Fly Fishing For Brown Trout: The Ultimate Guide To Brown Trout Fishing

Master the art of fly fishing brown trout with our ultimate guide. Tips, techniques, and insights for successful fly fishing adventures.

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Fly fishing for brown trout is one of my favorite things to do and I’ve been fortunate enough to do it all over the world; from the USA to Norway, Iceland, Kenya, the UK, and more.

Having been an expert fly angler for over 30 years, and a guide for 10 of them, there is still an unsolvable riddle about brown trout that keeps me coming back time and time again.

Brown trout are the most beautiful and intelligent trout species, in my eyes. Catching one is always rather special, no matter the size. But, they can be incredibly hard to fool as they are a little bit too clever, and are super selective when it comes to what they’ll eat.

Join me as I run through everything you need to know about brown trout fly fishing, from the gear you’ll need to the best brown trout fly fishing flies, tips, tactics, and lots more.

Introduction To Brown Trout

Brown trout (salmo trutta) are endemic to Europe and the Atlas Mountains of Morocco but are now stocked all over the world.

brown trout's food

This is mostly due to the British Empire ensuring their armies could fly fish wherever they might be based.

You can now find them everywhere from Australia and New Zealand to Argentina, Chile, Kenya, India, and North America, as well as a few more. So long as the waters are cold and clean enough with a solid food source, brown trout will thrive – it’s no wonder they’ve done so well all over the planet.

Brown trout aren’t particularly aggressive. Reserved and wise is how I would describe them, along with annoyingly discerning. You’re not going to fool them with the wrong fly or a bad cast. Once you hook them, they’ll often go straight for cover or try and jump off the hook.

Brown Trout Size

When it comes to brown trout fishing, and any fishing in fact, it’s always good to know what size opponent you’ll be up against. A brown trout’s size depends a lot on where it is living. For example, a brown trout in a high-altitude mountain stream will be on average 1 lb and might reach 3 lbs with a lot of time.

If you’re looking at brown trout in a lake, the average will likely be around 3 lbs with fish of around 8-10 lbs being considered big trophies. The world record brown trout is 20.10 kg (44 lb 5 oz) caught in the Ohau Canal in Twizel, New Zealand. When it comes to length, a 24-inch (60 cm) brown trout is a solid fish.

Brown Trout Diet

By understanding what a brown trout eats and why, you’ll be able to choose the right fly for the right occasion and hopefully catch a few more fish than you would otherwise.

Their typical diet includes nymphs, emergers, winged insects, snails, leeches, crayfish, worms, frogs, lizards, tadpoles, small trout, and even mice.

Smaller fish will feed on smaller prey items throughout the day while bigger brown trout much prefer to feed at night for much larger things like mice and smaller trout. In rivers, they are territorial, holding onto and protecting their spot. In Lakes, they’ll cruise at different depths and areas hunting for food.


Nymphs are small creatures that live under rocks and on the bottom of rivers and lakes.

They make up a large part of a brown trout’s diet as there’s always some form of nymph present in the water no matter what time of year it is. Trout of all sizes will eat nymphs from 1/2 lbs to 20 lbs.


Lakes and rivers are often home to freshwater shrimp, scuds, and crayfish, plus the odd snow bug that’s occasionally washed into them on a windy/rainy day. Brown trout will always take advantage of an abundant food source so it is always worth throwing on a crustacean imitation if nothing else is working.


Emergers are nymphs that are hatching into a winged insect, such as a caterpillar into a butterfly or moth. During this process, they float to the surface and try to break free of the surface tension. If you see brown trout finning near the surface, they are most certainly feeding on emergers.

Dry Flies & Terrestrials

Dry flies are winged insects that have hatched from nymphs such as mayflies. Terrestrials are insects that find themselves on the water, like grasshoppers or ants.

Either way, they both float on the surface and you’ll be fishing a dry fly to imitate them. Look out for hatches and on windy days, use a terrestrial as they get blown onto the water very easily.

Small Fish & Mammals

Big brown trout (4+ lbs) usually don’t waste their time eating tiny nymphs and instead will wait for a big dose of protein.

This might be a 1/2 lb brown trout, a minnow, a sculpin, or even a mouse trying to cross the river. Brown trout that live in rivers or lakes with larger protein sources tend to be much bigger fish compared to ones that don’t.

If you want to learn more about a Brown Trout’s diet, you can read more here: What Do Brown Trout Eat?

Best Brown Trout Flies

The key to catching brown trout is having the right flies, but what are they? Below, I’ll run through the best brown trout fly fishing flies across all the different categories. We’ll discuss everything from the best dry flies to nymphs, streamers, and more so you can load up your fly box with any that you’re missing.

Best Dry Flies For Brown Trout

Dry flies are a key component of a brown trout’s diet and they can be split into 3 categories; hatching flies, attractors, and terrestrials.

Hatching dry flies are direct imitations of flies that hatch from the water, attractors are delicious buggy-looking meals, and terrestrials are things that get blown onto the water such as beetles, hoppers, and ants.


The Stimulator is a big dry fly that imitates a large range of winged insects. It’s a big meal and one that’s likely to tempt a fish to the surface. When in doubt, throw one of these on and see what happens. It often works well as an attractor fly with a small dry fly, fished in tandem.

