Fly Fishing Tips for Stocked Trout

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Louis Cahill Photography

Fly fishing tips for stocked trout. Photo By: Louis Cahill

My first memory of bringing a trout to hand with a fly rod took place back in the spring of 1990.

It was on a seasonal trout stream, located 45 minutes north of Atlanta, GA. It was a far cry from a trophy trout at 10-inches, but that freshly stocked rainbow trout, touched my eleven year old fishing soul to the core. I’ll never forget the excitement I felt watching that stocker chase down and eat my olive woolly bugger at my feet. It felt really good for a change, not relying on that plastic blue can of worms to get the job done. From that day forward, I never looked back, and I’ve moved on to become a respectable trout guide in my area and I’ve fly fished for trout all over the world.

A lot of fly fisherman would laugh at me if I brought that fishing memory up in conversation. Many wouldn’t be able to look past the fact that I was fly fishing for stocked trout that weren’t naturally born in a stream or river. If you happen to be reading this post and you’re one of those fly anglers that I’m referring to, just remember that we aren’t all blessed to have easy access to wild trout. For many of us, wild trout populations are so low (because of poor conservation and land management), it’s not even feasible for us to strategically target them, and if it wasn’t for stocked trout, we’d have no trout at all. If you’re fortunate to be blessed with wild trout populations where you live, don’t forget how that special that is, and please don’t make fun or belittle others who take pride in catching stocked trout. You just make yourself look ungrateful and worthy of having wild trout.

Before I get into my fly fishing tips for stocked trout, I’d like to take a moment to mention a couple of reasons I feel stocked fisheries can be good for the sport. For one, they’re a great place to introduce kids and newcomers to fly fishing for trout. Timed correctly, an angler with zero experience can have great success catching trout. Secondly, put and take trout waters provide great locations for anglers who like to harvest trout, to do so without having to illegally poach on special regulation or wild trout fisheries.

Fly Fishing Tips for Stocked Trout

Tip 1: Big flies and bright flies are generally the best choice for freshly stocked trout

If I knew I was going to be targeting freshly stocked trout (within a week or less of being stocked) I should really only need three types of patterns. The first would be a big Stimulator dry fly. Since stocked fish are conditioned to eating fish food pellets on the surface in the hatcheries, anglers can regularly take them on the surface with big dry flies. A dead drifted dry works really good, but sometimes, twitching or skating it at the end of the drift will also work. If the stocked trout aren’t liking your dry flies, I’d next try stripping a black or olive woolly bugger. A large profiled fly with an erratic action will really get the attention of freshly stocked trout, so much in fact, that they often will swim several feet to eat a big fly like a woolly bugger. And if the woolly bugger isn’t working I’d next rig up a tandem nymph rig and tie on a bright san juan worm or egg pattern off the back. Fluorescent colored flies are very hard for stocked trout to pass up, and they’re usually the ticket until most of the stocked trout have been landed on them multiple times. Try these tactics above for freshly stocked trout.

Tip 2: Don’t move, change your flies first

Don’t always think the fun is over after a few fish. Many anglers move on to new water when all they need to do is change out their flies to something different to continue to catch stocked trout. This works really well when you’ve got crowded water and equally well when you’ve got kids that aren’t very mobile.

Tip 3: Search out the slower moving water like pools and deeper runs

When trout are first stocked they often search out slower moving water. I think most of the time this is because they’re trying to match the slow moving water that they grew up in at the hatcheries and it’s more comfortable to them. If you know the DNR recently stocked you should first check out the pools and deeper slow moving runs and bypass the fast moving pocket water. These places you should find pods of trout hanging out and easy to catch.

Tip 4: Go natural with fly choice after the trout have been around for a while

Eventually stocked trout will get conditioned to seeing those big woolly buggers and bright attractor nymphs, and you’ll find it much harder to get them to eat them. When that happens, anglers should start fishing fly patterns that are more natural looking and less gaudy and flashy. This is the time that soft-hackles and your traditional nymph patterns (prince nymph, hares ear nymph and pheasant-tail nymphs) really shine. I often will tie on a fast sinking copper john and drop one of the traditional nymphs off the back.

Tip 5: Hit the pocket water and riffles

The longer the stocked trout have been in the stream or river, the more they will start to spread out and move around. This is when I’ll leave the big pools and runs for other anglers and focus my attention fly fishing the pocket water and seams of riffles. You’ll find the trout here less pressured, easier to catch and you should also be able to find some water to yourself.

Tip 6: Swing your flies

If you’re on the water and you can’t get the stocked trout to eat your dead drifted flies, try repositioning yourself so you can swing your fly patterns in front of them towards the end of your drift. Sometimes, this can be the most effective way to catch stocked trout that have been in the water for a while.

