How to Catch Rainbow Trout: Landing Beautiful, Aggressive Fish

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He catch the rainbow trout.

To catch rainbow trout, you want to find sections of water that have ample food sources and don’t make them expend too much energy. Pools, riffles, eddies, cut banks, seams, drop-offs, cover, and structure are all the best places to look. Trout want to hide while still getting enough food to eat.

River ith 3 arrows illustration.
Start by fishing near arrow 1. If that doesn’t produce fish, let your fly drift toward arrow 2. If those don’t work, strip your fly through the pool toward arrow 3.

Anglers can catch rainbow trout worldwide. They live in clear, cool, oxygenated streams and feed on almost everything in the water. Rainbow trout put up extremely strong fights and don’t make it easy for anglers to catch them. Understanding how trout behave and how to read water sets you up for success.

Best Methods for Catching Rainbow Trout in Rivers

For many trout anglers, moving water is the preferred way to catch rainbow trout. Deciphering the current, presentation, and necessary flies is a challenge all trout anglers love. Plus, fishing moving water provides a great variety you can’t find fishing still water. A successful river and stream angler can catch fish anywhere. 

Catching Rainbow Trout in Pools

Pools are some of the best places to find rainbow trout in moving water. They’re the slack and slow-moving sections of water in between riffles. Any trout angler who sees a pool can’t help but smile. Rainbow trout are guaranteed to sit in them, but catching them is challenging. 

To land rainbow trout in a pool, break it into sections: front, middle, and back. Trying to fish the pool all at once might ruin it. I like to start at the front of the pool. I’ll cast my fly into the riffle and let it naturally drift into the front section. Trout often sit right at the front, waiting for the riffles to stir up insects and push baitfish into it. 

I let my fly drift for a few seconds into the front section of the pool and then let it swing across. As it swings, I wait for a strike. If nothing happens, I’ll make a few hard strips toward myself. 

If the front doesn’t work, I’ll move to the middle. I’ll cast into the riffles, let my fly drift through the front and into the middle of the pool. At this point, my fly usually stops moving because the water is almost still. I’ll let it fall towards the bottom and then make a few strips. Usually, I’ll get a flash or a chase. 

If the middle isn’t producing fish, I fish the back. I’ll cast towards the front and strip my fly all the way through toward the back. I can usually get a rainbow to chase my fly toward the back of the pool and grab it before I get to the riffles on the opposite side. 

River with grass on both sides, with 2 arrows illustration.
Stand at arrow 1 and cast your fly towards arrow 2 under the cut bank.

Catching Rainbow Trout Under Cut Banks

Cut banks are made from dirt and clay. They look like they extend into the water, but if you look closely, you’ll see a big gap carved out from years of flowing water underneath them. Under these banks is slack water, safety, and food. Big trout love to sit under these banks waiting for food. 

To fish these, fly as far under the bank as possible. You often have to keep your false casts right above the surface, and when you follow through, keep the rod tip low. Your fly will end up right under the cut bank. With a good cast, you’ll get a hit almost immediately. 

You can also bow and arrow your flies under these banks. You must get close to the bank and keep your fly low to do this. 

Let your fly drift under the bank as long as possible and retrieve when the drift no longer looks natural. You can fish dries, nymphs, and streamers under these banks. I almost always dead drift my flies under the cut banks and give them a few hard strips as they get towards the end of the drift. 

River with 2 arrows illustration.
Stand at arrow 1 and cast towards arrow 2. Bait and insects drift into these eddies into the mouths of fish.

Catching Rainbow Trout in Eddies

Eddies are the random wide sections of the river where the water swirls back upstream. These are natural food funnels. Baitfish, insects, and crustaceans get caught in these eddies, and rainbow trout love them. They don’t have strong currents, so they’re easy for rainbows to sit in and feed. 

I’ll fish the eddies from below. I cast into the current and let my fly naturally drift into the eddie. Usually, I’ll high-stick my fly because I don’t want my fly line to get caught in the current and pull it away from a natural drift. As it swirls in the eddie, I almost always get a strike. 

If the natural drift doesn’t work, I’ll strip my flies through them. I do this with large nymphs and streamers. 

Danny standing facing the river with 2 arrows illustration.
Stand where the angler is and cast towards arrows 1 and 2 and let your fly drift toward you. Raise your rod tip and strip in the excess line as it drifts toward you.

Catching Rainbow Trout in Riffles

Riffles are shallow sections of water that look like little waves. Many anglers pass over these in pursuit of pools and other “fishy” areas. 

In riffles, I almost exclusively swing and dead drift. I’ll throw nymphs and let them bounce along the rocks. I’ll cast up and across the stream and raise my rod tip as my fly drifts towards me. I want as little excess fly line in the water as possible. 

