How To Fish For Rainbow trout

Rainbow trout is a popular freshwater fish known for its vibrant colors and strong fighting ability once hooked. It is native to cold-water tributaries of the Pacific Ocean in North America and Asia. Rainbow trout are characterized by a beautiful spectrum of colors, with a distinct pink streak running along their sides. These fish thrive in cold, clear, oxygen-rich waters, making them a common target in both wild settings and stocked ponds or rivers.

Rainbow Trout Fishing Setup

The best fishing setup for rainbow trout includes a light to medium-light action rod, around 6 to 7 feet in length, paired with a spinning reel. This combination offers the sensitivity needed to feel the trout’s bite and the versatility to cast various lures and baits effectively. The reel should be spooled with 4 to 6-pound test monofilament or fluorocarbon line, which provides enough strength to handle the fight of a trout while remaining nearly invisible in the water.

The best rig for catching rainbow trout is the float rig, also known as a bobber rig. This setup allows anglers to present baits naturally at various depths, adjusting for where the trout are feeding. To assemble, attach a small, lightweight bobber to your line; below it, tie a swivel to prevent line twist and to serve as a stopper for the bobber. From the swivel, attach a 2 to 4-foot leader of 4-pound test fluorocarbon, ending with a small, sharp hook (size 8 to 12) for bait. This rig is particularly effective because it can be adjusted for depth and is sensitive enough to detect the often subtle bites of a trout. For bait, live worms, salmon eggs, or artificial baits like powerbait are highly effective when targeting rainbow trout. This setup, combined with the right approach to bait and presentation, maximizes your chances of success and makes for an enjoyable fishing experience.

Best Bait For Rainbow Trout

Rainbow trout have a diverse diet that includes insects, crustaceans, and smaller fish, making them receptive to a wide range of baits and lures. The best live bait for targeting rainbow trout includes worms, especially nightcrawlers, and minnows. These baits mimic the trout’s natural food sources effectively. When using worms, hook them once or twice, allowing the worm to wriggle freely in the water, which is irresistible to trout. For minnows, hooking them through the lips or the back near the dorsal fin ensures they swim naturally in the water, attracting nearby trout.

In terms of artificial baits, small spinners, spoons, and crankbaits are highly effective lures for rainbow trout. Spinners with silver or gold blades work exceptionally well because they produce a flash and vibration in the water that mimics small fish. When using spoons, those that are lightweight and have a slight wobble are preferable, as they can trigger the predatory instincts of trout. Crankbaits that resemble small fish or insects can also be very effective, especially those that dive to different depths, allowing anglers to explore various water columns where trout might be feeding.

diy spoon lure
diy spoon lure

Rainbow Trout Fishing Techniques

Rainbow trout fishing techniques are similar to general trout fishing techniques. Fly fishing, spin fishing, bait fishing, and trolling are all common and effective methods used across various trout species, including rainbow trout.

Fly Fishing

Fly fishing is a revered and highly effective technique for catching rainbow trout, especially in rivers and streams. This method involves using a lightweight rod and reel, paired with a specialized fly line that helps cast artificial flies that mimic insects or small fish. The setup often includes a tapered leader attached to the fly line, ending in a tippet to which the fly is tied. This technique is most effective during insect hatches, when trout are actively feeding on the surface or just below it. Anglers must match the hatch by selecting a fly that resembles the insects trout are currently feeding on, making it an engaging and rewarding fishing method.

Spin Fishing

Spin fishing is versatile and accessible, making it popular among anglers targeting rainbow trout in various water bodies. The setup involves a spinning rod and reel, equipped with 4 to 8-pound test line. This technique allows for the use of a wide range of lures, including spinners, spoons, and small crankbaits. Spin fishing is particularly effective in larger rivers and lakes, where casting distance and control over retrieval speed are crucial. The key is to mimic the movement of the trout’s natural prey, with steady retrieves or occasional jerks to simulate an injured fish.

Bait Fishing

Bait fishing is a straightforward yet effective technique for catching rainbow trout, suitable for both flowing and still waters. The setup typically includes a light to medium-light rod and reel combo, with a 4 to 6-pound test line. A basic rig might consist of a small hook, a split shot sinker to keep the bait down, and a bobber to signal bites. Live baits such as worms, minnows, or commercially prepared dough baits are commonly used. This method is most effective in stocked ponds or lakes, where trout are accustomed to feeding on a variety of baits. Bait fishing allows for a relaxed approach, as the bait does the work of attracting trout.


Trolling is an effective technique for catching rainbow trout in larger lakes and reservoirs. This method involves moving a boat slowly across the water while dragging one or more lures or baits behind. The setup can vary but typically includes a medium-action rod and reel with 6 to 10-pound test line. Downriggers or diving planers can be used to reach specific depths where trout are holding. Trolling allows anglers to cover a lot of water and locate actively feeding fish. It’s most effective during warmer months when trout are deeper and more dispersed. Selecting the right depth and speed is key to enticing trout to strike.

