It’s only natural to look for the best rainbow trout flies; however, the fish is the ultimate judge!
The good news is that today I will share some patterns with you that I know will definitely work. I’ve had a look through my fly box and found my all-time favorites, so you are covered all year round.
Let’s jump right in!
Disclosure: At BonfireBob, we recommend products based on unbiased research, however, BonfireBob.com is reader-supported and as an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases if you shop through the links on this page. For more information, see disclosure here.
When choosing the best flies, you will have to do some thinking, rainbow trout like different things depending on the seasons. You’ll find flies that are good in the height of summer aren’t necessarily the best early season rainbow trout flies.
And for that reason…
You’ll find two sections, one that will cover you through the summer months of June, July, and August…
And others that are more suited to fly fishing during the colder months. Check them out!
This has to be one of my all-time favorite flies for rainbow trout!
I reckon it is right up there on my ‘caught the most fish’ list. When the sun is up and the water is warm, everything moves towards the surface. As a result, you will want a fly that sits high and dry at all times.
The parachute hackle sits in the surface film, while the nymph-style body rests just below the water. This behaves exactly like a real-life emerger. You’ll notice that the ‘head’ of the fly contains some peacock hurl. This gives it a little sparkle designed to represent an air bubble.
I think my favorite feature is the orange ‘post’, around which the hackle is tied. This is invisible to the fish but will allow you to see the fly, even at a distance.
How to fish it:
I tend to fish this fly relatively static on a really long leader. You’ll want to use a delicate cast to make sure it lands softly.
This one is great if the rainbow trout are wary. Because it is highly visible to you, it is well suited to a long cast. It is ideal for drifting under overhanging trees.
If you’ve ever fly-fished in the early morning or late evening, you’ve probably been plagued by swarms of little black flies. I think that’s a good thing.
Gnats and midges are rainbow trout’s favorite food! This is a great pattern for still waters and is designed to represent a mating ball of midges…
Talk about dying happy.
This pattern is one of the best when the fish seem to be ‘sipping’ and barely breaking the surface. Because of the substantial hackle, it floats really well.
Due to the dark color, it can be fairly difficult to see, so my advice is to watch the end of your line and if you see anything rising in the area, lift your rod.
How to fish it:
This one is super simple. You can use a long or a short leader, go longer in still conditions, and shorter when there is a good ripple on the water.
You don’t have to do anything fancy, and there is no retrieve or ‘twitching’. I allow this one to drift just as a real-life mating ball of midges would. Just do a slow ‘figure of eight’ to keep in contact with the hook.
You’ll find that towards August, there will be a day or two when the air feels really muggy and warm (normally just before a thunderstorm). All of a sudden, you’ll find that the air is thick with fat black ants. This is the time to get this one out and have one of your best-ever days fishing.
What’s to love?
One of the downsides of traditional dry flies for rainbow trout is that they get waterlogged after your first fish, not so with this fly.
The body is made of durable foam, meaning that you’ll be able to unhook and cast for the next fish in seconds. I really like the vibrant orange dot on the back.
It makes the perfect choice for low light conditions and that ‘golden hour’ just before sunset when the water is boiling with rising rainbow trout.
How to fish it:
I don’t normally use this one unless ants are showing. You can afford to use a short leader as the fish will be less cautious in a feeding frenzy.
Cast this out on a floating line, and every 10 seconds or so, give it a tiny ‘twitch’ to simulate an ant struggling in the surface film.
Sometimes you’ve just got to go with the classics. The Adams Parachute is a mayfly pattern. While they are called ‘mayflies,’ you’ll tend to get a significant hatch around June as the weather really starts to warm up.
The large parachute hackle ensures maximum buoyancy, and the white post gives you a decent amount of visibility too.
This is a great pattern for use on still waters, but you’ll find it especially effective for rainbow trout on streams too. If you want a top tip, I’d advise getting a few sizes.
That way, you can exactly match the hatch to what is on the water at the time. If it’s slow, go for something big instead of something small.
How to fish it:
Fish the Adams parachute on a long leader with a floating line. Mayflies land with a bit of a ‘plop’, so you don’t need to be too precise with your casting.
If the fly does land heavy, be ready for a take immediately as rainbow trout on the feed will home in on any real mayflies landing heavily on the water.
