I’m often asked what my “favorite” fly pattern is for rainbow trout. I’m sure many fly anglers have their favorites, but for me there is no single one that is of the most importance. Instead, there are several flies that I like to use depending on the circumstances.
While there are some anglers in the fly fishing fraternity that claim they only use dry flies and scoff at those of us that will also use flies that are submerged, the fact is that a fish’s diet comprises of over 90% aquatic food below the surface. Therefore, the dry fly “purist” is missing out on a lot of fish catching opportunities!
As far as dry flies, the Tom Thumb patterns can be very effective for rainbow trout both on rivers and when stillwater fly fishing. The Tom Thumb can imitate a number of hatching insects including caddis. and large mayflies. Tied in a very small version, it can imitate hatching chironomids as well. One of the nice things about this fly is that it is one of the easiest dry flies to tie, especially for the beginner.
There are a number of fly patterns that I have success with that are submersed below the surface. As far as nymph patterns, it’s hard to beat the Muncher Nymph. Originally developed and created by the world renowned Canadian fly tyer,Ian James, this nymph is very successful in a number of situations, including rivers, streams and lakes. Not only will it take rainbow trout, many a smallmouth bass, brown trout, and crappie have been brought to the net while using this fly.
Often overlooked by fly anglers but a very important food source for rainbow trout are chironomids. Hatching from an egg, chironomids can spend up to 2 years in the water in the larva and pupa stage before reaching the surface and hatching into midges. All fly anglers should become familiar with chironomids, and learn to fish them, especially on stillwater.
Chironomids, in order to be successful should be fished extremely slow and various depths should be experimented with. They fly angler should learn a variety of fly fishing techniques for greater success.
Not only are chironomids a very effective imitation, they are generally very easy to tie for the beginner fly tier too. Most chironomid patterns are very sparse and thin and can be tied in minutes. In nature, there are a variety of colors and the tier should keep this mind.
Rainbow trout don’t just consume insect life at various stages, but also will prey on other fish, spawn, crayfish and leech like animals. Some of the most effective patterns, especially in the spring and fall are leeches including patterns such as the Egg Sucking Leech. One of my favorites is a version tied up by Ernie Kalwa which uses black or white rabbit strip. As well, the Viva Zonker can be a terrifically effective leech pattern when others don’t seem to be getting the attention of the trout.
For imitating small fish that rainbow trout prey upon, there are a number of streamer patterns which are effective. One of my favorites that has worked well in both Eastern and Western Canada as well as Northern Ireland is The Malteser, a fly made from the hair of a Maltese dog!
If you are targeting rainbow trout, it’s a good idea to be familiar with a variety of fly patterns and learn the techniques to fish them correctly.