Like many anglers, my initial experience with trout and fly fishing came at a local pond stocked with rainbow trout. The fish were small but eager to eat anything I threw in their direction. Stocked trout helped ignite my love for fly fishing and turned it into one of my favorite pastimes. Now, I jump at any opportunity to catch all types of trout regardless if they are wild, native, or stocked.
Stocked trout are born and raised in captivity in hatcheries alongside hundreds or thousands of other fish. When deemed ready, these hatchery-raised fish are placed into lakes, rivers, and streams to give anglers more fish to target. Wild trout are born in a stream, river, lake, or pond and can survive without human intervention. Native trout are naturally occurring fish in certain areas of the world.
Stocked trout (stockers) are receptive to all different types of flies and fly fishing techniques. You can throw dry flies to rising fish or dead drift a nymph through some more shallow riffles. Many stockers will also attack streamers swung through pools or seams with aggression.
As long as the flies you choose are attractive enough, stocked trout will eat them. Most stocked trout were raised on pellets and other unnatural food, so any insect, minnow, or crustacean imitation will be very appealing for a stocked trout.
Once stocked trout become acclimated to the water, they will begin feeding on whatever looks appetizing until they learn what they prefer.
Knowing when to use dry flies isn’t an overly complicated concept. As soon as you arrive at the water you’re fishing, look around for little ripples on the surface. If you see small ripples on the surface, you know the fish are looking to feed on dry flies. A hatch is likely occurring, and the fish are looking to feed on dry flies.
These hatches usually occur in the mornings and evenings. As the temperatures rise and the sun appears in the mornings, emerger flies will become adults and begin swarming above the water. Fish start their day feeding on these hatches. So, if you arrive after sunrise, look to use dry patterns.
An evening hatch will happen as the sun gets lower in the sky and the temperatures drop. These evening hatches are an absolute blast to fish. Stocked trout are hungry and eager to eat as much as possible before it gets too dark.
If you aren’t seeing rises on the water’s surface, that doesn’t mean you can’t use dries. You can still throw searching patterns to see if any fish are willing to bite. Royal Wulffs, Chubby Chernobyls, and Stimulators are all good options to get a feel for what the trout want.
- Chubby Chernobyl
Chubby Chernobyls are great options for those warm summer days when terrestrial patterns are active. Grasshoppers, beetles, and ants often fall onto the water’s surface into the mouths of waiting trout. Chubbies are also a good choice if you want to throw a dry-dropper rig.
- Elk Hair Caddis- size 18-24
Many rivers, lakes, streams, and ponds worldwide have caddis hatches. The Elk Hair Caddis is an easy pattern to throw if the trout want something smaller. Pay attention to local hatch charts to see when caddis patterns hatch before you fully commit to using them. Also, be prepared with a light tippet to ensure you’re fully hidden.
- Stimulator- size 10-12
Stimulator flies are a necessity if you’re fishing in areas with stonefly hatches. Also, if you aren’t quite sure what the fish want, a Stimulator is a good search pattern. They’re large flies that create aggressive strikes from stocked trout.
Fishing with nymphs is smart when the fish aren’t feeding on the surface. Nymphs are immature insects living in the water that are growing into the adult stage. Whether you’re fishing before or after the hatch or in the middle of the day, stocked trout almost always eat nymphs. Even amid hatches, trout will still feed on nymphs.
You can catch nymphs in riffles, seams, pools, eddies, and under cut banks. They often live on top of or under rocks or logs at the bottom of the water column, so they aren’t challenging for the fish to find. In moving water, they’ll often get dislodged from rocks and logs and freely drift downstream.
If a hatch isn’t occurring, start your day by throwing nymphs into those “fishy” looking areas. Dead drifting the nymphs through those zones will likely lead to fish.
You’ll be rewarded if you’re willing to take your time to accomplish natural-looking drifts and presentations. Stocked trout aren’t the pickiest, so you can even get away with less-than-perfect drifts and still land fish.
Before you hit the water, know what flies are hatching before you choose one. The closer you can be to the exact flies the fish are eating, the more fish you’re going to land. Nymphs can be ideal search flies if you’re fishing water for the first time. Nymphs will help you understand what the fish want to eat and the methods they’re using to feed.
- Pheasant Tail Nymphs- Size 16-22
Early in the spring, Pheasant Tail Nymphs should be one of your go-to patterns for stocked trout. Pheasant Tails are Blue Winged Olive representations and the fish feast on them during those cooler months. You can fish them below an indicator or at the bottom of a dry-dropper rig.
- San Juan Worms
Worms are a favorite for stocked trout. Worms are an easy choice if you aren’t sure what the trout want. Depending on the flow rates, you may have to attach a split shot to your leader to get the fly lower in the water column, but you can try free drifting it before you add any extra weight.
- Pat’s Rubber Legs- Size 8-12
In areas with Stoneflies, Pat’s Rubber Legs is an easy choice for nymph patterns. Even if the stoneflies aren’t hatching, Pat’s Rubber Legs is a buggy-looking pattern that will attract a hungry trout at all different times of the year.
A dry-dropper pattern is one of the best setups for stocked trout. A dry-dropper rig consists of a dry fly and at least one nymph. The dry fly takes the place of a traditional indicator. Using the dry gives you another hook in the water and more chances to catch trout.