If the dead drift doesn’t work, I’ll swing smaller streamers through them. I’ll cast up and across stream, let my fly drift downstream, and as it gets below me, it moves across the current. Trout love hitting flies when they swing. 

River with 2 arrows illustration.
Stand at arrow 1 and fish along the seam at arrow 2.

Catching Rainbow Trout in Seams

Seams are the sections of river where two currents meet. Slack water usually sits on either side of the seam, and trout feed in these sections. You’ll find seams after large logs, after islands, or in small bends in the river. 

I’ll cast on the side of the seam that’s closest to me. I’ll cast upstream, let my fly drift through the slack water, and wait for a strike. I’ll raise my rod tip as it drifts closer to me. 

If the side closest to me doesn’t work, I’ll try to get an angle and work the other side. I don’t want to fight the main current, so I’ll cross the river or stand below on the opposite side and repeat the process. 

River with 2 arrows illustration.
Stand on the bank and cast at arrows 1 and 2 to find the rainbow trout sitting in the weeds and along fallen logs

Catching Rainbow Trout In Cover and Structure 

If you’ve fished a section of a lake or pond with no structure, you know how little action you find. If rainbow trout don’t have anywhere to hide, they won’t spend time there. Cover and structure look like anything from rock piles to weeds to fallen logs. Rainbow trout need a place to hide when they aren’t actively feeding. 

If you see a sizable structure or cover, you can almost guarantee rainbow trout are hiding nearby. 

Cast your fly past, next to, and within the structure. Hit it from all different angles to see what the rainbow trout want. I’ll throw a streamer because I want to move water and give myself a chance to land one of the more giant rainbows nearby. 

Have floating and sink-tip line at the ready. You may have to get deeper into the structure, and floating line can prevent you from getting to the ideal locations. 

Also, vary your retrieve. Slow retrieves, quick twitch retrieves, and everything in between allow you to find the exact method the trout want. Once you find the retrieve rate, you’ll catch fish. 

River, mountains with 2 arrows illustration.
Stand at arrow one and cast towards the drop-off at arrow 2.

Catching Rainbow Trout On Drop-Offs

If you’re fishing for rainbow trout in still water, look for changes in depth. Yes, rainbow trout swim in the open water when hunting, but they prefer to spend time near drop-offs because of everything they provide.

Drop-offs provide access to cooler water, cover, structure, and different food sources. Plus, drop-offs often have a slight current that creates a food tunnel. Insects, smaller fish, crustaceans, and other food sources drift down, providing necessary meals. 

I like to cast my fly towards the top of the drop-off. From there, I’ll make slow strips down the drop-off. I try to resemble a falling insect or a fleeing baitfish. If a rainbow trout is waiting near a drop-off, it doesn’t take long for them to strike. I almost always use streamers when fishing drop-offs. 

5-weight Fly Rod for Rainbow Trout
5-weight Fly Rod for Rainbow Trout

Rod To Use for Rainbow Trout

Most rainbow trout anglers use anywhere from a 3-weight to a 6-weight when fishing for rainbow trout. If you’re fishing smaller water for smaller fish, a 3-weight or 4-weight is a good choice. Larger rivers and lakes often require a 5-weight or 6-weight since you’ll be casting longer distances at larger fish. 

I like to use rods ranging from 7’ to 9’, depending on the situation. I’ll use a 7’ or 8’ rod in smaller water. In larger water, I like an 8’6” or 9’ rod. 

Also, I like to use moderate-fast or fast-action rods on big water. Slow or medium-action rods work well in smaller water because you can accurately present your flies and don’t need as much power. 

 Fly Reel
Fly Reel

Reel to Use for Rainbow Trout 

Match the weight of your reel to the weight of your rod. If you’re using a 4-weight rod, a 4-weight reel is the right choice. It balances out the rod nicely. A large arbor reel isn’t necessary unless you’re going after giant rainbow trout. 

I like large arbors because of the retrieval rate, but they’re unnecessary for most rainbow trout. 

5-weight fly line
5-weight fly line

Fly Line to Use for Rainbow Trout 

Whatever the weight of your rod is, you’ll want to match the fly line to it. A universal rod size for rainbow trout is a 5-weight. Pair the 5-weight rod and reel with a 5-weight fly line. 

A weight-forward floating line is a good choice for fishing streams and rivers. It lets your leader and fly sink but keeps the fly line on top. Plus, it works well for dry fly fishing because it won’t pull your fly below the surface. 

A sink tip line is a good choice for fishing wet flies in deep water. It’ll get your fly deep, but make sure you aren’t fishing around snags. Sinking fly line gets snagged easily. 

