The biggest question most trout anglers face when they head to the water is which lure to tie on first. There are as many lures available as there are rivers and streams snaking across North America, and picking the right one is a tough choice. By reacting to the water conditions, depth and cover, however, you can pick the right lure every time.

Water level and depth can make your decision for you, especially when fishing streams and rivers. Moving waters can be volatile, especially if it’s a tailrace river like the White River in Arkansas, Taneycomo in Missouri or the Lower Illinois River in Oklahoma, and shifting water levels mean adjusting to what the water gives you.

Low-flow or simply low water makes picking the right trout lure easier because it eliminates most lures that dive deeper than the water depth. During a trip to the White River in March, outdoor writer Jeff Samsel and son Nathaniel arrived to find the water extremely low.

The pair had anticipated throwing larger, suspending jerkbaits for the river’s giant brown trout, but that plan went out the window when they saw the river was at minimum flow.  

“We fished with a guide out of Gaston’s Resort for a half day,” he said, “then we just waded a shallow shoal near the cabins. We threw Rebel Wee Craws, Tracdown Minnows and jigs, and caught more than 20 rainbows.”

Higher water levels expand the number and variety of lures anglers can see success with on streams and rivers. Deeper-diving lures and larger baits become more effective, and a secret guarded by many trout guides is that the long-held belief that trout only hit tiny flies is false.

Frank Saksa guides on the mighty White, and routinely throws full sized (3 ½- to 5 ½-inch) jerkbaits like the Rebel Minnows or Smithwick Rogue and catches both rainbow and brown trout. Sometimes the fish are huge, but clients are often surprised that even smaller “stocker” rainbows readily hit the bigger baits.

“Sometimes when the water is low I’ll just throw a floating version of these baits instead of downsizing,” he said.

Below is a good guide to selecting trout lures based on water depth.

Low Water (Maximum depth 4 feet)

The Rebel Teeny Wee-Craw may be the No. 1 trout crankbait for shallow water stream trout. It dives to just 3 feet, is the spitting image of a young crawfish and trout love them. The Deep Teeny-Wee is the same size but dives to about 5 feet. The Rebel Crawfish catches trout year-round.

For late spring, summer and fall shallow-water trout fishing, the Rebel Crickhopper is tough to beat. The bait’s effectiveness rises during those seasons when grasshoppers are most populous.

Rebel Minnow and Tracdown Minnow lineups catch trout of all sizes all season long. For very shallow and slow-moving water, the standard floating version Rebel Minnow is best because it can be retrieved high in the water column. When there’s a swifter current, go with the slow-sinking Tracdown. Slow-sinking baits are easier to work effectively in strong current.

Mid-Depth Water (Depth range 4 to 9 feet)

Trout lure options open up in mid-depth water, allowing for bigger baits and deeper dives. The larger sizes of Rebel Tracdown Minnow really shine when fishing this water level. The Tracdown series comes in three sizes, 1 5/8-, 2 ½- and 3 1/2-inches in length. Most anglers reserve the smallest size for lower water when more finesse is required. As the water depth rises, however, angers can fish more actively and with bigger lures.

A larger floating or suspending jerkbait or slender minnow lure also comes into play. Always remember that trout feed in an upward manner, so keeping the lure above the fish is important. A big floating jerkbait like the 4 ½-inch Rebel Minnow, Smithwick Rogue or Bomber Long A gives the fish a big, tasty target.

Finally, don’t forget about the Rebel Crawfish. The mid-sized version, the Wee-Crawfish, dives to 7 feet, and the deeper-diving version of this model (Deep Wee) runs to almost 10 feet. The best time to fish this medium-sized craw is from summer through late fall, when the fish are accustomed to seeing crawdads of this size.

Deep Water/Fast Current

To the uninitiated, this water condition might appear to open up the whole tackle box, but that’s just not the case. Fast-moving current really interferes with lightweight and floating baits, so eliminate them first. Plus, oftentimes these fish respond better to larger baits, so eliminate anything less than 3-inches in length.

Prime lures for fast, deep water include the largest size Rebel Tracdown Minnow. Because it’s a sinking lure it responds better in moving water. The Tracdown series is available in shiny chrome versions and more-realistic trout patterns, but quite often the chrome styles work better in deep water than the ones that look like a real fish. Experiment with both to determine the best for the day.

Big, trophy brown and rainbow trout also love the Smithwick Suspending Rogue. Don’t be shy about throwing this big jerkbait, and often the most effective color pattern is chrome-based. In fact, many guides carry just two colors – chrome/black back and chrome/blue back. On dark, overcast days or stained water, the black back version gets the nod. Bright sunshine often makes the blue-back model more effective.