How to Catch Rainbow Trout: Fishing Like A Pro

Catch Rainbow Trout
Written by Neal Walker

You want to spend your upcoming weekend in the wild woods with a loved one, your kids, or just enjoy a day by the lake? Fishing can only add to this outdoor experience. You can cook what you catch on the spot and/or release them back into nature.

Rainbow trout are one of the most common types of fish in freshwater lakes and rivers. They’re also famously easy to catch!

A wild rainbow trout is not only a great dinner option, but you also get to see some truly incredible sights while you’re sitting down with your meal.

This article is meant to provide you with first-hand knowledge on what it’s like to go rainbow trout fishing. We’ll start with some information about the rain trout, then review gear and techniques, and finish off with some tips for being an even better fisherman.

Learning how to catch rainbow trout is not only easy, but by the end of this article, you will be fishing like a pro! There are four basic steps – first, find a river. Next, gather your gear. Then, set up your rod and reel on the bank. Lastly, bait your hook and cast your line in the water.

What You Need to Know About Rainbow Trout

  • Your average rainbow trout will weigh in from around ½ to 3 pounds and is commonly found in freshwater lakes.

  • You might be able to spot these fish by their long, reddish stripe along the side of their bodies – they come in a variety of colors, from brown to olive green.


Need to Know About Rainbow Trout

  • These fish are the ultimate carnivores and will never be tempted by any plant-based baits.

  • As rainbow trout grow, they become more willing to eat large prey such as insects, smaller fish, and mussels.

  • While it is a species of salmon, the freshwater trout has an entirely different migration pattern. Unlike other salmon, these fish don’t go back to their place of birth to lay eggs.

  • If you are patient enough, you will catch one and notice it’s sharp upper teeth on the roof of the mouth. Once hooked, its lack of lower teeth will be immediately visible.

  • What makes this trout special is its smaller mouth. You might have tried to catch a trout with a larger mouth, but the rainbow has a mouth that is more proportional. If you’re using a crawler, hook just half of it and let the end wiggle – this will not only increase your chances of catching a trout, but they’ll also be able to easily fit the bait in their mouth.

  • Different species of trout respond to different bait colors. Since stocked trout are accustomed to eating colorful fish food, bright orange, light yellow, and light green baits will best attract them.

  • If you are still struggling to catch trout, try using minnows, mealworms, maggots or night crawlers. Trout have an affinity for salmon eggs and will often swim to your line when you use them as bait.


In order to catch Rainbow trout, you should use a range of different methods.

There are several different methods for catching these fish – from drift fishing, to float fishing and tight lining.

  • Drift fishing. Drift fishing applies to most seasons and conditions; just drift your boat along the river or lake. As you fish, you’ll want to use a split shot, which should be placed from 12-24 inches away from you (for optimal distance).

  • Float fishing. One way to hook a rainbow trout is with an unbreakable fishing float instead of the classic bobber. You can use floats to fish every inch of the river without it being noticed or disturbing other fishermen.

  • Lining. The last way to fish is called tight lining. You can use this method when the water is not moving very quickly. Cast your line up river from the trout and allow it to settle on the bottom. Tight lining won’t work in high water. Rainbow trout, with their small mouths, will nibble before they take a bite. This means that you need to always watch your rod closely in order to see the slightest twitch.

Do read on more tips and guides on how to equip with the best trout lure for added reference.

How About The Water?

There are two additional factors worth considering when fishing for rainbows, the clarity of the water and what type of water source you are using.

Rainbow trout above Water

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The water clarity can help you find the right line to use. In murky water, consider using a a heavier line and weightier split shot. The thickness of the line will be well hidden in the murkiness, and the weight is needed for faster or higher water.

When the water is clear, use up to a two-pound test line. Trout are clever and will notice your line easily, so they may hide in less visible spots.

The second consideration is the type of water source; some are natural and others, man-made.

All natural habitats will have boulders, bank covers, aquatic plants, and tree logs. Artificial habitats try to mimic this environment by using bank hides which conceal even the largest of trout.

What gear you need to catch rainbow trout

  • A good pair of waders, it is going to get wet when trying to catch these fish!

  • A hand net for scooping the trout up and out of the water. You will find that these fish like to jump and can easily break the line when being extracted.

  • A fish vest to store all your goodies in a safe and dry location

  • Polarized, colored sunglasses are a must for fishing. They provide you with the perfect opportunity to see what’s underneath the water without disturbing the fish.

  • Bait and tackle box to store multiple different lures and baits in case you need to switch up your method to draw in more fish.

  • Rod, standard spinning rods are fine, but the ultra-light rods are more flexible and allow you to feel the catch. A rod that is six feet long is going to allow for an easier float and cast.

  • Reel, as before, a standard reel will be fine, but having the ultra light spinning reel made for a light line will make your trip much more successful.

  • Fly line, with this, make sure that your rod, reel, and fly line all match up, you can use the manufacturer recommendation on the rod to make sure you’re using the right combination.

  • Fishing hook, if you are going to use worms for bait, then you are going to want to pick up a split-shank hook, which will allow you to pierce the worm in more than one place.

  • Barrel Swivel to prevent the line from twisting.

  • Split shot to allow you to cast well, but also to control how fast your bait drifts.

  • Baits and/or lures, as we briefly covered above, your bait will depend on the season. Regardless if you use fresh bait, paste bait, or an artificial lure, the scent and the taste of the bait is what will bring your trout in for a nibble.

Hot tip: Worms are best used in spring and fall, especially if there has been a good downpour, though they can be used successfully year round. In fall, look into grasshoppers or crickets. If you want to hook the bigger trout, and know there are larger ones in your water source, hook a minnow gently through its back or lip.


