How to Go Trout Fly Fishing: An Angler's Guide for 2024

Feb 1, 2024 | 9 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 9 minutes

Trout and fly fishing are the perfect match, and the large majority of fly patterns and techniques have some affiliation with Trout fishing. Learning to fly fish for Trout is a study of casting techniques, reading the water, understanding entomology, and making presentations with the right flies.

A man in a red jacket, sunglasses, and had with a GoPro camera on it holding a small Trout in one hand and a fly fishing rod in the other aboard a boat on a calm lake
Photo courtesy of Peru Fly Fishing

Trout can be selective, focusing their feeding habits on very specific insects. They can also be opportunistic, eating crayfish, terrestrial insects, and even other fish. Knowing the environment and conditions plays a major role in being successful when Trout fishing.

In this article, I’ll focus on the basics of fly fishing for Trout while demystifying the process. While there’s a ton of information out there, Trout fishing doesn’t have to be overly complicated. With some basic techniques and strategies, you can find success on most Trout streams and lakes in the world. 

Types of Trout

Before we jump into the gear and techniques, let’s take a look at the different Trout species available. There are countless subspecies within this category, and you can easily go down the rabbit hole of attempting to catch them all. Each species has unique characteristics and they are all a blast to catch on the fly. But here are some of the stand-out varieties…

Rainbow Trout

A woman smiling while holding a Rainbow Trout next to a river and surrounded by greenery on a clear day
Photo courtesy of Ron Doebler Fly Fishing – Kenai River

Rainbow Trout are prolific across the US, but you can find them around the world in places as diverse as Patagonia and New Zealand. Easily identified by the rainbow spots (although some are chrome) and distinct look, they’re hard fighters and often selective feeders. From the reaches of Alaska to remote South America, Rainbow Trout can reach enormous sizes under optimal conditions. 

Brown Trout 

A man with curly hair, wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap, while crouching on a boat and holding a Brown Trout to the camera with water visible behind him
Photo courtesy of Teacher Todd Guide Service

If there’s a species with a level of romantic appeal, it’s Brown Trout. They can feed selectively (like Rainbow Trout) or be more predatory, lurking under cut-banks and log jams. Shades of yellow and brown with spotting make them easy to identify. Some Brownies have a blue spot on their cheek as well. By being more temperature tolerant than other Trout species, Brown Trout have a larger range across the globe.

Cutthroat Trout 

A closeup of a silver Cutthroat Trout being held by a man in a hooded sweater on a day with sunny intervals on a lake
Photo courtesy of Teacher Todd Guide Service

Largely native to the western United States, there are many varieties of Cutthroat Trout. Westslope, Yellowstone, Rio Grande, and Lahontan are just a few unique strains. These are found in cold waters, mountain lakes, and streams – and even saltwater environments. Many Cutthroats live in small streams and grow to mere inches but they can become quite large in big rivers like the Yellowstone in Montana. The largest in the world live in Pyramid Lake, Nevada where they reach sizes in excess of 25 pounds!

Brook Trout

A man leaning over the side of a fishing boat in calm waters on a sunny day and returning a Brook Trout back to the water
Photo courtesy of Hot Take Angling

This beautiful species is resilient and it’s among the only Trout that can reproduce without a streambed. You’ll find them distributed across the United States and Canada with populations going far south in Patagonia as well. Brook Trout are often opportunistic while feeding and also make excellent table fare – a true all-round fish!

Understanding Trout Seasons

Trout are temperature-sensitive and the seasons have a major impact on behavior. For the sake of consistency, I’ll use the northern hemisphere as a reference point. Seasonal influences will be the exact inverse in the southern hemisphere, though! There are always exceptions to the seasons as well. Trout living closer to the equator have more consistent water temperatures while those in the far north (or south) have short growing seasons.

Spring. This is a great season for Trout in many regions. Spring means the ice thaws and rivers and lakes open to fishing. The Trout are hungry and easier to fool in many cases as they need calories after the long winter. Common spring hatches to match include blue wing olives, Mother’s Day caddis, and midges. 

A view across the rocks in a waterway in North America towards a lone fly angler casting their line against an impressive backdrop of trees and a rocky mountain

Summer. As summer arrives, so do larger insects in iconic destinations like the western US. Salmonflies and golden stoneflies are two major attractions. Mayflies are bigger in early summer, as well as green and brown drakes. The early summer aligns with ideal temperatures and very active Trout. Later in the summer, terrestrial insects like grasshoppers and flying ants are favorite food sources. As water temperatures increase, Trout move to faster currents with more oxygen available. 

Fall. Cooling weather and diminishing insect hatches tend to trigger a great fall bite. The fish need to add calories before winter and they often feed aggressively on streamers and the remaining fall hatches. Brown Trout also spawn during the fall months and bigger fish are more available as they travel towards spawning grounds. 

