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All About the Rainbow Trout


Rainbow Trout

Photo by Brian Milne

While the rainbow trout might not be the most popular fish in North America, the largemouth bass likely owns that honor, it is surely the most sought after species by fly fishermen.

The rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) is favored by fly fishermen because of its beautiful coloration – for which it is named – and fighting ability. Wild trout typically have olive-colored backs and tails that peppered with dark spots and silvery sides that look as if they’ve been painted with pink to crimson watercolors. The rainbow is also the most common type of trout, which come in many varieties, including golden, steelhead/sea-run trout, brown, brook and lake, to name a few.

Where to Find Them

The rainbow trout, which is actually a member of the Pacific salmon family, is stocked in six continents and can be found in freshwater streams, rivers and lakes, not to mention saltwater bays and open ocean as steelhead (the sea-run form of the fish, which returns to freshwater during the spawn).

Trout seem to prefer moderately moving creeks and streams with plenty of cover and pools, although trout also do well in food-rich backcountry lakes and rivers.

In general, trout feed near the bottom about 75 percent of the time.

Their size generally relates to the size of the water they can be found in. Smaller creeks are usually home to smaller fish, while double-digit steelhead are common in the larger saltwater fisheries along the coast.

Generally speaking, a three-year-old rainbow trout in a general trout stream grows to 12 inches but can exceed 20 inches of food is abundant and water temperatures are mild and stable throughout the year.

Some trout, however, have grown in excess of 40 pounds. The all-tackle record for a rainbow trout was set in 2007, when Adam Conrad caught a trout weighing 43 pounds, 9.6 ounces, at Lake Diefenbaker in Saskatchewan. A list of fly fishing world records for trout can be found here.

Tackle and Flies

For backcountry creeks and streams, a four-piece pack rod with an ultra light fly reel is a sufficient setup. For larger fish, such as steelhead, follow these tips.

Lists of the top 10 fly rods, reels and tippets can be found on the gear page.

Rainbow typically prey on small minnows and aquatic insects. Fly fishermen should contact local fly-fishing guides for up-to-the-minute reports and fly patterns in-season.

Some popular trout flies include the Elk Hair Caddis, Cahill, Hare’s Ear or Parachute Adams.

In spring creeks, try a Pale Morning Dun or similar pattern. In stone-bottom streams, try a Parachute Royal Wulff up top and beadhead nymphs for the subsurface bite.

In lakes and ponds, try the popular Muddler Minnow, Clouser Minnow or Wooly Bugger. Here are some more tips on where trout feed.

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