I’ve spent the better part of a decade traveling across the United States fly fishing for brown trout. No matter where I travel, I always try to take my fly rod with me knowing that I have a chance to catch brown trout on a fly rod. These fish live in 34 of our 50 states, and with some effort, you can land them in every region of the country. Brown trout are resilient, beautiful, and truly represent what fly fishing is all about.
There are numerous steps you’re going to have to follow to successfully fish for brown trout on a fly rod. If you focus on these, you’ll find yourself landing beautiful fish.
1. Selecting the right gear- the first and perhaps most important thing for you to do is select the proper gear. You’ll need a medium-weighted fly rod, a matching reel, a floating line, and a variety of dry and wet flies.
2. Find rivers or lakes that have brown trout- Once you have your gear, focus on finding brown trout. Brown trout cover all regions of the country, so take a look at your state’s Game and Fish Department website to find the best location near you.
3. Find “Holding Water” for brown trout- Now that you’ve made it to your location, it’s time to find the water where the fish are hiding. Look for seams, riffles, and pools! These are going to put you on the most fish.
4. Observe to understand what brown trout are eating- When you’ve found the perfect holding water, you have to select the proper flies. The best way to do this is to determine what they’re eating. You can do this by turning over rocks, catching insects or looking for bait by swimming in the water.
5. Position yourself for a great cast and presentation- An angler is only as good as their casts. If you can’t put yourself near fish with a quality cast, you’ll struggle to land much of anything. Brown trout can be finicky!
6. Make the cast and drift drag free- Now that your fly is on the water, your job isn’t over. Keeping the fly on the right line and making sure it looks natural is vital to landing the fish. Too many anglers can do all the steps above, but fail to present the fly in a way that looks natural.
The first place I traveled to target brown trout was the South Bighorn River in Wyoming. I spent the summer living near the river and consistently found myself failing to land fish. It wasn’t until I learned how to properly present my flies that I started to land fish. Quite a bit of my presentation issues stemmed from improper gear.
Every wonder how big brown trout can get? Read about the world record 👉 Biggest Brown Trout Ever Caught
If you’ve spent any time fly fishing for trout, you should have the necessary gear to land these fish. They aren’t much different in terms of size and power than other trout species. However, if you still need to get your gear, follow along with the following list!
There is no “perfect” fly rod for brown trout. Your rod choice for fly fishing for brown trout entirely depends on where and how you’re fishing. For example, if you’re spending most of your time in mountain streams and smaller rivers, you’ll need a 3 or 4-weight rod. This rod can range from 8’ to 8’6” and be a moderate fast action. You don’t need a massive amount of length, but you will need some sensitivity.
If you’re fishing in medium size rivers, then a 4 or 5-weight moderate fast action rod will do the trick. This rod can be somewhere between 8’ and 9’. It’s a bit longer to help you fish dry flies for brown trout and high stick nymphs. Plus, the added length will assist you in making long casts to the opposite bank. It’s not a massive rod, but it’s versatile and will do great in both smaller and larger water.
If you’re fishing large rivers and lakes, then a 5 or 6-weight rod is what you should have. These rods are usually 8’6” or 9’ long and can either be moderate fast or fast action. These more powerful rods are going to be able to cut through the wind and fight any brown trout that you find. You can fish streamers, nymphs, and dry flies with these rods!
Guide Pro Tip: If you need to take a little bit of a step back and understand all those numbers on a fly rod. Check out 👉 What Do The Numbers on a Fly Rod Mean
If you would like, you can also Czech Nymph for brown trout. Czech Nymphing or Euro Nymphing requires special rods. These are usually 2 or 3-weight rods that are 10 to 12 feet long. They’re ultra-sensitive and best used in smaller rivers and streams. These rods allow you to get your nymph deep along the bottom to entice the fish.
Fly Fishing Reel
The best fly fishing reel for brown trout is going to be the one that best matches up with the weight of your rod. You want to ensure that your rod and reel are weighted properly. For example, if you’re fishing with a 4-weight rod, you want to make sure you’re using a 4-weight reel. This is going to make your entire brown trout setup feel even more balanced.