Griffith’s Gnat

A lot of brown trout waters, especially tail waters, are full of midges and these make up a large part of a brown trout’s diet year-round.

A photo of griffith's Gnat

Now, a hatched midge is about size 26 which is impossible to tie, and to fish properly. The solution comes with the Griffith’s Gnat which looks like a clump of midges on the surface – fish it on 7x or 8x tippet.

Parachute Adams

The parachute Adams is the number one dry fly in my eyes. It looks like every hatched insect when fished in the right size and will fool even the wisest of brown trout. Make sure to load your box with these in sizes 14 through to 22 in various colors and you’ll be able to match almost anything hatching.

Elk Hair Caddis

The Elk Hair Caddis is designed to imitate a caddis fly (unsurprisingly), but it actually imitates a lot more than that in my opinion.

how to tie the elk hair caddis fly

This dry fly looks like a lot of winged insects and in larger sizes such as 12, could even pass for a moth. Make sure you have these in sizes 12 to 22.

Deer Hair Sedge

The deer hair sedge is one of my favorite dry flies for brown trout, particularly in Europe. This is also designed to imitate a caddis fly and does so very well. Sizes 14 and 16 are most effective for me, with long 12 ft leaders and 6X tippet.

Read more: Best Dry Flies For Brown Trout

Best Nymphs For Brown Trout

When it comes down to it, you’re going to catch more brown trout on nymphs than you are on any other type of fly. This is because brown trout do 80% of their feeding underwater and most of the food that’s down there, are nymphs.

The nymph section of your box is the most important so be sure to load up with the below:

Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear (GRHE)

The GRHE looks like just about any nymph you’re going to find in a brown trout river or lake, and it does especially well as a mayfly imitation too.

The key is picking the right size/color/weight GRHE for the occasion. Make sure your box is loaded up with tungsten and gold heads in olive, grey, and black, in sizes 12 through 18.

Zebra Midge

We discussed the importance of midges when we looked at Griffith’s Gnat in the dry fly section, well the zebra midge is the nymph that’s going to do the most damage in those waters. It imitates a midge nymph perfectly and you’ll need it in sizes 14 to 20 in tungsten & gold heads.

Prince Nymph

A prince nymph can change your day from okay to great. This nymph imitates both mayflies and stoneflies, and a lot of other insects too. Its white wings and buggy body are also pretty irresistible and will catch a brown trout’s attention. If you’re in doubt, put this nymph on – sizes 14 to 18, tungsten and gold heads.

Copper John

The copper john is a simple nymph to tie, and it looks like every natural nymph in the water when in the right size/color. This is another excellent go-to that you’ll want in black/copper/grey/olive, tungsten/gold heads, and sizes 14 to 18.

San Juan Worm

It almost feels like cheating when you tie on a San Juan worm.

A photo of San Juan Worm Fly

These look and fish so much like the real thing, the fish find them hard to resist. If you’re having a tough day, guiding a new angler, or simply want to start strong, drifting one of these down a pool will create some consequences. Best in red or black and in size 14.

Read more: Best Nymphs For Brown Trout

Best Streamers For Brown Trout

Streamers are big flies that imitate larger prey like small fish, leeches, and crayfish. If you’re looking for a trophy brown trout then fishing a big streamer is an excellent way to go, and the bigger the better. However, you’ll want to fish them on a heavier tippet like 6x and a heavier rod (5+ wt) to make casting easier.

Wooly Bugger

The Wooly Bugger is one of the most effective streamer flies for brown trout around. The reason it’s so damn good is that it imitates everything from a small fish to crayfish and leeches, and the marabou tail is irresistible.

Own this fly in every color, weight, and size you can find it in. Fish it slow, on the drift, or strip it across pools.


The zonker imitates a small fish and is an excellent fly for big brown trout. The wiggle of the rabbit fur in the water imitates a baitfish perfectly. Make sure you own these with a cone or tungsten head in a range of colors and sizes – orange, black, and olive are my favorites.

Egg-Sucking Leech

The Egg-Sucking Leech looks a bit like a wooly bugger but is a tad bigger with a brightly colored head. It cleverly imitates a leech trying to eat a fish egg and this additional attention to detail can make a day on the water. This is an awesome searching pattern for large brown trout fished on a drift or with a slow strip.


The brown trout in North America will eat a lot of sculpin (small fish) as part of their diet and this streamer works wonders because of this. It’s extremely realistic looking, has great action in the water, and provokes some aggressive bites. Olive, white, and black are excellent colors to use.

Clouser Minnow

The Clouser Minnow is a great imitator of all small fish you might find in any lake or river where brown trout live.

Clouser Minnow Fly in a Vise different color

It also has an undeniably irresistible action as it changes depths in the water column with every movement to look like an injured bait fish. Get this fly in various weights/sizes/colors and fish it fast, flow, or jig it near the bottom.

Read more: Best Streamers For Brown Trout

Best Wet Flies For Brown Trout

Wet flies are not nymphs, nor are they streamers. They’re designed to imitate everything from an emerger to a drowned-winged insect, nymph, small fish, and more. This makes them very effective, especially when trout are feeding close to the surface of lakes.

Black Pennel

The Black Pennel is a classic wet fly pattern for brown trout. Its black body, front hackles, and colorful tail make it look like a nymph, drowned fly, or emerger. Fish it on drift or a slow retrieve across the waves and you’re sure to see some excellent action.

