Trout Education: Learning How to Read Water

The biggest obstacle I had to overcome when I first started fly fishing was being able to successfully “read the water” – i.e. being able to predict the areas where trout hold in streams.  Years of bait fishing for catfish and largemouth, and tossing Texas-rigged watermelon Yamasenko worms into deep creek holes for smallmouth had created a pattern of mind-numbing repetition that left me clueless when it came to trout fishing.  My previous experience told me that fish held in deep pools (which is only partly true).  So for a long time, I would hop from one deep pool to the next, skipping all the water in between.  Needless to say, I passed up on a lot of fish in those early days.  It wasn’t until I ran into another fly fisherman nymphing a riffle, that I started to learn more about trout holding areas.

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Riffles are shallow, rocky sections of streams with fast/broken water.  This riffle on Tohickon Creek holds good numbers of trout during spring and early summer.  

As most trout bums know, trout behavior and survival is largely dependent on water temperature.  In water temps below 45 degrees, the trout become lethargic and don’t feed very often and usually hold in slow, deep pools.  As water temps rise in the spring, the metabolism of the trout increase.  In water temperature between 68 and 70 degrees, the fish will still actively feed, but they will generally hold in broken/fast water because of the higher oxygen content.  If the water stays between 50 and 65 degrees, and there is adequate food, trout can be found in all types of stream environments – pools, riffles, runs, and pocket water.  Water above 70 degrees is dangerous for trout, and trout struggling in these water temps should probably be left alone.  If the trout have any hope of surviving the high temps, they need all of their energy reserves and the added stress of being caught by a fisherman will likely be fatal.

In faster water, objects like large rocks or trees obstruct the current and slow it down via friction.  Where the current meets the object, an area of slow, slack water will form on all sides of the object, allowing a place for aquatic insects to gather without being knocked downstream by the current.  It also provides a place for a trout to rest out of the current, and close to a food source.  Pocket water, which is fast water with a lot of obstructions creating heavily broken surface water, can be extremely difficult to fish, but it can also hold a boat load of trout.

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Many small mountain streams, contain lots of pocket water.  They can be tricky to fish, but they are also usually full of brook trout.  

On the flip side, areas that appear to lack adequate cover, such as long, flat pools, can be very productive during a heavy hatch because it is easier for the fish to spot and intercept insects on the surface in slower water.

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Slow flats like this one, can be very productive during heavy hatches.  But sections like this will usually require long leaders, thin tippet, a stealthy approach and good presentation.  In flats like the one above, it is easier for trout to spot food on the surface, but it is also easier for them to spot an imperfection in your fly or presentation.

Don’t make the same mistake I did when I first transitioned to fly fishing for trout – don’t be a one dimensional fly fisherman.  Use your knowledge of trout survival (water temps), trout food sources (hatches/aquatic insects), and stream characteristics to make educated guesses on where you should target.  I think you will find an increase in the number of trout brought to net (coming from a guy who spent years throwing casts to the wrong areas!).  And remember, there is no substitute for time spent on the water.  Get out on your favorite stream and experiment!

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Deep runs like this can be fished effectively by tight-lining with a tandem nymph rig.  

fall-bow-1Robert Fravel grew up in Pennsylvania, where he started fishing local streams and lakes at a very young age. During his college years, Robert spent the summers working as a whitewater rafting guide in the Pocono Mountains of northeast Pennsylvania. As an avid fly fisherman and fly tier, he enjoys exploring backcountry streams in search of untouched wild trout waters. He currently works as a lawyer in Dublin, Pennsylvania.

 

 

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The Snobby Fly Fisherman

Not too long ago, while perusing my local fly shop, I came across an individual who preached to the lovely lady working the register about how the only type of fishing he does is “on the fly” and the only fish he thinks are worthy of pursuit are “Trout, Steelhead and Atlantic Salmon”.  I listened from a distance for a couple minutes before I eventually got sick of listening to his dissertation on the “sporting qualities of fish”.

I have heard and read many folks classify fly fishing as snobby, elitist and describe it as an “old boys club”.  However, I have to say that throughout my years as a fly fisherman, this was the first time I ever experienced someone who represented this stereotype.  Before I go any further, I would like to say, that I do not know this gentleman and I do not wish to pass judgment on his character.  However, I felt that these statements were worthy of a soapbox stance on my end.

Admittedly, I am primarily a fly fisherman and I primarily pursue trout.  Hands down my favorite type of fishing is chasing native brook trout in the mountains on dry flies, short rods and light tackle.  But, with that being said, I could not disagree more with the statements of the man in the fly shop.  I now choose to spend most of my time on the water fly fishing.  But I wasn’t always that way and that may change in the future as I evolve as an angler and person.  Some of my fondest fishing memories were created using spinning gear and/or live bait.  Chasing smallmouths on small creeks with texas-rigged worms is a blast.  bass 2Night fishing for channel cats on warm summer nights with a friend is something that I dearly miss.  And it doesn’t end there.  Drifting for fluke, tossing top water for largemouth or musky, trolling for walleye, searching for schooling bait during striper season, wade fishing for blues off the surf…the list goes on and on.  All of which were cherished experiences essential in my fishing career, and essential to the angler growth I’ve experienced thus far.  In the early stages of fishing, it is incredibly important for the angler to stay interested in the sport and to have fun while engaged in it.  Otherwise, fishing will not be a priority for long.  And on a semi-unrelated topic, I also believe that the more fun one has while fishing, the more passionate one becomes about fish and fishing.  Once the passion arrives, the concern for conservation follows shortly thereafter.

I didn’t start fly fishing until I was in my late teens, and even then it took me years to catch my first trout on a fly.  Had I not developed a previous passion for fishing through non-fly fishing methods, I would not have had the patience to stick it out.  In a sense I owe my transition to fly fishing to those methods frowned upon by a small number of “snobby fly fisherman.”

My point is this, all fishing is worthwhile so long as you enjoy it. rob and fluke Try as many different types of tackle set ups as you like – fly, spin casting, bait casting, hand-lining, noodling, whatever.  And pursue as many different species as your area and budget allow.  Once you have put in enough time on the water and gained enough experience, you will start to narrow your search and find your fishing niche.  But until then, don’t worry about it.  And certainly don’t let someone else tell you what kind of fishing you should be doing, because clearly that person has forgotten the reason why we picked up a fishing pole in the first place.

Robert Fravel grew up in Pennsylvania, where he started fishing local streams and lakes at a very young age. During his college years, Robert spent the summers working as a whitewater rafting guide in the Pocono Mountains of northeast Pennsylvania. As an avid fly fisherman and fly tier, he enjoys exploring backcountry streams in search of untouched wild trout waters. He currently works as a lawyer in Dublin, Pennsylvania.