Best Time To Catch Rainbow Trout

Rainbow trout spawn in the spring, with the exact timing varying by location but often occurring between late March and early May. The best time of year to catch rainbow trout is during the spring and fall. In spring, trout are more active due to spawning activities and increased insect activity, making them more likely to bite. In fall, cooler temperatures stimulate feeding as trout prepare for the winter months, again increasing their activity and willingness to bite.


During spring, the best time to catch rainbow trout is in the early morning and late afternoon. This is when water temperatures are cooler, and fish are more actively feeding. Fly fishing with nymphs or dry flies that match the hatch can be particularly effective, as this mimics the natural diet of the trout. Bait fishing with worms or small minnows can also yield good results, especially in areas where trout are stocking.


In the summer, the best times to catch rainbow trout are during the cooler early morning hours or later in the evening, just before dusk. Due to warmer water temperatures, trout will often seek deeper, cooler water to stay comfortable. Trolling with deep-diving lures or using weighted bait rigs can be effective techniques to reach trout at these depths. Fly fishermen can find success with terrestrial patterns or by focusing on shaded areas where water remains cooler.


Fall offers excellent rainbow trout fishing, especially in the late morning and early afternoon when the water has warmed slightly from the cool nights. As trout prepare for winter, they feed more aggressively, making them easier to catch. Fly fishing with streamers or larger nymphs can be effective as trout look for bigger meals. Spin fishing with spoons or spinners that mimic small fish can also be productive, as trout are more likely to chase and attack these lures.


Winter fishing can be challenging due to cold water temperatures and less active fish. However, midday, when the water is at its warmest, can be the best time to target trout. Slow-moving baits and lures presented at deeper depths where trout tend to hold in winter are most effective. Ice fishing, where possible, with small jigs or live bait can also be productive during this season.


Catching rainbow trout at night can be surprisingly successful, especially in the summer when night-time temperatures are more comfortable for both anglers and fish. Using luminous lures or bait rigs equipped with glow sticks can attract trout. Night fishing requires a focus on sensory cues in the absence of sight, so techniques that create vibration or sound can be particularly effective. Trolling slowly or casting near areas with known trout activity, such as inlets or around underwater structures, can yield good results.

Tips To Catch Rainbow Trout for Beginners

  • Start with a light to medium-light spinning rod and reel combo, about 6 to 7 feet in length, for versatility and ease of use.
  • Spool your reel with 4 to 6-pound test monofilament line, which is thin and invisible enough not to spook the trout, yet strong enough to handle their fight.
  • For bait, use live worms or dough bait specifically designed for trout. These baits are highly attractive to rainbow trout and easy to use.
  • To rig your hook, tie a single small hook (size 8 to 12) to the end of your line using an improved clinch knot for strength and reliability.
  • About 1 to 2 feet above the hook, attach one or two small split shot weights to help your bait sink into the water. Adjust the distance based on water depth and current.
  • If using live worms, thread the worm onto the hook once or twice, leaving some of the worm hanging off to wiggle and attract trout. For dough baits, mold a small amount around the hook, ensuring the hook point is slightly exposed.
  • Consider using a bobber for easier bait management and bite detection. Place the bobber 2 to 3 feet above the hook, adjusting the depth based on where trout are feeding in the water column.
  • Cast your line into areas where trout are likely to be, such as near underwater structures, inlets, or shaded areas. Trout often hide in these spots waiting for food.
  • Be patient and watch your line or bobber for any signs of bites, such as sudden movements or tugs. Trout bites can be subtle.
  • When you feel a bite, gently but firmly set the hook by pulling back on the rod. Avoid jerking too hard, as this can tear the hook out of the trout’s mouth.
  • Keep your line tight and the rod tip up while reeling in the fish, using the rod to absorb any sudden runs or jumps the trout may make.
  • Remember to check local fishing regulations for license requirements, catch limits, and any bait or tackle restrictions in your area.

Where To Find Rainbow Trout

Rainbow trout thrive in a variety of water bodies, including rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds. They prefer cold, clear, oxygen-rich waters, typically found at depths where the temperature is between 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. The depth at which to fish for rainbow trout can vary significantly depending on the water body and time of year, ranging from just below the surface to 20 feet deep or more in warmer conditions. Using a fish finder can be incredibly helpful in locating rainbow trout, especially in larger lakes and ponds, as it can identify the depth at which the trout are holding, along with underwater structures where trout often congregate.

Rivers and Streams

In rivers and streams, rainbow trout are often found in areas with moving water that provides a steady supply of oxygen and food. Look for them in riffles, around boulders, and in pools just below fast-moving water. Fly fishing is a highly effective technique in these settings, using dry flies, nymphs, or streamers that mimic the natural insects and small fish in the trout’s diet. A lightweight rod and reel with a floating line are ideal for presenting the flies delicately on the water’s surface or just below it.


