How to Catch Rainbow Trout

Disclosure: This article may contain Amazon affiliate links. I receive a commission from products purchased at through my links at no extra cost to you. Reviews on reflect my actual testing and opinion of the products reviewed.

Catching rainbow trout depends on using a strategy that’s appropriate for the kind of water you’re fishing in. This article covers how to catch trout in a river, lake or reservoir, and pond.  You don’t need a lot of gear, just the right gear for where you’re fishing. Catching rainbow trout can be easy with the right tips.

I recently fished a small pond for trout. There were other people already there. They hadn’t caught anything. I set up one pole and within ten minutes I had caught my limit of trout. It wasn’t because I was lucky. I caught trout because I used the best lure for that pond on that particular day. Catching rainbow trout can be easy if you have the right strategy.

Lures that Catch Rainbow Trout

Two Basic Kinds of Trout Lures

The amount of lures available makes choosing a complicated matter. But it doesn’t have to be confusing. You don’t need a lot of lures.

Rainbow trout are curious fish and are open to eating most anything. They are only fussy about the size or the action of a lure. Here’s a simple way to choose a lure. Stop thinking of all the different lures to choose from and think about what kind of lure it is. There are only two kinds of trout lures:

  • Lures that move
  • Lures that stay in one place

Focus on the Size and Action of Your Trout Lure

Lures That Move

Lures that move look like food that is swimming. Their wiggling action makes them look like they are fleeing. Their size and action tempt the trout to give chase. Lures that move trigger a chase response.

A chase response is like what happens when someone places a slice of pizza in front of a kid. Most kids will pick up the slice and eat it, even if they’re not hungry. That’s what trout are doing when they chase your lure around a lake or a river.

Lures that Stay in Place

Lures that stay in one place represent an easy to catch meal. They should generally have some movement, even if the lure stays in one spot.

Trout dough appeals to a rainbow trout’s sense of smell and their curiosity. The current will move it around, too.  The shape and texture of trout dough represents trout pellets.

The wiggling motion of artificial worms trick rainbow trout into believing they are alive. The wiggling of the worm is the action. A worm that’s three inches long is a bonanza to a trout and hard for them to pass up. Size and action work together to trick the trout.

When you get to a lake you’ll be making a choice between these two kinds of lures. Some people only fish lures that move or lures that stay in place. That’s not the best way to fish.

In most states it’s legal to use two poles. So I do both and set up one pole for a lure that doesn’t move. Then I rig up a spoon to cast around in a different spot.  If the trout are nearby I won’t have time to use the spoon. The floating worms often do the trick within minutes.

But if I’m not in any hurry and want to relax I’ll set up two poles rigged with lures that don’t move. Nothing wrong with relaxing, right?

Rainbow Trout

How to Catch Freshly Stocked Rainbow Trout

Stocked Trout Behavior

Freshly stocked trout are used to living in a confined space. Trout tanks have about two feet of water. Their typical behavior is to swim in circles, usually counter clockwise.

When rainbow trout are stocked they will remain in a tight school for the first day or two. They will swim out together in a school and begin swimming in a circular pattern.

Find Out Where the Trout are Planted

Knowing the exact spot that trout are planted is important. If you’re fishing at a reservoir or a state park, ask at the park ranger’s office. They usually will tell you. They just won’t tell you when the next planting will happen.

Even if they don’t tell you where the planting takes place, the location is easy to guess. Usually there is a road big enough to accommodate a truck.

Follow this road to an obvious spot near the water. Sometimes it’s a boat loading ramp. If there’s no road, then the spot you’re looking for is near the lake entrance. The key is that it must be accessible to a trout truck.

If you know that trout have recently been stocked, start fishing near that spot. In a small pond you can fish across from the spot or alongside it. There’s a good chance the trout will still be nearby swimming together in a school.

Lures for Freshly Stocked Rainbow Trout

Recently stocked trout will readily bite a plastic worm or a minnow shaped soft bait. The best presentation is to move it around. One way to do it is with a dropshot presentation. I prefer to use a split shot about six to eight inches above the lure and swim them back.

Soft plastic lures that are about two inches to three inches long work best. Lures like Trout Magnets and PowerBait Floating Mice Tails are ideal. I’ve also had success using small soft bait designed for a fish called crappie. Crappie lures work great for catching stocked trout.

Most any artificial soft bait like artificial trout worms will work. Here are three ways to catch freshly stocked trout:

  1. Drop-shot the lures
  2. Tie them to a bait hook with a split shot about six to eighteen inches above the hook
  3. Put them on a jig hook and cast directly head of the pod of rainbow trout.