This fly I discovered last year but has become a firm favorite for big rainbows! One of my pet hates is trying to keep my flies from sinking. Due to the substantial foam wing, this isn’t going to happen.
This fly represents a few different creatures. At a push, I’d say it is a mayfly representation. Still, it could also work well as a daddy longlegs imitation or even a large hornet. The fly actually sits at an angle in the water with the butt-end down below the surface.
Because of its buoyancy, I love to use this one in fast-flowing streams and rougher water.
How to fish it:
Use a short leader with this one. Otherwise, due to its bulk, you are going to get problems casting on a longer leader. You can fish this both still and mobile.
I find that on still water, when the going is tough, I can often magic up a bite by stripping it in slow pulls through the surface so that it creates a wake. I’ve watched rainbow trout follow this for 10 yards before it decided they are going to commit.
You’ll only really tend to find minnows around in the summer. So this is the time to get this fly out and give it a go. It is available in a few colors, I’d probably go for both, and then you’ve got options if one or the other isn’t working out.
The thing that sets this apart is the lifelike eye. This seems to trigger something in most predatory fish.
Trout spawn in the summer, and they are ridiculously cannibalistic. If you’ve ever seen trout fry, you’ll know that they are translucent… Guess which fly matches this quality?
How to fish it:
There are a few ways to fish this. I’d start with a floating line and a good blob of sinker. Let the fly sink and twitch it erratically. On a floating line, it will swim up and down, just like a wounded baitfish. You could also try stripping it through the water really fast, mimicking a tiny fish in fear of its life.
If the fish are down below, stick it on a sinking line with a short leader. I plumb the depths counting down in 5 seconds per retrieve until I find what level the fish are feeding.
When the weather turns cold, everything slows down. What you want is to create a little lifelike appearance without overdoing it.
Marabou, lots of marabou.
The woolly bugger is weighted, meaning it is ideal for getting down deep where the fish are. It is designed to replicate a stone leech, which is found all year around. I find green and black are the best colors, even in colored water.
How to fish it:
This one is strictly sub-surface. Tie onto a sinking line with a short leader and allow it to sink right to the bottom. Walk it along in short pulls to simulate the action of a leech making its way along.
In winter, there are still hatches, but they are really subdued. Most larvae drift along mid-water, waiting for the temperature to rise just enough for them to emerge.
Why not simulate this?
The zebra midge is designed to be fished static with little movement. It has a weighted head that will allow it to get down deep. It is also available in a few colors. I use black when it is clear and red when the water is murky.
How to fish it:
If you’ve only got a floating line but want to catch rainbow trout in the winter, this could be the one for you. Use a floating line and a long leader.
Stick on a strike indicator, then you can try each depth. Fish it static with a slow figure of eight… But, be warned, trout don’t hold back when taking this fly. Expect some really violent pulls.
Rainbow trout don’t tend to spawn in winter, but that said, the chance of a juicy fish egg packed with protein when the weather is cold is often too good of a chance to miss. This fly is designed to be waterlogged, so it will sink easily. It is designed to perfectly emulate a trout egg.
It is barebones and basic. As you’d expect, trout eggs don’t tend to move, making it perfect for sluggish fish.
How to fish it:
This one is super simple. Fish eggs actually sit on the bottom, so you need to match this. Tie it on with a sinking line and a really short leader.
I find pinching a split shot about 6 inches from the fly gives the best results. Don’t pull it in. Just keep in contact with the hook and let the current do its thing.
There are few flies more successful than a PTN when it comes to rainbow trout fishing.
What does PTN stand for?
Easy, pheasant-tail-nymph… So named because the entire fly is made out of pheasant tail fibers. It is designed to represent tiny larvae on their way to the surface to hatch. It is one of the greatest flies ever invented and is a go-to for any angler struggling to catch.
How to fish it:
This is a really effective rainbow trout fly that can be fished in a few ways. In winter, I like to use it with a floating line, fished on a gentle drift, with the occasional pull now and then to simulate a little bit of life. You can also fish it on a sinking line, much like you would use a lure.
Here’s a great video on slow water nymph fishing for rainbow trout.
When the weather and water turn cold, the fish get down deep. If you can’t reach them, you won’t catch them.
It really is that simple.
Something with a tungsten body. You don’t want to be fighting to get down deep. This fly includes a tungsten bead to ensure it gets down to where it needs to be really quick.