Rainbow trout gear

Useful tip: Artificial bait is becoming more and more popular as fishing technology advances. Lures come in many forms, though there are two that are most prevalent. Spinner baits & lead heads for both rainbow trout and largemouth bass. Generally smaller sized lures are better for the colorful rainbow trout, though bigger ones have their appeal too.

When you place the lure, go upstream. Also, use soft plastic dressed lures. You’ll love the tiny crawfish lure by Pro Fisherman

How to Catch Rainbow Trout

  • Step 1:The first thing you need to do is find out what the rules are in the state you want to fish in and get a fishing license. These may seem a bit strict at first, but they are important to help keep the population of fish healthy and the environment balanced.

  • Step 2: Before you even head down to the lake, all your gear in tow, make sure to rig your tackle before you depart. This involves tying on the barrel swivel and using a simple clinch knot. Avoid knots such as an overhand that will just cut your line.

  • Step 3: Attach the split shot weight to your fishing line after you’ve attached it to the hook, and pinch it with a pair of needle nose pliers so that it doesn’t slip. Once you’ve done this, you can fine tune the position or put into more precisely later.

  • Step 4: Many fishers will tell you not to unpack all of your items before you go out and scout the lake, check for slow moving areas of deep water or just areas where it goes from deep to shallow or visa verse. Then head back with your gear to your favorite spot.

  • Step 5: Bait your hook, refer back to our hot tip in order to figure out how to best hook your bait.

  • Step 6: Cast your line, rainbow trout fishing is quite similar to fly fishing. The steps are generally the same. Make sure you are casting upstream so that the bait and line can drift downriver in the current. Think of a clock and cast about 10 o’clock. Slowly, bring the rod tip behind you by pressing and holding the button on the reel. Then move it in one swift motion to directly in front of you and release when your arch is reached. If you whip it too hard, you will know.

A Little Extra Help: If you choose to not use bait and just thread on the lure, you will cast out in the same area with the same technique. After you cast, when the lure is in the water slowly pull back on your rod tip.

No Button? No problem! Using your forefinger to hold the line, flip the bail up and hold the line, then follow the same instructions.

  • Step 7: Keeping the line up and around your face, let your bait drift until it gets past you. As soon as you feel the line tighten up, remember that it could be a trout nipping at tasty worm or just pole movement due to running water. When a big pull happens though, be ready!

  • Step 8: Set the hook, you’re on to something! Quickly pull up your rod tip about 1-2 feet. You should feel it bend over if there’s a fish on there. Slowly reel in, keeping your rodtip high above your head at all times or else it’ll get away!

  • Step 9: Using your fishing net, scoop your new catch up as soon as he is in reach, as the thin line will snap if you let it thrash about.

Landing the Trout Tip: You’ve caught your first rainbow trout and are wondering about the best techniques to use. One thing you should avoid is playing cat-and-mouse with them. If let to swim downstream, they’re more likely to get off the hook and they’ll provide more of a challenge when trying to reel them in. If you have accidentally allowed your fish to wander downstream, simply follow it. These fish are smart, but they tire very easily.

Catch and Release, Another Thing to Consider

You have decided not to eat your little rainbow trout and are fishing for the joy of the sport. Trout, unlike some other sturdier fish, cannot handle prolonged stress of being caught and held.

If you wait too long the stress will kill it. If a fish is caught it needs to be swiftly landed and netted. Swimming upstream in an attempt to run is VERY HARD on a fish, it will tire the fish out and stress it quite a lot, so even if the fish manages to escape its pursuer, it might die from sheer stress or too much movement.

Once it has been netted do not leave the area, it needs to be released underwater in the same exact spot from where it has been caught.


Catch and Release

The type of net and length of time you use to catch these trout are also important. Rubbing against the sides will exhaust their slime layer, which helps ward off infections.

If your game is catch and release, then using rubberized meshes and trying to stay away from fine nets might be the best way to keep these fish alive. The most obvious thing that people don’t realize? Giving them plenty of time in the water! What you might not know is that one trout suffers the death penalty for every second it’s exposed to air. It’s a shocker to learn that in only thirty seconds, the survival rate for a trout can drop by over sixty-two percent. If you’re trying to take a good photo with your fish, get the camera ready because you only have about ten seconds before they’re going to start drying out.

A caught and released fish has a 10% chance of dying, often more, even if you are exceptionally careful.

Time to Get Finishing

Feeling like a pro? Great, it’s time to hit the lakes with all of your gear to catch these delicious fish and really show off your skills. While there is quite a bit of gear involved, fishing as a sport is both relaxing as a solo adventure, or a great way to spend time with loved ones and new friends. Check out our topic on how to choose the best kayak for fishing to help you make a great catch!

Finishing Rainbow trout

Remember, rainbow trout are easy to catch but they still need to be reeled in carefully. It’s important that you stay alert and that you notice the smallest fluctuations in your rod.

Your best bet is to note the season, and watch trout for their eating habits. They are drawn to bait smells and the look of food – just like humans.

If you’ve been fishing for rainbow trout, and can’t seem to catch any, try changing your bait. We also suggest asking other fishers what they are using to attract the trout.

Did we miss any of your favorite fishing tips? Let us know in the comments below what we have missed! For more tips on how to fish for trout, check out our earlier piece on this outstanding topic.


Neal Walker

Neal Walker started fishing when he was 4. His father took him to the fishing trips all over USA and Canada. Later he took Angling Education Program at Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, but most of his knowledge comes from experience. Now he takes his sons with him to share his passion.