Categories

 Loading... Please wait...
Menu

Blog

Trout smart Series: Rainbow Trout

A rosy cheeked rainbow caught by Nate K.

The grainy footage was captured on our family’s shoulder-mounted Panasonic Camcorder, technology so old that its probably come back into style with the kids wearing tight jeans and ironic mustaches. Hopping next to a pond on that Smoky Mountain morning, a towheaded kid fills the frame as he struggles to hold onto his 10’ cane pole and what was assuredly the biggest catch of his young life. With a final heave, a confused and defeated rainbow trout was hoisted into the air and displayed to the camera. The pride and excitement of that moment echos through the years, and was the spark that lit my love for trout and passion for fishing. My guess is that this story may have resonated with many of you, bringing you back to the ponds and creeks of your youth and your first trout: the beloved and always eager rainbow trout.

In Part II of our Trout Smart series, we will be breaking down a familiar friend, the most abundant of North American trout: Oncorhynchus mykiss, the Rainbow Trout.

Identifying Characteristics:

Like a trendy new version of “riverbed camo” seen in the pages of the Cabela’s catalog, the heavily spotted back, tail, dorsal, and adipose fins of the rainbow trout help it to blend into the rocks and gravel over which they swim. Often mistaken for a softly swaying aquatic plant or clump of algae when viewed from above, it can be the white flash of their mouths opening to take a bit of drifting food that gives them away. When finally netted and brought to hand, you will see the distinctive pink or red stripe running the length of their side and cheek, the defining characteristic from which this trout species gained its rainbow moniker.

Range & Habitat:

Due to this species’ hardiness, their ability to survive in a wide range of water temperatures (they are able to survive in water temperatures up to 77° F), and the ease of raising them in a hatchery setting, Rainbow trout are the most abundant and heavily-stocked trout species in the United States. Found in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, Rainbow trout can be aptly compared to cattle raised in factory feedlots. Hatchery grown rainbows are raised for size, and are for the most part sterile (the rationale being that in sterilizing hatchery fish, this will protect the genetics of wild fish and enable these cattle of the aquatic world to focus their energy on growing big, fast!). Equally adept at surviving and thriving in both lakes and rivers, the habitat preference of the rainbow make them relatively easy to approach and catch on a fly. Driven by the desire for high calorie foods and lots of it, rainbow trout favor riffles and don’t mind wandering far away from the large cover and deep pools that Brown and Brook trout prefer.

Feeding Behavior & Foods:

Aquatic insects make up the lion’s share of the rainbow trout’s diet throughout its life. Midges, mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies each take their turn at the top of the menu, while terrestrial insects, minnows, and crayfish act more like appetizers and enter the diet of larger trout around age three. When looking at stomach samples of rainbow trout, it is common to find small bits of algae and aquatic plants which are consumed in the trout’s pursuit of sheltering invertebrates. Accused of thinking with their stomach more than their heads, rainbow trout feed with less caution than other species, and individual fish can often be hooked several times per day. When hooked, rainbow trout employ a couple of tactics. When your fly bites back, rainbows will often head for fast current, using their body like a parachute to harness the power of the river and apply maximum pressure to your leader. Their other trick is to go airborne, leaving the water like an ICBM launched from a submarine. This quick quick change in direction and explosive movement creates a quick, line-snapping force and has set more trout free than your state’s department of wildlife!

Vulnerabilities:

  1. They think with their stomachs - Given a decent approach & drift as well as some smarts in the matching-the-hatch department, you should be able to tempt almost any rainbow into snapping at your flies. With a short memory for the pain of previous hooks and an insatiable desire to feed, add a little flash in your fly patterns by using metal beads, wire wraps, or shiny material; like a moth drawn to a flame, the rainbows in the river will give your fly a taste.
  2. Proven responses for predictable tactics - Rainbow trout don’t have many moves when it comes to getting off the line, and the angler has a proven playbook for countering these moves. When the trout runs into current, drop your rod tip parallel with your bank and apply a steady, even pressure using the entire length of your rod. The added sting of this pressure will cause the rainbow to relent and work its way back to your bank and move upstream to lessen the bite of the hook. When the trout jumps, we momentarily release the pressure on our leader by dipping the tip of our rod to the water, before reestablishing a low rod and steady side-pressure once the trout reenters the water.
  3. They like em’ sunny-side-up - Like all trout, when there are fish eggs in the water, rainbows lose their little fishy minds! While not above poaching the eggs of other rainbows (Egg Puns!), they will also aggressively feed on sucker eggs in the spring, and brown or brook trout eggs in the fall. Eggs fill their dreams, so when the spawn is on, drop egg patterns!

View Comments


How to Organize Your Fly Box - A Lesson from Mother Nature

The question was first voiced several hundred years ago when the grandfather of fly fishing pulled the first roughly-tied fly from the jaws of his primitive vice and mused, “Now what is this fly supposed to imitate and when should I fish it?” Echoing across the centuries, this same question can still be heard [...]

Read More


Trout Smart Series: Brook Trout

It was a beautiful day on the lake. The kids were splashing happily in the shallows while dad lazily cast a dry fly from the dock with a cold beer close at hand. Little did they know that there was a menace lurking just beneath the surface of the water. Beady little eyes [...]

Read More


Join Ascent Fly Fishing, Denver Outfitters, & Crazy Mountain Brewing in for our October Pop-up Fly Shop!

We are excited to announce that Ascent Fly Fishing will be partnering with Denver Outfitters and Crazy Mountain Brewing in October for our Monthly Pop-up Fly Shop! Makers of the Fly Fishing Rod Vault (formerly Titan Rod Vaults), car top popup camper, and now a whole line of cool fly fishing apparel and hats, Denver [...]

Read More


Trout Smart Series: Brown Trout

Photo by Mark Jessop of Troutfin Studio“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of 100 battles…” Sun Tzu, The Art of WarWhat is fly fishing if not a childlike game of war? We maneuver and position, count off our successful campaigns in [...]

Read More


They Need to See it to Eat it - Fly Selection Based on Water Color & Clarity

(This article follows up the previous article titled “Do You See What I See”, published in April of 2014. For an introduction to understanding and exploiting trout vision, take a moment and check out the previous article at http://ascentflyfishing.com/blog/do-you-see-what-i-see/)The world of trout is constantly changing from month to month, and sometimes even from hour to [...]

Read More


The 5 Steps to Choosing the Best Fly Pattern

(This article is a follow up to a previous article titled “Take a Moment and PAUSE” published first in July of 2016 and describing the 5 places around and in the river to identify what foods trout are most likely eating. If you haven’t read that article, take a moment to do so on [...]

Read More


Czech Nymphing: Simple, Responsive, & Deadly

Photo taken by Mark Jessop of Troutfin StudiosOften times, the angler who catches the most fish is the one who can best detect and swiftly respond to the lightning quick strikes or subtle takes of trout as they sip a passing fly from the current. The trout we pursue on the fly are a [...]

Read More


Investing in the Future of Trout

“No man steps into the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.” Heraclitus 535 – 475 BC It is a quote that both excites and haunts me. Read one way, this quote can speak to the life-transforming power of the [...]

Read More


The Geometry of Landing Big Fish: Part II

Tying into a big trout can be like jumping out of the gates on the back of a rodeo bull. White knuckles wrap around the cork of our rod as we hold on for dear life as the battle commences. Sown into every fiber of the trout’s body and reinforced over thousands of [...]

Read More


Back to Top