A fully-sealed drag system and a large arbor are two other features that are going to give you peace of mind when you’re fly fishing for brown trout.
Guide Pro Tip: I’ve got a full guide to selecting a fly reel. Don’t over pay, get the right reel. 👉 How to Select the right Size Fly Reel
Your fly line is also dependent on the situation you’re fishing. If you’re in some of those smaller streams and rivers, a floating line is going to do the trick. Also, if you’re only going to be fishing with dry flies, you should use a floating line regardless of the size of the water. You don’t want your line to pull your fly below the surface! If you’re fishing water that’s 15 feet deep or less, then a floating line is great.
You may find that a sink tip line is useful if you’re fishing still water or large rivers with streamers. Fishing with streamers for brown trout is an absolute blast, and you want to make sure you can get to the proper depth to make them the most effective.
Guide Pro Tip: Yes the quality of your fly line makes a difference. For years I recommended the cheapest stuff available. That still might be the answer when only using a particular setup once in a while. I’ve got a guide to fly line for trout 👉 The Best Fly Line for Catching Trout
In terms of weight, you can fish the same weight fly line as your rod and reel. This is an easy way to make sure that everything is going to feel right. I personally like to use a fly line that’s one weight heavier than my rod and reel because I like the power I feel with it. Depending on your preference, you can do the same.
Leader and Tippet
When you’re fly fishing for brown trout, leader and tippet are vital. Trout are well-known to be a bit finicky and can spook easily. Thankfully, brown trout are usually the most forgiving of the trout, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy to catch. Make sure the size of your leader and tippet can handle the flies you’re throwing and don’t give away your presence.
Guide Tip: If you want to learn how to make a leader, I’ve got step by step instructions in this article. 👉 How to Make a Fly Fishing Leader Learning about the different sections of a leader and how it affects casting is good.
A 3 or 4x 9-foot tapered leader for nymph fishing should work just fine! If you want, you can use a 7-foot 3x leader and attach a 4x tippet to give yourself a chance to stay more inconspicuous.
If you’re fishing dry flies for brown trout, a 3x 7-foot straight leader with 4x or 5x tippet is going to present these flies well.
If you’re fishing with streamers for brown trout, make sure you’re using between a 0x and 3x leader! This leader can be 8 or 9 feet. You don’t want one of those large fish to break you off and ruin your chance at a trophy. No tippet is necessary for streamers.
Brown trout flies are often dependent on the region of the country you’re fishing, but there are a few patterns that will work regardless of where you’re targeting brown trout. They’ll eat at all levels of the water column!
Woolly Bugger, Size 8 – No best flies for brown trout list would be complete without the mention of the Woolly Bugger. This fly is so effective that it has been under consideration to be banned by multiple government officials! Thankfully, we’re still free to use it. This fly is a streamer that represents baitfish, leeches, and even crayfish. You can swing this fly or dead drift it depending on what the fish want. This is a tried and true brown trout fly.
Pheasant Tail Nymph, Size 12– If you’re fishing early in the season and you know Blue Winged Olive flies are going to hatch, fish with a pheasant tail. You can look around under logs and rocks and see what the fish are eating. A pheasant tail nymph usually looks close enough to what you may find! Fish this alone with an indicator or under a large dry fly. It’s going to land you fish!
Crayfish, Size 8- Another brown trout streamer you must have in your bag is a crayfish pattern. Many midwest streams are filled with crayfish! Brown trout absolutely love eating crayfish, and you would be missing out on all sorts of fish if you didn’t have them in your box. Bounce them along the bottom and wait for a fish to hit them as they fall into the water column.
Elk Hair Caddis, Size 14– If you see brown trout hitting the surface, but aren’t quite sure what they’re eating, then tie on an Elk Hair Caddis. They can imitate quite a few dry fly patterns and are wonderful searching flies. These flies are all over the western United States, so you can’t go wrong trying to fish with them.
Chubby Chernobyl– If you enjoy fishing dry dropper patterns or it’s late summer, then the Chubby Chernobyl is going to be your best friend. Cast one of these in the slack water along the bank and watch a giant come and attack it. It won’t take long for this fly to get hit.