While big rainbows don’t want to waste the energy chasing something, they can be tempted with a little bit of movement. This fly is the answer.
It has two chenille ‘legs’. When you give your line a micro pull, these wriggle in the water, just like a living worm would. It is this movement that encourages an overwintered hungry rainbow to strike.
How to fish it:
While you want to get down deep, you might be surprised to learn that this is best fished with a floating line. The trick is to use a huge leader.
You don’t need to worry about the presentation. As long as your leader is straight(ish) on landing, you are good to go. Retrieve this fly in a slow figure of eight with the odd violent pull to get it moving.
The problem you have is deciding which will lead to the above. Fortunately, with a little thought (and this handy guide), you’ll be able to figure that out in no time at all. Here’s a quick rundown of what I think about when choosing some great flies for rainbow trout fishing.
When you arrive at the water, stop for a minute and have a good look at the water.
Here’s what I say…
If you want to catch a fish, you’ve got to think like a fish. Ask yourself, where are the fish likely to be? Is there anything to confirm that? If the fish are jumping or there are visible rises on the water, you have your answer, and it makes sense to choose a fly that will be fished in the upper levels.
Conversely, if there isn’t much moving, then there’s a good chance that they are deeper down. Therefore, it makes sense to choose a fly that will enable you to reach them.
They can be super lazy. Rainbow trout, especially in moving water, tend to pick a location where they can expend the minimum amount of energy while allowing the current to wash a steady supply of food to them.
If you are fishing using a fly that requires them to sprint on a day when they are resting, it just isn’t going to happen.
Again, watch the water and see what’s happening. See where the fish are holed up and choose a fly accordingly.
Sometimes, when the fish are picky, a highly mobile fly will stimulate a bite. Look for features like soft wings, marabou plumes, wiggly legs, and realistic eyes.
These patterns are especially good on those quieter days.
Natural Food Availability
Take a look at what fly life you can see around the water. Here’s a really quick guide to what I normally tie on based on what I see:
Activity on the Water
Types of Flies for Rainbow Trout
Small gnats or midges
Small dark flies
Anything with a large wing
Streamers or patterns like a woolly bugger
Streamers or minnow imitations
Trout ‘sipping’ on the surface
Small flies or tiny nymphs
Large winged flies or baitfish imitations
Slow-moving patterns and smaller nymphs
This is a biggie.
Trout are cold-blooded, meaning their activity level is dictated by the temperature.
Want a simple rule of thumb. The warmer the water, the more movement you can give to your fly and the higher up the fish. Coldwater means the fish will tend to stay deeper and need a fly fished in a much slower fashion.
Being able to see your fly is important. Especially when surface fishing for rainbow trout. I’ve lost count of the number of times I missed a take because I couldn’t see my fly.
When the weather is still and calm, such as in summer, you can get away with using smaller patterns. If there is any ripple on the water, it might make sense to go with something a little easier to see.
Ease of Casting
Let’s face it.
If we can’t get the fly on the water correctly, we won’t be able to catch fish. You need to take this into account when choosing the right fly. If it is windy, use a fly suited to a shorter leader.
Want a top casting tip?
The bigger the fly, the shorter the leader for an effective cast. If you are using anything weighted, keep your leader under about 7’.
Did I ever tell you about that time when I saw a fly that was 3 inches long and bright yellow?
You know where I saw it.
You aren’t going to be fly fishing in the jungle, so pick a fly size that matches what you are likely to see around you. The one exception I make to this rule is when it is really quiet (whether you are fly fishing in the winter or summer). Then, I will occasionally try something big in the hope that it tempts a few fish.
Generally, I find that smaller flies far outfish bigger. If I had to pick the best fly size for rainbow trout, I’d say go for size 16-18 as a nice middle ground.
As I said right at the start, the fish themselves will decide what is the best fly on the day. Choosing the best rainbow trout flies can sometimes be a process of trial and error.
The key is to have a selection. That way, you’ve then got plenty of things to try!
Stick to my guidance above and give a few of my suggestions a go. You won’t be disappointed.
When the sun goes down, it's time to stop fishing, right? Wrong! You'll find that with lower temperatures and the natural tendency for bass to hunt at night, you'll be in the perfect situation to bag...