Best Trout Fishing Rigs for Rivers

To catch any fish, you must have the right setup, and trout fishing is no exception. Rivers provide an additional challenge with currents and obstacles. 

So, what rigs will put you in front of a wily trout on a river near home? Let’s take a look at a few. 


Spinners are a mainstay of trout fishermen because of their ease of use and the results they produce. I used them almost exclusively as a kid because it was easy to switch them out if one wasn’t producing, and all I had to do was cast and crank.

For brook trout, go with the smaller #1, 0, and 00 sizes. For steelhead or larger fish, try a #2 or #3. And if you are at the mouth of a river on the Great Lakes, pick a #4. Run the lightest line that you dare to allow good function of the lure and tie the spinner directly to it. 

If your rod is spooled with a heavy test line, tie on a swivel and a 12”+ length of a lighter line as a leader to reduce the visual signature of the line. Add a split shot above the swivel to pull the spinner deeper in heavy current.

The Mepps website recommends choosing a color that contrasts with the water, and my experience proves this true. I have a gold #0 Thunder Bug that worked well on the rocky and clear trout streams of the Colorado Rockies and the Ozarks. For the dark water of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, a silver #4 Mepps Aglia or a #2 Blue Fox Vibrax were the producers.

Available in a nearly infinite number of colors, configurations, and sizes, there is a spinner perfect for the river where you fish. 

Jerk Baits

For big trout, few things beat a Rapala minnow. Even on slow days at the local river, I can usually get a big trout to make a run at my Original Floating Minnow. It’s a small one in black and silver that is older than I am, but it works like a champ. The Firetiger pattern is my second favorite, and it will entice almost any fish.

Bait rigs

Otherwise known as bobber rigs and bottom rigs, these terminal tackle creations work great with live or artificial bait.

Drop shot rig

Tie a 1/4 ounce or so egg sinker to the end of a leader. Tie a soft plastic lure on the line at the desired distance from the weight with an overhand knot, and then tie the whole works onto your main line. 

The rig will allow you to get the lure out to where you want it and down to the bottom. You are then able to jig the bait up and down without having to reel in. Just let the weight sit and raise and lower the rod tip without reeling in.  

A word to the wise; in Michigan, this rig is legal on the Great Lakes and connecting river mouths but not on inland waters. Check your state fishing regulations before using.

Carolina Rig

Best Trout Fishing Rigs for Rivers

The Carolina rig is an excellent way to present artificial bait near the bottom of a stream. Simple to create, the Carolina rig is a floating soft plastic lure tied on a 12”-24” leader. Secure the leader to a swivel and add a slip sinker on the main line above the swivel with a bead in between to protect the knot from the sinker.

The Carolina allows you to jig a bait along the steam by dragging the weight across the bottom. The floating lure will keep up off the bottom and (hopefully) in front of the fish.

A variant of this rig is the Split Shot rig, which replaces the slip sinker with several split shot. The smaller weight gives less of a visual, and the lighter, fixed weights offer better control of the lure for when more tact is required.

A second variation replaces the floating lure with a single-point hook. Called the Slip Sinker rig, it is used typically with live or cut bait in a cast out and wait for a bite type of setting. 

Bobber Rigs

The original bluegill special, this rig works just as well for trout as it does for panfish. Put your bait on the hook, set the bobber depth, cast out, and let it float downstream with the current past that honey-hole.

Some recommend using pencil bobbers instead of the round plastic ones. The slim bobbers are easier for the trout to pull under, giving a quicker indication of the bite.

For variety, try this rig using an inline fixed bobber above a lead-head jig holding a soft plastic like a Mr. Twister curly tail grub or worm.

If you want to control the depth of the bait from the shore or want to be able to jig it, then replace the fixed bobber with a slip bobber. Add a moveable line stop above the bobber to control the maximum depth. 

The Slip Bobber rig will allow the max depth to be set much deeper than with a fixed bobber because the line stop can be reeled up through the guides, so you do not have to fight with a long bit of loose line every cast.


While the darling of bass and crappie fisherman, jigs are effective on trout as well. A standard round or mushroom-headed jig sporting an appropriately sized soft plastic is perfect. Cast out and retrieve a few feet at a time. Give the lure time to sink back to the bottom each time. Dinner should be on the line shortly.


Every fisherman has their own definition of the perfect trout rod. A former coworker liked his brook trout poles with a super-light action. He preferred to watch the rod tip move as a strike indicator, so the rod had to have a marshmallow-soft action. It worked well for him.

Myself, I prefer a medium-heavy action rod. It has to be as rigid as a rifle barrel so I can feel the bump of the strike in my hands. I would probably have increased success with a more flexible rod, but years of tight-lining for perch have me set in my ways.


A trout is a worthy opponent to match wits with on the water. Hopefully, some of the rigs discussed here will help you tip the scales in your favor on the river. Good Luck!

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