Dough balls are a bait often associated with catfish, but if you have the right recipe they can work well in attracting and catching trout. Dough balls are an old creation, used for centuries by European anglers who took the recipe across the Atlantic to America.
Why are Dough Balls a Good Bait for Trout?
There are a few reasons dough balls are good trout bait. First, they’re inexpensive, you can make them in your kitchen for just a few dollars worth of ingredients.
Second, they’re easy to transport, use and store in a zip-lock plastic bag. Finally, they work, especially east of the Mississippi River where most (but not all) trout are stocked from hatcheries.
Why do Dough Balls Work Well with Stocked Trout?
It’s all in the ingredients of the dough balls and if they match, or at least resemble the recipe these fish are fed as they grow from fry to fingerlings and then to releasable sized fish.
Hatchery trout begin life in gradually increasing-sized storage tanks. Eventually, they’re moved to long concrete runs. In these runs, they’re fed fish pellets.
These pellets have different amounts of ground fish mixed with corn, oats, or wheat. The hatchery fish develop a taste for this mix of ingredients.
When they’re released into the wild, some trout thrive, learning to eat natural food sources quickly. They’ll devour insects, smaller fish, and leap out of the water after the latest hatch of bugs. Other trout aren’t so quick to catch on, they’ll keep looking for that daily handout.
When you throw a little homemade mix of what they were eating in the hatchery in the form of a dough ball, they’ll hit the hook.
That’s why commercially available sticky bait, such as Pink Powerbait is effective in some areas, but won’t get you a nibble in others.
Native trout, spawned naturally in streams will hit dough balls as well, it’s just not as effective with naturally raised trout as it is with hatchery fish.
How do You Make Dough Balls?
People who make effective dough balls guard their secret recipes as protectively as the lady who wins the pie baking contest at the county fair every summer. If it works they’ll either sell it at local bait shops, or you’ll never get the exact recipe they use.
There are some common ingredients in trout dough balls that you can experiment with at home.
Common trout ball ingredients
- Wheat flour
- Cheddar cheese
- Fish protein – (boxed tropical fish food)
- Natural food coloring
What is a Basic Trout Dough Ball Recipe?
The main ingredient in hatchery trout food is cornmeal, but cornmeal doesn’t bind well, even in cooked form. Think of the difference between a macaroni noodle and a slice of cornbread.
That’s because the gluten in wheat flour binds well with other ingredients to make that macaroni noodle. The dough balls you make will be similar to the macaroni.
Basic dough mix
- 1 cup white flour
- 1/3 cup cornmeal
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder
- Mix the garlic powder, wheat flour, and cornmeal thoroughly in a dry mixing bowl
- Bring a two-quart pot of water to a slow boil
- Pour a small amount of warm water into the mixed dry ingredients
- Gradually add more water until you have a sticky dough similar to bread dough
- Dust a countertop or preparation board with cornmeal
- Pinch off tiny bits of the dough and roll them into balls on the cornmeal
- These dough balls should be about the size of a blueberry, but no bigger than a standard grape
- Drop a few of the dough balls in the boiling water for a couple of minutes
- Test the first batch after it cools – the balls should have a stiff outside covering, similar to cooked pasta but still be raw dough inside – adjust the time in the water as needed to reach this
- If they’ll stick to a fork without breaking you’re finished
- Cool and drain them on a towel
- Make sure they’re dry and place them in a zip-lock plastic bag
- Put them in separate bags with 50 or so dough balls in each – just enough for a day on the water
- Freeze the bags and they’ll be ready when you are.
More dough ball recipes
- Start with the basic mix
- Grate cheddar cheese as fine as your device will allow
- Mix the grated cheese into the dough.
- Your dough will have striped yellow spots similar to a pizza crust or breadsticks at a chain pizza restaurant – some trout like the smell of cheese
Recipes for Dough Balls that Float
The basic mix will sink in water when you hook it on your line. If you want the dough ball to float a little off the bottom the secret ingredient is to add an egg.
Mix the standard wheat flour, cornmeal, and garlic powder together. Crack a whole egg and drop it into the mix. Mix the ingredients thoroughly while adding warm water.
The dough will have a slightly shinier, slicker surface with the egg added. Roll and boil the balls as you did with the basic mix.
The egg makes the recipe lighter, trapping air bubbles in the dough, this will allow the dough to float slightly.
Think of the difference between a saltine cracker and a slice of commercial white bread, they’re both made almost entirely of wheat, but the bread has a little yeast added with an egg.
Other Ingredients for Trout Dough Balls
The dough ball recipes listed so far produce white, or white with yellow streaks (cheese added) balls. Trout can be attracted to color as well as smell.
Many homemade dough ball cooks add food coloring to their recipe to produce red, purple, or yellow-colored dough balls.
Don’t go wild with this procedure, you might get strikes on your fluorescent orange spinner, but fluorescent orange bait doesn’t occur in the wild.
You will find red, purple, and yellow bugs, worms, and even baitfish with these colors swimming or floating around your local lake or stream. If the fish are attracted to color, it needs to be a natural shade.
Some dough ball recipes call for butter mixed in with the dry ingredients, along with eggs and food coloring. Butter gives the finished dough balls a shiny surface, that reflects light in the water.
With butter, eggs, food coloring, and the standard mix you’ve pulled out all the stops. The bait will float, retains its integrity in the water, reflects light to attract fish, smells like garlic to attract them by scent, and looks like something they might find naturally in the water.
A slightly more expensive recipe calls for dropping two or three tablespoons of commercial fish food into the mix. The boxed fish food you feed tropical fish is made almost entirely of dried, ground fish, usually carp, but it has a strong “fishy” aroma that can attract trout.
How do You Use Dough Balls?
The best bait ever invented isn’t any good unless it’s presented correctly. Dough balls should be fished just like you do with nightcrawlers, leeches, or red wigglers.
Match your hook with the size of the dough ball so the ball completely covers the hook.
With those smaller blueberry-sized dough balls you’ll need a #6 to #12 hook. You can tie your line directly to the hook or used a snelled hook.
If your dough balls float, pinch a small lead sinker about 18 inches above the bait. You can use dough balls off the bottom, with a bobber or if you’ve made them correctly and they’re able to handle the movement without breaking up, they’re great for bottom bouncing.
Trout will nibble at the dough ball rather than strike it hard. They can strip your hook clean if you don’t feel them ripping at the bait.
An ultra-light rod, with light two or four-pound test monofilament line works well in sensing these strikes.
Homemade bait is as old as fishing itself. With the recipes listed above and a little bit of experimentation, you can find a dough ball recipe that will have the trout calling for more.
There is a special satisfaction in creating your own bait that can’t be found by just buying a can off the shelf.
Experiment a little in the kitchen before you take your concoction out on the water. It might not work the first time, or you may get strikes with every cast. That’s the fun and uncertainty that makes fishing such a great sport.