This might sound familiar: you’ve gathered all your gear, made the effort to drive to the water, set up your rig and finally start making some casts. After an hour or two, you’ve caught zero fish and haven’t even had the pleasure of seeing one.
This can be a defeating feeling. Fly fishing seems great in theory, but if you can’t locate any fish, the desire to continue fishing diminishes. While there are going to be days when you won’t find fish, this shouldn’t be the norm. As long as you know you’re fishing water that holds trout, you should be able to locate them. There are a few things you can try that are drastically going to increase your chances at landing some of these beautiful fish.
Where Trout Want to Live
Trout are going to live in a variety of places in the water. No matter what river you’re fishing, you’ll generally find trout living in similar places. Trout are always going to play a little hard to get. If you send enough of properly patterned flies through their holding areas, you’re going to have some success.
Shelter: Fish love and need shelter. A prime shelter for fish is going to not only protect them from the current, but it’s also going to protect them from the sky. Many birds of prey love to feast on trout so they need to have places to hide under in case one starts circling.
The current can exhaust trout and spending the entire day fighting it is going to leave little energy for finding food or protecting themselves. A break in the current is almost guaranteed to hold fish.
Oxygen: Another important thing to remember is that fish are going to need oxygen. Fish are going to flock towards the areas in the water with the highest amounts of it. Oxygen levels are highest in colder water. This is why some of the best trout streams and rivers in the world are tailwaters (moving water below dams). This water is cold and perfect for trout.
Also, faster moving water has a higher gradient and contains more oxygen. Fast and cold water is a perfect recipe for finding trout.
Food: Food is obviously a necessity for fish! If there isn’t food in the area, they’re not going to stay long. Trout feast on bugs and potentially other smaller fish. Trout will live in areas that grow these insects! Insects hatch in riffles (fast moving water with obstruction), runs, eddies (bend in river) and pools (slow and deep water).
If you take a look at the foam or bubble line, that’s where the food is located!
Watch this Video for Comments on What I did Wrong!!
River Structures That Trout Love
There are a few types of structure that hold trout. If you can locate any of the following structures, you’re in for a lot of activity!
Riffles & Pocket Water
Riffles are an increase of water flow with rocks and boulders. These are some of the louder portions of the river. Also, you might see white water flowing through these sections. Anglers often skip over these sections because the water looks like it’s moving too fast! Don’t do this. Stay and make some casts.
Guide Tip: Being able to “Read” pocket water was tough for me. But once I understood what it is and how to fish pocket water with a fly my catch rate exploded. Read this article about pocket water. What is Pocket Water and How to Fly Fish it.
Focus in on the front of and backside of boulders. These are mini pools or pockets that can easily hold one or two fish.
Runs with Deep Structure
A run is a channeling of a river or stream. If you see the water all funneling through a certain area, that’s what is considered to be a run. These runs likely contain some sort of structure way at the bottom. Whether it’s a tree or a boulder, this is a great place for fish to hide.
You’re going to have to be quick on the draw with your set and make sure you don’t have too much slack out! You’ll need to be able to feel those strikes.
Pools for Trout to Hide in During Mid-Day
Even if you consider yourself to be a new angler, you likely know the importance of fishing pools. Pools hold fish and they’re always a blast to try and maneuver. You can spend a good 20-30 minutes on a single pool determining what the fish want and where they are hiding.
Fish like pools in the middle of the day because these are most likely the deepest sections of the river or stream. The deeper the fish can get, the cooler the water. As the sun raises in the sky, it heats up the water temperature and fish dive for some of the deepest water they can find.
Bends Bends in the river are commonly known as eddies. Anywhere you find a bend in the river or stream is a great place to fish. These bends in the river contain deeper and slower moving water. On top of this, they contain structure for the fish to hide in or under. Eddies are a must fish when you see them.
Don’t forget about the inner transition water!
How to Read the Water for Trout
Alright, you know where the fish like to hide and can seem to find these sections, but you’re still struggling to land fish. Knowing how to fish these “fishy” sections of water is the next and most important step.
Trout Love Riffles & Pockets
Riffles and pockets require some of your best finesse casting skills. You have a small casting target, and one wrong move can result in a lost fly as well as a blown hole. Again, riffles and pockets are the faster moving sections with structure for the fish.
First, look for the larger rocks with the most obvious holding lie (slow, almost still water). Cast your fly above the rock and let it drift down in front or behind the rock. The current is going to suck the fly lower in the water column and likely right across the face of a trout. Trout strike out of instinct and aggression so be prepared for a quick strike and hit your strip set.
