Best Flies for Rainbow Trout: Set Yourself Up For Success

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Assortment of Flies for Rainbow Trout

Some of the best flies for rainbow trout include Zonkers, Woolly Buggers, Royal Wulffs, Stimulators, Elk Hair Caddis, Prince Nymphs, Pheasant Tail Nymphs, and Midges. They feed in all levels, so dry flies, nymphs, and streamers work well. Find what they’re eating and choose a fly that matches.

Rainbow trout are aggressive eaters. They’ll feast on insects, smaller fish, crustaceans, and anything else they can find. Their massive appetites and above-average hunting skills allow them to feast regularly. As anglers, choosing the proper flies that match their wants presents a challenge, but once you find it, you’re setting yourself up for a special day. 

What Are the Best Streamers for Rainbow Trout?

Big flies mean big fish. I always love using streamers because I know aggressive strikes and long fights are possible. If you see baitfish, large crustaceans, or smaller trout swimming around, tie on a streamer. Rainbow trout are carnivores, so they have no problem eating big streamers. 

A White and Tan Zonker
A White and Tan Zonker


Many rainbow trout waters have creek chubs and sculpins swimming around in them. When I get to the water, I’ll look along the edges to see if any baitfish are moving around. If so, the Zonker is one of my top choices. The flashy body, eyes, and small hackle allow this fly to dart easily in the current. 

Usually, I fish this fly in water that’s no deeper than 7 or 8 feet. I like to swing it or dead drift it whenever I can. Attach it to a 0x or 1x leader, and you’re in business. 

Olive Conehead Krystal Bugger
Olive Conehead Krystal Bugger

Conehead Krystal Bugger

Similar to the Woolly Bugger, the Krystal Bugger represents everything from baitfish to crayfish. The flash and size make it the perfect option for a search pattern. Krystal Buggers usually have a little more flash than Woolly Buggers, so if you’re fishing clear water or it’s a bright sunny day, it’s a great chance. 

Fish it on a 0x or 1x leader. You don’t want a giant rainbow to grab it and snap your knot. The conehead gets it lower in the water column for those fish that are hanging near the bottom. 

Gold Kreelex
Gold Kreelex


The Kreelex is one of the flashiest flies you’ll find. It has the perfect amount of flash for those bright days. Plus, the dumbbell eyes make this fly sink like a stone. I use it in still and moving water. 

As long as I see baitfish, I know the Kreelex will eventually make its way onto my leader. Vary the retrieve on this pattern. Swing it, dead drift it, and strip it. If the fish are aggressive, the Kreelex is the ideal streamer. 

Attach it to a 0x or 1x leader. 

Black Woolly Bugger
Black Woolly Bugger

Woolly Bugger

Woolly Buggers are a jack-of-all-trades fly. They imitate baitfish, smaller trout, crustaceans, and other prey. Rainbow trout eat them at all times of day and all times of year. You can swing them through pools, dead drift them under banks and strip them through seams. 

You’ll find beadhead and non-beadhead woolly buggers in every color imaginable. Take the time to find what colors and sizes the fish want before using them. Some of the most popular colors include black, olive, tan, and white. Pair them with a little flash, and you’re ready to go. 

I fish it attached to a 0x or 1x 9’ leader. 

What Are the Best Dry Flies for Rainbow Trout?

Dry flies should be your primary option when fish break the surface. When you see “rises,” throw a dry pattern. The fish are looking up and hoping to eat some adult insects. Fishing during these hatches is a blast. You have consistent action for long periods. 

Red and Black Royal Wulff
Red and Black Royal Wulff

Royal Wulff

The Royal Wulff is one of my favorite rainbow trout flies. It looks great and sits high on the surface. If I’m unsure what the trout want to eat and see rises, I start with the Royal Wulff. It gives me an idea of how aggressively the trout are feeding. 

You can find it in sizes 12-18. Fish it at the end of some 3x or 4x tippet and see what you can find. Wherever I see a rise, I cast near it and wait for a strike. It doesn’t matter if you’re fishing still or moving water, the Royal Wulff is a great option. 

Orange Stimulator
Orange Stimulator


Like the Royal Wulff, the Stimulator is an attractor pattern. They sit high on the water column and attract the attention of any curious rainbow trout. I often fish it as a part of a dry-dropper rig. I’ll throw a small pheasant tail or RS2 below it and let it drift through riffles and pools. 

Between a small nymph and the Stimulator, I usually find a rainbow trout or two willing to feed. If you will use it, pair it with some floating line. Tie on a 7 to 9-foot monofilament leader with a foot or two or 4x tippet. Drop a small nymph below and give it a try. 

Most anglers use these in sizes 8-16. 

Chubby Chernobyl
Chubby Chernobyl

Chubby Chernobyl

The Chubby Chernobyl is the premier terrestrial pattern. It represents a grasshopper. As the water and air temperatures warm in late summer, the terrestrial patterns start hitting the surface. Rainbow trout anxiously await this time of year. 

Fish in areas with high vegetation. Banks covered in grasses are the perfect place to start. As the wind picks up in the afternoon, terrestrials blow into the water into the mouths of awaiting trout. Cast them right along the bank or along the foam line.

Make sure you use a floating line as well as 3x tippet. Larger trout hit the chubbies, so you want to ensure you have a heavier tippet to handle the bigger fish. 

