How To Catch Rainbow Trout In Lakes: Open Water Tactics 

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Rocky Mountain sunset at Sylvan Lake Park.

Rainbow trout fill lakes across the United States, but that doesn’t make them an easy catch. Because of a lake’s vast area and depth, many anglers are overwhelmed before fishing begins. 

After pinpointing a lake’s optimal location, anglers can catch rainbow trout from shore or a boat using bait, tackle, or flies

Locating Rainbow Trout In Lakes 

If you want to catch fish, you gotta find ‘em first! 

Imagine being a cold-water fish stuck in a reservoir without moving water. Cold water is the first place you’re going to look. If you can find cool temperatures and happy fish, you’re on track. 

Inlet Streams 

If fishing in a lake, scan the shoreline for any inlet stream. These tributaries carry oxygen, cooler temperatures, and washed-out food into lakes.

Prominent inlet stream into an alpine lake in Western Wyoming.
Prominent inlet stream into an alpine lake in Western Wyoming

Outlet Streams 

Many people overlook this option, and bummer for them! The faster current near an outlet has cooler temperatures and funnels baitfish to a condensed area. If fishing a reservoir, look for the dam and you should find the outlet.


These are difficult to locate, but finding a spring guarantees that trout are near. Examine the lake’s bottom for constant bubbling. A round, light-colored area indicates that you have found a spring.


Rainbow trout dive deeper into lakes in the summer for cooler temperatures. Don’t be afraid to fish holes, ridges, or drop-offs that provide refuge and comfort for these fragile fish.


In cooler seasons, such as early spring and late fall, you can find rainbow trout in the shallows or higher in the water column. If you’re at a stocked lake during these seasons, watch the lake’s surface for any rising fish. Any jump or ripple could be a rainbow trout.

A colorful trout glides by the ice-free edge of Lake Stellisee, near Zermatt, Switzerland.

How To Catch Rainbow Trout In Lakes 

Shoreline Fishing 

Shoreline fishing has its limits since fishermen must cast from a limited area. Even if you can walk the entire shoreline, your hook will reach less water than one from a boat. 

If fishing from the lakeshore, I recommend conventional gear for catching rainbows. Depending on the fish’s depth, pair a regular or slip bobber with a worm or grub. If you’re in the casting mood, in-line spinners, and deep-diving crankbaits can be a fun option. 

For the fly fishing purist, there are suitable times to huck a fly from shore: 

First, when fishing alpine lakes, the higher altitudes and snow runoff keep these lakes cold and trout cruising the surface or bank.

Second, if you know trout are cruising the shallows and there is room for a back-cast or an accurate roll-cast.

Boat Fishing

A boat will be your best friend for finding fish anywhere in the lake. I recommend targeting high-probability areas such as inlets, outlets, and springs before trying the middle of the lake. 

If rainbow trout are shallow or crowding the bank, cast from 15 meters away from the shore. Crankbaits and spinners are a fun option for this, but I prefer a fly. Ample room for a back-cast and a high vantage point lets you see trout chase and take your fly.

However, if you can’t find rainbows in shallow water, it’s time to anchor deep. Use a jig head or hook, slip bobber, or bobber to dangle worms, minnows, leeches, or your favorite bait. Bottom rigs are a favorite option to reach rainbows hanging low in the water column.

Whether you’re in a boat, canoe, or kayak, there is another underrated option for trout in lakes: trolling! I’ve had a blast doing this in a local lake in spring and fall. Be sure to check surface water temperatures if you want to try this. If the water is too warm, trout will be absent.

Toss a couple of spinners off your bow and let out about 10-25 meters of line. The best speed is a consistent, slow rate, so I advise 1-2 mph. After a couple of laps around the lake, you might have your limit.

Lures for Rainbow Trout In Lakes 


I don’t know why we like to complicate things and forget this option, but I will say it: worms work! A bobber, split-shot, and #10 to #12-sized hooks are perfect companions with a worm or crawler. If trout are not biting, try fishing without the bobber since its splash may be spooking the fish.

Additional bait options include leeches, minnows, and grubs. When fishing with bait, plan to keep fish since trout often swallow a baited hook. If this happens, say goodbye to your hook and hello to the trout. 


Try casting if you or your kids master the art of hooking trout under a bobber. Watching trout chase tackle is a blast – outdoorsmen overlook their strike on a spinner or crankbait.

Mepps, Rooster Tail, and Panther Martin spinners are the most popular for trout. I prefer #2-3 Mepps and Panther Martins in black, gold, silver, and bronze. Vibrant options such as pink, chartreuse, and fire tiger are available for murky conditions.

One- to two-inch crankbaits will also catch rainbow trout. However, manipulating crankbait depth is tricky compared to spinners since their diving ability is set. So, if you are going to fish with crankbaits, have a variety of divers to cover every water column.


Finally, my favorite selection of lures! This is where it gets fun. You can use streamers and nymphs for rainbow trout in a lake. 

Classic streamers include wooly buggers and Clouser minnows. But don’t be confused by the limitless streamer variations and their names. Anything that resembles baitfish will give you a fighting chance.

Rather than worrying about the perfect streamer, I would focus on fish location and using the correct line. You can use a floating fly line if the rainbow trout are shallow. However, a sinking fly line will be your savior if they’re deep.

Flip over a rock on the shoreline, and you will identify the necessary nymph for trout in a lake. Scuds, mayflies, stoneflies, and caddis most likely comprise a lake’s bottom.

Rainbow trout caught while fly fishing up close.

Below an indicator, tie on a nymph that resembles these bugs, and you can catch rainbow trout. Play with the indicator depth before giving up, as a lack of action is because your hook isn’t near fish.

Want to have some fun? Tie a streamer below a nymph to replicate a baitfish chasing a bug. This will entice a rainbow trout to take either fly. As Qui-Gon Jinn once said, “There’s always a bigger fish!”

Related Questions 

How Do I Know A Lake Has Trout?

Check your state’s stocking records. Each state keeps track of stocking efforts for any watershed and each species. 

What Line Is Best For Rainbow Trout In Lakes? 

4-6 lb. monofilament or fluorocarbon will suit most trout rigs for lakes. If you’re fishing with heavier equipment, then 8 lb. line may be necessary for better control. 

Remember, matching the size of your line, rod, and lure is best for any type of fishing. So, when fishing big lures, increase your rod and line. When fishing small lures, decrease the rod and line size. 

Best Time Of Day?

Low light conditions are best for rainbow trout in a lake. My preference is morning when the freshwater habitat offers its coolest temperatures. In contrast, dusk retains some warm water temperatures from the afternoon heat.

Can I Fly Fish From A Canoe? 

You can, and I have! I recommend having one person steer while the other fish. Not only will this be safer and prevent hooks in an eye, but you will maintain control of your vessel.

In my experience, it also helps to pull over to the bank and fish in a stationary canoe. This way, you’re not getting pushed by wind or any currents.

Final Thoughts 

A lake’s vast area and depth can overwhelm a first-time angler. If this is you, target cooler temperatures at inlets, outlets, holes, and natural springs.

Though the initial confusion of fishing a lake can be frustrating, any angler can catch rainbow trout with bait, tackle, and flies from the shore or on a boat.

David Linsmeyer Avatar


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