I took this brace of rainbow trout on a 5-foot ultralight outfit and Panther Martin spinner.
I took this brace of rainbow trout on a 5-foot ultralight outfit and Panther Martin spinner. (Bill May photo)

Most people think of trout fishing as synonymous with fly fishing.

Indeed fly fishing is usually the most skillful and enjoyable approach and usually the most effective, too. But as I started to write a spring trout fishing column and began listing my most effective flies, I realized most could be fished with, or at least emulated by, spin fishing methods. Dry flies are mostly impractical on spin gear but worm patterns, spinners, wooly buggers and other streamer patterns, wet flies, beadhead wet flies and nymphs and egg patterns can all be fished with spinning gear.


So here’s a guide for someone considering trout fishing but reluctant to make the investment in fly fishing gear. I think these methods could be especially helpful to inexperienced fishermen and to kids plus a lot of the gear and tactics can be used for panfish and some even for bass and pickerel.

Know your trout waters


Maryland has three categories of trout streams — put-and-take where any lure or bait may be used and a set limit of trout may be taken; catch-and-release where artificial flies or lures may be used; fly fishing only where spin fishing is not allowed. Some streams are also classified as “delayed harvest” streams where rules change with prescribed dates, and some streams have different rules for different sections. Maryland also stipulates that any scented lure is considered bait and flies must be tied on the hook.


Basic spinning tackle is all that’s needed. A 5 to 6 ½ foot ultralight to light spinning rod, matching reel and soft 4 to 6-pound monofilament will do the job. The basic lures and flies listed here can be obtained at any store selling fishing tackle or through catalog or online purchase. The only knot required is an improved clinch knot. The double surgeon’s knot and 100 percent loop knot can also be useful.


I sometimes cast a size 2 Hildebrandt Flicker Spinner with the fly rod to scout trout water, and have taken several 20-inch trout in the process. With spinning gear, a size 1 silver Mepps spinner is arguably the best trout lure, and the only one some spin fishermen use. Similar Panther Martin spinners are also good.

The basic technique in streams is making a series of cross-current casts, allowing the spinner to swing and flutter through potential trout-holding spots. When the spinner is directly downcurrent, retrieve and repeat, casting at a slightly different angle to cover all promising water. In still waters, fan cast to promising areas.

I recommend using a snap swivel in front of the spinner to reduce line twist and clipping one tine off the treble hook to reduce snagging and enhance releasing fish unharmed. Still, snagging is a problem and losing spinners is costly.

It also seems trout learn quickly in hard fished waters to avoid spinners.

Worm lures and flies

The San Juan Worm is the first choice of many fly fishermen, and likewise this “fly” and its variations is the first choice for many effective spin fishermen. With either tackle the basic technique is to add split shot above the worm and swing it so it bounces along bottom in promising areas. Hangups can be a problem, so another approach is to clip on a clear plastic float above the worm and split shot to drift the worm just above the bottom.

Spin fishermen do not have the advantage of “mending the line” for precise drifts as fly fishermen do, so use of the float for worms and other flies listed below is most effective in uniform, slow moving currents.

A red Berkley PowerBait Trout Worm drifted below a clear clip-on float appealed to this colorful rainbow.
A red Berkley PowerBait Trout Worm drifted below a clear clip-on float appealed to this colorful rainbow. (Bill May photo)

In waters that allow bait, the Berkley PowerBait Floating Trout Worm in red, pink or natural color is deadly.  Most fishermen string the middle portion of the worm along the shank of a size 8 to size 12 hook.  I like to rig the worm “wacky” style by hooking or tying the middle of the worm at a right angle across the hook shank.  Where bait is not allowed, use chenille or unscented plastic worms like Squirmy Wormies.  


Wet flies, nymphs, eggs

Swinging wet flies and drifting beadhead nymphs and egg flies are popular methods for fly fishing for trout. Most fly fishermen today use an indicator with weighted patterns.

Using the float and split shot methods above, spin fishermen can often get the same results. Since wet flies are meant to work in or near the surface, usually no shot would be used.

Wooly buggers and other streamers

The size 8 to 10 black wooly bugger, weighted or unweighted, is a staple of fly fishermen.  The clip-on float techniques can be used for weighted flies like wooly bugger or Clouser patterns.  But light jigheads with 1 to 2-inch curlytail grubs or chenille and marabou crappie jigs work as well and can be cast, drifted and swung without a float.  Again, scented grubs are baits.

Terrestrial Flies

Terrerstrial flies like ants, beetles and grasshoppers are fly fishing staples especially in the West.  Just as the float and popper has long been used for bluegill fishing, this same approach can be used for trout.  Hoppers are likely the best bet.  Again the spin fisherman will likely not have them precise control afforded the fly fisherman, but this approach can work for trout in still waters or gentle currents.


Spinners, worm flies, wooly buggers and small jigs and terrestrials are all effective for bluegill, sunfish and crappie and can be fished in still waters.  Add size 10 poppers or sliders for bluegills  -- and bass. I have fished beadhead wooly buggers below the clip-on float to take bass and pickerel as well as panfish in ponds and reservoirs.

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