Hare’s Ear Nymph, Size 14– Finally, a Hare’s Ear Nymph should be a go-to fly for you. These are buggy-looking flies that work well as searching patterns. When these have a beadhead on them, they can hold their own in fast moving water. They’re going to bounce along the bottom and entice the fish to eat. High stick your way through the seams and riffles. Stay patient and it’ll get action.
My personal setup for brown trout isn’t overly unique. I have a few unique touches that I add, but for the most part, I stick with the methods that work.
I like to float between using a 4-weight moderate fast action rod. Mine is 8’6” and it’s perfect for throwing all different types of flies! If I’m fishing bigger water, I’ll use a 5-weight moderate fast action 9’ rod. I can make longer casts and have enough power to fight any of those larger fish that I might find.
I have a 3-weight, moderate action, 7’ rod that I’ll use on extremely small streams! I love this rod and always jump at the chance to fish with it.
I also have a Euro Nymphing rod that I’ll bring out when I know I’m targeting extremely finicky fish. This rod seems to give me the best chance at landing those picky fish in heavily pressured streams. It’s a 3-weight rod that’s 11 feet long.
I like to match my fly reel to my fly rod. I have 3, 4, and 5-weight reels that all go with my fly rod setups. Each is set up to fish for trout. I have a couple of extra spools with different lines for the fly reels depending on the type of water that I am fishing. I like to be as balanced as I possibly can.
I like to use weight forward floating line for the majority of my brown trout fly fishing. I find that the weight forward line is the easiest to cast. I rarely fish in very deep water, so I don’t often need to use a sink tip line. However, when I’m fishing large rivers out west or mountain lakes, I like to use a sink tip line. It helps me get my streamers deeper in the water.
Like I mentioned earlier, I’ll use a fly line that’s one weight heavier than my fly rod and reel. I’ll use a 4-weight line with my 3-weight setup. I’ll use a 5-weight line with my 4-weight setup. It helps me feel as if I have more control.
Personally, I enjoy fishing with tapered leaders when I’m fishing with nymphs. I feel as if it’s more effective than attaching a tippet to a heavier leader. My nymphing leaders are usually 3x or 4x and 8 or 9-feet long!
When I’m streamer fishing, I’ll use a 1x or 2x 7-foot non-tapered leader. They’re heavy and don’t knot themselves up when I’m making longer casts in more challenging conditions.
If I’m fishing dry flies, I’ll use a 3x or 4x 8-foot non-tapered leader and a few feet of 4x or 5x tippet. Depending on the clarity of the water and the flies that I’m fishing, I’ll go larger or smaller. Usually, a 3x, 8-foot leader coupled with a 4x tippet works well for me. I like to use a surgeon’s knot to attach the leader to the tippet.
My first love is always going to be streamers! I fish with them whenever I get the chance. I love the anticipation of letting a streamer float through a pool and waiting for a trout to snatch it. My favorite streamers are Woolly Buggers, crayfish patterns, and leech patterns.
If I’m fishing with nymphs, it’s hard to argue with the productivity of Pheasant Tails and Zebra Midge. Midge patterns are hatching all year round! Stonefly nymphs are also a personal favorite if I’m fishing out west or in the midwest!
If I’m using dry flies, I do my best to match the hatch, but if I can’t, I’ll use Elk Hair Caddis, Parachute Adams or a Chubby Chernobyl during the late summer months.
When fishing for brown trout, don’t forget that you’re going to need other accessories beyond your rod, reel, line, and flies!
Polarized sunglasses are some of the most necessary pieces of gear that any angler should have. They not only help you sight fish, but they also give you a better idea about the structure and where to cast your fly. You’d be shocked at what a good pair of sunglasses can do for you. Check out this video on YouTube about some great sunglasses – Polarized Sunglasses for Fly Fishing
Too many anglers head to the water without a net. You want to be able to properly handle the fish, so make sure you have a net of some sort with you when you hit the water.