Winter. In cold regions, winter can shut down fly fishing opportunities due to ice. Tailwaters remain open in many areas, however, and Trout will continue feeding on midges and small mayflies. More temperate regions can experience great winter fishing as well. However, you’ll only really be able to cast a line for Trout on warmer days.

Trout Fly Fishing Gear

Many species are targets for fly anglers and each has a different set of requirements (with some overlap). Pike, Bass, Salmon, Steelhead and pretty much everything that swims in the ocean are available to fly anglers. But Trout are among the most popular species, boasting a long history in the sport. The gear is pretty simple and can also work well for other species like Bass, Panfish, and more.

Rods and Reels

A closeup of a fly fishing reel, rod handle, and fly usef for fishing in Tasmania for Trout, laying on the grass

For the majority of Trout fishing, a 9′, 5 wt rod and matching reel is adequate. Lighter rods in the 2–4 weight range are fun for small creeks, too, and you can always add one to your arsenal at some point. A 6–7 wt rod is also nice for windy days, larger waters, and bigger fish. When you need to cast heavy streamers into the wind, this is ideal. And n rare cases where Trout regularly reach sizes in excess of 10 pounds, an 8 wt rod can be a handy tool.

Line Types

For the large majority of Trout fly fishing, a weight-forward floating line to match the rod weight is adequate. Floating lines can handle dry flies, nymphs, and streamers. On lakes, in particular, an intermediate sinking line is nice to have on a separate spool or reel. Lastly, a fast sinking line is great on deep lakes and rivers where you need to cut through current quickly.

In addition to the main fly line, you’ll need a leader and tippet. Tapered leaders in the 7–9 foot range cover most situations. Adding a length of tippet to the leader will preserve the taper. You’ll ultimately tie the fly to the tippet.

Other Things You’ll Need

A few other items will round out your Trout fishing kit. These things are not all mandatory but they are useful. 

  • A floatant to help dry flies remain buoyant.
  • Split shot to sink nymphs.
  • Nippers to clip your line.
  • Strike indicators for nymph fishing.
  • A landing net to help control and release fish.
  • Forceps to remove hooks from the fish.

Basic Fly Fishing Techniques for Trout

In terms of technique, there are three primary methods of fly fishing for Trout. Each is very different but they all require the same fundamental casting abilities. Learning to read the water and make a great presentation is also critical to Trout angling success. Let’s go through each technique…

Dry Flies

A closeup of a brown-red dry fly, perched on a piece of wood and radiating in the sun, ready to be used for fly fishing

Flies that float on the surface are used to imitate specific adult insects like caddis, mayflies, stoneflies, and more. There are even dry flies designed to imitate mice. Dry fly fishing can combine with nymphing by dropping a section of tippet of the hook shank with a nymph attached. Dry fly fishing is done by casting upstream or up and across while mending to achieve a natural drift.

Nymph Fishing

Nymphing is done with a single fly or two flies fished in tandem. They are fished below the surface where Trout do the majority of their feeding. Strike indicators are great for beginner nymph fishing. The indicator is a float that attaches to your line. It drifts on the surfaces and ducks beneath when a fish eats the nymph. You can also free-hand and feel your flies as they drift, setting the hook when the line tightens.

Streamer Techniques

A closeup of a colorful blue, red, and yellow streamer used for fly fishing for Trout, balanced on the handle of a fishing rod

Streamer flies imitate minnows, crayfish, sculpins, and more. These are beefy food items that give fish calories fast. Many of the biggest Trout are predatory and streamer fishing is the way to catch them. You can cast across a river and let the streamer swing through the current to cover ground. Casting and retrieving with different strip speeds is also effective. Streamer fishing is a more aggressive means of targeting Trout and the strikes are often fast and hard.

Where to Go Trout Fishing

Trout live in a variety of environments. From small ponds to giant lakes, you can chase Trout in a bunch of different places. The primary requirements for a good Trout habitat are cold water with reasonable oxygen availability and food resources. The large majority of Trout are freshwater-dwelling but there are a few saltwater exceptions. I’ll cover them all below:

Lakes

An aerial view of Lake Superior with its beautiful blue water posing against the greenery and shoreline on a bright and sunny day

Stillwater environments produce some of the world’s largest Trout. Small farm ponds, city park ponds, high mountain lakes and even the Great Lakes are big Trout producers. In stillwater environments, food sources like damsel and dragonflies are important. Chironomids and various mayflies also factor into the feeding schedule. Look to lakes around the world for great Trout fishing.