March Brown

The March Brown is one of the first hatching insects of the UK season and the wet fly looks like its nymph, emerger, and drowned adult.

You can use it all year round as it also imitates mayflies as well as other emergers. Sizes 12 -16 are best.

Teal Blue & Silver

The teal blue & silver wet fly ignites the predator in a brown trout in my opinion. The silver flash with a blue tail makes it look just like a hatched minnow and when fished in a river near its estuary, it can be deadly for fresh sea run brown trout and normal browns too. It works best in sizes 10 to 14.


The Bibio is a famous wet fly for Scottish lochs as it looks a lot like an emerging group of midges, which is a large part of the diet of Scottish brown trout. Use this fly anywhere there are midges and fish it on a slow drift or retrieve in sizes 14-16.


The Spider is another favorite of mine in high-altitude midge-filled lakes and streams.

Like the Bibio, it also does a great job of looking like a clump of emerging midges, and the brown trout can’t help but try and eat them up. Only fish it when you’re getting bitten by midges though, as that’s when the hatch is on.

Read more: Best Wet Flies For Brown Trout

Find The Best Flies For Any Fishing Scenario:

More About The Best Flies To Use

Best Brown Trout Fly Fishing Destinations

Brown trout have quite a geographical range these days compared to their endemic waters. Originally, brown trout are from Iceland in the northwest, south to Morocco, and then west all the way to the Kazakstan mountains.

Today, you can catch brown trout on every continent on the planet (bar Antarctica). From the US and Canada to Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Tasmania, India, Kenya, and lots more. I kind of love that these amazing fish are all over the world as it means you can go on serious adventures in pursuit of them.

Let’s take a look at some of the best countries in the world to visit when targetting brown trout so that you can start planning some epic fishing trips:

Brown Trout in the USA

There are very few US states where you can’t go fly fishing for brown trout in a river or lake. In fact, with 34 of 52 states home to brown trout from the East Coast to the West, you’ll never be far from a brown trout fishery, (unless you are in the southern states such as Florida and Louisiana).

Some of the best brown trout fishing in the USA is found in the White River in Arkansas. This river is known to produce very large browns that love to angrily inhale a streamer. I loved catching brown trout in the Yellow Stone River in Montana, the scenery was simply mind-blowing.

Brown Trout in the UK

Finding wild brown trout in the UK isn’t as easy as one might think. Yes, you have the famous chalk streams such as the Test and the Itchin, but these are now stocked, managed, and manicured – it’s not wild fishing in my eyes.

However, there are some amazing rivers and lakes with wild browns if you’re prepared to look. Head to the Yorkshire Wye in the lower Peak District for some great brown trout fishing in lovely scenery. The River Derwent and Dove are also excellent places to cast a fly in the “Peaks” too.

Brown Trout in New Zealand

I’ve not yet managed to go fly fishing in New Zealand but it’s at the top of my list. Known as the mecca for big brown trout in crystal clear rivers surrounded by breathtaking scenery, it’s a fly anglers’ paradise.

The fish aren’t easily fooled though, and long 20 ft leaders and pinpoint accuracy are needed to fool these wise old fish.

Anywhere you shake a stick on the North or South Island of New Zealand will be close to a great brown trout river. Some of the best include the Karamea River, Tongariro River, and the Oreti River. Be sure to hike and get into places that haven’t been fished much to stand a better chance of catching a monster.

Brown Trout in Argentina & Chile

The true brown trout fishing in South America lies in Patagonia, a region that stretches across both Argentina and Chile.

Brown trout under water photo

Sitting within the Andes Mountains, Patagonia is heaven on earth and was the inspiration for one of the best fishing brands we have today (you know which one).

The rivers are filled with German and Norwegian browns willing to sip on a fly. Some of the top rivers include the Chimehuin River, Las Buitreras, and the Filo Hua Hum River. There’s also an excellent network of fly fishing lodges and guides for you to book with.

Brown Trout in Iceland

Iceland is one of my favorite countries to travel around with a fly rod, although it is rather expensive. Home to stunning brown trout rivers and the giant browns of Lake Thingvallavatn (which get up to 36 lbs), it’s a privilege to cast a fly there, especially when you add in the otherworldly scenery around you.

You can find small mountain streams packed with big browns. Large rivers with waterfalls fill up the lowlands, and there’s an abundance of sea-run browns in Iceland if you want to swing streamers for some big 10+ lb fish.

Brown Trout in India

You might be asking why I’m including India as one of the top places in the world to go brown trout fishing. Well, all I can tell you is that of all the places I’ve listed, it’s my favorite.

Norwegian brown trout sit in the crystal clear azure blue streams of the lower Himalayas surrounded by the most dramatic mountains I have ever seen.

Walking along the river banks surrounded by cheery and apricot blossoms, I felt like I was on another planet. When you throw in a large Norwegian brown on the end of a 4-wt with spectacular markings, what more can you ask for? If you are up for a serious adventure, India is a top choice.

Where To Find Brown Trout

Brown trout don’t live in all lakes and rivers; they require cold clean water between 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 15.5 degrees Celsius), hence why we often find them in the mountains.

