Can you FLY FISH in the Rain? Plus 5 Tips for More Trout

If Luke Bryan taught us anything in his 2010 his country song, it’s that “Rain is a Good Thing”. According to Mr. Bryan, rain wets the dirt roads for mudding, makes the corn grow and also helps women fall into his arms.

Can You Fly Fishing in the Rain?

YES – most definitely you can fly fish in the rain. Those rain drops rippling the surface are like camouflage, the biggest wisest trout know it’s safe to come out because those natural predators will have a tough time seeing. As a bonus lots of food gets washed into the water during a rain.

For the rest of us, rain can be a bit of a pest. It can ruin a solid weekend plan or cancel an anticipated sporting event. When it comes to anglers and rain, there are mixed opinions. It can drive some off the water, but also bring the hardcore anglers out in hopes of landing a giant.

Fly Fishing for Trout in the RAIN
Fly Fishing for Trout in the RAIN

Anyone who has targeted bass or walleye can attest that they become very active before a weather arrives. There is a sweet spot right before the storm hits where the fish go into a feeding frenzy.

Most fly anglers are used to getting wet. They stand in the water for better casting angles and to present the most realistic drift possible. What’s a little rain going to do to us? Stay on the water for a little longer during a rain storm and chances are you will be pleasantly surprised.

Do Trout Bite Better in the Rain?

This is a bit of a loaded question. Like most fish, trout bite more frequently in lower light. Whether it’s dawn, dusk or the sun is stuck behind clouds, you’re going to have more luck in lower light. Combine lower light because of the rain clouds with muddier water and the possibility of catching fish is high. In the midst of a rain storm, fishing can still be successful.

Catching Trout in the Rain Fly Fishing
Catching Trout in the Rain Fly Fishing

Trout will be more willing to fall for different patterns and drifts when it is raining. It’s important to be experimental in the rain. The senses of the fish are on overload so take some chances with different fly patterns or locations. Trout will absolutely bite in the rain, so don’t shy away!

What Kinds of Flies Should I Use in the Rain?

Rain washes all sorts of things into the river. Fish receive more food as a result and the stream levels also increase. The beauty of rain is it allows anglers more freedom with their fly choice. You can fish anything from dry patterns to deep diving nymphs.

When the rain first begins, it’s best to choose dry patterns. The hatches will continue to go on as planned and the water isn’t going to be too cloudy. It’s not uncommon for the rain to wash bigger insects into the water during the early parts of the storm.

Large hopper and beetle patterns can lead to some awesome strikes in the midst of the rain. Any sort of terrestrial pattern is going to find fish. It’s an added bonus seeing a trout strike the surface in the rain. Pay close attention to your fly because the action on the water can be distracting.

Beetle Fly Pattern for Fishing in Rain
Beetle Fly Pattern for Fishing in Rain

The larger fish aren’t going to make as much of a scene when they strike so be ready for that strip set. As soon as that fish is on, most of us forget it’s raining and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

If you choose to go out after it’s been raining for a few hours, be prepared for trial and error. The water levels are going to continue to rise and water will be even more cloudy. This drives the fish deeper so heavier nymphs or streamers are going to be more successful. The more the water rises, the faster the current will be and finding the perfect drift is even more of a challenge.

Keep as much line out of the water and let the heavier flies do the work. Anything with a beadhead is going to be necessary. If you enjoy tying your own flies, go ahead and tie some with the weighted eyes. They do a great job of imitating bait fish and are heavy enough to get to the bottom even in fast moving water.

Crayfish Fly for Fly Fishing in the Rain
Crayfish Fly for Fly Fishing in the Rain

If you choose to fish a smaller bead head nymph, you may have to tie on a split shot to ensure it gets into those deeper pools. Pheasant tail nymphs, woolly buggers, Tungsten Jig Bugger’s, Crayfish patterns, etc, are all going to create the havoc that you would like.