Tip 7: Go tiny and downsize your tippet

Over the years, I’ve witnessed and fly fished to stocked trout that were unbelievably difficult to catch. Some of these stocked streams get pounded daily with anglers, and eventually the trout get super spooky and selective. When I see this on the water, it makes me want to round up all those stocked trout haters that think all stockers are a joke to catch and watch each one of them get their egos checked. If you’re going to be fly fishing for stocked trout late in the season after they’ve had lots of education, you should be ready to downsize your tippet, micro-nymph, and fish tiny dry flies if you want to consistently catch trout. Yes, I’m talking about 6x-7X tippet and fly patterns down to size 24.

That’s some of my tips for fly fishing to stocked trout. Please drop me a comment if you have any to add.

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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15 thoughts on “Fly Fishing Tips for Stocked Trout

  1. LOL that sounds exactly like me thirty years earlier in a different location. My dad was not a fisherman but he knew of a place in the Adirondacks that you could fish for stocked trout. I was also 11, had my Shakesphere Wonder Rod, level line I was lucky to cast ten feet with and flies I had tied. I was just amazed that I was catching fish on something I had produced.

  2. Stocked trout in PA are way more selective than wild trout late in the season. Why? Because as time goes on the stocked trout get pounded with numerous fisherman because a lot of the stocking points are near parking lots/roads. Wild trout on the other hand are more remote and see less pressure. Many are also opportunistic and will take a dry whether there’s a hatch or not. Not so much with stockies that have been eating naturals for a couple of months.

  3. I agree completely in Virginia we have quite a few delayed harvest stocked fisheries and come spring time they can offer some very technical trout fishing after they have been around a few months.

  4. I much prefer wild trout, but where I’m from large wild fish are at a premium. However, cutting my teeth on stockers in Connecticut prepared me for highly technical fishing on places such as the Railroad Ranch section on the Henry’s Fork, and western spring creeks. After stockers acclimate to the wild, they can become difficult and worthy adversaries.

  5. Great piece and excellent tips, Kent.

    Stocked trout are economically significant in our area. Our little Appalachian community is extremely eco-tourism dependent, and stocked trout return $37 for every dollar spent on providing them according to the USFWS. I see people and kids with guides on our river over the moon over catching trout for the first time, and I see a lot of veteran anglers and put and take fishermen using the resource as well. Also, our TU programs Fly Fishing Merit Badge, Casting for Recovery (Breast cancer victims), Project Healing Waters and teaching fly fishing to new members would not be the same without an opportunity for these deserving folks to hook into stocked trout.

    I have fished for trout all over the US, including Alaska, and I respect the opinions of folks who will only fish for wild fish, but I enjoy all opportunities to fish, and, as you alluded to, traveling or hiking in to wild fish may be impossible or rare for many fishermen. For me, I can and will continue to seek out wild fish, but living on a Tailwater gives me the opportunity to fish almost any time, and I am not going to give that up that opportunity just because there are stocked as well as holdover fish in the river.

    On the tips: You are spot on. I would add that, in fishing for stockers, short quick strip-backs at the end of the swing sometimes produces with streamers, nymphs and, surprisingly to some, dry-fly caddis and stimulators.

  6. We came up with a new technique for picky stockers. Drown the dry. They didn’t want to eat anything, so after trying several droppers. We put a split shot in front of the stimi, and magic in the forest happend. Sometimes you gotta get weird to catch trout.

  7. In Oregon, most of our stocked river trout head out to the oceans and come back as steelhead. They only stock rainbows in this area, and they seem to be quick to migrate with the natives. The lakes are another story. Plenty of stocked rainbows biting on blood worms and prince nymphs all day. Too much fun!!

    • My first 20″ Rainbow was on a Green Weenie. A stocker no doubt. I’ve always wondered if it’s because they think it resembles a pellet or a piece of corn?

  8. I’ve fished for native and stock trout for 30 years since I discovered fly fishing while living in the Arkansas Ozarks. I love it all and agree that there is great value in stocking programs. I live in Texas now, so I often fish the White, Norfork and Little Missouri in Arkansas; the Conejos in Colorado; the San Juan in New Mexico and many other rivers. Love your tips. I’m sure I would have caught many more fish over the years, had I not had to learn most of it on my own.

  9. Stocked trout are necessary in our highly pressured waters. Fishing would not be as much fun for many without some “easy” trout to catch. Initially I laughed at this article as I normally avoid the fresh stocked waters but realize that your words as usual are helping folks.

    Stocked trout are very soon educated and become an ample nemesis where catch and release is the norm.

  10. Yep, just because they’re there, don’t mean they’re going to jump on the hook. Sometimes you have to work, and think, hard in a stocked fishery!

  11. Thanks…Read this night before Opening Day…Followed your tips, eventually the nymphs did the trick…As the only fly rodder on river, held my own vs. Powerbait crew…Great way to start season

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