Once you’ve found a lake or river, knowing where the fish might be holding is a major advantage, and that’s what we’re going to discuss below:

Fly Fishing Brown Trout in Rivers

A huge part of how to fly fish for brown trout in rivers is knowing where the fish are going to sit so that you can deliver a natural-looking fly to them. It’s this kind of precision and tactical thinking that will take your fly fishing to another level.


Pools are areas of deep, slower-running water in rivers that hold an abundance of brown trout, small to large. It’s the ideal feeding lane with weak currents, ample food, and cover from predators.


Riffles are sections of faster-moving water with a broken surface. Brown trout love these as they concentrate the food flow, provide more oxygen, and stay cooler on warm days. They’re often found between one pool and the next.

Under Overhanging Structure

Overhanging structures provide the perfect cover for brown trout to hide from predators and get out of direct sunlight. So long as there’s enough current, sending your fly close to an overhang is always a good idea, however, snags are highly likely.

Along The Banks

Holding close to the bank is another way brown trout provide themselves with cover, particularly if the bank is undercut.

Fly fishing in a riverbank

The vegetation along the bank can also be a valuable food source for them.

Behind Boulders/Quiet Water

If you see an obstruction, such as a boulder, that creates some quiet slower water behind it, there’s a 100% chance that there’s going to be a brown trout there. The slow water with a fast current around it means maximum food for minimum energy expenditure.

Inside Of Meanders

When a river meanders (bends), the outside of the meander will have a fast current and the inside, a slower current. The brown trout will be holding up in the slow current on the inside.

Below Rapids

You might think that the current in rapids is a little fast for a brown trout, but we only see the surface current. Below a rapid is usually a deep pool with rather weak currents and a lot of food – ideal for brown trout.


Runs are long, deep-ish sections of uniformed current that you can find in rivers. Brown trout like these as they’re cold, full of oxygen, offer plenty of food, and provide great cover from predators.

Fly Fishing Brown Trout in Lakes

Finding brown trout in lakes is a little trickier than finding them in rivers. Reading rivers is rather obvious, whereas a lake can just look the same. However, there are some telltale spots that trout love to be in on lakes.

In & Out Flows

If there’s a small stream or river flowing into or out of the lake you’re on, this is where you should start fishing. This is a huge source of fresh cold water, oxygen, and food for brown trout – they love it in these areas.

Drop Offs

If you can find it, take a look at the charts of the lake you’re fishing. Anywhere you find a significant depth change from shallow to deep is going to be holding brown trout. If you’re on a boat with a depth sounder, you can find areas like this very easily.

Leeward Side of Islands

Some lakes have lots of islands and if there’s a good hatch going on, the fish will be sipping the flies off the surface on the leeward (windless) side of the islands. The water is much stiller and the fish can see their meals dancing on the surface a lot more easily.

Along The Banks

The banks of lakes hold a lot of vegetation and these provide the perfect nursery for small fish, nymphs, crustaceans, and more. Finding all this in one place is like winning the lottery for a brown trout and you can bet that they’ll be feeding along the edges.

Underwater Structure

Underwater structures such as fallen trees, weed beds, and rock piles are another excellent source of food for brown trout in lakes. If you can spot any of these types of features, be sure to fish around them.

How To Fly Fish For Brown Trout (Step-By-Step)

Now that you know a lot about brown trout, their diet, and where to find them, let’s get into catching them with a fly rod. Here are my step-by-step instructions on how to fly fish for brown trout in lakes and rivers. Make sure you follow all these tips, and in the right order, or you’ll be missing a big trick.

Step 1: Find Rivers & Lakes With Actively Feeding Brown Trout

The first step is working out where you’re going to go fly fishing for brown trout. Find a river or lake with a good amount of brown trout in it and do some research. How is the wading on the river? Can you cast from the bank on the lake? Which flies work well there? Will you be fishing from a boat?

Step 2: Choose The Right Gear

Use the research from Step 1 to choose the right gear. If you’re on a small river, choose a light rod like a 3 or 4 wt.

If the lake is big, you’re going to want a 5 or 6 wt to make longer casts with. Check the weather and pack appropriately. Check the seasons and stock up on the flies that make sense for the time of year and the fishery.

Step 3: Read The Water

Once you arrive at the lake or river, take some time to pause and read the water. Look for all the features we described in the section above and think about where the fish might hold, why, and how you would present your fly to them.

Step 4: Check What They’re Eating

There’s no better way of choosing a fly than having a look at what the fish might be eating.

brown trout's diet

If you’re fishing in a river, take a seine, leave it in the current for 30 seconds, and see what you catch. Match your flies to this. It’s tougher in a lake – check what fly life is around, drop your seine in near the banks, and see what you turn up.

Step 5: Approach With Stealth

Once you’ve chosen your fly and the area you want to start fishing, it’s time to approach it quietly. This means light footsteps, slow movements, wading super quietly, keeping voices to a whisper only, and thinking about your shadow on the water.

On rivers, only move upstream so you approach the fish from behind.

Step 6: Set Yourself Up Within Casting Distance

You need to make sure that you’re close enough to your fishing spot to make a good cast with a delicate presentation, but not so close that you scare the fish away.

an angler casting a spinning rod on the river

Be sure to check for snags behind you like trees and bushes that will reduce your casting distance.

Step 7: Fish Close, Then Far

When fishing your first spot, you don’t want to spook all the fish inside it by making a long first cast. Instead, fish close, working your way further and further into the spot so you can cover it bit by bit without spooking the brown trout.