Lakes offer diverse habitats for rainbow trout, from shallow, weed-lined margins to deep, open water. Trolling with deep-diving lures or bait rigs is an effective method for covering a lot of water and finding trout at various depths. When trout are feeding near the surface in the early morning or late evening, casting from shore with spinners, spoons, or flies can be productive. A medium-light spinning setup with 4 to 6-pound test line is versatile enough for both trolling and casting techniques.


Ponds, especially those that are stocked with rainbow trout, provide an excellent opportunity for anglers of all levels. Bait fishing with dough baits, worms, or corn near the bottom or under a bobber can be very effective. A simple setup using a light to medium-light rod and reel with a basic bobber rig or a weighted line to keep the bait near the bottom works well. In smaller ponds, casting along the edges where trout may be cruising for food can yield good results.


Shore fishing for rainbow trout is common in lakes and large ponds where access to deep water isn’t necessary. Early morning or late evening when trout come closer to shore to feed are the best times. Using lightweight spinning gear, anglers can cast small spinners, spoons, or bait rigs to attract trout. The key is to keep the lure or bait moving slowly to mimic a wounded prey item, making it irresistible to hungry trout. In areas with heavy fishing pressure, trying more natural presentations and baits can be the difference in attracting wary trout.

Best Locations to Catch Rainbow Trout

In the United States, some of the best locations for catching rainbow trout include the cold, clear waters of the Rocky Mountains, the Great Lakes region, and parts of the Pacific Northwest. These areas offer optimal conditions for rainbow trout, including abundant food sources and suitable habitat for spawning and growth.

Rocky Mountains

The Rocky Mountains are renowned for their pristine rivers and streams, which are ideal habitats for rainbow trout. In this region, fly fishing is the most effective technique for catching rainbow trout. Anglers often use dry flies, nymphs, and streamers that mimic the local insects and small fish on which trout feed. Early morning and late afternoon are prime times for fly fishing in these clear, fast-moving waters, where the natural beauty of the surroundings adds to the fishing experience.

Great Lakes Region

The Great Lakes region, particularly areas around Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, offers excellent opportunities for catching rainbow trout, also known locally as steelhead. In these waters, trolling with spoons or spinners is a highly effective technique. Anglers often use downriggers to keep their lures at the optimal depth where trout are feeding, especially during the spring and fall migrations when trout move closer to shore.

Pacific Northwest

The rivers and coastal streams of the Pacific Northwest, such as those in Oregon and Washington, are famous for their rainbow trout populations. Here, both fly fishing and spin fishing are effective. Anglers using fly fishing techniques focus on using flies that resemble local aquatic insects, while those preferring spin fishing often use small spinners and spoons that mimic small fish or crustaceans. The diversity of water bodies in this region allows anglers to choose a technique that matches their preferences and the specific conditions of the water they are fishing.

Sierra Nevada

The Sierra Nevada region in California offers picturesque lakes and streams filled with rainbow trout. Stillwater fishing using float tubes or small boats allows anglers to access deeper parts of lakes where trout often reside. Bait fishing with nightcrawlers or artificial baits like PowerBait, and casting small lures or flies, are effective techniques in these clear mountain waters. The serene environment and the clarity of the water make for a peaceful and productive fishing experience.

Best Rainbow Trout Fishing Gear And Tools

Selecting the best fishing gear for rainbow trout involves choosing equipment that enhances the sensitivity of your setup and allows for precise presentations of baits and lures. Each piece of gear plays a critical role in successfully catching rainbow trout.

Fishing Rod

The ideal fishing rod for rainbow trout is a light to medium-light action rod, ranging from 6 to 7 feet in length. This type of rod provides the necessary sensitivity to detect the often subtle bites of trout and the flexibility to cast small lures and baits accurately. A longer rod also aids in better line control and management, especially useful in fly fishing or when casting in streams and rivers.

Fishing Line

For the fishing line, a 4 to 6-pound test monofilament or fluorocarbon line is best suited for rainbow trout fishing. These lines are thin and less visible underwater, minimizing the chances of spooking the fish while providing enough strength to handle the fight of a sizable trout. Fluorocarbon, in particular, offers the advantage of being nearly invisible underwater and has a slighter higher density than water, making it ideal for presenting lures and baits at the desired depth.

Fishing Reel

A spinning reel is the preferred choice for rainbow trout fishing, complementing the light to medium-light action rod. The reel should be smooth, with a reliable drag system to handle the swift runs and sudden movements trout are known for. A size 1000 to 2500 reel balances well with the recommended rod size and line weight, offering a good combination of weight and capacity for long days on the water without causing undue fatigue.

Fish Finder

A fish finder can be an invaluable tool for locating rainbow trout, especially in larger lakes and reservoirs where finding fish-holding structures is key. Look for a fish finder that offers a high-resolution display and dual-frequency sonar capability. This will allow you to identify changes in bottom composition, locate drop-offs, and detect the presence of fish at various depths. You can find a good fish finder in under $500 price with GPS and above mentioned features.