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Flatfish Lures for Trout – How to Fish Them

Fishing flatfish lures for trout can be super effective when either fished just below the surface or down deep. They have been in many the tackle box for almost one hundred years. 

Although they look like a very oddly shaped lure they are particularly effective for larger trout, less so on smaller trout that are found in brooks and small streams.

On fast running rivers that have a decent depth to them the flatfish's distinctive wobble can draw out predatory trout from there hiding spots.

On rivers that are running high due to lots of rain a flatfish lure can be particularly effective, this is thanks in part to the strong vibration that they give off when moving through the waters.

They are also available in some very bright patterns that are perfect for dark waters.

When trolling for large lake and brown trout a flatfish set to the right depth with a downrigger can be far more effective than any other lure.

Flatfish Lures for Trout

Flatfish lures have a very distinctive 'wobble' almost like a hybrid spoon/jerkbait. This wobble when fished shallow in the water can cause ripples in the surface that act as a very strong visible trigger for the trout. 

On slower moving rivers that have a calmer, flatter surface this ripples will temp trout up from the deeper water to strike hard from below.

When fished down deep it can force big predatory lake trout into striking. On lakes it has been responsible for a very many big trophy trout, probably more than any other lure.

Fishing deep in lakes does require the use of a downrigger setup and fish finder so that you can really fine tune your running depth down to were the fish are holding.

How to Fish a Flatfish Lure

When fishing flatfish lures for trout you need to be careful to not cause the lure to roll and loose it's natural wiggle. The two main issues that can cause the flatfish lure to roll are:

  • Speed - retrieving or trolling the flatfish too fast can cause it to loop over and over. These lures are designed to work only in a very narrow speed range.
  • Weight - If you need to get the lure down deep then adding wight too close to it may cause it to spin. The solution to this is to either place the weight several feet away from it if casting in a river or if trolling use a lead core line or a down-rigger.

Another approach commonly used on large lakes when trolling is to knock the flatfish of the rocks on the bottom and then let it float back up a few feet as you troll along.

This can be incredibly effect at getting right down to the rocky features that lake trout love to inhabit.

However, you do run the risk of snagging your lures on the bottom so although it does work it's best used on bottoms that do not have a lot of large snags.

Colors

Check out any well stocked fishing tackle shop or online and you will find that there are probably about 50 or so different colors of flatfish lures, the entire range is said to be over a hundred.

Some come as a full color, some as a pattern and some come as a pattern that varies along it's length.

As a general rule on brighter days or in very clear water it is best to stick to the darker more natural looking flatfish lures. The more natural colors are best used to try to match the food that is available to the trout on that particular stretch of water.

On darker days or if you are trolling at very deep depths then you can experiment more with the brighter more flashy colors. The flashy colors tend to get a strike out of the trout more so as reaction than an imitation of their natural food.

These strikes can be quite violent in nature and can be pretty exciting.

See our top picks below for the most reliable colors.

Sizes

Rivers/Streams

When fishing flatfish lures for trout on smaller rivers and steams it's best to stick to the smallest sizes. The size range for smaller waters is F3 to about F5. You would probably be okay only every fishing the F5 on most average sized rivers.

Lakes

When trolling for bigger trout on lakes then you can size up to usually the F7. Depending on the depth you are working at though down to an F5 can be just as productive.

I like to run several sizes at the same tie particularly if on a lake that I am not familiar with. Very often they will only strike a particular size of lure and ignore all others.

Top 5 Picks

Firetiger - The Firetiger works extremely well in low visibility light conditions and can force some pretty strong strikes from the trout.

It is one of the most reliable patterns available and should be seen as a must have for any tackle box.

Frog - The frog is one of the more natural patterns available so best to you it only in clear waters or on bright days.

Silver - Silver works best as a small bait-fish color imitator and so can be deadly when trout are naturally feeding on this type of food. It can be particularly good in the shallows during summer on a dull day.

Rainbow Trout - The Rainbow pattern is an all rounder and can be productive on quite a few different weather days and temperatures. Oddly enough like a lot of trout lures that come in a rainbow pattern it seems to work even though there are no natural rainbow's present in the lake or river.

Red with Black Spots - Like the Firetiger above the bright red is best on dark days or in murky waters. Just like the Firetiger the trout will attack this color trout lure out of some kind of predatory instinct rather than it imitating a natural prey.

Tuning a Flatfish Lure

Occasionally you may find that your flatfish lure is not swimming correctly. The way to fix this is to adjust the eye screws. It may be that the hook eye screws are not aligned on the lure correctly or it more commonly may be the line eye screw that has moved. 

Retrieve/troll the flatfish lure at a slow constant speed and observe it swim pattern. Slowly adjust one of the eye screws to see how the lure's swim pattern changes. This may need to be repeated a few times until you figure out how to get the correct action.

As stated above if the flatfish lure is rolling over on itself then it is not swimming as per it's design.

If you are trolling set the boat to trolling speed and let the flatfish lure swim beside the boat. Observe it's swimming action. It should move with a "wobble" and never spin over on itself. Make sure to watch it for a good 30 seconds.

Occasionally if you are a little too fast or it needs adjusting then it may spin every 10 seconds or so. Either tune by adjusting the line eye or reduce your speed further.

If you are casting then replicate the procedure above by observing the lure closely as you retrieve it towards you. Try to retrieve the flatfish lure first with your rod tip down and then with your rod tip up.

Tackle

River/Streams

For the smaller sizes you will need light spinner tackle on 6 lbs or less line. There is not much weight in these lures so it can be best to choose your set up based on that. Working the lures across river just ahead of small holes and features were trout tend to congregate can be very effective.

Lakes

If hunting big trout on lakes then strong trolling tackle will be needed. 15 or 20 lbs main line paired with a lighter leader of about 8 lbs might be best again depends on just how big and powerful the trout are.

Down-rigger and lead core lines may be a necessity if you are targeting anything deeper than about 20 feet. Trolling flatfish lures for trout can be a great way to tempt those big aggressive fish that live in the depths.

When trolling with this kind of setup a fish finder is an absolute must have on the boat. They not only allow to find the depth that the trout are holding at but also the contours of the bottom, water temperature and you can also save way points for future reference.

History of the Flatfish Lure

The flatfish lure was invented by a fishing obsessed engineer by the name of Charles Helin. In the 1930's Helin had designed over a 100 different finds of lures.

Of all of these lures the flatfish bait was devised to produce the most natural swimming action of any plug type lure before it. 

The original flatfishes were carved from wood. Helin continued to refine the lure over a decade until he was happy with it. He eventually left his job Chrysler to found the Helen Fishing Tackle Company.

A patent was applied for the design of the flatfish lure and it was a big seller over the next few decades. By roughly 1970 almost 40 million flatfish lures had been sold a testament to it's effectiveness.

In 1988 the Yakima Bait Company purchased the Helin Fishing Tackle Company from an aging Helin. As part of the sale Yakima purchased all of the original molds from Helin so you can be sure they have the original swim action as Helin intended.

The lure range is now available in roughly 15 different sizes and there is a choice of approximately 100 different colors.

The range is suitable for many species of freshwater fish from small trout on streams to big lake trout and a variety of other species such as bass, walleye and musky. 

Some of the more popular models from Yakima:

  • T60 series - 6 inch with two #5/0 treble hooks
  • M2 series - 4.5 inch with two #1/0 treble hooks
  • U series - 3.25 inches with two #4  HD treble hooks

Worden were another North American lure company that also produced a range of flatfish lures but they are now owned by the Yakima Bait Company.