Rainbow trout are what get many anglers into fly fishing. These fish are beautiful, amazing fighters and often live in some of the most beautiful places on earth. My first trip out west was to the Crazy Mountains in Montana and I had my first shot at some of these fish. Their beauty hooked me into targeting them every chance I can get.

Big Rainbow Trout on Flies
Big Rainbow Trout on Flies

The Biggest Rainbow Trout in the World (According to IGFA)

The largest rainbow trout was caught in September 2009 in Lake Diefenbaker. This lake is located in Southern Saskatchewan and still is a very productive rainbow trout fishery. New Zealand and Canada are traditionally home to some monstrous trout so it’s no surprise that the world record was found in Canada.

The all-time length record was caught in 2019 in Twizel Canal in New Zealand. This 34-inch trout offered over a 20-minute fight. 

You can read more about this record fish at the International Game Fish Association.

A Little Bit About Rainbow Trout

Anadromous rainbow trout, also known as Steelhead, are perhaps the most prized possession of the rainbow trout family. These fish are known as the fish of 10,000 casts and rightfully so. These sea run rainbow trout can grow to be incredibly large and make you work for them.

You can’t go wrong targeting a native rainbow in a mountain stream or a steelhead in a powerful coastal river.

Where Can I Find World Record Rainbow Trout?

1. Lake Diefenbaker Saskatchewan, Canada – Home to Monster Rainbows

Lake Diefenbaker is nearly 140 miles long and offers anglers nearly 500 miles of shoreline. Large rainbow trout still cruise these waters along with almost a dozen other species. You have the option of fishing this lake from a boat or along the shore. Bring along a 6 or 7-weight to fish this lake. Also, it’s important to have a couple reels with both floating and sinking line depending on where the fish are feeding.

Egg sucking leeches, clouser minnows, woolly buggers and crayfish patterns are all streamers that you should have in your bag. Also, bring Elk Hair Caddis as well as Griffith’s Gnat flies. These will work well when the fish are searching for food along the surface.

Fly fishing in lakes requires quite a bit of patience and work. You’re going to need to do your fair share of assessing before you start making casts! Spend your time fishing earlier in the mornings and throughout the evenings.

Link: https://goo.gl/maps/HAyqZJQ5amRyC4RN6


2. Bulkley River, British Columbia – Big Water Rainbow Trout

The Bulkley River in BC is world renown for Steelhead (sea-run rainbow trout). They have one of the largest runs in the world there are few better places in the world for anyone interested in landing a trophy steelhead. Some of the most fishable water starts in Houston stretching to New Hazelton.

Take along your 7 or 8-weight rod when you’re fishing the Bulkely. One of the best parts of this river is that the Steelhead are extremely aggressive. They don’t only feed on the bottom. They’re more than willing to smash flies that are sitting on the surface. This isn’t something commonly found when targeting Steelhead.

You’ll find this fish anywhere between 5 and 30 pounds. Bring along the Egg Sucking Leeches, Deceiver Patterns as well as Skater dry patterns. Visit the Bulkley anywhere between August and November and you’ll have a great chance at landing a fish! There are few waters as productive as this.

Link: https://goo.gl/maps/PLAPLUA2WCzivavt5


3. Pere Marquette River, Michigan – My Big Secret

The Pere Marquette in Western Michigan is one of the more productive fly fishing rivers in the United States. You have access to steelhead, brown trout as well as salmon while fishing the Pere Marquette. The Michigan DNR has done its best to protect this river and the fish within in.

I’ve written about this river in my article Best Places to Fly Fish in Michigan. You might even catch me floating this river in the early spring chasing steelhead.

You’ll find that dry flies are the most productive patterns from late-May through early-July. Any sort of Hendrickson, Drake or Stonefly is going to land you quite a few fish. The larger fish love the dry Stoneflies. Many anglers spend the majority of their time in Gleason’s Landing. The deep pools through this section hold massive Steelhead!

Fly Fish for Steelhead
Fly Fish for Steelhead

If you’re targeting steelhead, don’t be afraid to swing your fly patterns throughout the deeper moving water. A dead drift is also a smart option if you aren’t finding the swinging technique to be too productive. Prince nymphs, eggs and Stonefly nymphs can be productive patterns when looking for those Steelhead in the spring. Bring that 7-weight!