The darker patterns are going to be better. The cloudier the water, the darker the pattern! This is a good rule to live by no matter what type of fishing you enjoy. Anglers don’t necessarily have to fish bigger fly patterns in the rain. The most important facet of it all is being sure that the fly gets to the proper depth at the bottom of the pools!

Choice of flies just after the rain is fairly straightforward. Find the biggest and meanest pattern you have and toss it in. Size 2-8 hooks with dark patterns tied on are going to be a great bet. Again, the minnow patterns, crayfish patterns and others that can be dead drifted through the water are going to help.

Be prepared on the swing! Be sure not to pull the fly out of the water early. If a trout is hiding up against the bank in the slower water, let the fly swing out away towards the middle and wait for the strike. It’s extremely satisfying!

Is Fly Fishing Better Before or After the Rain?

Read any fishing forum and you’ll find different answers to this question. Folks will swear by fishing before the storm and others will opt for trying their hand after a rain shower. The low pressure system puts less pressure on the fish.

Therefore, fish will feed before a rainstorm. The flies will still hatch and fish will be willing to hit on the surface! If you prefer dry fly fishing, go ahead and go before the showers come.

Fish will also not be shy about hitting after a shower. The water draining off the banks will carry more insects and food into the streams. The fish will also hang out by the surface at this point so fishing bigger dry patterns or quickly stripping streamers is going to work.

What are the best weather conditions to catch?

The best weather conditions are the ones that are going to keep you as hidden as possible. Trout are easily spooked and will hide from shadows as soon as they’re seen. Some of the Blue Ribbon trout streams across the country happen to be extremely clear water full of spooky fish. Therefore, if you try and tackle any of these streams, be sure to follow these tips!

Rule number one: avoid extreme temperatures. If it’s the heat of the summer and temperatures have been extremely high, fishing is going to be tough. The fish will be less active and content hiding as deep as possible in the cooler water. They aren’t going to get as flustered by a large streamer in their face. It may take several perfect casts through a pool for the fish to take the bait.

The same goes for winter fishing. If it’s been a stretch of extreme cold, the fish are going to be less willing to feed. Fish are cold blooded creatures so they struggle with regulating their body temperatures like any of the warm blooded animals.

Fly Fishing in the Winter
Fly Fishing in the Winter

Most of the bites in the winter are fairly weak in general so indicators are always necessary in the winter. Watch for the quick dive under the water and be quick on the strip set. It’s a great way to shake off the rust and get ready for the spring.

Fishing early in the morning is always going to be successful. As the sun rises, water temperatures will continue to warm up and the fish are more than happy to feed. The fish will hang near the surface and feast on the morning hatches. Nothing better than a dry fly bite!

The afternoon bite is always going to be a struggle to decipher. More often than not fish will find the deeper pools and hide in the coolest water they can find. This doesn’t mean that they won’t feed, but it is more difficult to persuade them into biting. If you choose to go mid afternoon, find slow moving water and slowly fish streamers or nymphs as deep as you can through the pools.

Evening into dusk is the other prime time to catch fish. As the temperatures cool down, the fish will come to the surface and continue their feeding. The hatches will start right near sunset. Most rivers full of trout will look like it’s raining because of the amount of trout striking at the surface. Don’t get flustered if they aren’t biting your fly! Do your best to match the fly pattern and keep the drift as natural as possible. Dry fly fishing is extremely difficult to perfect, but you’ll get better the more you try!

I’ve written a WHOLE article about How to Catch More Trout at Night (Link to article) Night fishing is a blast, the biggest brown trout are nocturnal – so to catch them you’ve got to be out at night

If you are so inclined, fishing at night can be extremely entertaining. Some of the biggest fish will choose to feed at night. The mousing technique is one that can find fish. Purchase or tie a big mouse pattern; a one inch body lengthwise and widthwise will do the trick. Size 1, 2 and 4 hooks are okay. You can tie them using foam bodies as well.

