Trout are habitual creatures and anglers who learn their basic needs and habits can score just about anywhere. There are some rivers that are unique and some trout, namely the trophies, that act different than their smaller brothers. They are more difficult to locate and catch.
For now, we are going to focus on the common trout. Apply these principals for long enough and you will run into some of the bigger specimens because although their habits may differ, many of the needs overlap.
The temperature of the water has a major effect on trout. Cold water moves them to slower water and reduces activity while optimum temperatures of 56-64 degrees have them feeding and moving regularly.
Warmer temperatures snuff oxygen out of the environment and place great stress on the fish. If the water is icy cold, wait until midday to start fishing and focus on the slow, tailout sections of runs.
The fish seek easy, deep currents as their metabolism slows. Hit all the hot spots when the temperature tops 55 degrees Fahrenheit. You can carry a thermometer to monitor the water temperature or you can make an educated guess based on the amount of feeling left in your finger tips.
Trout require oxygen to survive and seek oxygen when the water reaches critically warm levels. Look for broken water during the summer months to find trout.
Steep grades and obstacles create breaks and provide oxygen to the fish. The really heavy water can be very productive during the warmest months on a trout stream.
Trout will hold in a variety places in a river system. As noted earlier, the deep tailouts on a run are productive during the winter months but they can also be vacant during the summer. Trout hold in areas where they can obtain oxygen, control their temperature, eat a steady stream of food and avoid predators.
Follow the Food
The latter criteria for trout is standard and effective but if you are left with one thing to consider, follow the food. If there is an abundant food source, the trout will be in a position to gorge. They will risk predation and stress if they can gain calories.
Types of Holding Water:
Riffles are generally 4 inches to several feet deep and they have an even, broken current. The riffle is full of oxygen and insects and is great summer habitat for trout.
Runs have a concentrated current with one or more seams. The current may cut out a bank on a bend or run down the middle of the river. The current creates a deep channel and the fish will sit on the seam, where the fast current meets the slow current.
This allows the fish to conserve energy while picking up food and oxygen in the current. Boulders and obstacles to the current provide additional holding water in runs.
The eddy is a circulation piece of water, often found in the top corner of a run. The eddy commonly has a collection of foam where insects gather and trout feed. The circulating current can be tricky for presentations but it provides a conveyor belt of food for trout.
Boulders and Pockets
Boulders create several pockets and currents for trout. The break in the current is ideal for energy conservation and food is pushed in and around the boulder as well. Fishing the boulder pockets is a proven technique and something to remember when you learn how to catch trout.
Structure includes everything from downed logs to undercut banks. Fishing structure can be challenging with snags and tight presentations but it often holds some of the largest fish.
Anything that provides a break in the current and secure it from predators is considered structure. It does not always hold the most valuable position for food collection but many of the nocturnal, predatory fish will occupy the structure during the day.
The material presented above is sufficient for learning how to catch trout in most rivers but also consider things like shade and light. Bright days can be difficult and fish seek shade and cover from the sun. The sun blots out their vision and ability to spot prey. Focus on heavier water when the sun is extra bright and take advantage of cloudy days as the bugs and fish are often very active.
Stillwater Basics for Trout
The title says basics but this article has some depth for stillwater anglers. Learn how to unlock the stillwater mystery and catch some of the hottest trout around.
Stillwater fishing present a great opportunity for fly fisherman. Some anglers take full advantage of the powerful fish while others side-step the lakes and only focus on rivers. Adding some stillwater techniques to your profile makes you more rounded angler and opens doors to great fishing when the rivers are blown with runoff or just not fishing well.
Healthy lake environments grow large, powerful trout that test the best drag systems. Lakes are also very active environments and when viewed through a technical lens, they are not boring by any means.
Just like rivers, you must learn to read the water, follow the food sources and make excellent presentations. When you find the right combination, it is consistent action for hard fighting fish.
Nutrient rich lakes provide a diverse assortment of food for trout and other game-fish. Most lakes have healthy populations of mayflies, midges, damselflies, dragonflies and baitfish. You will also find scuds, snails, reptiles and terrestrials as important food sources in some environments.
The food available to the fish is dependent on the time of year and general water temperature. The food available also has a major impact on the depth and general location of fish.
Midges, namely the big chironomid variety, are available throughout the year and you will frequently see them emerging. This is especially true when the wind is strong enough to break the surface tension. The choppy water makes it easier for the bugs to break-through the film and successfully emerge.
Mayflies are available in a variety of shapes and sizes but the focus of many stillwater fishing anglers is the Callibaetis. These gray body bugs emerge in strong numbers
and you will find fish sucking them off the surface throughout the day.
The damselfly is available to the fish as a nymph and adult. The nymphs wiggle their way to the shoreline and crawl out of the water. They shed the exoskeleton on dry ground and transform into adults. The damsel hatch provides a great opportunity to target aggressive fish in shallow bays.
The height of many hatches is evident as the bugs crawl on your boat, clothes and anything they can attach to before shedding some skin. The adults are available on the surface as cripples when birds clip their wings and send them on a crash course. In some instances, the adult will use cattails and other vegetation to crawl underwater and lay eggs. Try sinking an adult damsel pattern sometime and you may be impressed with the results.
