given the opportunity, trout eat all of them. Study the water you’re fishing beforehand, and learn what the trout usually eat. You can’t go wrong with shiner minnows and nightcrawlers. 

Live Bait Fishing Techniques

As mentioned, fishing with live bait doesn’t require much effort. Get it to the spot you want, and let the scent and movement of the bait do the work. I’ll switch up my techniques a little depending on the water I’m fishing, but I mainly use the same methods. 

Live Bait Fishing Techniques in Still Water

When fishing with live bait in still water, look for trout-holding areas. As mentioned, fallen logs, rock piles, weed lines, and drop-offs are some of the most common areas frequented by trout. 

Cast your live bait near these areas and wait. If you’re fishing with a bobber, wait for it to dip under the surface. If you’re using a Carolina Rig or letting it dead drift, wait for your rod tip to make a few twitches and set the hook.

You don’t have to fish live bait on a retrieval. You can let it sit and wait for the trout to find it. You can fish it on a slow retrieve, especially if you have it attached to a small split shot or are dead-drifting it. 

Live Bait Fishing Techniques in Moving Water 

If you’re fishing rivers and streams for trout, dead drifting under a float/bobber is an ideal method. It works its way naturally downstream, and the bobber drops when you get a bite. Like other river fishing, you want to cast above your target and let the bait drift into the strike zone. 

Cast above pools, riffles, seams, and eddies, and let your bait do the work. The movement from the current and live bait attracts the trout in the area. I especially like to dead drift my bait into pools. I’ll cast above it into the riffles and let it get sucked into the middle of the pool. 

If I’m using a float, I set it at the depth of the pool instead of the riffles. I want the bait to drop in the water column to meet the fish. 

Stream in Colorado
Stream in Colorado

Spin Fishing with Soft Plastics and PowerBait 

When I’m not using a fly rod, I almost always use soft plastics and PowerBait when I’m fishing for trout. Soft plastics and PowerBait work exceptionally well in urban areas targeting stocked trout. You can find soft plastics that imitate worms, crayfish, leeches, and minnows. 

You can also find PowerBait, which emulates the food trout eat in their hatcheries. The pellets or dough are great options. They give off a scent (garlic, Aniseed, worm, or natural) and have bright enough colors to attract trout in all conditions. 

I use the same setup for lures and live bait: an ultralight, light, or medium light paired with 8 to 10-pound braid and 4 to 6-pound monofilament/fluorocarbon leader. This setup handles the PowerBait and soft plastics well. 

Best Soft Plastics and PowerBait for Trout Fishing 

Some of my favorite soft plastics for trout are the Berkley T-Tail Minnow, Berkley Ripple Shad, Berkley Trout Worm, and Gulp! Trout Worm. The T-Tail Minnow and Ripple Shad work well paired with a weighted jighead. 

You can retrieve it naturally, and it stays close to the bottom. I use green, pearl, black, white, chartreuse, and yellow colors. 

For the soft plastic worms, fish them the same way you’d fish a normal worm. A Carolina Rig, a drop shot rig, or dead drifting are usually the best options for worms. 

My favorite PowerBaits include the Trout Pellets, trout eggs, and Trout Dough. These can be purchased with scents like garlic, worm, natural, and Aniseed. Attach them to a size 12-16 hook, fish them in a Carolina Rig, or pair them with a smaller split shot. 

Soft Plastic and PowerBait Fishing Techniques

Soft plastics fish a little differently than the PowerBait. Soft plastics require more effort, while PowerBait can sit and attract nearby fish because of its appearance and scent. You can fish the PowerBait similarly to how you fish live bait. 

Soft Plastic Fishing in Still Water

In lakes, the action the soft plastics receive is entirely up to you. You can use a jigging motion and work them towards you that way, or you can use a slow, smooth retrieve and see if the trout prefer that. 

Again, look for cover and structure to fish. Your best bet is fallen logs, weed lines, rock piles, and drop-offs. Cast near them and begin the retrieve. Switch up the style until you find one that works. 

Soft Plastic Fishing in Moving Water 

I rely on the current to give my soft plastics the necessary action in moving water. Soft plastics move with even the slightest twitch of your rod, so the current does a great job keeping it moving. 

