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Learn to fish: lure and bait selection

Nov 08, 2023

Tips for stocking your tackle box to fish for common species in Utah

Chris Crockett and Michael Packer

Standing in the aisle of a sporting goods store or angler supply shop and looking at what seem to be thousands of lures, hooks and bait options can seem overwhelming. And almost as many books and online resources have been dedicated to the topic of lure selection.

To help narrow down some choices that will help beginner anglers get started, we'll cover a few of the basics that usually work well for catching common Utah fish species like rainbow trout, panfish and catfish.

So, why are there so many different types of flies, lures and bait? All are meant to attract fish by imitating food sources, which is how you get a fish to bite onto the lure or bait and be snagged by a hook.

Artificial lures attract fish by looking similar to or moving like food sources that fish would find in nature, though in some conditions fish will gulp just about anything! Some lures even have a rattling component that creates vibration in the water, which helps attract curious fish even if the water conditions are cloudy or murky.

Natural baits — such as earthworms and mealworms — are effective because their texture, odor and color are appealing to many kinds of fish. If natural baits are allowed where you are fishing, they are relatively easy to fish with, often just needing a basic hook setup.

Keep in mind that we don't get any kind of kickback from the brands or products mentioned in this post. These are just suggestions for easy-to-find, effective lures and baits.

Now, let’s dive in on some rigging suggestions to catch some fish!

New to fishing?

In-line spinners are designed to mimic a small fish, and they usually consist of a small, round metal or plastic body with a spinning blade and hook attached.

Some tips on selection:

Use small spinners to catch panfish and trout. Larger ones can attract largemouth bass and wipers.

Spoons are also meant to mimic a small fish and consist of a flattened, oblong piece of metal. The spoon wobbles erratically when retrieved or jigged, resembling an injured bait fish (what the fish might think is an easy meal).

Spoons will catch trout and nearly all other sportfish in Utah. They are especially effective for small panfish, largemouth bass and tiger muskie.

Curly tailed grubs are one of the most versatile lures in your tackle box. Using the combination of a curly tailed grub and jig head is designed to mimic a small baitfish.

You can use a curly tailed grub (often in combination with a jig head) to catch panfish and nearly all other sportfish in Utah.

Natural or artificial baits — either fished on the bottom of a body of water or suspended under a bobber — are an effective way to catch many kinds of fish, and are especially well suited to beginners or anyone that enjoys a "sit and wait" approach to fishing. Important: No live fish can be used as bait in Utah, so all references to a fish or shrimp are for dead/cut bait.

When fishing with bait, hook quality is one of the few areas we recommend spending the extra money on quality components. Hooks of low quality definitely reduce your chances of successfully catching and landing fish. For more information on hook types and how to choose what kind of hook to use, check out this video.

Natural baits come in a wide variety, and it's important to check before you head out to make sure you can use natural bait at the waterbody where you'll be fishing. (See the Fish Utah interactive map or the Utah Fishing Guidebook.)

Artificial baits, such as PowerBait (and similar brands) are a malleable dough bait typically made from a mixture of PVC plastic, fish attracting oils or flavors, and colorants.

Just about anything!

When using bait, you'll need to slightly vary your setup and technique depending on what kind of fish you are targeting.

To catch trout, you can cast a hook-and-worm combo or artificial bait on a hook.

Bait fished under a bobber is a low stress way to catch panfish.

Both channel catfish and bullheads can be caught on several readily available natural baits. There are two basic ways to present bait to catfish, either suspended under a bobber or sitting on (or very near) the bottom of the water body. Some tips for catching catfish:

If you've already decided where you want to go fishing, you're off to a good start in figuring out what fish species will most likely be present. This will help you decide what kinds of lure or bait will work best. We recommend checking out our Fish Utah interactive map, which includes options to view common species, what kinds of fish have been stocked (and how recently) and fishing forecasts for where you're headed.

Also, you'll want to make sure your Utah fishing license is up to date (required for anglers 12 years of age and older).

Keep in mind that regulations vary by individual waterbody. At some waters, only artificial flies and lures are allowed, and some allow only certain types of bait.

Fortunately, the Utah Fishing Guidebook contains all the information you need to get started. The guidebook can readily be found online in English and Spanish, or you can pick up a print copy at all DWR offices, license agents and many sporting goods stores all over the state. See the Rules for specific waters section beginning on page 25 of the Utah Fishing Guidebook to see if the waterbody you are heading to has special regulations. If you need any assistance understanding the rules, don't hesitate to contact one of our offices for any questions you may have.

Chris Crockett

Chris Crockett is the Central Region Aquatics Manager, and has the privilege to work with everything from sportfish to native amphibians. When he isn't working, Chris enjoys fishing for catfish and cutthroat with his son, Robert, and kayaking with his wife, Emily, on the Great Salt Lake.

Michael Packer

Michael Packer is a wildlife recreation specialist based at the DWR's Springville office. He's a sandal-wearing fish nerd who loves getting others excited about wildlife. When he's not working, he's often out fishing, hunting or spending time outdoors recharging some impressive Chaco tan lines.

In-line spinnerspanfishtroutlargemouth basswipersSpoonstroutpanfishlargemouth basstiger muskieCurly tailed grubspanfishNatural or artificial baitsImportant:hook qualityNatural baitsArtificial baitstroutpanfishchannel catfishbullheadshookBait on the bottom