Informational Guide

Rainbow Trout Fishing Tips: How To Catch

Want to land one of the top five inland sportfish species in North America? With our rainbow trout fishing tips, you’ll learn how!

by Andrew

Informational Guide

Rainbow Trout Fishing Tips: How To Catch

Want to land one of the top five inland sportfish species in North America? With our rainbow trout fishing tips, you’ll learn how!

by Andrew

by Andrew

"Chrome chasers" is the self-given nickname that rainbow trout anglers affectionately call one another. It is not a rare breed of fisherman, but a specific one for sure. Rainbow trout, also known as steelhead, are one of the top five inland sportfish species in North America. Read on to see how you can get started with our tips on how to catch rainbow trout!

  • Olive-Green Dorsal Fin
    A more permanent feature on any rainbow is its green dorsal fin. Now, this may be only a few shades from black to seaweed green colored. The coloration will run the length of the fish along its back, but if you notice that dorsal fin breaking the surface of the water, you will know it is a rainbow right off the bat.
  • Dark Olive to Black Spots on Back and Sides
    The dark-colored back of the fish transitions to specks or spots as it moves down the fish. Steelhead are known for their dark spots on a light background.
  • Wide Red, Pink, or Purple Band on Mid-Side
    The trademark stripe down the sides of a rainbow is not always present. They can sometimes be quite light and barely noticeable. Other times, the stripe can be vivid shades of pink, red, or even purple color. This stripe's presence depends on the time of year, mating cycles, and how healthy the particular fish is.
  • Silvery to White on Lower Sides
    The light background refers to the chrome-colored skin and scales of rainbow trout. They do not have large, heavy scales like a saltwater fish but smaller, skin-like scales that are between silver and white. This is the telltale sign of trout being a rainbow, as other markings may not be as pronounced.
  • Light Olive on Dorsal, Adipose, and Caudal Fin
    While the dorsal fin on a rainbow trout is usually a darker hue of olive, the lower fins are normally a bit lighter shade of green. The tail is traditionally dark like the dorsal, but the bottom of the tail could be light green as well. Again, coloration is usually due to habitat.
  • Pale Shades of Amber, Orange, Red, Purple, or Gray on Lower Fins
    The uniqueness of each rainbow trout makes them so photogenic. Some fish have little to no variation in color, while others have vibrant colors spread across their bodies and fins. These aren’t typically very distinct, so they are not something you will want to be relying on to identify your catch. Rather, these are just to appreciate when showing off the photos of your fish.
  • White-Tipped Anal and Pelvic Fins
    These markings are significant to identifying a rainbow from a cutthroat or other variety of trout. Even if a rainbow is not very colorful at the time of catch, it should have white tips on the lower fins. This is another feature that is very hard to identify before the fish being caught and inspected.
How To Identify A Rainbow Trout

Tackle You’ll Need for Rainbow Trout Fishing

What do I need for rainbow trout fishing? Don’t forget the following:

Rods and Reels

Conventional gear for smaller fish varies, but you can get away with using a medium, fast action rod and a size 25 or 35 reel for landing rainbows. Fly rod selection could be all over the place for rainbow trout; fishing with an eight-weight rod in about a nine-foot size will be the most versatile rod.

Fishing Lures/Bait

Bait selection for rainbows will depend mostly on what the fish are feeding on during the particular time of year you plan to fish. Most of the time, a trout spinner or spoon will be a good option for casting.

With fly fishing, the general strategy is to match the hatch mimic whatever bugs are currently hatching on the river system that time of year.

If you are trolling, you will want to be using a spoon or jerk bait like a Rapala. This should look similar to whatever baitfish the rainbow trout are feeding on in a particular body of water. The fish do key in on specific colors sometimes, more on that later. 

Hooks, Sinkers, Terminal Tackle & Storage

For terminal tackle, you will want to size up or down based on the size of the target fish and the method in which you are fishing. For fish under 20 pounds, you should use about a 10 lb test fluorocarbon leader or smaller. The backer line can be monofilament or braid, again, dependent on scenario and gear. Fighting fish on a lighter line gives anglers a greater challenge. This also gives you a greater chance of getting initial bites. If you find yourself losing fish, go heavier.

Storage for rainbow trout fishing can be a tackle box with a ton of small compartments because the baits can be so vast. Or, it can come in the form of a tackle vest. These vests or backpack-style tackle storage work well when on the move or wearing waders in a trout stream.

Where Do You Normally Find Rainbow Trout?

1. Catching Rainbow Trout in Ponds

Fishing for trout in a pond is generally a bit easier than in other ecosystems. The fish tend to be more concentrated, and they will be less likely to be spooked, as they will not have very many natural predators to be worried about. To find rainbow trout in ponds, you will want to look for structure or undercuts. These trout like to hide in the cool, shaded water along banks and weeds. Bait for pond fishing should be small flies, jigs, or trout spinners.

2. Catching Rainbow Trout in Lakes

Lake fishing for rainbow trout is exactly how I grew up watching these fish. I was always one to troll spoons or use a crankbait rod. I currently use downriggers for a bottom presentation, a lead-core line for a suspended presentation, or side planers for a surface spread. You could also jig for rainbows in a lake if you know where the fish are feeding.

3. Catching Rainbow Trout in Lakes From Shore

For bank fishing rainbow trout, casting spinners are the most effective method. Also, fly fishing from banks will work well if you find where a tree or limb has fallen into the water. Fish will be hiding amongst the cover. They will already be keyed in on eating flies and bugs, so fishing a nymph on a flyrod setup would work well in this scenario.

