The conditions and even the dates have varied greatly from year-to-year for the trout opener on the small stream in the state park south of my home. In some seasons, the water has been so low that the stocked browns still remained stacked by the dozens in the deepest pockets under bridges and after a few choice riffles right around the areas near the road where they were placed a few days before the season’s start. In others, stocking – and the reason for fishing the small river – has been delayed by spring deluges or late blizzards which blanketed the banks in three-foot drifts of snow. But in every season since I began fishing the flow and watching its popularity increase with spin- and fly-fishermen alike, one thing remains the same: trout are still trout.
Whether it’s been on the rocky rivers dropping out of the Sawtooth mountains on Minnesota’s north shore, or in the fertile meandering creeks of the Wisconsin driftless area, or right here on this odd little gem stuck in the middle of the Midwest, I’ve found trout in the same small spaces – even the stockers, after they’ve spread out and become acclimated to their surroundings. Trout are fast water fish. That’s how the creator designed them and nature evolved them, and looking for them in the areas they relate to is the first step to catching them. Every little break in the water, each spreading washout after a riffle, and every bank with a big log resting along it, or overhanging branch that shades it, all hold a chance at connecting with a fish.
Trout are shaped like a missile, and when hooked, this fact is even more than evident as they streak and splash through the current, using the flow to their advantage. Their sleek shape allows them to tuck in behind rocks, logs, and other obstructions or alternatively, hold tight to the bottom in fast flowing areas and dart up or out to grab a tasty morsel drifting by when it’s time to feed. Each split in the water is worth a precision cast; drop a fly behind that boulder and let it tumble through the slack and back out into the main stream. Find a seam where fast water meets slow and let a beadhead nymph get sucked downstream, but wait until the line straightens and the fly swings out – many strikes often come at this point. Focus on these small spaces – and they can be absolutely tiny depending on the stream, sometimes just a foot-by-a-foot disruption will hold fish – and trout can be found.
Along with shifting weather from season-to-season, the sands and substrates of streams are prone to change as well. High waters, low waters and floods all move deposits of sand, gravel and rock around, changing where fish will hold. Small pockets will wash out behind obstructions or at the ends of riffles and runs. Add in a fallen tree, and the conditions of a stretch of water can change dramatically over just a couple of days as scours form and even entire banks erode. Look for trout in the pockets that are carved
out from the main channel, or those that are found at the end of rapids, where fish can lie in wait while the faster water moves overhead, often carrying bits of food with it. These holding areas at the end of fast flowing water can be small, but are often larger than the small spaces previously discussed. Work them from back to front, if possible, and attempt to pull fish from the back of the pocket downstream with the current, to avoid spooking any fish which might be holding at the front of the hole.
Bank On It
Nothing screams “Trout!” like a log along a bank, or an overhanging branch or bush providing shade and a connection to terrestrial food like ants and other insects. In fact, anything providing shade or cover right along shore, especially along the deeper side of a flow, is worth casting toward. On some streams, undercut banks are natural occurrences and on others they’ve been constructed by conservation groups such as Trout Unlimited, with the specific intent of providing hiding places for fish by placing multiple logs near the bank and then covering them with earth and grass. Whether natural or man-made, these haunts are deep, shaded and out of the main flow, providing the perfect resting place for trout and protection from their predators like herons. Rolling a small fly or a jig along them may elicit a take from a wary fish lurking beneath the log or undercut bank.
The same accurate cast is required for getting an offering under any tree or bush which hangs over the water, providing similar cover from predators and a shady resting spot for trout. Drifting a fly under the cover of tangled branches can often produce a surface strike, as trout look up to these structures for falling food, especially in summer. Shade is key for resting trout, especially in waters where the mid-day sun chases them from the shallow areas of the flow and both banks and branches provide that protection.
All Together Now
Pair any of these elements together, or put them in very close proximity to one another, and trout fishing nirvana can be achieved. Such a situation provides fish with an easy route and a daily pattern that can be determined. In low light at dawn and dusk, trout will be out in the skinny water and wash-outs, feeding. In the heat of midday, they’ll seek the shade of a shoreline overhang. While it may take some time to identify these spots – and some are smaller than first thought – once found, they’re worth a spot in the mental GPS for future fishing, assuming things aren’t different next season!
While the nature of a stream may change from year-to-year and certainly from location-to-location, the trout that live in them typically do not. Look for these fast-water fish in those small spaces and feeding areas that they are designed to exploit and in those classic spots that provide them refuge from the bright sun and hungry birds. Odds are, they’ll be ready to snap up any offering that drifts over, through and along these likely locations…in our outdoors.