You’ll catch a trout with almost every cast!

It takes a couple days before they spread out to the other parts of the lake, pond or river. After a few weeks they begin to lurk in smaller groups or by themselves. So if you don’t see them swimming in a tight group then that means they have spread out.
Read: How to Catch Stocked Trout

Catching Trout in Rivers

The key to fishing moving water is that your lure has to drift. Trout usually orient themselves to look upstream. So you’re usually drifting lures down to them. The typical method is to cast upstream then allow the current to drift the lure to where the trout are resting. Success depends on visualizing where the trout are going to be. It’s best to identify the spots likely to hold trout then cast beyond that spot and let it drift to the trout.

Trout Hide Near River Structure

Rainbow trout like to rest near the bottom or along the sides of a river. They like to hide behind or around boulders.  Anything that breaks up the flow of the river is a potential trout hiding spot.

Fish Where a River Narrows

Rainbow trout like it when the current digs out a deeper bowl. These deeper parts happen where the river becomes narrower. The force of the water digs a deeper seam right in the center. Trout rest in those spots, eating the food as it passes above them.

Catch Trout Near River Bridges

Bridges are good spots to fish for trout. If there’s a bridge, trout will usually be holding underneath it and down current. Sometimes there’s a deep spot just down current from the bridge. This deep spot can be ten to twenty feet away from .

Structure can be a boulder, a tree or even plants. Structure can also be a bowl or gouge carved out by swift current in the bottom of the river.  Trout can lay in a that gouged hole while avoiding the rougher current.

Another important piece of structure that trout enjoy are undercuts in the banks. An undercut is like a mini-cave gouged out beneath the bank of a river. These places where trout are resting are called lies.

How to Catch River Trout with a Lure

The first step to catching trout in a river is to guess where you believe the trout are resting. Sometimes you can see them. But most times  you can’t.

The second step is to cast your lure upstream above the spot where you believe the trout is. Your lure should then drift down to where the trout is waiting. This technique is almost guaranteed to catch rainbow trout.

For fishing a slow moving river you can hardly go wrong with an unweighted grub or worm. This is where an ultralight fishing pole is  useful. An ultralight fishing pole can cast a light lure.

Two to four pound test fishing line is ideal for casting ultralight lures.   Two pound test can be tricky to cast in wind. If you’re new to fishing or it’s windy, try four pound test on your ultralight rod.

That method won’t work on a windy day. To make it work you’ll have to switch to six pound test and add enough split shot or other weight. Add the least amount of weight that you can get away with.  Too much weight will ruin the drift by making it look unnatural.

Trout Like Bait that Drifts Slowly

The key to making this work is to use as little weight as possible. This is very important. Too much weight will sink the lure too fast and make your bait drag along the bottom. Rainbow trout don’t like that presentation. It looks too unnatural.

Rainbow trout chase bait that has a slow and easy drift. Think of how a feather floats through the air.  They expect bait to drift a similar way just as you expect a feather to float a certain way. Diverge from this expectation and the trout will reject your lure or bait. Too much weight will drag your lure or bait. That’s not natural. Use as little weight as you can, especially in a slow moving river.

Earlier this year I cast a worm out into a shallow slow moving river with just a small split shot. I actually saw a trout dart out at each cast, inspect the worm then reject it. On the fifth cast I removed the split shot and cast the worm out. The worm had a natural drift and the trout eagerly devoured it, no hesitation. Achieving a natural drift is super important.

Understanding that your bait must drift in a natural way will help you catch trout. This is an important factor to understand when fishing in rivers.

How to Catch Trout in Lakes

In lakes you have your choice of trolling, kayaking or casting from the bank. Whichever method you choose, your choice of lures is going to be much the same. You can use live bait, soft bait, or hard bait. The choices are wide open. But some choices are better than others.

Whether on a kayak or on the shore, I prefer using PowerBait floating mice tails. But when fish are actively feeding it’s hard to beat a spoon or an inline spinner.

Read: How to Catch Trout in Lakes

How to Catch Rainbow Trout in Ponds

All the lures used in lakes are applicable in ponds. A difference is that you may wish to downsize your lures.

If you use a 1/4 ounce lure in a lake, 1/8 ounce size might work better. I like to downsize my spoons, inline spinners and soft baits when fishing a pond. But like anything else in fishing, it’s ok to break the rules.