Rivers and Creeks

Three men on a boat on a river, with two casting fly fishing lines into the water as the other man drives on an overcast day
Photo courtesy of Riverside Fly Fishing and Scenic Tours

When you think about iconic Trout fly fishing locations, they’re often rivers. Trout love moving water and you’ll find them in remote mountain streams and more accessible rivers. Wade fishing and boat fishing are great ways to fly fish moving water. The large majority of opportunities exist in river and stream environments.

Saltwater Trout

A closeup of a fly fishing reel on a rod, leaning on the side of a saltwater fishing boat on a sunny day with the water behind it

In a few special places, Trout live in saltwater. Sea-run Cutthroat in the northwestern US is one great example. You can actually catch them close to Seattle, right from the shore. These Cutthroat Trout feed in saltwater bays and move in and out of river systems. 

Steelhead are also a Trout species that spends the majority of their time in oceans. They feed and travel in saltwater, returning to river systems to spawn. Unlike Salmon, they don’t die after spawning and can return to the same rivers for multiple years. Sea-run Brown Trout are also present in South America and a few other locations.

Top Trout Fishing Destinations

Trout are distributed across the globe. You’ll find wonderful fishing everywhere from North America to Europe, Russia, and New Zealand – and back again. The wide distribution and the beautiful places they live make Trout a favorite everywhere. 

United States

A view from land of three anglers wading in the Kenai River on a sunny day, with a mountain and grassy bank visible on the other side

The hardest thing about Trout fishing in the United States is narrowing down the options. The entire country has great fly fishing with Trout on the East Coast, and throughout the Midwest, south, and west

While many anglers jump to the iconic waters of Montana and Colorado, you can also find exceptional fishing in places like Arkansas, New York, Wisconsin, and even Georgia. Of course, a true adventure for some of the best and wildest Trout fishing will ultimately lead you to Alaska

New Zealand

A man in full wading gear standing on the shore of a river near Taupō while fly fishing, with the reflection of the sky and the surrounding trees visible on the water

Both the north and south islands of New Zealand have some of the world’s best Trout fishing. The South Island is famous for rivers with low population densities but very large Trout. Sight fishing with big dry flies is the game here. Plan on walking the river until you spot a fish then proceed to cast and make a presentation. It’s a trophy-stalking paradise.

Patagonia

A lone angler in the bottom left of the image casts their fly fishing line in the pristine waters of a mountain lake in Patagonia on a clear day

In the far reaches of South America, you’ll find the biggest sea-run Brown Trout in the world. The Tierra del Fuego produces these behemoth fish but they are far from the only game in Patagonia. The entire region covers both Argentina and Chile where countless rivers and lakes offer exceptional fly fishing for Trout.  

Canada

An aerial view of Ucluelet at sunset, with green trees visible on land and the waters of the Pacific working their way around it

Like the United States, Canada has Trout distributed across the country. British Columbia has notoriously great fly fishing, and the Rocky Mountains of Alberta do as well. Head to the remote reaches of Newfoundland for some of the largest Brook Trout in the world as well. Canada is absolutely filled with great Trout fishing opportunities with a mix of very remote and road-accessible options.

Are you ready to start fly fishing for Trout?

Two men standing in front of a waterfall and high-fiving each other, while holding fly fishing rods and a net with a fish in it
Photo courtesy of Rotorua Trout Guide

It sounds like a lot to learn but Trout fishing really isn’t all that complicated. Grab a handful of flies and go test the waters. The biggest advantage comes from learning to cast well. Take a lesson or spend some time on a grassy field just casting without a hook attached. With a little practice, you’ll be well on your way to fly fishing success. And in any case, you’re probably not far from an angling hotspot!

If you need more information on Trout varieties, hotspots, and fishing techniques, check out our Trout Fishing Guide.

Have you recently learned to fly fish for Trout? Maybe you’re a more experienced angler? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Author profile picture

Zach Lazzari is a freelance outdoor writer, full-time traveler, and adventurer. He drove the Pan American Highway, chasing fish and whitewater across 13 countries, and continues pushing the limits of travel, fishing, whitewater, and hunting. Follow his travels at the Busted Oarlock.

Comments (2)

Lance Glaser

Oct 21, 2023

Not a bad article! Good information and not a over load.
I am a fishing guide, all my life. Been a fly guide for over 30 years now
Thought you did well!!
I live in Breckenridge but have fished and guide worldwide. Keep fly fishing simple! Thanks
Captain Lance Glaser

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    Marko

    Oct 23, 2023

    Hi Capt. Lance,

    Marko here with FishingBooker. Thanks a lot for taking the time to comment, it’s great to hear you enjoyed the article considering your rich experience.

    And while I haven’t had a chance to visit yet, I’ve heard Park County has stellar Trout fishing!

    Tight lines,

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