4. Catching Rainbow Trout in Stocked Lake

Stocked rainbow trout fishing tips are similar to fishing for wild trout. You still need to be using a natural presentation to entice the fish. The difference is that the fish will enter a sort of feeding frenzy, so try and capitalize on that. These fish were brought up in large groups that were fed similarly to aquarium fish, so when they realize that it is feeding time, they react.  Stink bait or dough baits work best for these stocked rainbow trout.

Rainbow Trout Fishing Tips

Best Techniques to Catch Rainbow Trout

So, we have been discussing what a rainbow trout is, how they look, and even some of their tendencies. We can now dive deeper into what specific baits to use and why to use them.

Rainbow trout are difficult to catch for a reason. They are sometimes quite picky about what they eat and when they eat it. These are not sunfish that can be stacked like cordwood and brought home by the dozens. I will keep referring to a "natural presentation," and that is exactly what it takes to land a rainbow trout.

Use lures and baits with realistic colors

Realistic colors are where "matching the hatch" comes into play—the rainbow trout feed on baitfish or hatching flies. When fishing with lures that match what the trout are accustomed to feeding on, you have a better chance of landing one.

Use bright and sparkling lures and baits

If you have ever seen a school of baitfish being chased by predators, you will have noticed the distinct flash that bait has when swimming erratically. This flash triggers predatory fish to attack. When using sparkling or bright-colored bait, the rainbow trout instinctually feel the need to strike what they believe is a wounded fish. Just like a lion on the savannah, a predatory fish will take advantage of a week or injured baitfish, which is what these lures imitate.

Use lures and baits that creates vibration

Rainbow trout, like most other fish, can sense vibrations in the water. Using baits that create these vibrations tends to attract the predatory fish. Once you have the attention of your target fish, in this case, a hungry steelhead, the lure's coloration will indicate to the fish that it is, in fact, food.

Use lures and baits with attractants

Using a lure or scented bait works well for fish in murky or cloudy water. When rainbow trout are unable to visually see their prey, they rely on their sense of smell to feed. There are plenty of sprays to imitate a baitfish or worm smell on the market. Most jigs can be bought in a plastic package where they have been marinading in some scented liquid. A very common stink bait for trout is called powerbait, which works very well in my experience.

Bonus: Seasonal Rainbow Trout Fishing Tips

1. Rainbow Trout Summer Fishing

Summer fishing for rainbows is the most difficult time of the year to catch these fish. I can give you a few summer rainbow trout fishing tips, but they may be tough to execute. Fishing from a boat in deep water is your best chance for summer rainbows. Find where they are feeding and troll purple and black spoons to entice a fish. For some reason, in the middle of summer, purple is the go-to color for catching rainbow trout that are spread out across a body of water

2. Rainbow Trout Winter Fishing

Winter fishing for rainbow trout is one of the most fun. It is difficult because you have to face the cold and harsh winter elements, but it can be very rewarding. As the ice begins to thaw, streams begin to flow more rapidly. This brings fish out of the deeper water to feed on fresh bait that may be mixed in with the runoff. This is a great time to use waders and a fly rod to chase steelhead.

3. Rainbow Trout Spring Fishing

Spring is the best time to catch trout. When the snow melts and the spring rains come, steelhead flock to rivers and streams to take advantage of all the bait and bugs which are coming to life. This is a great time and place to fly fish for rainbow trout. They can also be targeted in deep water at the mouth of streams. Trolling the mouth of a stream just outside a midline works well.

4. Rainbow Trout Fall Fishing

Fall can be hit or miss for catching rainbow trout. The water is becoming cooler in the streams, which favors the trout. The streams' water begins to flow less, which hampers the likelihood of trout being in them. The nice part about fall fishing is that the rainbow trout are hungry, and they are feeding on bugs that end up in the water on falling leaves. To capitalize on this, throw very small baits in the form of flies or jigs, and use a natural presentation of the bait caught in the current and flowing downstream.

People Also Ask (FAQs)

What colors do rainbow trout like?

I have found that some colors do work better than others for some reason. For fishing in streams with egg sacks or glass beads, sometimes pink-orange or yellow work better than one another. For trolling spoons, I find that orange works well in the spring, and purple works well mid-summer.

Do rainbow trout have teeth?

Rainbow trout do not have teeth. They also have short stumpy mouths that end about even with their eyes. The diet of these fish does not require

Should you use a bobber when trout fishing?

You can use a bobber when rainbow trout fishing, as long as you are using bait that would require one. Fishing a slip bobber will be the most effective method. This is used with an egg sack that will be suspended in the strike zone by the float. 

What is considered a big rainbow trout?

A big rainbow trout will be subjective to the environment you are fishing in. For some, a large rainbow trout is a 16-inch fish that might weigh about 2 pounds. Here in the North-Eastern United States, it is not uncommon to catch a 20-pound specimen.

How long do rainbow trout live?

The lifespan of a rainbow trout varies based upon habitat. Some fish can live to 11 years old. Most of the populations of wild fish will only live to roughly 7 years old. The average life expectancy is approximately 2 years old.


Catching rainbow trout is one of the most rewarding recreational activities in the angling world. These fish are tough to master but a riot to catch. They are great to fillet and eat, and they make for a very photogenic social media model. Whichever method you choose to fish with, we hope to see you out there, catching plenty of beautiful rainbow trout!