Step 8: Make A Great First Cast

Your first cast matters the most, especially in rivers. Make as many false casts as you like to get the perfect distance and presentation you’re after. If it doesn’t look good, drop your cast behind you and start again.

Step 9: Get a Natural Drift

Once your fly lands, it needs to look as natural as possible and this comes with the drift. On a river, make sure nothing but the current is affecting your fly’s movement, and mend your fly line as needed. On a lake, start with a slow retrieve and then change it up to see what the fish prefer.

Step 10: Change Flies

If you don’t catch a fish, change your fly to another one.

best triggerfish flies

Try something bigger or smaller that fishes a little deeper or shallower, and see what happens. It’s about matching your fly to the shape of whatever the brown trout are eating first and then making sure they see it.

Step 11: Move Frequently

Never stay in one spot too long as it might be the case that there just aren’t any fish in it. I would suggest changing spots every 10-15 minutes on a river and maybe up to 20 minutes on a lake. Only change spots if you’re not catching though.

Step 12: Repeat Steps 5-10

When you get to a new spot, repeat steps 5-10. Fly fishing is all about being active and keeping moving. Yes, you need patience to catch a fish, but you never actually stop doing something while you’re fly fishing.

Best Gear For Brown Trout Fly Fishing

Having good fly fishing gear is going to make your life a lot easier on the water. When targeting larger and more intelligent brown trout especially, being able to put your fly where you want, and handle the fish once hooked is key to your success.

Different fishing styles and fishing situations call for different equipment. For example, you would rarely use the same brown trout fly rod on a river and lake; they would usually be different. Read on as I explain all of this in the sections below:

Best Brown Trout Fly Rods

When it comes to brown trout fly rods, you should own at least three different kinds in my opinion. Each one is specific to the type of fishing you’ll be doing for brown trout and where you will be doing it. If you own a 3,4, and 5-weight fly rod in the lengths listed below, you’ll be covered for every scenario.

Orvis Helios 3F – 10’6″ 3 weight

The Orvis Helios 3F is one of my favorite fly rods ever. Lightweight with incredible castability, accuracy, and sensitivity it makes fly fishing easy.

The 10ft 6in. 3-weight is the ideal weight and length for Czech/Euro nymphing on rivers – the most effective way of catching brown trout in a river, period.

Orvis Helios 3F Fly Rod
a Man holding the Sage R8 Core Fly Rod

Sage R8 Core – 8’6″ 4 weight

Sage makes some of the best rods on the planet and the R8 Core is no exception. In the 8’6″ 4 weight lies the perfect dry fly rod for brown trout.

It’s light, extremely responsive, and accurate at long and short distances, and makes your fly land like a feather floating onto the water.

Orvis Helios 3F – 9′ 6/7 weight  

The Orvis Helios 3F in a 9ft 6/7 weight is the ideal lake rod for brown trout in my opinion. You can send long casts way into the 70+ ft range with minimal effort or drop a fly at 20 ft with extreme stealth.

It’s also the perfect rod to fish streamers with on a river, giving you a bit of extra backbone on the heavy flies and aggressive hits from fish.

Read more: Best Brown Trout Fly Rods

Best Brown Trout Fly Reels

You’re going to need a good brown trout reel to go with each of your rods. The reel not only neatly holds your fly line and backing but also ensures your rod is balanced for casting.

Generally speaking, you can fight and land most brown trout without using a reel, but it’s handy to keep your line neat and prevent it from getting tangled mid-fight.

However, there will be a day when you hook a monster brown and you’re going to need some drag to control it in the fight. This is something we also have to plan for when looking for a brown trout reel.

Nautilus X-Series – 3/4 & 6/7 wt

The Nautilus X-Series is a fly reel that’s made to last forever and work perfectly while doing so. Light in weight with a reliable drag and bulletproof machined aluminum build, you can rely on it for all the brown trout fly fishing you might do.

You’ll only need two of these reels to go with the three rods I mentioned above. You can use the 3/4 wt reel on the 3 and 4-weight rods, just make sure you have interchangeable spools with different line weights on them. The 4/5 wt reel is perfect for the 5-weight streamer/lake rod.

Read more: Best Brown Trout Fly Reels

Best Brown Trout Fly Line

Choosing the right fly line for brown trout is very important and you’ll need a different type for each of the rods/applications we discussed in the above rod section. The fly line isn’t only there to balance the rod and work with it for easy casting but is there for distance, presentation, accuracy, and more.

Different types of lines are better for different things, for example, a heavier weight-forward line will deliver big streamers with ease, but would be overkill for a dry fly. Let’s take a look at the fly lines you need to have for brown trout fishing.

Rio Perception – 3wt

The Rio Perception fly line is all about making short accurate casts with minimal effort, and that’s all you’re going to do with your 3-weight fly rod on a river.

It has a low-stretch core for better bite sensitivity, a slick coating for less friction, and is tri-colored so you always know your distances.

Rio Perception Elite Fly Line sitting on a table outside
The Authors Favorite Fly Line Rio Gold Elite on his workbench at home

Rio Elite Technical Trout – 4wt

The Rio Elite Technical Trout is designed for the ultimate presentations when dry fly fishing. If you want to be able to land your size 22 dry fly on a dime, this is the line that’s going to help you get the job done.