Link: https://goo.gl/maps/HkX9m4oxUCiVYgjU7


4. Umpqua River, Oregon – Huge Runs of Huge Fish

The Umpqua is one of the best steelhead rivers on the west coast. It’s a staple in west coast fly fishing and some new steelhead techniques have been developed on these waters. Somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 steelhead return to these waters every year! Between December and April are going to be the most productive months.

Big Rainbow Trout in the Umpqua River
Big Rainbow Trout in the Umpqua River

You have the opportunity to wade and float this river, but you’re going to have more access at fish when you float this water. Bring along the 7 or 8-weight and your fair share of egg patterns. Also, Skunks and Muddlers will land you quite a few fish.

Oregon is filled with great places to fish. Find out where to go in this article: Best Places to Fly Fish in Oregon

You’re going to have to work for fish on the Umpqua, but as long as you’re up for the challenge, you have a chance at landing a 20-pound fish.

Here is a link: https://goo.gl/maps/QEMQs1a7UpsEuSZB9


5. Rapid Creek, SD – Cold Clear Waters

Rapid Creek in the Black Hills of South Dakota is a pure rainbow trout fishery. The extremely cold and clear water give anglers a chance to sight fish for these beautiful fish. You can find rainbows upwards of 20 inches swimming throughout these waters. Anglers throughout the Black Hills have worked extremely hard to preserve this water.

Are you looking for more places to fly fish in South Dakota? I’ve got a monster article that details where to go and how to catch big trout on a fly rod. Best Place to Fly Fish in South Dakota

The section below the Pactola Reservoir is located entirely on National Forest land so access is simple, and you can hike back for miles in search of fish. If you have some extra time in your hands, you can easily spend a few days on this water.

Bring Caddis, Pheasant Tail Nymphs as well as Prince Nymphs when fishing the water. If you find a pool, don’t be afraid to run a Woolly Bugger through it.

Link: https://goo.gl/maps/9TfaipLgeCYLNXwT8


Big Rainbow Trout in the News

Steelhead are being found in record numbers throughout the Great Lakes region. A productive past few years have offered encouragement to many diehard anglers!

Read about the fishing reports at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. They list the regulations, provide fishing reports and are a great resource when looking for rainbow trout.

Techniques for Finding Monster Rainbow Trout Close to Home

Rainbow trout are some of the most commonly stocked fish throughout the United States. If you have a local trout pond near you, odds are it’s stocked with some rainbows. To find local trout waters, make sure you visit your states’ Department of Natural Resources page.

On the website you’ll find maps of trout streams as well as stocking reports so you can be up to date on exactly where the fish can be found!

Tips for Catching Big Rainbow Trout on a Fly Rod

When you’re looking to catch these fish, it’s important that you match the hatch as best you can! While rainbow trout aren’t always picky, you need to be careful with your fly choice. These fish want to eat something they know is in the water!

Big Rainbow on a Fly Rod
Big Rainbow on a Fly Rod

Also, don’t live and die by one fly. There are days that will require quite a few different techniques to land fish. Despite the challenges they present, you will find a way to land some of these fish!

Favorite Rainbow Trout Fly Fishing Technique

Whether I’m targeting large steelhead or rainbows, I love to swing my flies. This technique takes patience and a willingness to get skunked, but I’ve caught my largest fish this way. Making accurate mends as the fly drifts downstream is going to ensure an accurate swing. Let your fly lead the way and try and keep as much drag out of the water as you can.

Favorite Flies for Rainbow Trout

If I’m targeting Steelhead, Egg patterns as well as Deceiver patterns are my favorite. They cause the steelhead to strike! If I’m in search of non-anadromous rainbow trout, then I’ll make sure to bring Elk Hair Caddis, Pheasant Tails as well as Woolly Buggers.

Flies for Rainbow Trout
Flies for Rainbow Trout

Where to Find Big Rainbow Trout in a Lake or River

When you’re searching for rainbows, make sure you spend time looking in the pools, under the cut banks as well as through the riffles. They’re similar to other fish in the sense that they don’t want to be exposed for longer than necessary. Find the fishy looking spots and they’ll be there.

Get Out and Cast a Fly to some Rainbow Trout

Rainbow trout give anglers an opportunity to test their full arsenal. Since you can target them all over the country and in a variety of circumstances, you’ll never grow tired of targeting these fish. Stay patient and you’ll find yourself with a chance at a double-digit trophy!


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Hi David Humphries Owner of Guide Recommended. I love everything to do with fly fishing. Casting, Tying, YouTube, writing about it and even teaching. I’ve got a FREE video workshop teaching how to dry fly fish at this link How 2 Fly Fish