The dragonfly is much larger than the damsel and it does not make a mass appearance. The big nymphs do provide a solid meal and the occasional adult will become a meal. The woolly bugger is a simple and effective presentation for a dragonfly nymph.
Wind Pushes Food Into this Bay
Stillwaters are not exactly still. The water is in constant motion and currents determine the placement and direction of food. Windy days are some of the best on lakes because you can easily read the currents.
Look for scum lines and windswept shorelines to locate the abundance of food and fish. Casting directly into the wind is a pain but is also very effective as the presentation is in line with the naturals. Pay close attention to the currents when approaching a stillwater and look for the areas that gather debris and food to find the fish.
Boat or Wade?
Anglers without boats need not shy away from stillwater fly fishing. A drift boat or fly fishing raft is a great tool when the fish are deep and off-shore but wading is just as effective when the wind is pushing food to the shoreline.
Using waders in the water and walking the shore is also a great idea for sight-fishing cruisers as they pick off terrestrials during the summer months. Ideally, you will have a boat and know when to park it on the shore and concentrate on the muddy bays and productive rock outcroppings.
Determining the depth of the fish is half the battle. Once you are on the same level, they will see your presentation. Depth is easy when fish are crashing the shorelines but sometimes they cruising deep waters and you must make adjustments.
A depth/fish finder doesn’t hurt but it also is not necessary. Tie a pair of forceps to a string and lower them until you hit bottom. Measure the depth and adjust your leader or line type to fish at that level. Start one foot off the bottom and work your way up until you start running into the fish.
Fishing Transition Zones
Look for transition zones in lakes. In rivers, you are always looking for seams, shade lines and places where fish can eat while controlling their temperature and oxygen intake. The same applies to lakes.
Color changes indicate substrate and depth changes. The fish will utilize these zones because a small adjustment in either direction is all they need to remain comfortable. Depth change areas also provide a quick escape when predators appear from above. Work the ledges, color changes and troughs and you are sure to find a few fish.
We have barely scratched the stillwater fishing surface. The lake environment is one that can keep you entertained for a long time. It provides you with an alternative when the rivers are tough and the potential for trophy fish is excellent. Next time you drive by the local reservoir, think about stopping and probing for a few fish.
Wet Fly Fishing for Trout – Still Effective
Wet fly fishing is a proven technique that has somehow become archived in the classic files. The technique faded from the mainstream during the bobber boom but that does not mean it is any less effective.
Swinging is still a popular method of targeting steelhead but it should not be overlooked for trout. You can use traditional patterns like the coachman wet or utilize modern patterns with soft hackles and extra collars.
While swinging is not always the way to go, there are times when it is extremely productive.
When to Swing Wet Flies…
Swinging for trout is best practiced when the fish and insects are active. You can always swing a small muddler minnow or baitfish style pattern to draw a strike but traditional swinging is ideal as a summer technique.
Anytime caddis are present, consider a swinging presentation. You can also use the technique to cover water when the fishing is slow and dead drifting is not producing.
When Not to Swing…
There is never a bad time for active wet fly fishing techniques but it is far less effective than dead drifting during cold periods. The lethargic fish will not make any big moves and dead drifting until you hit them on the head is more productive.
You can also skip the swing when the fish are making deliberate and selective grabs. Fish feeding on spinners and cripples are definitely poor candidates for a swung fly.
Where to Swing…
You can swing through a variety of water types but a decent current helps the technique. Look for riffles where you can control the speed and depth or runs that allow you to swing wet flies along a seam. Also swing through undercut banks and overhanging brush to draw fish out from the cover.
How to Swing…
Swinging wet flies is a fairly simple technique. Use a lightly weighted fly or a small split shot to help sink the fly. Cast down and across and allow the current to pull the fly until it is directly downstream from you.
Allowing the current to drag the line at a high pace is not the result you want. In many situations, it is best to make a mend immediately after the cast. This prevents the line from developing a bow and allows you to increase or reduce the speed by moving your rod tip up or down.
The Hook Set
The hook set is slightly different on a swing than with bobbers or high sticking techniques. The fly is moving, it is downstream and the fish is chasing.
A poor set will pull the fly away from the fish and you will miss more than a few grabs. When you feel the grab, do not pull the rod back to set the hook. Reach downstream and set the hook by lifting the rod up, keeping it almost parallel to the water until you feel the hook fish.
Now that the hook is set, you must get to the bank and walk downstream to get an angle on the fish. Dragging it back upstream pulls the hook through the flesh and you will lose a fair number of fish at the net.
Benefits of Wet Fly Fishing
The benefit of swinging wet flies is the ability to control the speed and depth of the fly without losing contact. You feel the grab, cover water thoroughly and do a fine job of imitating caddis pupa and other emerging insects.
The moving target plays on the attack instinct of fish and you can have some very exciting grabs. Swinging is enjoyable as you are actively controlling the presentation and feeling every bump and change in pressure on the fly.
We are not going to stop high sticking, pulling big streamers or using bobbers to swing exclusively but when the time is right, the swing is our arsenal and it should be in yours too.
It is also fun to carry a couple of traditional wet flies with wings and collars, knowing that they are capable of producing.
Focus on your speed and depth until you start finding fish and enjoy the contact feeling of the grab and the explosion of the hooked fish.