At the age of eight, I caught my first trout, a beautiful 12-inch rainbow trout, in my stocked, local ‘Fishing Creek’ under the watchful eye of my father. I was too little to follow my father into the high mountain streams where he routinely fished as a child, but I still recall the day. My days on the water are now often spent pursuing wild brown trout, my favorite species of fish. Infrequently, stocked rainbows do make surprise visits in these waterways, and I consider them a unique gift.
When I see the bright pink lateral line thrashing on the end of my leader, I consider it evidence of the fish’s persistence and intellect in surviving in untamed waters far from where it was stocked. Join me as I investigate the flies that attract and lure Pennsylvania’s most abundant trout species. I will include links to instructional videos on how to tie these flies, as well as advice on how I fish with them to enhance your chances of catching a trout.
Let’s get started
What Makes A Rainbow?
Rainbow Trout, or Oncorhynchus mykiss, is a trout species endemic to the Pacific Ocean in Asia and North America. This trout species is widely supplied across the United States, partly because it can tolerate warmer water than brown or brook trout. In my native state of Pennsylvania, this stocked trout is the most prevalent. It is distinguished mostly by its pink/red lateral line stripe and its green back with black dots. During the spring spawn, these hues become even more vivid and distinct. Rainbow trout are highly esteemed gamefish, and some fishermen consider them the hardest-fighting trout due to their propensity to do acrobatics to escape the hook. Whether stocked, wild, or migratory and anadromous (I’m referring to Steelhead Trout), this fish presents a formidable task while fly-fishing.
Best Flies For Trout
I have found these to be the most effective flies targeting rainbow trout. I’ll begin with some simple, effective connections before moving on to more complicated patterns. Remember, friends, that Youtube University is stuffed to the brim with instructional guides on fly-tying, fly fishing, and general outdoor skills. I had no one to educate me about fly fishing, so I turned to YouTube, which has served me well throughout my fly fishing career. It is a highly useful resource for both beginners and seasoned veterans, so utilize it!
Love them or loathe them, these first two flies have regularly worked for me when I sense rainbows are in the vicinity. Because they can be fished like live bait, they were also an essential tool for me when I was learning to fly fish. Both of the files listed below are subsurface, so you should concentrate on achieving a drag-free drift into deeper holes where trout may be holding. Typically, I have the best luck when fishing these flies down a “seam,” or along the boundary where rapid water and slower, flatter water meet. Frequently, the river will swirl these flies directly into the view of trout actively seeking.
1. Egg Flies
Rainbow trout devour eggs voraciously. Whether the eggs are from hognose suckers, carp, or other trout, they provide a protein-rich diet for young and adult rainbows. Many fly fishing purists may dislike the egg fly, yet it is effective and may rapidly transform a bad day of fishing into a productive one. Tungsten beads and lead/non-lead wire can be added for increased depth, but these flies are just as effective when made without weight behind an attractor nymph.
Stocked trout vividly recall the pellets they were fed in the nursery, and these egg fly patterns may be readily adjusted to imitate pellets by adding brown foam. However, I strongly suggest wrapping these patterns with yellow foam to imitate corn and saving a couple in your box for those desperate occasions when you simply cannot connect with hungry stockers. Last summer, I was fly fishing in close proximity to three individuals who were casting pack bait for carp. Occasionally, I would see a mist of their dissolved bait floating past. They had added corn to the paste, so I tied on a double “corn fly,” and within minutes, I was catching hefty rainbows that were searching upstream for the corn. Examine these details and observable patterns.
2. Squirmy Bug
Another fly that is lethally prolific for anything with gills is presented here. The Squirmy Worm employs soft plastic to imitate an earthworm’s writhing and thrashing motion. This fly is disdained by purists but treasured by those of us who crave an encounter with our target. The use of soft plastic in this design, in my opinion, makes it far more effective than the San Juan Worm; it’s more conventional relative.
Again, tungsten beads and wire wraps can help this fly sink more quickly and deeper. This “fly” has produced several variants, some with a dubbing collar, some with a hotspot, etc. I use a size 16 nymph hook with a little tungsten copper bead, red or green worm material, and a soft hackle pheasant tail. It works nicely on its own, and when I fish it this way, I use a size 10 jig hook with a tungsten bead with a bigger diameter. Careful, light twitching of the fly line triggers the lifelike writhing of the additional soft plastic, which can tempt even hesitant ‘bows to strike.
