In order to be successful at catching trout, you need to understand how to find
the fish once you arrive at the water. This is actually fairly simple, but it takes
a little practice to get the hang of reading the water properly. You need to be
able to identify basic stream anatomy and also structure that attracts trout. A
river is very predictable in that it generally changes between three different
basic types of waters in pretty much the same pattern, over and over. That
pattern is: riffles, pool, run, riffles, pool, run, etc. Trout move into these
different types of water for different reasons.
Riffles are often referred to as "rapids" or
"ripples". Riffles are simply a portion of the river where the incline is a bit
steeper, the width of the river is a bit narrower, and the bottom of the river
is a bit rockier. This produces a quicker flow with a choppy surface. Riffles
should be important to you for a few different reasons. Trout generally feel
safe in riffles, because of the broken surface of the water. I'm not implying
that trout recognize that they cannot easily be seen, but the broken surface
certainly decreases THEIR ability to see what's going on above the surface --
bird shadows, fishermen, etc. -- which is more likely the reason why they're
less apt to spook. Also, when the trout are feeding competitively with
each other, they'll move up into riffles to pick at drifting nymphs and scuds.
The fast current is not difficult for them to manage, because the friction of
the water against the gravel provides a nice back current to help keep them in
place. In addition, riffles with white caps are very highly oxygenated, meaning
there's usually a stronger insect population present there. And since your fly
is moving past the fish faster, and the choppy water makes it more difficult for
the fish to clearly see the potential food, they have to make a quick decision.
The faster current also makes it easier for the fisherman to see the strike.
While fly fishermen generally nymph fish riffles, bait fishermen can have similar
luck drift fishing salmon eggs or small worms under a bobber.
Riffles eventually settle down and dump into a
Pool, which many fishermen refer to as "holes". The more impressive the
riffles, the deeper the pool will be. This water is usually very well oxygenated
by the riffles,
and it provides cover from predators and shelter from excessive heat or cold. Pools
generally have a strong population of minnows, darters, sculpins and other little
things that swim away, making this area fertile hunting grounds for mature meat-
eating trout. The water at the point where riffles become a pool can be enormously
productive for fly and bait fishermen drifting their hook under a strike indicator.
The pool can also provide some good results on a dry fly, as the insects that spend
their aquatic lives in the rocks under riffles often lay the eggs as adults on the
pools downstream. Sit-and-wait bait fishermen generally prefer pools as well.
Lastly, a pool is a good place to use lures that represent swimming minnows --
i.e. spinners, crankbaits, jigs, streamers, etc. Pools can come in many shapes and
sizes. The current can be painfully slow or fairly quick. The water depth can vary
from only 2 feet to 15 feet or more. The pool may be round in shape, or it may
continue downstream for some time, gradually forming a channel, with deeper water
along the side of the stream with the steeper bank. Channels often provide exciting
top water action using dry flies and terrestrials, as well as drift fishing bait
or sub surface flies.
When you look at the above picture, you may notice an empty pop bottle left on the
bank in the foreground. Please be sure to remove your own litter, and please go
the extra mile by picking up after the stupid slobs that do things like this.
On larger faster rivers, a pool or channel may transition directly into another set
of riffles. On most of our local rivers, though, the pool & channel will become a
silty Run, which is generally more shallow, wide
and placid. Runs do not often hold feeding trout. This is due to a number of reasons.
The most obvious reason is that most of the fish feel less secure in shallow placid water.
So, the nervous trout will move to deeper water (a pool) or water with broken surface
(riffles). Another reason you don't find many feeding trout in runs is because the food
is limited. The sandy or silty bottom of a run will have some forms of burrowing aquatic
insects, and they are occasionally available for trout feed on, but the bugs that trout
are most familiar with tend to live in rocky environments. So, limited cover plus limited
food equals limited fish.
There are exceptions to the rule, however. If a run has some additional structure in
the stream bed -- like a large boulder or a downed tree -- this adds to the cover and
the trout's sense of security, and will likely hold a few fish. They still have the food
issue to contend with, however. Silty and sandy areas are valuable in one other capacity,
though. They are extremly important as resting areas for the most dominant trout in
As a trout grows, he'll eventually reach a size where he cannot obtain enough calories by
simply holding his position and waiting for food to drift to him. This means he'll have
to either start scavenging like a catfish, OR he'll have to learn how to hunt. Trout
that learn to hunt will move upstream into the pools, chase down a couple of minnows, a
sculpin, maybe a sunfish, and then they'll settle back down into the silty areas to rest.
They generally only eat every 6 to 8 hours, but they can sometimes be harrassed into
biting a fly or lure that twitches right in front of them. So, don't just walk past
those runs on your way to the next pool. Stroll slowly, and look closely.
As the run begins to quicken on it's transition to the next pool, you'll find what's
come to be called a tailout, which is really nothing
more than the flat water just above a riffle. It's an area where you may find fish in
the warmer months trying to avoid backing into the riffles, and you may also find spawning
pairs in this type of area in the spring or fall. It can be fun sight fishing these area,
if you hit it right.
As previously mentioned, various types of structure
can attract trout for purposes of protection and food. These structures are usually in
the form of a large rock or vegetation (i.e. a downed tree). To best utilize these
structures, you have to grasp how they change the river's current. Obstructions create
bottleneck feeding lanes or "seams", funneling drifting food into a buffet line. The dominant
(meaning biggest and strongest) trout in that area will obtain one of these primo feeding
lanes by simply chasing away the smaller fish. The dominant trout will line up directly
upstream or downstream of the obstruction, because food will be funneled to him at both
locations. The downstream position is more protected, however, due to deeper water and
a broken water surface. Click the pictures above for a closer look. Trout holding in these
types of bottleneck seams are generally feeding beneath the surface, so nymphs and baits
drifted down to them generally work best. However, never rule out using a thickly tied
dry fly in rougher water when nothing else seems to be working.
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