We’ll start with the lowest temperature range you can find— from 33° Fahrenheit up to 50°. Water freezes at 32°F., so we can’t start any lower.
Trout in streams have different habits from even the same trout when they are living in ponds or lakes. I am going to tell you about pond trout later; right now, let’s consider only streams.
Trout are cold water fish, but even they do not choose water so cold as between freezing and 40°. In ice-cold water, all the bodily processes of a trout are slow.
It takes from two to three weeks, for instance, to digest one small minnow—and other food in proportion.
Fish are like people in one way. They only eat when they are hungry. When they are stuffed, like people just after finishing a big dinner, fish aren’t interested in food. Fortunately for us fishermen, trout do feed a much larger part of the time than do people; but you shouldn’t be surprised or too annoyed at seeing trout in a deep pool completely ignore your flies or bait.
You will find water below 50° mostly in the winter, very early spring, very late fall, or in streams and lakes high up in the mountains. As the air in these cases is colder than the water, the deeper water will be warmer than the shallow places. Trout are most comfortable in water from 55° to 65° F. Therefore, if your thermometer tells you the water in a trout stream is under 50°, look for the fish to be in the deepest parts of the stream. Deep pools and back waters in slower current and deep-water pockets beneath undercut banks are good spots for cold water trout.
As springs keep a more uniform temperature the year ’round, spring water will be warmer than the rest of the river in winter and cooler in the summer. For this reason you’ll find spring holes, and places near the mouths of spring-fed brooks, are favorite spots for trout when their regular water is either colder, or warmer, than they like.
The stage of water, whether it is higher or lower than usual or just normal, is a very important factor in stream fishing. With high murky water there is commonly more fish food floating down the stream. Some of this food is washed in from the land, and even more is made up of aquatic animals and insects washed off the rocks in the riffles (fast shallow places in the stream). This great increase in fish food, just like a call to dinner with people, brings a lot of fish swimming out of their resting places to their feeding positions—the dining rooms of the trout.
These places where trout station themselves to feed on floating food are usually slow-current spots close to fast water. The fast current brings the floating food down, some of it on the surface but more of it close to the bottom, and the slow current allows the larger trout (who are lazy) to stay where they can just remain quiet and wait—and yet be ready to flash out and seize any food that floats by.
Frankly, in this cold water condition (under 50°, and especially in high and murky water), the most successful method of fishing for trout is with worms or live minnows.
There are some expert fishermen who are what might be called “artificial lure purists.” They use artificial flies or artificial lures entirely. If fish won’t take artificials they prefer to go without fish rather than use live bait. Some few even go so far as being “dry fly purists.” They don’t even believe in using wet flies. I have every respect and admiration for these men, but I’m just not that way. I like to fish with a dry fly or bass bug more than with any other lure; but I sincerely believe that the well-rounded and skillful fisherman should be able and willing to use the fishing method best suited to any given water and weather condition.
This may be dry flies, bass bugs, wet flies, nymphs, streamers, bucktails, spinner-and-fly, spinner-and-bait, artificial bait-casting lures, worms, minnows, crickets, grasshoppers, crawfish or other live baits. The method may be fly casting, bait casting, trolling, drifting or still fishing. I like fly casting or bait casting best, and prefer an artificial lure if it will work, but believe above all in using the method and lure best suited to the waters and conditions in which you are fishing.
Live bait fishing for trout
But to get back to our trout fishing, you can take trout with a wet fly, nymph or buck tail in these conditions, especially in water above 40°, and I’ll tell you just how to do it later on. Just now though, let’s see what is the best way to use the lowly but very fish-taking angle worm or minnow in conditions where live bait is the essence of what will work best for trout.
With live bait, the easiest method is to fish downstream. You fish either from the bank or wading, according to the water. Trout at this temperature are feeding near the bottom where the water is warmer and is not flowing so fast, and where most of the dislodged larvae, pupae and nymphs (different stages of stream insects), together with land insects and grubs, are floating down the current.
A 7-foot leader tapered to IX (from about .015″ to .009″ in diameter) is a good type for live bait. You want a leader strong enough to lift a small or medium-sized trout out of the water if it’s so brushy you can’t net him. Also, in the places where you use live bait you ordinarily have to stop a fighting fish pretty short to keep from losing him under logs and brush or other obstructions.