Forceps are another accessory that’s vital in terms of fish conservation. You don’t want to be digging your fingers into the mouth of the trout. A good pair of forceps is going to help remove the hook from the mouth of the brown trout.
Waders and Wading Boots
Waders and wading boots are going to give you the best access to brown trout. You want to be able to get in the water to cast for these fish. There may be a perfect hole on the opposite side of the water that is only accessible by wading. A good set of waders and wading boots will keep you on the water for as long as you want.
Guide Pro Tip: I’ve got a FREE PDF that details reading the water, setup and flies. No strings just FREE STUFF 👉 How 2 Fly Fish for Rainbow and Brown Trout
Brown trout live both in moving and still water. There are different techniques that you should use depending on what type of water you’re fishing!
Guide Pro Tip: One of the tougher things to learn when fly fishing i reading the water. I’ll give you some clues and tips in this article 👉 How to Read the Water
Rivers and streams are common homes for brown trout. They’ll spawn in rivers and streams and give you ample opportunity to land them. If you know how to read the water, you’ll land fish!
Fish for Brown Trout in Pools
Pools are a favorite place for trout to hide. Trout will sit either at the back or front of these pools waiting for food to arrive. If it’s an especially warm day, fish will sit at the deepest portion of the pools waiting for the air temperature to cool. Usually, you’ll find these fish in the deepest portion during the middle of the day!
When fishing a pool, stand at the front or more towards the rear. If you’re standing in the front of the pool, cast upstream and let your fly drift into the pool. You don’t want your fly to hit the water in the middle of the pool. It needs time to achieve a natural drift. As it drifts into the pool, fish will be waiting. Whether it’s a nymph or a streamer, let it fall in the water column and get deep.
You can let the fly dead drift across our body and as it drifts below you, be ready to strip and move the fly a bit on the swing. For streamers, a couple hard strips towards yourself as it’s swinging will convince a fish to come after it. For nymphs, a couple light strips might do the trick.
Make sure your fly is leading the charge! Mend to help your line and fly make sure they’re properly aligned and everything looks natural.
Fishing for Brown Trout in Pockets
Guide Pro Tip: Dipping a fly into pocket water is exhilarating. Just that feeling of dropping the fly in for a short drift and BAM? Game on!!! Learn more about this in How to Fly Fish Pocket Water
Pockets are other areas where you’re going to find brown trout. Pockets are the slack water behind rocks or logs. While there’s usually only room for one or two fish, you shouldn’t pass over these portions of the water! They’re going to be productive because many anglers won’t even bother fishing them.
You’re going to want to get close to the pocket you’re fishing. If you don’t, you’ll find that your line will be pulled in numerous directions and the drift is going to look unnatural. Stand close to your pocket and cast a few yards upstream. You want your fly to be pulled into the pocket. Nymphs and small streamers are great flies to use when pocket fishing.
As your fly is being pulled into the pocket, raise your rod tip and wait for the strike! It’ll be quick.
Fishing for Brown Trout under Cut Banks
Cut banks are an angler’s best friend. They always hold fish but aren’t always easy to access. Cut banks are usually deeper than you would imagine. Do your best to make a bit shallower motion with your arm to get your fly up and under the cut bank. Dead drifts are the best method to get a fish to strike! They’ll dart out from their hiding place and snap up your fly.
Fishing for Brown Trout in Seams and Runs
Seams are the other place you need to look for brown trout. Seams are the portions of moving water that often has white foam in them. The white foam represents food. Plus, these portions of the water often have a bit slower current. Cast into the seam or right along the seam and dead drift your fly down it. You’ll likely have to high stick your way down the seam to keep as much fly line in the water as possible.
Fishing for brown trout in still water is somewhat straightforward. Odds are, you’re going to be fishing with dry flies or streamers! Nymphs are productive as well.
When you’re fishing for brown trout in still water, you must find structure. They’re finicky fish and appreciate their privacy. As a result, you’ll have to find rock piles, fallen logs or anything else in the water that can hide fish. Spend the majority of your time around here! This is where fish are going to hide.