Take a look at your local hatch chart to figure out what the fish want. More often than not, you’ll want to use a nymph or small streamer, so it has enough weight to get low enough to the trout’s level. Too many anglers skip these sections of the river! You can easily pull 5-10 fish out of a great riffle.
Trout Love Transitions (Shallow to Deep / Bright to Dark)
A transition is when the water moves from shallow to deep or from fast to slow. These areas are found by paying close attention to structure. For example, pools will likely have boulders or trees near the beginning (head) and tail (end).
Another transition you’ll commonly find is a change from vacant water (areas with no structure or fish) to riffles. Fish are going to spend time in these spots.
When fishing these transitions, cast your fly into the area before the transition and let it drift into the riffle, run or pool. Fish will hang out on the edges of these and wait for food to almost hit them in the face. If you make a solid cast and ensure your fly is the first part of your setup to hit the transition, odds are you’re going to land a fish.
Bright Light to Shadow
The light on the water can even make a difference for these fish. Depending on the time of day, the fish are going to hold in either one of these places. Fish will sun themselves in the mornings. If the water has cooled overnight, they want some warm sunlight to start the day. Also, hatches often occur in the sunny portions of the river. Beware that fish don’t hang out too long in these areas because they’re exposed to predators.
Trout Love Pools
Too many anglers fail to cover the entire pool when they fish one. As a result, they lose out on several chances at fish. Again, the transition areas (beginning and end) are the best spots to hit. Fish will sit in these portions of the water when it’s time to feed. It’s where the most food congregates so make sure you let your flies drift through these portions.
If you have boulders in your pool, you’ll find some of the biggest fish on the front side of a boulder. Most anglers spend their time on the backside of a boulder, but the front side can even be more productive.
Also, don’t forget to fish the middle of the pool. Either let your fly dead drift through the deep portions or do some hard strips to see if you can get any fish to follow. The middle sections of pools have structure way at the bottom and fish will be nearby. A few hard strips through the middle of a pool is going to land you fish!
Fish will hang in the shadows throughout the middle of the day and into the evening. This is when the temperatures are at their warmest and fish need to a bit sneakier with their feeding. If you can find an area on the water that moves from sunny to shadowed, spend time fishing it!
Trout Love Bubble Lines
Bubble lines are another prime spot to find fish. Food follows these bubble lines and wherever there’s food, there are trout! You’ll have success when you fish these bubble lines in the midst of structured areas.
Trout Love Bends
When you’re fishing a bend, consider your circumstances. If you’re in a boat, then you can fish the deeper portions of the water. You have the luxury of fishing the eddies at a variety of angles. If you’re wade fishing, take a look at the inside transition water. Fish will hang out in this shallower water! This portion of the bend will also likely hold structure. Structure in a transition portion of a bend is one of the best lies you can find on the water. You can guarantee yourself that it has fish.
Trout Love Straight Runs
If you’re fishing a straight run, assume that the fish are along the sides near the structure. The structure could be anything from a cut bank to a fallen tree. You may have to wade through the water in these sections so make sure you’re careful!
Trout Love Creek Inlets
Creek inlets are a fantastic area to target. These areas provide food, protection and slower moving water. All of these are perfect features for trout!
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The Best Places to Find Trout
Bright to Shadow in a Pool
If possible, find a pool that has a shadow cast over it. Not only are the fish going to concentrate in the sunny or shadowed part of the water (depending on the time of year and time of day), but they’ll also be piled in here because of the safety and food it provides. A shadowed pool is a perfect scenario for landing fish.
Bubble Line on One Side of a Straight Run
Bubble lines are easy spots to target fish and if you see one along the side of a straight run, that’s a perfect storm. Cast near the bubble line, but on the side closest to the bank. Fish will dart out from their hiding places to hit your fly.
Structure in a Bend
Look for any sort of structure in a bend. The slow, deep water and concentration of food will create a natural holding area for fish. Spend a decent amount of time here! There are fish around, but they may be acting more picky than necessary.
Reading rivers and streams requires hours of patience and observation. You can’t expect yourself to understand rivers overnight. However, the more you get on the water, the better you’ll become.
Make it a habit to study the river or stream for a while before you begin fishing. You’ll not only have a chance to make sense of the movement of the water, but you can create a game plan of how and where you’re going to fish. This part of fly fishing is a blast!