The first thing for a beginner to learn—and some veterans, too—is to approach trout fishing as if you were hunting trout like you would hunt deer. You’ve got to get your bait or fly to the trout without the trout seeing you or knowing you are anywhere near him. Just because a fish lives in a different element—water—is no reason he can’t see you if you get in his line of vision.
A fish can see for a horizontal arc of 300 degrees. This means a trout can see horizontally in front, to both sides and for about 60° back of each shoulder. Because of light absorption by the water, a fish cannot see horizontally in the water for more than 25 or 30 feet.
As a trout, when stationary, practically always heads upstream, you will see that if you can stay in the 60° arc of invisibility you can get quite close to a trout without his seeing you; but, if you are upstream from the fish you are after, then you’ve got to keep out of sight by some other means.
A fish is always at some depth under the water; fortunately for fishermen, the vertical vision of a fish doesn’t take in nearly as much territory as his horizontal vision. Because of refraction (the bending of light rays at the surface of the water) and other laws of physics that I don’t need to go into here, it is a fact that the vertical zone of vision of a fish is only 96° instead of the 300° horizontal arc.
Actually by refraction the trout will get a poor and greatly squeezed-together reflection of anything above the water level; but the closer to the water the less the trout can see. To anglers this means that the lower and the farther away you are the less liable a trout is to see you. The things a trout can see well are high objects close to him in front or at the sides. He does not see well anything that is behind him or close to water level. That’s why most dry fly fishermen wade in the water and cast upstream.
You can use these scientific facts about the vision of a trout in your fishing. Keep as close to water level as you can—and try to stay downstream from the fish you are stalking.
Natural presentation of fly
Another thing that is important in stream fishing for trout, salmon or bass, is that your fly or bait should come to the fish in as nearly a natural manner as possible.
There is another characteristic of fish, as of other wild life, however, that is also important in attracting a fish to your fly or bait. A fish sees movement quicker than anything else. This basic fact is the real reason back of all the action successful fishermen give many of their baits and wet flies.
In actual fishing, practically every system of presentation of the fly or bait is designed to carry out one or the other, or both, of these cardinal principles. Once you get this clearly in mind you will be able to work out a lot of special adaptations and combinations of your own. It’ll be fun doing it, too.
But just now, let’s see how these two principles—(1) natural delivery of the bait or fly and (2) action of the lure—work out with this bunch of worms we are using to stalk our trout. Suppose you have just waded onto a shallow-water bar at the side of a long pool in a trout stream. The water is high and pretty murky and the water temperature is 48°. In these conditions, as I told you, live bait is the best method to use if you want fish in the creel.
Natural drift retrieve
Using the cast for live bait, swing your worms, without any sinker, upstream and across towards the deeper water and swifter current flowing along the other side of the river. Remember to shoot the line on your forward cast. Let the line, leader and bait sink down in the water, but follow the bait with your rod dp. Keep pulling in enough line with your left hand so your line keeps fairly taut. Your bait will drift down in the current and be swept along the deeper water by the far bank of the stream. If your bait catches on the bottom, loosen it by gently raising the tip of your rod.
After your bait has drifted past, let out line until the current has taken your bait about 50 feet below you and towards the other bank. At this point the natural drift of the bait is ended because now your line will hold the bait from moving with the current. You now go over to the action type of handling your lure. Let the bait hang in the current for a short time, working the tip gently up and down. Be on the alert for strikes, as they are especially liable to come in this position— with a fly as well as with bait.
Striking with live bait
If you get a strike when fishing with live bait, do not try to set the hook right away. Let the trout take the bait in his mouth and start to make a run with it. Then strike by firmly raising the tip of the rod and tightening the line. Do not give a great yank or heave with your rod. Just a firm tightening up will set the hook. I’ve already told you something about playing and landing trout, so right now let’s concentrate on getting your trout hooked.
If you don’t get a strike after the pause at the lower end of your natural drift, then begin slowly working your bait upstream towards you with the hand twist retrieve mentioned before. Continue until the bait is about 20 feet from you. At this point you make the pick-up for another cast. You fish a live minnow in these conditions in the same manner.
