Time to Catch Running Rainbows Before it's Too Late
Rainbows are generally early Spring spawners. Depending on the location, latitude and specific population, wild rainbows generally spawn between March and May. However, rainbows will often start their runs to spawn much earlier, up to 6 months. This means that rainbows that live in lakes (including steelhead) can often be found in tributary rivers and creeks beginning in the Fall and continuing throughout the Winter as they make their way upstream and prepare to spawn. Hatchery rainbows may spawn in the Fall but often stick around in tributaries well into the winter.
These runs presents a great opportunity for another 6 weeks or so to get out and catch some nice lake-run rainbows before they spawn. Remember to check regulations to make sure the water you intend to fish is open.
Late Winter and early Spring rainbows are notoriously aggressive. Try fishing big attractor nymphs, glow bugs (where legal), or even flashy streamers. It is rare to catch these fish on dry flies.
When you catch running fish, especially those that are very near the spawn, be extra careful in handling them. Avoid touching them entirely if possible, but certainly don't squeeze them as you can damage their eggs or milt and limit their chances of making more rainbows.
If your river contains wild rainbow populations look for these fish in faster water along current seams or in riffles the closer to the spawn you get. If most of your fish are stocked hatchery fish you'll find them holding in slower deeper spots until they move to riffles to spawn.
Lake-run rainbows are only different from steelhead in that they don't have an ocean full of food to help them grow. However, they are often much larger than the resident stream fish and they fight hard. Be ready to handle hard fights with stronger tippets and perhaps a rod a size or 2 larger than you might normally use.
I know, most of us are still getting slammed with snow, but if you can, get out there while these fish are still available. There's almost nothing as fun as hooking hot rainbows, even when it's cold outside.