Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Basic Fly Fishing Series , Article Two : Reading a Trout Stream

Our friend Jeff " Owl " Jones is back with another great article intended to help you catch more fish on your local trout water! Be sure to check out his websites linked below for more great info and also the forums if you want to get in on the trout fishing action!

                                           They Call Me Fishlips

Alright, who took all the trout? 

Getting into anything new has challenges and fly fishing is no exception. Especially when you choose to get into fly fishing for trout in rivers. The water looks confusing and intimidating, and the trout? Well, who knows where they are? Almost every angler feels this way when they stalk clumsily up their first trout stream. It's easy to find yourself standing in a river, looking around you at all the water and wondering just what in the world you're doing out there; not a clue where to cast or where the fish might be. I'm going to try and help you out with that aspect of the sport because although it's been a long time now since my early days on the creeks stalking trout, the frustration and "head scratching" seems like it was just last week. You'll frequently find me lamenting my lack of "good luck" on my blog - so don't feel like you're the only frustrated angler out there chasing trout, whether you're really new or you've been at it for decades. Every dog has his day, ya know? And now,....

The first thing you need to know is that trout always "face upstream." The second thing you need to know is that trout don't always "face upstream." You can count on 99% of the trout you're fishing over facing upstream, but if you get a "curl" or "backwards eddy" or "swirl pool" on one side of the river or the other, there may be trout facing straight downstream...yet still with their trouty little noses into the current. But let me stick to the old adage first things first...

When you look at a trout stream, what do you see? Flowing water - some of it forming bumpy "runs." Some of it forming long, slick pools. And some of it dropping it's way from rock to rock forming "pocket water." There's other types of trout water( including those back eddies), but for now we'll stick to these three. 

Assuming the trout are facing upstream, where you look for them - and where you cast - will depend on a couple of other factors including if there are any bugs hatching or fish rising, and what type of trout inhabit the stream you're fishing. Brook trout like slow water, and you'll rarely find them in the faster "runs." Rainbows love the faster, bumpy "runs" and pocket water, too if it's got enough spunk. Rainbows steer clear of the slow water that brookies love. Brown trout share the same love of slow water that Brook trout do, but (at least in the Southeast) seem to hold closer to the "seam" where fast water and slow water meet. ( Usually in the area of a "run." )

If you want to, you can use the old saying " think like a fish" to determine where they might be with this knowledge. Let's assume there are all three species in your river or creek. You step up to the first pool and notice it's a slick, deep pool but it's upper end is a little bumpy and faster flowing. You can tell by the speed at which the water is leaving the shallow shelf and flowing down into the bumpy head of the run that it's moving fairly fast at that point and slowing as it spreads out into the wider pool. 

Where would the rainbows be? That's right, along the banks in the slower water. ( If that was your answer, you should avoid playing the lottery this week. ) Of course the rainbows will be in the faster water, even if it's only marginally faster than the water 1/2 way down the pool. They like it deep and fast, like a southern fried chicken meal. The browns and brook trout, if they're there - will be along the edges where the water is slower, but where they can still pick off aquatic insects tumbling down through the fast water. That is, unless it's late spring, summer or early fall when both browns and brookies may line up along the banks in wait for the buffet of beetles, ants and other bugs that fall into the water. They could even be near the back, almost at the "lip" of the pool as it flows over into the next area...so be careful stalking the pool and run! Don't forget to try and get a cast or two into the back end of the area before casting further up into the pool. Casting over a trout with a fly line is a pretty good way to make them "nut up" and go streaking up the run...warning every  other trout in the pool that there's danger nearby! 

The other thing I want to touch on is something I mentioned earlier - "seams." A "seam" is where faster water from a run or short pocket beside a rock runs alongside slower water to form a sometimes nearly invisible edge. The trout like to hold near these seams, sometimes(to our eyes) right under them....they can spend less energy holding in a feeding area, but zip out to get anything passing by that looks like it might make a nice meal with little effort. The seams are where you'll find the fish that are looking up also as insects hatching and dying in the water will naturally be pushed toward the edge of this faster water where hungry trout are waiting just out of bounds to dart in for the kill. 

Below is a simple illustration of the different parts of a stream that I've been talking about and where you should expect trout to be. Hopefully, this will help you to identify the areas on the streams you fish that will hold the most trout. And if they aren't there, then you might want to just tie on a "searching fly" like a Stimulator and cast all over the place until you can put together a pattern - because they aren't always where they're supposed to be. But that's why they call it "goin' fishing" and not "goin' catching!"

By Jeff " Owl " Jones from They Call Me Fishlips


  1. Good article. I've been Fly Fishing fresh water for 3 years. This year I fished in the Smokey Mountains. It was a great experience. I have never fished salt water. I wonder what that would be like?

    John Stefani

  2. Thanks for checking us out! You should stop by the author of this article's blog - he fishes in the Smokies a lot. You can find his blog here: http://owljones.blogspot.com

    As for fly fishing in salt water , I've never done it but I'm sure there would be a ton of opportunities to use streamers or shrimp patterns from the shore in some of the sounds and bays here on the East Coast.

    Let me know if you ever get a chance to try it!


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