As mentioned, look to fish in pockets, seams, riffles, pools, and eddies. Trout like areas of slack water that provide protection and easy access to food. Cast upstream of your desired target, and retrieve the soft plastic through the strike zone. 

You can also cast downstream and retrieve the soft plastic upstream. This method works especially well if you’re using a minnow representation. 

Fly fishing flies in the boxes and net.
Fly Fishing Flies

Spin Fishing with Flies

Believe it or not, you can incorporate some fly fishing into spin fishing. Don’t let the fact that you don’t know how or don’t own a fly rod prevent you from enjoying it. You can use fly fishing flies on your spin setup. 

Like always, pair these with a light braid and fluorocarbon. Use 6 to 10-pound braid and a 2 to 6-pound monofilament/fluorocarbon leader. I like to use flies on an ultralight or light rod.

You can fish moving and still water depending on the flies you use.  

Best Flies for Trout Fishing 

Some of the best flies include Woolly Buggers, Clouser Minnows, Chubby Chernobyls, Prince Nymphs, Pheasant Tail Nymphs, Pat’s Rubber Legs, Elk Hair Caddis, and Royal Wulffs. 

Spin Fishing Techniques With Flies

Dry flies are extremely light, so don’t expect a ton of distance when casting them. You’ll mainly get distance when fishing with beadhead nymphs and streamers. 

Fishing With Flies in Still Water 

When fishing still water, I look for the traditional areas trout hold. I’ll cast my flies into those sections and let them sit for a while. Odds are, you won’t get a ton of distance when you’re casting flies unless you’re using a heavy streamer or you attach a split shot to your line to add some extra weight. 

Logs, rock piles, weeds, and drop-offs are the best places to look for trout. 

You’ll have to get close to the spot you want to fish. Take your time, make multiple casts, and do your best to present your fly naturally. When you’re ready to retrieve, make sure you take your time. Most flies imitate insects or small prey. 

They make short, twitchy movements. Use short retrieves and vary the speed. You’ll find a retrieval style the trout like. 

Fishing With Flies in Moving Water 

If you’re using flies on a spinning rod, fishing with them in moving water rather than still water is easier. The current pulls your flies downstream and creates natural movement. The current will do the rest as long as you can cast up and across stream. 

Look for pockets, seams, riffles, pools, and eddies. You want most flies to drift downstream into the strike zone. Some streamers work well to retrieve upstream, especially when imitating minnows or other small fish. 

Once your fly is in the strike zone, reel in your slack and be ready for a strike. Let it drift entirely through the zone and then retrieve it. 

Trout River in Canada
Trout River in Canada

Using a Stick and Line 

Realistically, all you need is a line, bait, and a way to cast it. Growing up, I enjoyed tying some line to the end of a stick, attaching bait to the end, and casting it into a stream or lake. Live bait attracts fish from everywhere, even if the casts aren’t perfect. 

Find a 7-9 foot long stick that has some natural bend to it. Ensure the line is attached well to the end of the stick, and drop your line in the water. If you’re fishing a stream or river, tie 15 to 20 feet of line 4-6 pound test to the end of the stick. This allows the bait to drift downstream a little ways. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Can You Use a Regular Rod for Fly Fishing?

You can fish with flies using a regular rod. Usually, anglers use a heavier fly or attach a split shot to their line to get more weight on it. Using a size 18 nymph with a spinning rod is difficult. You’ll need weight to get it to your desired location

Should You Use a Bobber When Trout Fishing? 

Yes, use a bobber when you’re fishing for trout. Use a minnow or worm as your bait, set the bobber where you want it, and make your cast. Cast it where you think trout might sit, and wait for a strike. 

What is the Best Bait for Trout Fishing? 

Usually, minnows and worms are the best bait for trout fishing. They give off a natural scent and move around enough to attract all the trout in the area. Even the most hesitant trout can’t avoid making a pass at a lively trout or minnow. 


There are numerous ways you can catch trout. While fly fishing is a lot of fun, it doesn’t have to be the only way to land trout. A spin rod lets you use lures, live bait, flies, soft plastics, and PowerBait. Even fishing with a stick and line helps you catch them as long as you can get your line into a “fishy” area. As long as you present your bait properly, it doesn’t matter how you get it there. 

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