When fishing in the dark, cast the mouse up stream at a 45 degree angle and twitch it across back towards you. As long as it makes a decent splash, the fish will pay attention. If you can find a bank with weeds on the side, it’s a great place to try mousing. The mice will crawl along the weeds, misstep and fall in.

When mice fall in the water, they do their best to frantically swim towards back the bank. You’ll know when you have a fish on. It’s invigorating fishing in the dark and waiting for a huge trout to strike your mouse on the surface.

headlamp for night fishing
headlamp for night fishing

Be sure to bring a headlamp along if you do go mousing! I love the Black Diamond Spot (Link to Amazon to check the current prices)

Where to Cast in the Rain:

If you are fishing a stream in the rain, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.

The first is that when it rains, the fish have to adapt to the rising water levels and influx of food. They are going to go where they feel the most safe and normal.

The key is to pay attention to the slower moving water. Whether it’s an eddie or a pocket behind a large boulder, these are the spots you want to fish. The foam lines are going to still hold a major amount of food. If you can find a section of the stream with large cut banks that is also where the fish will sit and hide.

It becomes difficult when you try and cast into these slower moving waters. If the water levels a rising (like when raining), the current will drag your fly line down the river and create an unnatural drift. If you can get on the same side of cut bank, cast straight up it and strip back towards you. If you are unable to be on the same side as the slower moving water, use the high fishing technique.

The high fishing technique is where you keep the rod as high as possible to keep as much fly line out of the water as you can. The fish will hit a dead drifting fly. Experiment with the high fishing technique on a calm day. If you have the chance to a long slow section of water, keep the rod high and you’ll likely find more fish than letting all of your fly line sit on the water.

Tips for Catching Trout in the Rain

  1. Use the rain to your advantage. Like many things in life, they’re only negative if you make them negative. The rain can provide excellent cover as you approach the stream. Most trout streams are going to be clear water and any sort of large shadow can easily spook fish. With the rain clouding the water and distracting the fish, it will allow you to stand in spots that otherwise may not be as accessible. Go ahead and wade a bit further into the stream or stand closer to the bank.
  2. Indicator nymph fishing in the rain can be great. Where an indicator may seem intrusive in calm/clear days, it’s a useful tool in the rain. Since the water will be rippling from the rain drops, an indicator will give a clear sign of a bite. Be sure to have the correct length of leader below the indicator. As it rains, the water levels will rise and your fly may not be getting as deep as you like.
  3. You may have to drift a nymph or streamer right past the trout’s nose after a rain. The cloudy water makes it difficult to locate the food. Trout are reactionary so if anything invades their space their first instinct is to strike!
  4. If it is windy and rainy, fish into the wind. Therefore, it drift will on the stream in the direction of the wind.
  5. If a cold front comes with a rain storm, fishing may not be great for the few days following. The cooler weather won’t increase the feeding frenzy like warmer temperatures can do. Switching up locations or tying up some flies might be better.

Gear to Use in the Rain:

Check out this article about best fishing hats to wear in the rain: What is the Best Hat for Fishing a Complete Guide. A this article details all the uses and conditions for hats while fishing. “Including in the rain”

Also, waders are going to work well in the rain. Even if it is a warm day, the rain should keep you cool enough in waders. Throw on a light rain jacket and you’ll be set. Fishing in the rain can lead to some of the greatest stories and biggest fish, so keep yourself as comfortable as you can.

Safety Warning:

If there is inclement weather, stay off of the water. It’s not safe to be waving a nine foot graphite rod around. Use your better judgement, the fish will likely bite at a more active rate after the severe weather has passed!

Lightning is not the only thing to watch out for during inclement weather. If you crossed the stream at one point pay close attention to the water levels. It doesn’t take long for streams to rise by several inches during a rainstorm. You may risk waiting several hours until the water levels drop if you are caught off guard.

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