Time-tested tricks for taking trout and salmon on dips, doughs, eggs and softbaits
Thoughts of trout fishing may conjure up images of pipe-smoking anglers painstakingly presenting delicate flies to tempt finicky fish, but the truth is a variety of artificial softbaits make catching all types of trout and salmon a snap.
"It's an absolute hoot," says veteran high-country fishing guide and Berkley pro staffer Bernie Keefe. Hailing from Granby, Colorado, Keefe consistently connects clients with trout and salmon on a variety of Berkley baits, often in numbers that put other presentations—including live bait—to shame.
Legendary salmonid stalker Buzz Ramsey of Klickitat, Washington, is in full agreement. "From simple yet deadly bottom rigs to tipping spinners and plugs, there are countless ways to catch more trout and salmon with scented softbaits," he says.
To fuel the passions of trout and salmon fans across the continent, Berkley offers a stellar assortment of scientifically proven dips, doughs, eggs and other softbaits, offering options for boosting your catch rate in virtually any situation. To help you match these products with presentations, we tap Keefe and Ramsey's well-stocked storehouses of trout and salmon savvy.
PowerBait — Loaded with natural scents and flavors, PowerBait is designed to make trout hold on longer once they strike. It's perfect for fast-moving tactics targeting fish feeding by sight and lateral line, but PowerBait dips and doughs also shine for bottom fishing and other sedentary presentations.
Gulp! — Also laced with trout-friendly tastes and aromas, water-soluble Gulp! floods the surrounding area with attractants. Because it draws fish to the bait, Gulp! is especially deadly wherever scent plumes or trails are key to in luring trout and salmon.
Gulp! Alive! — Offers the same great scents and flavors of Gulp!, plus it's packaged in natural juices that constantly recharge the bait's attractants. Of course, standard Gulp! can also be reinvigorated in Gulp! Alive! buckets, or in Gulp! Alive! Recharge! Liquid, which is available in 2- and 8-ounce bottles.
One of the simplest yet most deadly setups for taking trout from boat or shore is the basic still-fishing rig.
"Start with a 6-pound-test mainline of Berkley Trilene XL monofilament, with a 12- to 30-inch leader of 4-pound Berkley Vanish fluorocarbon," Ramsey begins. "Use a size 10 Berkley McMahon swivel to connect the two lines, and run a ¼- to ½-ounce egg sinker on the mainline, above the swivel." The height of fish off bottom governs leader length, while depth and current dictate sinker weight.
Ramsey typically ties a size 14 or 16 treble hook to the business end of the leader, and covers the entire treble with a dime-sized dollop of PowerBait Trout Bait or Gulp! Trout Dough. To further raise the bar in trout attraction, roll the dough in PowerBait Dust. Packaged in easy-to-use jars, it features extra PowerBait scent and flavor enhancers, plus a special glitter formula for increased visibility.
Ramsey notes that a variety of other baits also produce on this rig, including Gulp! Floating Salmon Eggs and Trout Nuggets, and PowerBait Power Floating Trout Worms, all of which excel rigged on a single salmon-egg hook. "With any of these products, the key is making sure you have enough bait to float the rig off bottom, where trout can see it," he cautions.
"Cast the rig out, let it sink to bottom and sit motionless, leaving a little slack in the line so the fish can swim with the bait and swallow it," he says. "If nothing bites within five minutes, I lift the bait off bottom, reel 10 cranks and let it sit again. If that doesn't produce, I make another cast to the left or right, or walk a short distance down the bank to try a different spot."
Afoot or afloat, Ramsey also favors a "crawl-retrieve" casting attack featuring a Berkley 3-inch Trout Worm, either Gulp! or PowerBait. "Sometimes the fish show a preference, so it pays to have both types of bait and experiment," he notes.
Ramsey threads the worm on a size 6 or 8 hook and partially onto his 2- to 4-pound Berkley Trilene XL mainline, so the bait hangs straight and the hook point is exposed. A size 5 split shot pinched 20 to 24 inches above the bait provides ample ballast. "Cast the rig out," he begins. "Let it sink about 10 feet, depending on water depth, and lift your rodtip from the 9 o'clock position to high noon. Lower the bait on a semi-taut line, then reel 10 cranks and repeat the lift."
Jigs tipped with 5-inch Berkley PowerBait Jerk Shads are a mainstay of Keefe's strategies throughout the open-water season. In spring and summer, when lake trout and other salmonids cruise the shallows, he favors a lift-fall casting approach. During summer, when large trout harass suspended kokanee salmon, he deadsticks a Jerk Shad along the bottom of the baitfish school.
In both cases, the system hinges on a 3/8-ounce jighead, 10-pound Berkley Trilene 100% Fluoro Professional Grade leader, and 14-pound Berkley FireLine Fused Original mainline. "Be sure to rig the Jerk Shad so it's perfectly straight," he cautions. "That's the difference between fish and no fish."
Keefe notes that both techniques are big-fish programs. "We take numbers of lake trout topping 40 inches each season on Jerk Shads, and the bait produced my personal best—a 46-inch, 39.4-pounder," he says.
Whenever rainbows, browns or cutthroats are relating to shoreline vegetation, Keefe breaks out a killer bobber rig. At its heart lies a black, 1/16- to 1/8-ounce jighead tipped with a 2½-inch, smelt-pattern Berkley Gulp! Minnow. Keefe uses a small, clear casting bubble to suspend the jig slightly above the salad.
He switches to a pencil-style float in fall, when presenting small tube jigs loaded with Gulp! Corn to spawn-run kokanee salmon.
A variety of PowerBait and Gulp! products lend themselves to tipping lures for trolling and casting. For example, Ramsey often adds a ½-inch chunk of Gulp! Extruded Nightcrawler or section of PowerBait Trout Worm to one tine of a ¼-ounce in-line spinner. He also sweetens small crankbaits with a Gulp! Trout Nugget or PowerBait Trout Nugget, or a PowerBait Power Wiggler or Gulp! Waxie or Maggot.
When trolling for salmon, he frequently spices up plug-cut herring by impaling a 4-inch PowerBait Floating Steelhead Worm on the leading hook. Likewise, the rear hooks of larger trolling plugs are often trimmed with the same worm, or a 6-inch Gulp! Floating Nightcrawler.
In the end, both Ramsey and Keefe believe the options for tipping, jigging and rigging Berkley softbaits for trout and salmon are limited only by the angler's imagination. "Experiment with different baits, colors and sizes until the fish tell you what they want," says Ramsey. Indeed, such an adventurous philosophy could help you discover new and exciting tactics for taking trout other anglers can't touch.