How To Catch Rainbow Trout In Winter – Tips & Tactics You Must Know

By Charles •  6 min read
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Every experienced fisherman knows that fishing for rainbow trout during wintertime can be incredibly challenging. However, if you take the time to learn a little about the behavior of a rainbow trout, it is completely possible. To help you out, I have put together this short guide on how to catch rainbow trout in winter.

The first thing you need to know is that ice fishing for rainbow trout is not the only way to catch them in the winter. In fact, fishing in moving streams can be very productive as long as you know where to look for the trout, what they eat in the winter, and some methods to catch rainbow trout in winter.

Where To Catch Rainbow Trout In Winter

You won’t necessarily find rainbow trout in the same places in the winter months where they would be in the summer. To survive the winter months, they move to winter habitats that are more suitable for cold weather survival. 

Fishing Streams & Rivers

If you are fishing in a running river or stream, a rainbow trout’s winter habitat will include a deep pool in areas with a slow current and under stationary ice on the banks. Food is much scarcer in the winter; therefore, the trout will want an area where they can remain motionless and use the least amount of energy possible.

Lakes and Mountain Ponds

Rainbow trout can generally be found in moderately shallow waters during the winter. Great spots to look include around the mouths of coves, inlets, and weedy bays.

  • They are usually just above the bottom when the water is less than five feet deep.
  • However, when the water is a deeper, about 10 to 12 feet, rainbows behave very differently. In these areas, you will find them gliding in the middle of the water column.

What Do Rainbow Trout Eat In The Winter?

Knowing what rainbow trout eat in the winter is essential if you want to have any luck catching them. Trout are famous for being very picky about what they eat, and this can be even worse in the winter. However, there are various natural and synthetic baits that will work.

  • Mealworms can be a great bait to entice both young and mature rainbow trout. The fish see this bait as a natural food source.
  • Minnows are really an effective winter bait for rainbow trout. However, when using minnows make sure they stay alive. Rainbow trout prefer a lively minnow and will ignore a dead one. Be sure to hook the minnow in a way to keep it wiggling at the end of your hook.
  • Leeches and night crawlers are great baits to use for those lazy winter rainbow trout. Personally, I have had much better luck with earthworms than leeches. Again, make sure you are using fresh, live worms and you will have much more luck.
  • Powerbait is brightly colored dough made by Berkley’s that produces a smell that can attract rainbow trout. It comes in multiple colors that can be used to help draw their attention as well. It is a good idea to use enough of it to cover the hook completely.

What Lures To Use For Trout In Winter?

Lures are artificial baits designed to attract a fish’s attention. The type of lure to use for rainbow trout really depends on a variety of factors such as water conditions and the fishing style of an angler. However, the following are some of the best lures to catch rainbow trout in winter.

  • Wet Flies and Streamers: Wet flies and streamers are a great choice when fishing streams and rivers in the winter. However, it is very difficult to recommend a specific fly for anyone to use. The choice is so dependent on where you are fishing. Checking with a local fly shop or local anglers is the best way to determine which flies work best. If this is not an option, you can get an assortment of flies and try them out until you find the best ones for your area.
  • Dynamic Lures and/or Rapala Lures: If you are fishing with a spinning rod, these types of lures can work great; however, you must present them slowly. Remember, that the rainbow trout do not want to work hard for their food in the winter. Therefore, you need to slowly crank these lures through likely holes. These lures are available in various colors and styles. I recommend using ones that mimic natural fish in the same water you are fishing.

What Is The Best Method To Catch Rainbow Trout In The Winter?

When fly fishing for rainbow trout during winter, I normally start off with a sink tip line and wet flies. I strongly believe that rainbow trout stay in the deeper pools in the rivers and streams I fish when compared to summer when they are very active and hunting on the surface where there is an abundance of food.

Throughout the winter season, food is a lot sparser and trout tend to preserve their energy, so they don’t search out and prey on food.  However, they will go after food that comes close to them, where little effort is required to eat.

With this in mind, I tend to tie two flies on my rig, and I believe this helps increase my catch during winter. You can try this easily; tie a small piece of leader at the bend of the hook on the first fly in your rig, and consequently, have the second fly hang loosely below. The second fly will help to entice the trout to take the bite.

How To Catch Trout In The Winter – Final Thoughts

I know it is difficult to leave a comfortable, warm home to be on a river or lake in the middle of winter. It’s even more difficult when you know that fishing can be slow, and you are likely to get wet at some point. However, now that you have done your homework and learned how to catch rainbow trout in the winter, you will find that the rewards may worth the effort.

Featured Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash


Charles is a man who loves the outdoors. He moved to Wyoming specifically to spend more time in the mountains and wilderness. A hunter and fisherman, Charles knows how to enjoy nature and all that it has to offer. He is an outdoorsman through and through, and he wouldn't have it any other way. Charles is the President of Absaroka Enterprises, an company focuse on outdoor entertainment and endeavours. He's also an Editor for Alpha and Omega Outdoors, an online hunting, fishing, camping, trapping, and all around outdoors blog.

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