We all dream of fly fishing for big, wild trout from beautiful mountain streams but the reality is that most of us live closer to lakes and rivers stocked with hatchery raised trout.
Unlike my fellow fly fishing purists, I have no problem with the idea of catching stocked trout from my local lakes. It is a great way to get in some fly fishing practice and stocked trout fight every bit as hard as their wild cousins. Stocked trout also provide the perfect opportunity for getting kids interested in fly fishing.
From opening day until the end of the season, you need the right flies that stocked trout love. Here is our list of the most reliable flies for stocked trout. Some work best for freshly stocked trout and others can fool even the most wary survivors that escape the average angler.
The 9 best flies for stocked trout:
- Crystal Woolly Bugger
- Roe Egg
- San Juan Worm
- Copper John
- Pheasant-tail Nymph
- Hare’s Ear Nymph
- Soft Hackle
- Elk Hair Caddis
1. Crystal Woolly Bugger
There isn’t much a newly stocked trout won’t eat. In the first week after stocking, it’s all about bright flashy colors. The crystal woolly bugger fits the bill and for many it’s their go-to fly.
The large profile streamer combined with a tease of flash is hard to resist and hungry trout will chase it far and hit it hard. Colors like black, white and olive are my favorites. Go with a size 6 to 10.
When you need to fish deeper, weighted bead-head woolly buggers sink fast and generate super erratic movements that drive fish crazy. They are also a great option for trolling behind a boat. Add a few twitches to spark any nearby trout’s interest.
When the bite cools down on the woolly bugger, try a tandem nymph rig. Tie on an eye catching San Juan worm or Roe Egg 16-24 inches behind the bugger. Many fish end up on the dinner plate with this combo.
2. Roe Egg
Whether you fish it in tandem with a woolly bugger or by itself, the Roe Egg is killer on stocked trout. Swing it down a current seam or still fish it on a lake. Either way it will easily fool early season stocked trout.
Fluorescent colors stand out to these eager trout but one trick I’ve learned is to match what they were fed at the hatchery. Most hatchery trout eat brown pelletized food about the size and shape of a Roe Egg. All you need to do is color the egg with a brown marker and you’ll have a perfect replica.
Most egg patterns are unweighted but jig head eggs are a great approach for covering the water column. Fish it on lakes with a stimulator dry fly as an indicator or drift it in streams through deeper runs.
Once the trout wise up to fishermen’s tricks, bold patterns and bright colors are less effective. It’s time to start thinking more natural and the next entry on the list is the perfect transition fly.
3. San Juan Worm
It’s hard to argue against the fish catching power of the San Juan worm. Just about every water body has some species of worms that can be mimicked by this fly. You can tie it in any color and with all kinds of material. The versatility of the San Juan worm is its greatest strength.
You may be able to tell that I am a fan of this fly and so are the stocked fish I catch. In particular, trout stocked in streams find hot pink or bright red worms irresistible. As I mentioned earlier, you can tone down the colors to natural variations as time goes on and the fish smarten up.
The San Juan worm is the first fly I grab when hitting the water after a fresh spring rain. A flush of run-off stirs up stream side soil and triggers a feeding frenzy on tiny worms. Worm fly patterns nicely match what the trout are gorging on. Size down if the trout seem finicky.
4. Copper John
There is no denying the popularity of the Copper John. Maybe it’s because the simple pattern is easy to tie and even easier to fish. However, more than likely, the success of the Copper John lies in its ability to mimic a broad range of insects under water.
Once stocked trout figure out how to evade the more flamboyant flies and obvious lures, it’s time to break out a universal imitator like the Copper John. It has served me well drifted through fast runs and tailouts. Turbulence and current lend the fly enticing action that will catch a trout’s eye.
They work equally well in lakes on a tandem nymph rig or without an indicator and retrieved ever so slowly. Size 14 and 16 are plenty small for most stocked trout but micro sized versions on ultra small tippet are the hot ticket when pressured fish get tight lipped.
5. Pheasant-Tail Nymph
The pheasant-tail nymph is definitely a runner up after the Copper John. Yet another universal imitator of aquatic insects, this fly belongs in every tackle box.
Both weighted and unweighted versions of the fly exist and all are tantalizing to stocked trout. Most anglers agree that the pheasant-tail nymph most closely mimics a mayfly larvae. For that reason, mid-spring trout fishing finds me casting this fly as the mayflies begin hatching by the tens of thousands.