When you’re up against big clever browns, this is the kind of accuracy you need.

Elite Rio Grand – 6/7wt

The Elite Rio Grand is made to be a little heavier for quick loading, long casting distances, and throwing heavy flies with ease. It’s the ideal choice when fishing with streamers or on lakes, and it will help you punch through the wind on those blustery days.

Leader & Tippet

Your leader and tippet are incredibly important as these provide the invisible connection between your fly and fly line. Without the right leader and tippet, you won’t be fooling any brown trout. The leader should be clear and made of mono/fluorocarbon, and the tippet must be fluorocarbon as it is invisible in the water.

Your leader should be 9 feet long and tapered. A tapered leader is thick at the fly line end and gets progressively thinner as it gets close to the fly, this helps with energy transfer through the line and turning the fly over neatly.

To your leader, add 3 feet of tippet, 4X (6 lbs) being the heaviest I would use and 7X (2.5 lbs).

Other Gear You Might Need To Catch Brown Trout on Fly

Below, we’ll cover the other gear required to fly fish for brown trout. All of these are pretty much “must-owns” but you can get away without some of them. Remember, no flies are mentioned here as we’ve already covered them in their own section above.

Fly Fishing Net

A net is always a useful thing to have, especially if you hook a big fish. You reduce the risk of losing the catch, and you’ll be able to ensure the fish stays in the water for a fresh and safe release.

Waders & Boots

Chest waders are a lifesaver. Not only can you wade into lakes and rivers to access better spots but they also keep you warm, dry, protected from bugs, stinging bushes, and lots more.

A man walking in stream in stockingfoot waders

I would recommend stocking foot waders as they’re easy to pack and transport along with some wading boots in a hiking style.

Waterproof Backpack

You’re going to want to carry water, extra layers, your lunch, fly boxes, phone, and a camera, etc. while brown trout fishing, then there’s nothing better than a waterproof backpack. All your gear will stay dry, and safe, and will be ready for use when you need it.

Polarized Sunglasses

Polarized sunglasses are a must as they cut through the glare on the water and allow you to spot fish a lot more easily.

They also protect your eyes from the sun and from hooks that can easily fly into them. Tan lenses with a green mirror are the best in my opinion as you can use them on rivers, lakes, flats, and offshore.


Nippers are a must-have item as they make changing flies, tying knots, and rigging as quick and easy as possible. Make sure to wear them around your neck or on a zinger attached to your waders for easy access.


When nymphing you may want to use an indicator to control the depth of your drift and to show you when you have any bites. There are a few types to choose from – I love the Biostrike Putty from Loon as you can make it the size you want and it is easy to add/remove.


Forceps, aka hemostats, are very useful for removing deep-set hooks from fish without damaging them. They’re also very handy for crushing barbs on hooks and fishing barbless, which is something I highly recommend you do for the sake of the fish (and the day you inevitably hook yourself).

Best Time of Day For Fly Fishing For Brown Trout

The best time of day for brown trout fishing depends on two major things; temperature and light. Brown trout will feed the most when it’s not too hot or too cold, and when the light is low.

Brown trout do not have eyelids and therefore strong direct sunlight makes them go deep and look down. Clouds give them a break and make them feed more actively.

Something to think about is that the ideal time changes across seasons. Yes, sunrise and sunset are excellent times of day to go fishing for brown trout in the summer, but these are the worst times in winter as it’s too cold.

In winter, midday to early afternoon is best as this is when it’s warmest and the light is usually still fairly low.

Brown Trout Fly Fishing Seasons

How brown trout behave changes depending on the seasons and understanding this is imperative to being a successful year-round brown trout fly angler. Things to think about are temperature, water levels, the food that’s hatching, and what season the trout have just been through.

Fly Fishing For Brown Trout In Spring

In the springtime, brown trout have had a hard winter and are most probably looking to regain some of the weight they’ve lost. As the temperature warms up in spring, more and more hatches start coming off, and the brown trout start feeding more and more actively.

The hatches will consist of March browns, midges, BWO (blue-winged olives), and green drakes – these are the dry flies you need in your box along with a good selection of nymphs.

Fly Fishing For Brown Trout In Summer

In the summer, water temperatures reach their highest and the rivers and lakes are packed full of food. The brown trout will have filled up quite a bit by now.

A brown trout under water

They’ll still be active but quite possibly incredibly selective about what flies they eat.

In summer, dawn and dusk are the best times to be casting a line. Hatches of Salmonflies, BWO, caddis, midges, and tricos are most common. The summer also offers excellent hopper fishing.

Fly Fishing For Brown Trout In Fall

In the fall, the water temperatures are ideal for brown trout. They’ll be feeding actively with winter and spawning on the horizon. They’re aggressive and in search of big meals which coincides nicely with the huge number of baby baitfish that will have entered the system.

Fish with streamers for exciting takes and look out for hatches of BWO, midges, caddis, hoppers, and daddy long legs. Leech and egg patterns are also very hot in the fall.

Fly Fishing For Brown Trout In Winter

Not all brown trout fisheries are open in the winter. For example, the UK’s brown trout fishing is closed from October to March. If you’re lucky enough to live near a tailwater or a river where you can fish in the winter, then it is all about midges.

Zebra midge nymphs and Griffith’s gnat are the flies you want to use. Fish from 12 pm to 3 pm when the light is best and the temperature is at its warmest.

