Freshwater Techniques
Small lake trout love sinking diving lures, such as this Jackson Kanade, particularly when worked deep and erratically.
It’s common to hear that there’s only one way to catch trout, and that is on the fly, suggests John Walkley. However, John says light tackle spinning for trout is gaining some traction and provides another effective way to entice a bite.
Stalking your target and presenting little lures with pinpoint accuracy on a river can provide both a great experience and the chance for many to nail that first trout. Lure fishing for trout gives you the ability to search a river or lake more thoroughly and is generally a quicker way to locate fish. There may be some surfer v bodyboarder, skis v boards type rivalries existing between spin and fly schools, but there is no denying that lure fishing for trout is deadly effective. 

Just to set the record straight, I personally employ both methods – fly and spin – as I enjoy aspects of both. I love the technical rewards of fly-fishing, but in other situations, spin fishing can be better suited and it still has its own challenges and rewards. This article will explore the realm of spin fishing, providing some insight into the tactics that have been a game changer for myself this season while fishing in some of the North Island’s rivers, creeks and lakes.
A selection of the writer’s favourite soft-baits and hard bodied lures.
Light spin fishing for trout
Currently, at least in the north, access to some of the higher regarded spots on rivers and lakes is restricted to fly only. However, spin fishers are commonplace in the south, particularly in places such as the canals.

There are still plenty of remarkable waters worth rospecting in the north, and in your favour is the fact that hungry or not, trout will nine times out of 10 hit a lure that gets too close. It is worth mentioning at this point that if you do, or intend to, spin fish for trout in New Zealand, make sure to check the regulations on the Fish and Game website to see where you can and cannot spin fish.

The aggression of both rainbow and brown trout is evident when you see them chase down a lure. This is something I have noticed from fishing this style over the years. I have seen actively feeding trout flare up and travel metres just to engulf a lure, as well as disinterested cruisers and sitters turning on a dime and slashing at a lure that travels too close to their zone.

The lure’s ability to trigger either a natural feeding or aggression response gives you double the chance of hooking a good trout. Now, I am not saying lure fishing is simple, because it is not; but in contrast, it can take many years to achieve the level of fly fishing required to be effective. With lure fishing, while there is the skill of accurately casting on smaller rivers, as well as working action into lures without finding that sunken log, it is generally a simpler method which requires less kit and, in many ways, opens up a lot more scope to fish.

Finesse tackle
With most aspects of fishing, tackle selection can be instrumental. For light spin fishing for trout, you need a setup that can cast a light lure with accuracy and range. Your average “soft-bait set”, while probably okay for casting heavier lures in some bigger lakes, will make it harder to fish some of the smaller waterways where finesse is key. The rods do most of the work and rods in the 2-6kg and 7-8ft range are ideal, especially if they have a tip able to cast a 4-8g lure. Another point to mention is reel size, as well as the braid you spool it with. Reels in the 2500-3000 range spooled with around 10lb braid will do the job. I have seen comparisons for line diameters vs cast distances and the difference between 20lb and 10lb when casting a light lure was at least a quarter further in favour of 10lb. This advantage increases the lighter the lure gets. 6lb braid is better for long casts, however, leaving a lure in a trout’s mouth after a bust off is more detrimental than leaving a fly, so I would recommend 10lb as a good compromise. Having a setup that is light, balanced and tuned to casting the lighter lures will not only make the fight more enjoyable but will also provide precision, which is what finesse fishing is all about. These outfits can also be used to target the trout’s smaller saltwater cousins if you decided to try some light saltwater spin.
Sometimes a larger soft-bait can be a game changer, but it’s not a consistent option.
Soft-baits or hard bodies?
Lure addiction is not something to be ashamed of. Most of us are guilty of spending hours admiring and organising tackle boxes. A good selection of both hard-bodied lures and appropriate soft-baits will not only look good in the box, but also increase your chances of selecting the perfect lure on the day.

Having lures suited to the rivers or lakes you fish is important. Floating and diving hard bodied lures have been a mainstay for many decades but many modern designs are more refined, which can make them more versatile. As an example, the sinking diving lures allow you to first sink the lure to the desired depth, then retrieve that lure along a deeper flat line until it gets closer to the bank.

The shallow floating divers will be more appropriate in the cooler months, particularly when worked along shallow lake fronts and rivers. Each have their place and choosing the correct lure for the location is critical. Manufacturers such as Rapala, Jackson and Daiwa, among others, make some brilliant lures in the 3-7cm range in both sinking and floating variants. However, I find soft-baits provide a bit more flexibility. You can mix and match them with different jig heads to suit the area you’re fishing, or just fish something in the middle weight all day and vary your retrieve to suit the depth of the lake or speed of the river. Z-Man and Berkley make some great non-scented soft-baits which are proven on our trout. Aim for 2.5-3-inch baits and choose weights appropriate to your tackle as well as the depth or current in the chosen location. Jig heads ranging from 1/15 oz to 1/5 oz will suit these smaller plastics perfectly and allow you to work them in a variety of situations.

