The first trout that I ever laid hands on was a handsome 12 inch rainbow trout, caught in my stocked, local ‘Fishing Creek’, under the watchful eye of my father at age 8. I was too small yet to accompany my father into the high mountain streams he fished so consistently in his youth, but I remember the day still.
Time marches on, and my days on the water are usually now spent targeting wild brown trout, my favorite fish. Stocked rainbows do end up making surprise appearances in these same waters, albeit rarely, and to me they are a special prize.
When I see that bright pink lateral line thrashing about on the end of my leader, I view it as a testament to the tenacity and intelligence of that fish to make it into wild waters, far from where it was stocked.
Join me as I explore the flies that dazzle and entice Pennsylvania’s most numerous species of stocked trout.
I will include links to instructional videos on how to tie these flies, and provide some tips on how I fish them so that I might increase your chances of a trout encounter.
This article will cover:
What is a Rainbow Trout?
Best flies for trout
How to fish nymphs
Top nymphs for rainbow trout
How to fish dry flies
Best dry flies for trout
And much more!
Let’s get started
What Makes a Rainbow?
Oncorhynchus mykiss, or the Rainbow Trout, is a species of trout native to the Pacific Ocean in Asia and North America. This species of trout is stocked prolifically all over the United States, due in part to its ability to withstand warmer water than brown or brook trout.
In my home state of Pennsylvania, this is the most numerous stocked trout. It is easily distinguishable due mostly to its pink/red stripe on the lateral line, and its green colored back, stippled with black spots. These colors become even more vibrant and defined during the spawn in Spring.
Rainbow trout are a highly regarded gamefish, and some anglers consider them the best fighting trout, due in part to their tendency to perform acrobatics to free themselves from the hook.
Whether stocked, wild, or migratory and anadromous (I’m talking about Steelhead Trout), this fish provides an ample challenge on the fly
These are the flies that I have found most productive when targeting rainbow trout. I’m going to start with some easy ties that get the goods, and progress to some more technical patterns.
Remember friends, Youtube University is chock-full of instructional guides on fly-tying, fly fishing and general outdoors skills.
I had no one to teach me what I know about fly fishing, and had to resort to Youtube, and it has served me well along my fly fishing journey. It is an extremely valuable resource to the novice and seasoned veteran alike, so use it!
Love them or hate them, these first two flies have worked for me consistently when I suspect rainbows are about. They were also an important tool for me when I was learning to fly fish, because they can be fished like live bait.
Both of the flies below are subsurface, so you should focus on trying to achieve a drag-free drift across deeper holes where you think trout may be holding.
I often find most success when fishing these down a ‘seam,’ or on that edge of where fast water and flat, slower water meet. Often, the current will swirl these flies right into view of actively hunting trout.
Rainbow trout are voracious egg-eaters. Whether the eggs are from hognose suckers, carp, or even other trout, they make a protein rich snack for young and old rainbows alike.
Many fly fishing purists may despise the egg fly, but put simply, it works, and can turn a bad day of fishing into a good day of catching very quickly. Tungsten beads and lead/non-lead wire can be attached for added depth, but these flies work just as well tied behind an attractor nymph, unweighted.
Stocked trout remember the pellets that they were fed at the nursery fondly, and these egg fly patterns can easily be modified to resemble those pellets with brown foam. However, I highly recommend tying these patterns with yellow foam, to resemble corn, and keeping a few in your box for use during those desperate times when you just can’t connect with hungry stockers.
I was fly fishing in somewhat close proximity to a trio of people who were throwing pack-bait for carp last summer, and occasionally I would see a cloud of their dissolved bait float by.
They had mixed corn into the paste, so I tied a double “corn fly” on, and within minutes I was hooking into meaty rainbows that were wandering slowly upstream in search of the corn. Consider these things and check out these patterns.
Here is another fly that is deadly productive for anything with gills. Another fly that is disdained by the purists but beloved by those of us who desire an encounter with our prey, the Squirmy Worm uses soft plastic to mimic the writhing and thrashing movement of an earthworm.
The introduction of soft plastic into this pattern, in my opinion, makes it far more effective than its more homely cousin, the San Juan Worm.
Here again, tungsten beads and wire wraps can make this fly sink deeper and faster.
This ‘fly’ has spawned many variations, some with a dubbing collar, some with a hotspot and on and on. I fish this on a 16 nymph hook with a small tungsten copper bead, either with red or green worm material, below a soft hackle pheasant tail.
It works well on its own though, and when I fish it that way, I use a size 10 jig hook and a larger diameter tungsten bead.