Brown Trout Spawning Season

Brown trout spawning season can happen any time from September to February. It varies from place to place, as it’s about water temperature more than anything. When the water is between 43°F and 53°F (6°C – 12°C), 46°F (7.8°C) being optional, the trout will begin laying their eggs and fertilizing them.

How To Catch Brown Trout on a Fly

I’m now going to run through some of my top tips for catching brown trout on a fly:

a fly fisherman fishing for wild trout on the mountain river

These are very useful and should help you no end when out on the water, especially when the fish aren’t playing ball.

Present Ahead Of The Fish

Imagine you’ve found a spot in a lake or river that looks fishy, how are you going to show your fly to the fish? Make sure your fly line lands behind the fish and your leader takes the fly ahead of the fish. Your fly should then have enough time to sink and look natural by the time the fish sees it.

Getting Your Flies To The Right Depth

If your flies aren’t at the right depth, they’re not going to be in the feeding zone. In rivers, you want your nymphs to be close to the bottom but to do so, you need to adjust the weight of your flies and where you cast for the current and depth.

In fast water, you’ll need much heavier flies and will need to cast way above where you think the fish are holding so the flies have enough time to get to the bottom. The opposite is the case in slow water.

In lakes, keep varying the depth of your flies to find where the fish are feeding. Count to 10 while your fly sinks on one cast, then to 5, then 15, and play around with it. Use a sink-tip, or sinking line if you need to get deeper.

Make Your Flies Look Natural

Once your flies hit the water you want them to look as natural as possible. When river fishing, this is all about letting them drift in the current as if they weren’t attached to anything.

euro nymphing flies

You need to think about how your fly line drags your flies, multiple currents moving at different rates, and adjust accordingly by mending.

In lakes, you can use the wind to let a dry fly drift along the surface. When it comes to nymphs, wet flies, and streamers, you need to choose a retrieve that best matches how the fly would naturally swim.

Learn To Euro-Nymph

Euro-nymphing is the most effective way to catch brown trout in a river using nymphs. It allows you to fish pockets of water with the utmost accuracy and sensitivity. You literally do not cast any fly line, it is all leader for ultimate stealth, and you can feel every bite.

Read more: Euro Nymphing

Choosing The Right Fly

Fishing with the right fly is key to catching a brown trout, but how do you make the right fly choice? Think about the time of year, and what hatches accompany the season, and then look at the water to see what’s happening.

If there isn’t any surface action, nymphs are the way to go. If fish are rising, pick a dry fly that goes with the season and matches what you can see on the surface. If nothing works, keep experimenting until you find something that does.

Spotting Fish

The easiest way to spot fish is when you see one rise, but if the river is clear enough, you can spot them laid up on the bottom. Walk slowly upstream scanning the water for a fish.

A trout hooked in the mouth

I tend to look for wiggly movements, particularly in the tails. When you do spot a fish, watch it and learn what it looks like to get your eye in.

When casting to a fish you’ve spotted, make sure it can’t see you and that you’re within range. You want your fly line to land behind the fish and the fly to land ahead of the fish so it can drift towards it.

Brown Trout Are Territorial

Brown trout are territorial and, therefore, if you see one in a spot, it’s going to stay there all day and be there again tomorrow. This means you can have multiple chances at the same fish; if you get it wrong the first time, go back later in the day or the following day and try again.

Fish Close, Then Far

I always see anglers arriving at a new fishing spot and sending a huge cast across the river or lake. While the cast is lovely to see, they have just spooked every fish between them and the tip of their fly line.

When you start fishing in a new spot, fish close and hit all the fishy areas near you first before progressing further and further.

Reading Rivers

I’ve gotten to the stage where you can drop me on a new river I’ve never seen before and I can find fish very quickly.

Calm river with a boat

This all comes from time on the water and being able to read it. It’s all about current, cover, depth, temperature, and oxygen.

Look for pockets of water with slower currents next to fast flows. Overhangs provide great cover. Deep pools offer a lot of protection and are excellent feeding zones. If it’s a hot day, look for fast cold water full of oxygen – the fish will be there.

Brown Trout Fly Fishing With Different Flies

Nymphs behave differently to dry flies which means how you fly fish for brown trout changes depending on the type of fly you’re using. Let’s run through all the different techniques for nymphs, dries, streamers, and more.

Nymphing For Brown Trout

When nymphing for brown trout, it’s all about depth and drift. Make sure to use 2 nymphs in a dropper rig and ensure your nymphs are heavy/light enough for the depth you want them to fish at.

damselfly nymph fly

Cast your nymphs above where you think the fish are and let them drift back down to the fish. If at any point your line stops or moves differently, set the hook.

Dry Fly Fishing For Brown Trout

When dry fly fishing for brown trout you want the fly to land rather delicately ahead of the fish. You can use one dry fly or two rigged in tandem. Try to get your flies to drift as naturally as possible in the direction of the fish. If the fish refuses, change flies. If it takes, count to two before setting the hook.

Streamer Fishing For Brown Trout

Streamers look like small fish or leeches which means you can fish them in a number of ways. In a river, cast across to the other bank and then let the streamer swing across a deep pool below you, throw in some strips if the current is slow. In a lake, use faster longer strips to give it some action.