 Elk Hair Caddis
Elk Hair Caddis

Elk Hair Caddis

Almost every place that has a rainbow trout population has a Caddis hatch. Elk Hair Caddis are found in sizes 16-22. Even though they’re a smaller dry pattern, that doesn’t take away their effectiveness. Have Caddis ready as soon as the hatches start in the mornings and evenings.

The Elk Hair Caddis is a good choice if you’re not following a hatch chart and don’t know what the trout want. They’re not too big, so fish don’t get spooked once they hit the water. Pair the Elk Hair Caddis with a 3x or 4x tippet. The thin tippet prevents trout from getting spooked. 

You can fish the Elk Hair Caddis in all types of water. 

What Are the Best Nymphs for Rainbow Trout?

Nymphs are the flies that will consistently catch you the most fish. They represent insects in the early stages of their lives. Trout continuously feed on nymphs throughout the day as they bounce along the bottom. If you spend most of your time fishing with nymphs, you’ll catch plenty of rainbow trout. 

Hare’s Ear Nymph
Hare’s Ear Nymph

Hare’s Ear

Hare’s Ear Nymphs are buggy-looking patterns that don’t necessarily imitate one insect. They look appetizing and have enough size that even the bigger fish want to eat them. Bounce this along the bottom in faster-moving water, and you won’t have to wait long for a strike. 

I fish them below Chubby Chernobyls or at the start of a nymph rig. You’ll find them in sizes 10-18. Pair them with 2x or 3x tippet, and you’ll have everything you need. If you tie them yourselves, make them as buggy-looking as possible. 

Green Midge Nymph
Green Midge Nymph


Midge flies hatch at all times of the year in all types of water. Even if you’re fishing in the heart of winter, you’ll find a midge hatch at the warmest part of the day. A Zebra Midge has the exact shape and size you need for even the spookiest fish. 

You’ll find midge patterns between sizes 14-22. If the fish don’t want to eat, stick with smaller patterns. Also, you have as many color options as you’d like. Some of my personal favorites are red and green. 

Keep it paired with 3x and 4x tippet because you don’t want trout to spook. 

Pink Squirrel Nymph
Pink Squirrel Nymph

Pink Squirrel

Growing up fishing in the Driftless Region in the Midwest, the Pink Squirrel was one of my favorite patterns. The rainbow trout, brown trout, and brook trout loved them. The small amount of flash is exactly what the fish wanted. 

You can fish the Pink Squirrel in clear and stained water. Fish it in sizes 12-20, depending on what the fish want. It’s an underrated pattern that many anglers don’t think about using. Pair it with 3x or 4x tippet, and make sure the knots are tight. 

Pheasant Tail Nymph
Pheasant Tail Nymph

Pheasant Tail

Pheasant Tail Nymphs are easily one of the most effective nymph patterns in the world. Rainbow trout love them. Plus, they work throughout the year. Like Zebra Midges, they don’t have an offseason. While they imitate Blue Winged Olive nymphs, they don’t struggle to imitate other common nymphs. 

Use it as a search pattern, and keep it paired with 3x and 4x tippet and floating line. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do You Attach Flies to Leader and Tippet? 

Most anglers use a fisherman’s knot when attaching flies to a leader or tippet. Put an inch or two of the leader or tippet through the eye of the hook and grab the tag end with the same hand that’s holding the rest of your leader or tippet. 

From there, spin the fly seven or eight times so there are numerous twists in it. Place the excess tag end through the small loop near the eye. Grab the tag end and pull down on the hook. This will create a strong knot right above the eye of the hook. 

What Color Fly To Use for Rainbow Trout?

Fly colors depend on the type of water you’re fishing. I like to use more obnoxious flies when the water is clear, and the skies are brighter. Chartreuse, yellows, whites, and plenty of flash are my priorities. 

When fishing in stained water or darker conditions, I use darker flies. Blacks, olive, and brown are my favorite colors. 

What Color Do Rainbow Trout See Best? 

Blues, reds, and whites seem to work well in attracting trout. Bright, fluorescent colors are your best option when trying to attract trout. 

What is the Most Successful Fly for Trout? 

The Woolly Bugger, Pheasant Tail Nymph, and Elk Hair Caddis are usually the most successful. Some flies specific to certain regions may be more successful, but those three are the most consistent options wherever you’re fishing for rainbow trout. 

How Do I Choose the Right Fly for Trout?

Your first step should be to look at hatch charts for the river you’re fishing. You can find these online or in local fly shops. Understanding what is hatching when gives you the best chance. 

If hatch charts aren’t available, flip rocks and logs when you get to the water. Under the rocks and logs, you’ll find nymphs and other insects that live in the water. Grab a couple and try to match them to the insects in your fly box. 

If you aren’t sure what to use, stick with attractor patterns like Royal Wulffs, Stimulators, Prince Nymphs, and Pheasant Tail Nymphs. Also, Woolly Buggers work well. 


Fishing for rainbow trout isn’t easy. While they’re eager and aggressive feeders, you must use the right flies to get their attention. Have several streamers, nymphs, and dries ready when you hit the water. While you might head to the water with the idea that one pattern will work, you never know until you start fishing. The abovementioned 12 flies are some of the best choices you’ll have. 

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