Look for Rises
In still water, hatches happen at fast rates. Focus your attention on any rise that you see. Odds are, it’s a trout eating an insect off the surface! Try and match the dry fly you use to the hatch. You’ll find that fish will feed more than once in the same area, so if you’re fast enough, a cast out to the rise you saw will likely result in another strike.
Brown trout are a unique fish in the sense that they can be caught all year round. While there are certain times that it’s going to be more productive than others, you have a chance at all times!
Time of Year
Brown trout primarily spawn in the fall. Depending on where you’re fishing, it may be illegal to target fish that are on “redds” or their spawning bed. Check your regulations before you fish them during the spawn.
The spring and early fall are going to be extremely productive! They’re either feeding after a long winter of cold weather or fattening up for the winter. The summer can also be productive if you fish during the hatches in the mornings and the evenings.
Fish prefer to feed in water between 60 and 65 degrees.
Time of Day
For trout, the mornings and the evenings are the most productive. These are the coolest times of the day and hatches also occur during these times. When insects begin hatching, the fish know that it’s time to feed. While they will eat in the middle of the day, the most productive time is towards the beginning and end.
You can catch brown trout with a variety of different methods! Dry flies, nymphs, and streamers are all flies that will work as well.
Fishing for Brown Trout with Dry Flies
When you’re using dry flies, you want to look for any rises that you see. A rise is a sure sign that the fish are looking towards the surface. These rises happen in the mornings and the evenings. Have a 7 to 9-foot leader with a couple of feet of 4x tippet attached to your fly. This is a great setup for you.
Fishing for Brown Trout with Nymphs
Before a hatch, nymph patterns are especially productive. Bounce these flies along the bottom and wait for a fish to eat. Use an 8 or 9-foot tapered 3x leader when you’re fishing with nymphs. You’ll want to keep as much fly line out of the water as possible. The more fly line in the water, the more that can go wrong. You can fish nymphs in riffles, seams, and pockets.
Fishing for Brown Trout with Streamers
When you’re fishing with streamers, you want to spend your time in pools and deeper portions of the water column. Cast upstream and let your flies dead drift through the fishable water. You can also fish streamers on the swing.
Learning how to fly fish for brown trout is best done through experience, but there are a few tips and tricks that will help you land more fish.
What Happens if Fish Aren’t Rising?
If the fish aren’t rising, you should spend your time fishing wet flies. Wet flies are anything that floats below the surface. Use nymphs or streamers in those “fishy areas.” Learn how to setup a nymph rig – How to Setup a Basic Nymph Rig
What Do I Do If I Have No Idea What Fly to Use?
We’ve all been in the situation when we visit a body of water that looks great, but we aren’t quite sure what to use. Searching patterns like Woolly Buggers, Royal Wulffs and Pheasant Tail Nymphs should be at the top of your list. Trial and error are all a part of the sport.
Once you’ve hooked your fish, the work has just begun.
Fighting Brown Trout
Do your best to fight the fish fairly and quickly. You don’t want to completely wipe the fish out by the time it’s in your net. Most brown trout are going to be four pounds or less. As a result, you’re not going to have a massive battle on your hands. A couple of minutes of a fight should give you a chance to land it. When it runs, give it a chance to run and reel in when it pauses.
Netting Brown Trout
When you’re ready to net brown trout, do your best to keep the fish in the water. Don’t lift the fish out of the water into the net. Bring your net to the water and pull it into you. Keeping the tension tight on your fish and then letting go when it’s a few feet from you will actually bring the fish right to you.
Handling Brown Trout
Wet your hands before you handle brown trout. They have a protective slime that you can wipe off with your dry hands! Keep the fish in the net as long as you can, take it out for a few seconds for a picture, and then send it back into the water. Learn more about handling trout in this article Handling Trout
Brown trout are fairly accessible to almost everyone in the United States. They’re resilient and are going to give you as big of a fight as possible. Put your skills to the test and see what you can do. A quick search and collection of your gear are going to put you on some of the most beautiful fish in the world! Be sure to check out our articles on the best flies and the biggest brown trout ever caught on Guide Recommended before you hit the water!
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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