Careful, mild twitching of your fly line activates that lifelike writhing of the added soft plastic, and can entice a strike even from wary ‘bows.
How to Tie the Squirmy Wormy
The majority of a trout’s diet is made up of nymphs and midges, and I often find that they’ll accept imitations of these waterbound insects even when they’ve refused other bugs.
When presenting nymphs, you’re looking for a drag-free drift across likely places for a trout to hide. The current is what drags nymphs into their field of vision, so let out some slack and be mindful of any movement of your fly line (or use an indicator).
If you notice any pausing or unnatural movement of your chosen sighter, set the hook, because you’re either snagged or have a fish.
I cannot speak highly enough of this fly. My box always has several variations of this recipe inside, and whether this is fished by itself, on the point, beneath an indicator or jig fly, this nymph works.
It can be tied with no bead, and fished unweighted as well, and I have had success doing this on larger mountain streams.
The pattern is classic, and this fly truly has stood the test of time.
In bigger water or on a river, this is a fantastic searching pattern. I tie this in the euro-style on a bigger hook and with a bigger bead when I bring my fly rod to the Susquehanna.
I find it works best when tied in a series, with one or two smaller nymphs or chironomids behind it. Learn this fly. While I do find it works great on rainbows, I have caught a multitude of species with it, and it is in my opinion, an essential weapon to have in your box.
I had to include another classic pattern that works both on the point and on a tandem rig. The prince nymph has a history that goes back just as far as the soft hackle pheasant tail, and has been tied in some form or variation for decades.
While it is normally classed as an attractor nymph, there have been days when I was fishing this on the point, and the trout all but ignored my attached emergers and enthusiastically attacked this fly.
I love taking classic patterns and adding a modern twist, and with the voluminous amount of dubbing and synthetic material available to the fly tyer nowadays, the possibilities are endless.
If you’re looking for something flashier and more complicated than this, I recommend the prince nymph’s wild younger brother – psycho prince nymph.
Here’s a newer pattern that I have used effectively on rainbow trout even into the Winter months. It works equally well as a prospecting pattern in deeper, bigger water. There’s lots of flash and shine to this fly, and I like fishing it on clearer, sunnier days to add to its visibility.
It’s fun to tie, and sometimes I will wrap gold tinsel for the body instead of silver for use on cloudier days (I do adhere to that old saying, silver when it’s clear, gold when it’s not).
Nothing beats dry fly eats. When I’m fishing for rainbows, stocked or not, I tend to use a larger dry, This is because I have found that they are a bit less particular about entomology than the brown trout I usually pursue.
When fishing for rainbows using a dry fly (or series of dry flies), keep an eye out for foam. This is a signal of well oxygenated water, and often is a prime spot to float your flies.
Run your flies through the seams, in deep pools, and behind rocks that provide trout shelter from the current.
This is an essential fly to have, because like most of the flies aforementioned, it serves several purposes. First of all, the use of foam makes this beetle near unsinkable.
There is no fly floatant needed here, this thing floats like a cork. Because of this, the Beetle 2.0 can be used as both a fly and an indicator for a small nymph (or egg!) tied to the hook bend.
Fluorescent foam is tied onto the thorax so that you can easily observe the bug’s movement in faster water.
This also allows you to detect a strike on an attached nymph. If the beetle stops moving completely or goes against the current, set the hook! Due to its functionality as both a fly and an indicator, I always have at least three of these in my box.
When Spring fades into hot and humid Summer here in Pennsylvania, the hopper hatch is something that can drive the stocked rainbows nuts. Dave’s Hopper is a workhorse of a pattern combining knotted feather legs and a packed deer hair head.
It’s natural tan colors in the attached video are a dead ringer for PA summer hoppers, but tying it in olive is always an option.
Grasshoppers works very effectively when “skated” across deep pools, and when twitched near the bank and made to drown.
While it can produce consistent strikes when the grasshoppers are in season, it’s also an effective attractor when used in combination with a smaller dry or terrestrial.
While this fly did take me a while to be able to tie cleanly, I use it all the time. It is impressionistic and sits below the surface film, and can effectively imitate everything from a caddis to a midge when sized down (I’ve seen them on #22 hooks).
When I am not sure of what is hatching, this is my go to fly. The post makes it easier to see in choppy water but it works well in stillwater when sized down to about a 16.
If you need something smaller, or just can’t make out what the trout are rising to, this black gnat may be exactly what you need to get into rising trout.
It works well alone and on the tag end next to a bushier, bigger attractor fly. It imitates a host of insects, and is perfect for the pickier holdover rainbows you might encounter alongside their more brutish stocked cousins.