The majority of a trout’s diet consists of nymphs and midges, and I’ve found that they frequently accept imitations of these aquatic insects even when they’ve rejected other bugs. You should aim for a drag-free drift over possible trout hiding spots when presenting nymphs. The current draw nymphs into the fly’s frame of vision, so release line slack and be aware of any line movement (or use an indicator). Set the hook if you see any hesitation or strange movement of your selected sighter, as you are either snagged or have caught a fish.
3. Soft Hackle Bead Head Pheasant Tail
I cannot praise this fly enough. This nymph is effective when fished alone, on the point, or beneath an indicator or jig fly. It can be tied without a bead and fished without a weight, and I have had success with this technique in larger mountain streams.
This fly’s design is timeless and has certainly stood the test of time. In larger bodies of water or on a river, this is an excellent fishing pattern. When I carry my fly rod to the Susquehanna, I tie this fly in the euro-style with a larger hook and larger bead. I find that it is most effective when tied in series with one or two tiny nymphs or chironomids. Master this fly. I’ve caught a variety of species with it, and I consider it an indispensable tool.
4. Prince Neptune
I was compelled to incorporate a second classic design that functions both on the point and tandem rig. The prince nymph has a history comparable to that of the soft hackle pheasant tail and has been tied in many forms for decades. While it is typically classified as an attractor nymph, there have been times when I fished this fly on the point, and the trout almost completely ignored my connected emergers in favor of this fly.
How to Fasten a Prince Nymph?
With the vast number of dubbing and synthetic materials accessible to fly tiers today, there are countless opportunities to modernize traditional patterns. If you’re searching for something flashier and more intricate than this, I propose the insane prince nymph, the younger brother of the prince nymph, who is a wild animal.
5. Lightning Bug
Here is a design that I have used successfully on rainbow trout throughout the winter. Equally effective as a prospecting pattern in deeper and larger water. This fly has a lot of flash and shine, so I like fishing it on brighter, sunnier days to increase its visibility. It’s enjoyable to tie, and on cloudy days I occasionally use gold tinsel instead of silver for the body (I do stick to the old adage, silver when it’s clear, gold when it’s not).
Nothing surpasses dry fly food. Whether stocked or not, I prefer to use a bigger dry fly when I’m fishing for rainbows. This is because I’ve discovered that rainbows are less picky about insects than the brown trout I often seek. Keep an eye out for foam while fishing for rainbows with a dry fly (or sequence of dry flies). This indicates oxygenated water and is frequently an excellent location to float flies. Cast your flies in seams, deep pools, and behind boulders that protect trout from the stream.
6. Foam Beetle
As with the majority of the flies previously discussed, this fly is vital since it serves several tasks. First, the usage of foam renders this insect nearly unsinkable. This object requires no-fly floatant because it floats like a cork. The Beetle 2.0 may thus be used as both a fly and an indicator for a little nymph (or egg!) attached to the hook bend. The thorax is connected with fluorescent foam so that the movement of the insect may be easily observed in swifter water.
This also enables you to identify a strike on a nymph that is connected. Set the hook if the insect stops moving fully or swims against the current! Due to its dual duty as a fly and an indicator, I have at least three of them in my box at all times.
In Pennsylvania, the hopper hatch may drive stocked rainbows insane as spring gives way to a sweltering and humid summer. The Dave’s Hopper design is a workhorse consisting of knotted feather legs and a deer hair head. The video’s natural tan hues are an exact match for Pennsylvania summer hoppers, but tying it in olive is always possible.
Grasshoppers perform exceptionally well when “skated” over deep pools and when twitched near the shore and forced to drown. In addition to producing regular strikes when grasshoppers are in season, this attractor is also useful when paired with a smaller dry or terrestrial.
8. Parachute Adams
Although it took me some time to learn how to tie this fly properly, I use it frequently. It is impressionistic and lies behind the surface layer, imitating everything from a caddis to a midge when scaled down (I’ve seen them on #22 hooks). When I am uncertain of what is hatching, I reach for this fly. The post makes it easier to see in turbulent water, but it also performs well in Stillwater when scaled down to a size 16 or smaller.
9. Black Flies
If you need something smaller or can’t tell what trout are rising for, this black gnat may be precisely what you need to catch trout that are rising. It is effective both alone and on the tag end of a larger, bushier attractor fly. It imitates a variety of insects, making it ideal for holding rainbows that are more selective than their more brutal counterparts.
This article should have prompted you to examine your fly box and add new files, especially if you’re anticipating Spring, stocking season, and fresh genotypes in your favorite waters. These flies produce regular success when I return to the stocked Fishing Creek, where I caught my first trout as a child and the occasional holdover rainbow in my favorite mountain stream. As always, I hope they serve you just as well.