Whatever line you choose, make sure the weight matches the weight of your rod and reel. 

Leader for Rainbow Trout
Leader for Rainbow Trout

Leader and Tippet to Use for Rainbow Trout 

If you’re fishing with streamers, a 7 to 9 foot 0x or 1x monofilament leader is a good choice. It has enough strength to handle larger fish and keeps the fly far enough from your fly line to keep yourself hidden. 

A 7 to 9-foot tapered leader is a good option for nymph anglers. You can fish nymphs on the leader without a tippet, but you’ll go through the leader quickly. Otherwise, a 7 to 9-foot non-tapered leader paired with a couple of feet of 3x or 4x tippet does the job. 

Dry fly anglers should use a leader and tippet. A 7 to 9-foot non-tapered leader paired with a few feet of 3x, 4x, or 5x tippet work well. The tippet is thin enough that trout won’t see it even in the clearest water. 

Have 3x through 6x tippet ready to go. If the fish seem spooked, move to a smaller tippet. 

Flies to Use for Rainbow Trout 

Rainbow trout eat nymphs, streamers, and dry flies. Be prepared with all types of flies when fishing for rainbow trout because you can’t always predict what they want to eat. The more options you have, the better. 

Streamers for Rainbow Trout
Streamers for Rainbow Trout

Best Streamers for Rainbow Trout 

Some of my favorite streamers include Woolly Buggers, Zonkers, Krystal Buggers, and Kreelexes. They’re flashy and large enough to attract some larger, more aggressive rainbow trout. 

Streamers imitate baitfish, crustaceans, and other smaller fish. You can swing them, dead drift them and strip them. Depending on what the trout want, you’ll find they are effective if you aren’t sure what the fish want. If you hook into a giant, ensure you use 0x or 1x leader to ensure they don’t break you off. 

Nymphs for Rainbow Trout
Nymphs for Rainbow Trout

Best Nymphs for Rainbow Trout 

Some of my favorite nymphs for rainbow trout include Hare’s Ears, Midges, Pink Squirrels, and Pheasant Tails. They’re effective no matter where you’re fishing. You can high stick them through riffles, fish them deep in seams, or up along the bank. 

Pair your nymphs with 3x tippet to save your leader and better hide yourself. 

Dry Flies for Rainbow Trout
Dry Flies for Rainbow Trout

Best Dry Flies for Rainbow Trout 

Royal Wulffs, Stimulators, Chubby Chernobyls, and Elk Hair Caddis flies are some of the better dry fly options for rainbow trout. Whenever you see fish rising, tie on one of these dry flies to get an idea. Otherwise, look closely at local hatch charts to learn what flies to use. 

Always pair your dry flies with a 3x or 4x tippet. You want the fly to be the center of attention for the fish. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

What is the Trick to Catching Rainbow Trout? 

There’s not one specific method that always catches rainbow trout. The best trick is to fish during the hatches. When you see fish breaking the surface and eating insects, make sure you’re fishing. You’re guaranteed to find feeding fish. The next trick is choosing the proper fly. 

What is the Best Time to Catch Rainbow Trout?

Rainbow trout are the most active during the mornings, evenings, and middle of the night. During the middle of the day, they avoid the bright sunlight and wait for the temperatures to drop. Get to the water around sunrise, fish for a few hours, and return as evening hits. 

The spring, summer, and fall are the best seasons to catch rainbow trout. They appreciate consistent temperatures and flows. 

How Deep Do You Fish for Rainbow Trout? 

Usually, rainbow trout spend time in shallower water. Yes, they hang out in pools or off of drop-offs, but you’ll often find them cruising the shallows. Look for rainbows at the surface down to 10 or so feet deep. 

Are Trout Top or Bottom Feeders?

Trout primarily eat near the bottom of lakes and rivers. They don’t necessarily pick food off the bottom, but they wait near it to find nymphs, crustaceans, or smaller fish sitting a little ways off the bottom. 

When insects are hatching, trout feed on the surface. These hatches occur several times a day, and trout take advantage of them. They look for easy meals, and hatches provide them. If there’s food, trout spend time there.

Do Rainbow Trout Stay On the Bottom?

No, rainbow trout cover all levels of the water column. Wherever they find food, they’ll stay. They don’t like to hang out in the middle of the current and expend too much energy, but they’re willing to move around for the best meals. No part of the water is off-limits for rainbow trout. 


Rainbow trout are a favorite amongst trout anglers. They’re slightly more sensitive than brown trout but don’t lack aggression. Wild and native rainbow trout populations are dwindling, so you’ll find many stocked populations, but they still provide a fantastic fight. Fish the proper areas, use the appropriate gear, and treat them carefully. You’ll get rewarded when you fish the right way. 

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