This method of fishing an underwater live bait in such a stream set up is just the way you handle a wet fly, nymph, streamer or buck tail. In fact, if the water were clear and low, in this same temperature range of 40° to 50° F., a fly fished wet by this combination of the natural drift and the live, or action, method would be very liable to take trout—and be more fun than using worms or minnows.
When the water is under 50°, the best fishing time will be between mid-forenoon and mid-afternoon because it’s warmer then. For the same reason, warm days will be better than cold days, other things being equal. Later in the season, with warmer water, this will not be true.
If the current is so swift that your bait can’t be made to get down close to the bottom on a natural drift, you’ll have to put on a split shot to bring your bait down. Don’t use a sinker unless you have to, though sometimes you can’t get the bait deep enough in any other way.
In the under 50° bracket you’ll want to drift your bait into the deepest holes, in the deeper eddies and backwaters, in the pockets between big rocks, also the pools under falls and dams.
I’ll give you more stream tactics for fishing these locations in my directions on wet fly fishing; but if you’ll study the currents carefully and drift your live bait naturally into the places I’ve mentioned, you’ll take your share of early season, cold and murky water trout.
While we are on the subject of live bait for trout, here is one suggestion you should keep in mind. Trout feed on a lot of different things at various times; if you find the fish feeding heavily on something outside their regular diet, then be ready to take advantage of it. For instance, the way big trout will sometimes hide in tiny side pockets of streams watching for grasshoppers to fall into the water from the grass overhead.
Another instance is when the oak worm or leaf roller spins its cocoon in the leaves of hardwood trees over the water. Sometimes when these cocoons are swinging low over the water on long strands of silk, the trout will desert their usual feeding grounds and concentrate along the shore to make a meal of oak worms. If you will dap (alternately drop on and pull off the surface of the water) an imitation of the oak worm, or a real one, in these places you’ll get a surprising number of good trout.
Trout at 50° to 55° water temperature range
In our study of trout stream conditions from the standpoint of a fish, we now come to the 50° to 55° F. range. This is where wet flies are the preferred method of fishing for trout. By wet flies I mean a fly fished underneath the surface of the water. This includes, besides regular wet flies, the nymphs, streamer flies and bucktails.
At these temperatures trout are still bottom feeders, but they have moved into medium depth water—into the deeper of their feeding positions. You will find them on the riffles, at the tails of the current in the pools, around and under logs, especially where the water has hollowed out deeper pockets of water underneath. Both below and above rocks and boulders in the medium depth current are favorite spots. The entrances of feeder brooks are likely places. Cut banks, if close to where the current is bringing down drifted fish food, are again profitable spots to fish.
With water under 55° trout seldom do much feeding on the surface and for that reason do not take dry flies freely until after the water gets above 55°.
There is one condition in water temperatures between 50° and 55° in which trout will take live bait, fished deep, better than wet flies. That is when the water is high and murky. In this situation, live bait is still the best method. You fish it just the same as in the colder water conditions, but in medium depth instead of the deepest water.
If the water is fairly clear and at not too high a stage, however, wet flies will take as many trout in 50°-55° water as will live bait, will cast much better, and it’s more fun to do. So this is the wet fly condition.
Trout stream insects
From the standpoint of imitating the trout’s most important food, wet flies lead all other artificials. This is because aquatic insects in their underwater, or non-flying, stages constitute by far the largest portions of the food of all stream trout. This is true for Brook trout, Brown trout, Rainbows, Cutthroats and Dolly Vardens.
Any thoughtful angler can see the importance of knowing something about these aquatic or water insects that are the chief food of trout. There are five main groups: mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies, alderflies and true-flies.
There are times when certain conditions make it almost impossible to catch trout; but it is always possible in a trout stream to catch stream insects. During the noon lunch period, on a hot day when the trout aren’t rising well, just pick up some stones out of a riffle and look at the underside of the stones.