General Rules for Catching Rainbow Trout

Be Stealthy When Fishing for Trout

You may also consider being more stealthy. Trout can see and feel your movement. Try not to stomp around and if possible, step back from the water’s edge. Keeping a low profile is useful in small ponds. Spook a trout and it will stop feeding for approximately fifteen minutes.

Don’t Bring Too Much Gear

An important tip is to not overload yourself with tackle boxes when you go fishing. Always bring the least amount of tackle to make it easier to move from spot to spot. If you need more than one bag to carry your gear, then you’re carrying too much.

Rainbow Trout Lures

Below is a list of top three lures for catching rainbow trout. I’ve arranged the list according to the body of water and the appropriate lure.

For each category type I have only listed the top three. My advice is to choose two different kinds of lures and stick with those when you go out fishing. But feel free to bring as many different kinds of lures if you want.Top Lures for Catching Trout in Rivers

Trout Spoons

  • Little Cleos
  • Thomas Lures Buoyant
  • Luhr-Jensen Super Duper
  • Kastmaster

Hard Lures/Stick Baits

  • HD Trout
  • Rapala Husky Jerk
  • Rapala X-Rap
  • Rapala Count Down Minnow
  • Yo-Zuri Pins Minnow
Rapala Countdown Minnow for Trout

Rapala Countdown Minnow Lure for Catching Trout


Soft Lures for Trout

  • PowerBait Floating Mice Tails
  • Leland Trout Magnets
  • Berkley Gulp! Minnow
  • Tube Baits
Tube Baits for Catching Trout

Tube Baits for Catching Trout

Inline Spinners

  • Panther-Martin Original Spinners
  • Mepps Aglia
  • Worden’s Rooster Tails

Lures for Catching Trout in Lakes

Spoons, Casting

  • Kastmasters
  • Little Cleos
  • Thomas Buoyant Spoon

Spoons, Trolling

  • Kastmaster
  • Mepps Little Wolf
  • Dick-Nite Spoons 50/50 Color

Stick Baits for Trout, Casting

  • Dynamic Lures HD Trout
  • Rapala X-Rap
  • Rapala X-Rap CountDown

Hard Lures, Trolling for Trout

  • Rapala Husky Jerk
  • Dynamic Lures HD Trout
  • Rapala Original Floating Minnow

Soft Lures, Casting

  • Berkley PowerBait Floating Mice Tails
  • Berkley Gulp! Minnow
  • Big Bite Bait’s Crappie Minnr

Soft Lures, Trolling

  • Kalin’s Crappie Scrub 1-3/4″
  • Mister Twister Meeny (Chartreuse/Orange Core)
  • Keitech Easy Shiner Swimbait 2″ to 3″

Inline Spinners

  • Panther-Martin Original Spinners
  • Mepps Aglia
  • Worden’s Rooster Tails

Best Lures for Catching Trout in Ponds


  • Little Cleos
  • Kastmaster
  • Luhr-Jensen Super Duper

Hard Lures/Stick Baits

  • HD Trout
  • Rapala X-Rap
  • Yo-Zuri Pins Minnow

Soft Lures

  • Kalin’s Crappie Scrub 1-3/4″
  • Berkley Gulp! Minnow
  • Tube Baits

Inline Spinners

  • Panther-Martin Original Spinners
  • Mepps Aglia
  • Worden’s Rooster Tails
Disclosure: This article may contain Amazon affiliate links. I receive a commission from products purchased at through my links at no extra cost to you. Reviews on reflect my actual testing and opinion of the products reviewed.
Filed in: Trout Fishing

4 Comments on "How to Catch Rainbow Trout"

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  1. Ronald Schavemaker says:

    Thanks for your tips, I will try them soon and let you know!

    • Baitsoaker says:

      You’re welcome! Be sure to subscribe to the newsletter. It will notify you of new articles as they are published. Useful information and that’s all. 😉

  2. Jery says:

    Do you have any suggestions for what to do with the fish after you catch them? What is the best stringer? Keeping them fresh? Perhaps alive? What device is best to store the fish alive while you fish? thanks

    • Baitsoaker says:

      It’s best to bring one of those small six-can soft sided coolers with a bag of ice in it and a separate bag (like a small plastic garbage bag) for the fish so that the cooler stays clean.
      Imo, it’s more humane to kill the fish with a strong whack to the head. I usually bring a 12 inch section of broom handle for this purpose.
      Fish taste best when you kill them with a strong whack to the head, then bleed them by cutting their gills. Always kill them first before bleeding them, to be respectful and humane.

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