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How to Catch Rainbow Trout with a Fly

To learn how to catch rainbow trout with a fly we need to look beyond the fly rod, reel, lines and the different flies. On this page we will look at the different fly fishing tips and techniques used to catch rainbow trout.

Fly fishing flies are made up of three types.

  • Dry flies float on the surface and imitate flies that are laying eggs or have died.
  • Nymphs imitate insects that have been swept away by the current or that are still in their immature stages.
  • Streamers imitate minnows or other swimming aquatic life. In all cases you are trying to make the fly look natural.

Let's see how to catch rainbow trout using these different flies.

Tips and Techniques for Rivers


  • Nymphs can be fished below an indicator. The indicator helps you see the strike and it also helps keep your fly off the bottom. They are made of yarn, foam or plastic. Sometimes a dry fly is used. A good rule of thumb is put them above the fly about one and a half times the water depth.
  • Tight line nymph fly fishing calls for about fifteen feet of line past your rod tip. Your goal here is to maintain a tight line from your rod tip to the nymph. You do not use an indicator. You cast upstream and as soon as the fly hits the water you mend (flip) the line so that it is upstream of the fly. After you have cast three or four times, take a few steps upstream and start again.
  • Sometimes you want to imitate an emerging nymph. To do this you need your fly to rise to the surface. You can do this by casting across and slightly downstream and giving it slack, allowing the fly to sink. After it is near the bottom you lift your rod tip or give it tension, which will cause the fly to rise to the surface. This tactic works well when the water is moving slow or in spring creeks.

Dry Flies:

  • Dry flies are fished both upstream and downstream. Either way you need to get them to drift naturally. If the fly starts to drag it will alert the trout that it is not food. There are several tricks you can use to extend a natural drift. These corrections involve using a wiggle cast, a reach cast or a mend (flip of the line). There are many ways to mend the line to avoid an unnatural drift. See Fly Fishing Casting


  • Cast your fly across and slightly downstream (or slightly upstream in faster water). Mend the line so that it moves across the river at the same speed it moves down the river. At first, start near the shore and add two or three feet of line after each cast. After you have cast across the stream, take three steps downstream and keep casting out as far as you can. This is the best way to cover the water.

How to Catch Rainbow Trout in Lakes

A countdown and retrieve presentation is the most common technique used on lakes. You use either a sink-tip or full sinking line. After casting, you count (the number will vary) then start retrieving the line at differing speeds.

This is where the guessing begins. You start guessing which depth, which speed and how much you should strip in each time.

A slow retrieve of a nymph just below the surface can sometimes imitate emerging insects. Retrieve the fly about two inches a second. This slow retrieve can drive you crazy after a while.

If it is, you are doing it correctly.


Knowing how to catch rainbow trout with a fly will require some study. The rewards will be a fun day on the water whether it is on a lake or near a small stream.

Whatever you do, get out there and enjoy the water.

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