Your nymphs sit below the dry fly and drift through various levels of the water column. The dry-dropper rig allows you to cover multiple levels of the water column at once. As soon as you get a hit on one of your flies, you’ll have a great idea of where in the water column the trout are feeding and what they are wanting to eat.
Your dry-dropper rig setup depends entirely on the water depth you’re fishing. However, the overall setup of the rig stays fairly the same. You’ll change the lengths of the leader if necessary.
Generally, your first nymph should sit 18-30 inches below your dry fly. Attach the tippet to just below the shank of your dry fly hook to ensure the most natural drift. If you’re fishing with more nymphs, let your second fly sit 10-15 inches below your first nymph. Keep the same distance between the nymphs regardless of how many you choose to use.
You can fish with a dry dropper rig in all types of water. Generally, if the fish are feeding higher in the water column, it’s a good time to use a dry-dropper.
Finally, perhaps the most fun way to target stocked trout is with streamers. Streamers are large wet flies that imitate everything from minnows to leeches. You can be aggressive with these flies to aggravate the stocked trout enough to strike. Otherwise, the trout may be hungry enough to seek out your streamer and eat it.
If the stripping method isn’t working, you can swing your streamers. To swing your streamers, cast up and across the river or stream. As your fly drifts downstream, make mends that keep your fly leading the charge, and wait for it to start drifting across the stream back towards you.
Streamers work especially well in pools and other areas with slack water. You can drift the streamers into the pools and strip them out to entice the trout enough to follow and take your fly.
This takes place when the streamer is below you. Wait for a strike as the fly is “swinging” across the water column. At the end of the swing, don’t forget to make a few hard strips towards you in case a trout is willing to chase.
You’ll know you’re on the right track with your streamers if you see trout “flashing” at your fly. When you see a quick flash of silver or brown, it means the trout chased after your fly but turned away at the last second. You may have to switch sizes to make it more manageable for the fish.
Feel free to throw streamers if you see leeches, minnows, or crayfish in the water. Most stocked trout want larger, easy meals, so if you can provide that with your streamers, you have a great chance at landing a decent fish. Larger flies generally mean larger fish!
- Woolly Bugger- Size 4-8
A Woolly Bugger is a classic trout fishing pattern. They can represent minnows, leeches, and even crayfish.
- Clouser Minnow- Size 2-6
If you want a true minnow representation, look no further than the Clouser Minnow. It has great action and leads to some amazing fish.
- Muddler Minnow- Size 8-12
Muddler Minnows are smaller streamers that are wonderful sculpin representations. This fly can also represent caddis and larger grasshoppers.
Stocked trout aren’t always the most ambitious fish. They seek out shelter and easy meals. They’re easy targets for larger predators when first placed into the water. As a result, they spend a lot of time deep in cover and structure, hoping to find food. Once they gain more confidence, they hunt for food, usually in areas out of strong currents. They’ll stick to eddies, pools, seams, and cut banks. They want to save all of their energy for feeding and hiding from any larger predators.
Fish for stockers in the mornings and evenings. The mornings and evenings are prime feeding hours due to the cooler temperatures as prominent hatches. Throughout the middle of the day, stockers exert little energy and anticipate the evening hatches. Right after sunrise and right around sunset are the best times to fish for them.
Reading stocking reports can be complicated depending on the state and how much effort they put into making them easy to read. Usually, states will put the list of rivers they’ve stocked on the left side of the graph.
As you work from left to right, you’ll find the hatchery or location where the fish were stocked. As you continue working, you’ll see information about length, pounds, number, date, and hatchery ID from there.
Some states will put the total length of inches of fish stocked, and others will put the average length of each fish.
For pounds, most states will put the total number of pounds of fish stocked on that certain day. For the number, you’ll see how many fish were stocked on that particular day in that particular area. Lastly, states will put the ID of the hatchery where the fish were grown.
Some popular trout fishing states stocking pages:
Are you looking for some great How To Fly Fish Articles? Checkout this list:
- How to Fly Fish for Bass with Poppers with 👈 Easy to catch and fun to fight, fly fishing for bass is amazing!
- How to Fly Fish for Bluegills 👈 These amazing fish are all over the USA. I like to call them the “Gateway Drug to Fly Fishing”
- How to Fly Fish for Brook Trout 👈 Find the cleanest, coldest, most beautiful streams and I’ll bet Brookes are present.
- How to Nymph Fish 👈 Step by Step details for setting up, presenting and catching trout with nymphs.
- How to Fly Fish for Salmon 👈 Image hooking into a +25 pound King Salmon in a river and your Fly Rod breaks! Seriously this happened to me on my first trip.
Stocked trout are a blast to catch, whether you’re a beginner angler or an expert. While they’re not as particular as wild or native trout, they provide plenty of fun and help you gain valuable fishing experience. Stocked trout help you learn fish behavior and tendencies to make you a far better angler. Visit your local trout fishery and test your skills!
Danny Mooers is a high school English teacher in Arizona with a love for fly fishing. Growing up in Minnesota gave him the opportunity to experience all types of fishing and grow his skills. After living out in the Western United States for several summers in college, his fly fishing obsession grew. Having the opportunity to share in his passion for fishing through writing is a dream come true. It’s a lifelong hobby and he strives to make it understandable for people of all skill levels