I like size 14 and 16 hooks. Fish it as you would a Copper John. Unweighted versions ride more naturally in the water and are perfect for targeting trout holding tight to undercut banks in short ripple sections of streams. In lakes, cast it with a strike indicator or paired up with a large dry fly.
6. Hare’s Ear Nymph
Fly tying manuals and fly fishing beginner guides always tout the hare’s ear nymph as a top producing fly. If you’re looking for a confidence fly for stocked trout, this is it. Experience has proven to me that this fly catches fish and I never hesitate to tie one on later in the season as stocked trout begin reverting to more natural food choices.
The hare’s ear nymph is a great fly for a multitude of situations on both lakes and streams. You can match just about any hatch since it mimics caddis larvae, mayfly nymphs and scuds.
Fly fishing with a hare’s ear nymph is easy and requires very little skill. Size 14 serves me well and I fish it just the same as the pheasant-tail or copper john. There are also bead-head versions that sink quickly when currents are fast or the fish are suspended in deeper water. Keep a good color range on hand. Light tans, orange and olive tones are all excellent.
7. Soft hackle
If you could only have one fly in your box, make it a soft hackle. This underrated fly is so easy to fish with and works in so many situations that it almost feels like cheating.
It was designed to imitate a variety of emerging insects and it is perfect for covering lots of water. Its soft hackle collar pulsates and twitches just right and trout can’t leave it alone.
This simple fly pattern excels while stream fishing. Most fly fishermen avoid letting the current drag the fly unnaturally through the water. Fish soft hackles “on the swing” over tailouts and deep pockets.
On lakes, fish it like a streamer using short pulses near rising fish. It works like a charm.
No list of flies would be complete without mentioning a dry fly and the stimulator is a definite winner for freshly stocked trout. The trout are hungry and the stimulator is sure to attract their attention.
This “buggy“ looking fly closely mimics a big stonefly or salmon fly. Use the stimulator to make a not-so-subtle splash on the water just as the clumsy real life counterparts would. You can usually rely on it to produce a few limits of gullible trout during the first few days after stocking.
When the trout wise up, use the stimulator as an attractor with a small nymph tied on the hook shank. This combo works wonders when there is significant fishing pressure early in the season. A stimulator in size 10 or 12 is suitable for most stocked trout.
9. Elk Hair Caddis
When the fish get wary and it’s time to scale down your dry fly to match other insect hatches, look no further than the elk hair caddis. This super buoyant fly is one of the most well known dry flies and one of the easiest for beginners to fish with.
The pattern closely matches the wing profile of a caddis fly as it skitters along the surface of water. Trout eagerly rise to gulp it down. It is perfect for fishing in turbulent water where other dry flies are unable to stay afloat.
On lakes, go with smaller a smaller size 14 or 16 to mimic a variety of flying insects. When the trout are rising, make your cast and let it sit or give it a smooth pull to make it skitter along the surface. Then pause it and repeat. Nothing beats watching a trout slam an elk hair caddis on the surface.
Other words of wisdom for stocked trout
- Stocked trout are easily pressured after the first week. Find out of the way spots like small coves and inlets further away from the main boat launch. Most anglers fish close to the launch and ignore the rest of the lake. You might see fewer fish but they may be more willing to eat what you have to offer.
- Don’t hesitate to change out flies. Stocked trout see a lot of lures, bait and flies thrown their way. They get used to seeing similar looking bait and are more likely to strike something they have never seen. Mix it up when things slow down.
- Cover lots of water by trolling. Trolling with flies is probably not the best way to match the natural presentation of aquatic insects but it does allow you to put your fly in front of more fish. Streamers and tandem nymph rigs are great for trolling. Some flies are actually designed for trolling too. Pistol Pete’s have small spinning propellers incorporated on a streamer style fly. Add a small split shot and you have yourself a top notch trolling set up.
It won’t cost much to have a collection of flies on hand. Flies cost anywhere from $1.50 to $3.00 each. However it won’t take long for your flies to get beat up by toothy fish. A good day on the water may burn through several new flies.
Consider tying your own flies instead. Not only is it a fun activity to pass time in the off season, it can also save you a little money. Check out our comprehensive guide on how to start tying flies without breaking the bank.