How To Catch Rainbow Trout In Rivers: Location & Lures 

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Vivid rainbow trout glows brightly.

Fishing for rainbow trout in rivers for the first time can be intimidating. But, with a few rules to follow and a bit of patience, catching these trout in moving water is an absolute blast. 

Fishermen can use fly fishing equipment or spinning tackle to target rainbow trout in rivers. Both require wading or shore-fishing and can fit the skills of beginner or veteran fishermen. 

Where To Find Trout In Rivers 

Rivers tend to have characteristics known as riffles, runs, and pools. You will find rainbow trout in all three areas

Fishing Riffles 

A riffle is the skinny, turbulent water found in rivers. Though the size of riffles can vary, their depth is shallow, around eight to 18 inches. 

If you can’t see a riffle, listen for one – they are easy to identify by the sound of water splashing over rocks. Because of the fast-moving, oxygenated water, trout love riffles! From my experience, riffles are among the most productive and fun areas of a river. When scouting potential trout rivers, I always look for riffles.

Fishing riffles are best with a fly rod and a nymph. When fishing a riffle, dead drift a nymph through the current to replicate a washed-out bug. Think of this like a trout-food conveyor belt: as bugs wash out from the current, trout wait downstream to take a gulp!

Nataya Linsmeyer nymphing a riffle for trout in western Wisconsin.
Nataya Linsmeyer nymphing a riffle for trout in western Wisconsin

Fishing Deep Pools For Rainbow Trout

Pools in a river are easy to identify because they are the slowest and deepest parts of a river. Big trout love pools, so after you lick your chops, rig your lures to fish the bottom. This is where trout love to lay. 

I like to tie my heaviest streamer when fly fishing a pool and let it sink to the bottom. Then I “tease” a trout by twitching the streamer to replicate a wounded baitfish. Be patient, this takes time, but the results are worth it! 

Pools are perfect for worms and spinners if you’re using conventional gear. Let your worm sink to the bottom, and watch your line twitch or move. When fishing with beginners, I find it best to give them a worm and find a pool. Doing so will increase their success while providing an appropriate challenge.

Let the spinner reach the bottom and reel at your desired pace if you’re using spinners. When fish are picky or lethargic, reel at a slow pace.

Fishing Runs For Rainbow Trout

Between a riffle and a pool is a run. Runs are slower than riffles but faster than pools. In most rivers, a run is one to three feet deep and filled with feeding trout.

In my experience, casting a fly or lure upstream at a 45-degree angle in a run is best. If you’re fishing with spinners, let your spinner sweep across the current as you reel. If you’re nymphing, you can dead drift or mimic an emerging fly by raising your rod tip. A run is also the perfect place to swing any fly.

Fishing Structure For Rainbow Trout

If all else fails, look for structure to locate trout. This could include overhanging weeds, undercut banks, logjams, rocks, and boulders. 

If an area looks fishy, it’s because it is! Cast your lure as close to structure as possible. Trout have a unique way of hiding in every nook and cranny, so don’t be shy – getting snagged is part of the process. And believe me, I’ve snagged lures everywhere! 

What Is The Best Bait for Rainbow Trout 

Both fly fishing and conventional gear have adequate baits for rainbow trout. The season impacts a trout’s diet, but there are still some tried and true flies or lures you should always carry. 

Here are some baits, lures, and flies to help get you started. 

TackleBest Baits
Conventional Tackle– Spinners (I recommend Mepps or Panther Martins)
– Nightcrawlers/Trout Worms
– Minnows (best in winter) 
– Salmon Eggs 
– PowerBait Trout Nuggets
Fly Fishing– Nymphs: Pheasant Tail, Copper John, Hares Ears, Prince Nymph, Midge, Pink Squirrel
– Salmon Egg Pattern
– Streamers: Muddler Minnow, Wooly bugger, Clouser Minnow
– Dry Flies: Elk Hair Caddis, Adams, Stimulator, foam hopper, Chubby Chernobyl, March Brown
– Mouse patterns (best at night)
Bird's-eye trout in net, with fly gear, on river stones.

What Do Rainbow Trout Eat In Rivers 


Rainbow trout love to feed on aquatic and terrestrial insects. Aquatic insects include “bugs” in their nymph, pupae, larvae, or adult stages. Mayflies, caddis, or stoneflies are most common in rivers.

Terrestrial insects are bugs that are non-aquatic. Grasshoppers, crickets, ants, and bees are examples of terrestrials that are abundant and appealing to rainbow trout. 


Rainbow trout will eat other fish for more substantial meals when presented with the opportunity. And when they’re not eating young trout or baitfish, rainbow trout will take advantage of leeches, crayfish, worms, and even mice

Here is a hard-earned lesson from my years of fishing for trout: how you present bait is as important as what bait you present. Whatever you throw at Mr. Rainbow Trout, ensure the bait has no drag. Trout care more about unnatural movement than a bait’s style.

How To Approach Rainbow Trout In Rivers 

This may sound like a picky topic, but entering a stream is as important as how you fish a stream

When entering a river, approach from downstream without disruption. Trout are wary fish that detect movement and vibrations. Their vision allows them to see above and behind, and their lateral line detects vibrations inside and outside the water. 

I have fished without success, knowing I had the correct fly and presentation. It turned out my approach was too careless, and I was spooking the trout. Don’t ruin your fishing before it begins. Move slow. 

Related Questions

Are Rainbow Trout Easy to Catch? 

Rainbow trout tend to be an easier catch than brown trout for two reasons. First, rainbow trout tend to be more aggressive than brown trout. 

Second, the diet of hatchery trout consists of pellets. Once released into a river, these trout will eat anything that floats by. So when fishing a section of water with released rainbows, don’t waste your expensive lures. 

What Color Attracts Rainbow Trout 

Vibrant and natural colors attract rainbow trout. Whatever you’re fishing with (spinning gear or flies), be sure to carry a variety of color options. I prefer gold, silver, and bronze when the water is clear. When water is murky or dirty, I prefer vibrant and dark colors that can stand out. 

Are Rainbow Trout Bottom Feeders 

Trout will lie on the bottom of a river, but that does not make them bottom feeders. No matter what depth a trout swims, they look up to feed. 

Final Thoughts 

Catching rainbow trout in rivers can feel like a steep learning curve, but some basic rules will help. 

  1. Approach rivers from downstream to avoid scaring fish. 
  2. Look for riffles, runs, pools, and structure to find trout. 
  3. Get your spinners and lures deep. Ensure your flies have a drag-free, natural presentation.
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