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Best Flies for Catching Rainbow Trout Fly Fishing


Fly fishing anglers from coast to coast target trout, everything from cutthroats to brook trout, but one of the most common trout that we catch is the rainbow trout. Rainbow trout can get quite large, and they put up a great fight. That and their coloring make them amazing fish to land on a fly rod.

We head out to the rivers weekly in search of rainbow trout. They can be found in streams and lakes as well, but we find that the rainbows in the rivers are our favorite to catch. This past summer I caught my PB (personal best) rainbow on a size 8 Bow River Worm. It weighed just over 4 pounds!

In this blog we will cover the best fly patterns when targeting rainbow trout on a fly rod. You can catch them on nymphs, dries, wets, hoppers, and of course streamers. Depending on where you like to fish, chances are that the rainbow trout population will be the largest, especially in the northwestern states.

Let’s dive in!


What do rainbow trout eat?

Everything and anything. Rainbow trout feast on subsurface insects, like all other fish.

They will feed from the surface as well, normally flies, but also grasshoppers and anything else that lands on the water. Caddis flies, mayflies, midges, stoneflies, etc.

Certain species of fish tend to eat specific insects more than others, which is why I wanted to touch on some of the best flies that you can use to increase your chances of getting those big rainbows to strike your fly and hopefully into your landing net.


Best rainbow trout fly patterns

When it comes to the best fly patterns for catching trout, it is best to break them down into their respective categories. Some anglers prefer to only use dry flies, while others like streamers or nymphs. I like to use every method as it increases my chances, but if there is a hatch on, I will be doing my best at matching it.

Midges/ Nymphs

Pheasant Tail

Hare’s Ear

Bow River Worm

Zebra Midge

San Juan Worm

Micro Loop Egg 




Wet Flies/ Streamers

Woolly Bugger

Clouser Minnow

Tandem Hook Olive Streamer

Schultzy’s Red Eye Leech



    Dry Flies

    Elk Hair Caddis

    Parachute Adams

    Klinkhammer Emerger

    Blue Quill



      Elk Hair Hopper

      Baile’s Panther Creek Hopper


      All of these flies can be found at the Zinger Fishing store!


        Matching the hatch

        Rainbow trout are no different than every other fish species! If there is a hatch on, try and match it! Hatches are when the natural insects in the water are evolving from their larva or pupa state into adult flies that surface, then fly away. Fish love to feed on these massive hatches when they happen. As an angler, you want to match the natural insect, whether that be in its subsurface form or its surface adult or emerger form.

        If you match the natural insects, the fish will likely strike your fly pattern as it looks like the naturals. If you are using a random fly pattern during a hatch, your chances of getting a strike will go down because the fish will be focusing on what it plentiful in the water. If you tried matching the hatch, or there isn’t one on, I would suggest using the tried-and-true fly patterns. If they don’t work, then of course move onto the random and weird patterns!


        What is the best type of hook to use to catch rainbows?

        In my opinion, I believe nymphs will land you the most rainbow trout all around. The reason for this is simple. Rainbow trout feed on subsurface insects the most, so if you are fishing subsurface, then you will have your best chance at getting a strike.

        If you are wanting to land larger rainbow trout, then streamers are best to use throughout the year. Big trout have big appetites. Streamers imitate small baitfish, which large trout love. I have a good friend that only uses streamers because of how awesome the thrill can be of landing monster rainbows. He does land some beauties, but he doesn’t catch as many fish as the rest of us that use nymphs and other flies.


        Presentation of your fly

        Rainbow trout can be skeptical fish, which means that your fly needs to look as natural as possible. If your fly looks off, the rainbow won’t strike it.

        • Dry fly fishing – When using dries, make sure that you are using a long leader and as thin of tippet as possible. This will ensure that when the fly lands on the water, it is a soft landing that looks like a natural fly. You will have to use a dry fly cast for this to work.
        • Nymphing – When using nymphs, your drag is the most important part. The speed of the current should match that of your strike indicator. If your indicator is moving faster or slower than the current, this will look unnatural, and the fish won’t bite. Mending your line is imperative when keeping up with the drift.
        • Streamer fly fishing – When using streamers, you need to make your flies look like bait fish. This is done by stripping your fly line in 4–10-inch increments. You don’t want to strip too fast or too slow, a nice medium speed is perfect.
        • Hopper fly fishing – Hoppers are so much fun to use! Watching a big rainbow trout surface and devour your hopper is a glorious site. Some anglers prefer to keep their hoppers still and others will add a little action to it. I find that I receive more strikes when I had a little action every 10 seconds or so. It makes it look like a live grasshopper is on the water.


        Conclusion with rainbow trout fly patterns

        There are hundreds if not thousands of different patterns used around the world, but there are certain fly patterns that are known to catch rainbows. Why try and reinvent the wheel, right? Match the hatch and use the classic patterns first, if that doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to tie on whatever you think might provoke a big rainbow into striking your fly.

        Sometimes fish need a little incentive to strike, stripping your line a little might entice the fish to go for it. Get creative out there if the fish aren’t hitting. Good luck my friends!


        If you like reading about fly fishing, our Zinger Fishing blog has a wide variety of different articles. We cover places to fish, what patterns to use, techniques, gear, and everything else to help fellow anglers land more fish in their nets.