Lure fishing rivers
While flowing waterways introduce an array of challenges for anglers of every type, in some cases lure fishing provides a level of simplicity, particularly in tight areas where casting a fly would be near impossible.  

Lure fishing rivers and streams is, for me at least, one of the most rewarding aspects of this fishing style. Spotting a fish, placing that perfect first cast well in front of it and beginning to work the lure back, only to see the trout wake up and lunge at your offering, will fill you with adrenalin every time.

There are a few techniques you can employ with both soft-baits and diving lures to work these rivers, and the choice on the day may vary depending on what is more suitable for the river you are fishing. If the river is big and slow then you can almost introduce a lake-style approach to fishing it. But on the medium-sized rivers with pools, riffles, currents and holes that most of us are familiar with, you have the option to cast upstream or down.

The upstream approach will provide a faster retrieve and the lure will spend less time in the zone, so generally I would employ this on the more moderate flow rivers. In this same scenario, a soft-bait can be hopped and dropped behind rocks where trout are hiding out of the current, or into the depths of deeper holes where they are less affected by the surface currents.

My personal preference though is to employ a downstream swing approach, which is similar to swinging a fly. This works well with both soft-baits and divers, as the current will ensure the lure is working frantically while moving into position at a much slower rate. This allows your lure to be in front of the fish for longer and the takes are always hard in this scenario. To set this up, I would generally cast down and across into slower water and allow the lure to swing into the faster water. Once swung, try to slowly retrieve it along the seam in between the fast and slow sections of the flow. If you are fishing soft-baits and the current pushes your lure to the surface, then you will need to select a heavier jig head to maintain the desired depth.

This 6.3cm Jackson lure comes in at 7.5 grams and casts a mile. It is an effective lure for working the deeper areas for suspended trout.
Small profiled jig heads such as this 1/10 oz ned rig provide plenty of weight to cast but do not increase the overall profile size.
Lure fishing lakes
This season, I have spent plenty of time figuring out the local lakes using lures from both kayak and foot. During this time, I have found a few methods that stand out and have produced well. One morning, for example, I managed 40-plus hook-ups before lunch!Traditionally, the cooler months are prime for fishing the shallower lakes with lures. Although, in summer if you have a watercraft with a sounder, jigging soft-baits can be very successful. From
a kayak or boat, both flatline trolling and cast and retrieve methods can be employed. If trolling is more your thing, I have found working the sinking bibbed lures slowly at depth with the odd twitch of the rod to be enticing.

While trolling, I found that at times the rod would register many bites but not necessarily hook-up. In these situations, I generally stop and erratically retrieve
the lure back to the kayak with plenty of short pauses and flicks, as continuing the troll doesn’t typically produce a secondary bite. I believe this instant change in retrieve imitates an injured fish, which encourages the trout to come back for a second go.

If you have found nothing and want to work a little deeper, a few pieces of shot a metre above the lure can help you run the lure to deeper areas without the need for extra equipment. Cast and retrieve also works well, particularly when you have found the depth the fish are sitting at by experimenting with sink-rates. Paddle tailed soft-baits are deadly in this scenario as they can be worked so slowly and still retain their action. On many occasions, I have found that when the lure felt like it had picked up some weed, it turned out it to be a fish that’d taken the lure and kept swimming in the same direction at the same pace. So, if in doubt give it a lift. 
Early starts do help on certain lakes, but on others you need the light to see fish.

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As well as creating movement, the blades send out a vibration that attracts fish to their presence.
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The author with a solid shoreline cruiser taken on a Slim SwimZ.
If you are landbased, the same principles apply. I will cover two scenarios here. Firstly, some lakes offer exceptional shoreline fishing in winter where the trout come right in the shallows and can be sight-fished. In these situations, they can be stalked. Cast a light, small soft-bait well ahead of them and work it slowly back. This approach will rarely be refused. On occasions, I have had a school of trout milling around and, in this mood, they are harder to tempt. However, perseverance and regular colour and lure changes will keep them semi-interested until one of them becomes annoyed enough to hit the lure.

On the odd occasion you feel like a treat, you can’t go past lake front smoked trout, honey glazed with some crackers and sweet chilli dip. A nice lunch on a freezing winter’s afternoon.
In the second scenario where there is a bit of depth, I try to methodically cover the water until I find the first fish. I will start off shallow and work an arc of 8-10 casts at varying angle increments. On the subsequent arcs, I will employ a five second, followed by a 10 second sink and so on until I locate the depth that the fish are sitting. Once I’ve found the fish, repetitively working that depth has on many occasions produced additional trout. The variety of lakes on offer in NZ provide endless options. If you find that big water daunting to work on fly, then try it with a lure – you might be converted.

With so many sweet water options in New Zealand and the growth of the saltwater lure fishing scene, I would not be surprised to see more people take up lure fishing for trout. There are many out there who have always wanted to catch a trout, but the learning curve or expense of fly fishing has been a deterrent. So, if you are tempted by the allure of our spotted freshwater dwellers then grab a few small lures and give it a go. This style of fishing will not only put you in some truly beautiful spots, but perhaps provide you with that thrill of hooking a solid trout.