Mousing For Brown Trout

Mousing is a lot like streamer fishing. Find an area of a river where the current isn’t too strong and there’s some depth to it, like a pool or a run. Cast 90 degrees across the river and then slowly strip the mouse pattern back towards you as it swings in the current. You want to make it look like the mouse is struggling.

Wet Fly Fishing For Brown Trout

You can fish wet flies like nymphs or streamers. Cast them upstream at a 45-degree angle and let them dead drift back down, or cast at a 90-degree angle across the river and let them swing in the current.

Wet fly box containing different kind of wet flies

In a lake, simply cast your line out and retrieve them back in nice and slowly.

Find The Best Flies For Any Fishing Scenario:

→ More About The Best Flies To Use

How To Catch & Release Brown Trout

It’s finally time to discuss the most fun, and perhaps the most important, part of fly fishing for brown trout – how to hook, catch, and then release them safely.

Setting The Hook

When a trout eats your fly, you need to notice immediately. They can very easily eat it and spit it out a second later. When the fish takes your fly, simply lift your rod to set the hook. Do not set hard, a firm rise of the rod should ensure the hook goes into the fish’s mouth.

Fighting Brown Trout on a Fly

Once hooked, it’s time to fight the fish. Browns, especially big ones, will try to snag you and jump off the hook. Keep tension throughout the fight to ensure the hook stays in its mouth, but don’t try to stop the fish when it wants to go or you may break the tippet.

If the fish is heading for a snag, you need to up the tension and guide it away from it. It’s all about finding the balance of power and control vs. not breaking the tippet.

Safely Netting Brown Trout

Only net the fish when the trout is tired. You need to already have the net in the water and then guide the fish with its head on the surface over the net.

Fly Fishing in May in Montana netting a fish

Once it’s over the edge, simply lift the net. Be sure to not lift the net too high and make sure the fish stays in the water so it can continue to breathe.

Handling Brown Trout

When handling brown trout, make sure you do so with wet hands. This stops you from removing their slime barriers.

Handling a brown trout

Always hold the fish in the water so they can breathe. Support the head with one hand gently under it, and hold the fork of the tail with the other.

If you want to take a picture of the fish, get the camera person ready first, and then lift the fish out of the water for 5 seconds to take the pictures. Return it to the water as soon as possible so it can breathe again.

Never hold a fish by the stomach, as this is where all its organs are and you can seriously injure it.

How To Safely Release Brown Trout

Step one is removing the hook, which should be very easy if the barb has been crimped.

Cutthroat Trout on a Fly Fishing Rod being released

Use your fingers to pull it out while supporting the fish, or your forceps if the hook is deep inside the trout’s mouth.

In a river, hold the fish gently with its head into the current so it can breathe and re-energize, when it wriggles, let it go. In a lake, hold it in the water by the tail and gently move it forward and backward to flush water through its gills. When it kicks, let it go.

Brown Trout Fly Fishing FAQs

Below, you’ll find the answers to some questions a lot of new fly anglers have about brown trout and how to catch them. If I haven’t covered your question, simply ask it in the comments section at the bottom of the article.

What If The Fish Aren’t Rising?

Brown trout do 80% or more of their feeding below the surface. This means that they won’t be rising most of the time. Fish with nymphs and streamers when there isn’t any surface action and then change to dries when you see consistent rises.

What do you do if you don’t know what fly to use?

You’ve got to start somewhere and I would suggest using a classic fly that imitates everything. If the fish are rising, use a size 16 Adams. If you want to nymph, a pheasant tail or hare’s ear with a tungsten head is always a good shout. If you want to use a streamer, use a wooly bugger in olive or black.

What “X” Tippet should I Use?

Use anything from 4X to 6X is my advice. It’s thin enough to fool fish and strong enough to handle a fight. 7X and 8X are extremely thin and great for clever fish, but if you hook a bush or need to fight a strong fish, it’s going to snap.

What is the Best Knot for Adding Tippet to the Leader?

I personally use a double uni knot as it’s super strong and is quick and easy to tie, (much easier than a blood knot). If you want to make a dropper rig, use a double surgeon’s knot.

That’s How To Fly Fish For Brown Trout

Brown trout are incredible to fish for and you can find them all over the world, so you’ll never be far from a place where you can cast a line for one. They’ll teach you so much about fly fishing that you can transfer across to fishing for other species too.

We’ve covered pretty much everything you need to know about fly fishing for brown trout in this article. The only thing that is left to do is to go and try it all out for yourself. There’s no better teacher than seeing how all these tactics and techniques work out on the water and adapting them yourself.

Remember, it is all about trying, failing, trying something new, failing again, and repeating this until you succeed. Have fun with it, and enjoy being in the beautiful places where these fish live.

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Growing up fly fishing on the sea, streams and lakes of Kenya and the UK, Jamie has traveled the world in search of fishing nirvana. From his time managing bonefish lodges in the Bahamas and running fishing safaris in East Africa, all the way to guiding on the flats of Seychelles and offshore, there are not many species or environments he hasn't experienced firsthand. He has guided for over 12 years and has cast a line almost everywhere including the rivers of Norway and Iceland to the beaches of Costa Rica, the lagoons and banks of the Galapagos, the highlands of Ethiopia, Kenya, the Himalayas and the flats of Mexico, Belize, The Bahamas, and Seychelles.

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