You will find the surface of the rock covered with nymphs, larvae and pupae of the various aquatic insects. Notice the ingenious little cases or houses made of tiny pebbles or pieces of wood that the caddisfly larvae and pupae live in. Maybe you will see the clever little nets that these underwater forms of caddisflies weave to catch the microscopic plant food they live on. You will see the nymphs of mayflies that are so often imitated in wet flies. You will probably see some stonefly nymphs with brilliant black and yellow color patterns on their backs and heads. Probably you’ll find hellgramites and dobson fly larvae, too.
All observant fishermen know that the young of aquatic insects are very different from adults. The immature underwater forms of mayflies, stoneflies and dragon flies are called nymphs. Except that they have no wings, nymphs are much like adults. The stages of development of these insects are from egg to nymph to adult water insects.
The underwater, immature stages of caddisflies, alderflies, dobsons and true-flies (two winged flies such as midges and black flies) are called larvae. They are not so much like their adults. They develop through four distinct stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. The pupil stage is spent in sort of retirement in some shelter made by the larva. During this time the insect develops into the adult form.
Trout feed on the nymphs and larvae of these aquatic insects, both on the bottom of trout streams and when they are coming up through the water to emerge as adult winged insects. Some varieties of nymphs and larvae hatch into adults on the surface of the water and fly off. Others crawl out on the banks of the stream or to rocks or sticks and hatch into the adult winged insects there.
Calendar of insect hatches
The transitions of these aquatic insects from nymphs or larvae to adults—or the coming up through the water of the nymphs and larvae to get ready for the adult stage—is called a hatch. This is the time when trout feed most heavily on aquatic insects and is the best time for fly fishing. Certainly it will pay any fly fisherman to study carefully the habits of the aquatic insects of trout streams.
The time when hatches of aquatic insects occur depends upon water temperature more than calendar dates, and also varies greatly in different sections. In Eastern trout streams, the usual sequence of hatches of chief interest to anglers runs like this:
- Blue Quill
- Quill Gordon
- Dark Olive.
- Hare’s Ear
- March Brown
- Whirling Dun or Dark Cahill
- Shad Fly
- Flight’s Fancy
- Light Cahill
- Pale Evening Dun
It is interesting to note that 75 percent of the fish food that a trout stream holds is found in the riffles. Shallow, sun-flooded riffles hold more aquatic food than deep or shady ones.
The life of adult aquatic insects is short. Some live but a few hours, other varieties several days. While in the air the adult aquatic insects join in the nuptial flight, mate in mid-air, and then return to the surface of the water to lay their eggs and die. Insects that have fulfilled their natural mission float downstream on the surface of the water. While alive they drift with wings erect and are supported on the surface by their legs and feet. As soon as they die, their wings flatten out side-wise and they float awash. In this stage they are called spent spinners. Spent-wing flies are imitations of this group.
Favorite food of brook and rainbow trout
As a guide to the selection of trout flies, it is interesting to know the favorite foods of the different kinds of trout in the various fishing months. For Brook trout in May the first choice is mayfly nymphs, second choice adult mayflies.
In both June and July
- Caddisfly larvae and pupae
- Mayfly nymphs
- Mayfly nymphs
- Adult mayflies
In the other eight months of the year, mostly non-fishing months for Brook trout, the favorite food is caddisfly larvae and pupae.
Rainbow trout prefer mayfly nymphs, adult mayflies, caddisfly larvae and pupae and true-fly larvae in that order. About 40 percent of their food consists of mayflies in either the nymph or adult stage.
Favorite food of brown trout
Brown trout like the same three kinds of aquatic insects— mayflies, caddisflies and true-flies—and in the same order; but the Browns take about 80 percent of their food from mayfly nymphs and adult mayflies. This is twice the Rainbow percentage and four times the Brook trout percent for mayflies.
Brown trout take a larger percent of their food from the surface of the water than do either Brook trout or Rainbows. This means that on percentage, Brown trout are a better dry fly fish than either Brook or Rainbows. Even with Brown trout, however, their menu for the year includes about eight nymphs, larvae or other under-water insects for each floating or adult fly taken.
It is important for the fly fishermen to notice not only whether there is a hatch on the stream, but whether the hatch is in an early stage (where only nymphs or larvae are developing) or in a later stage where adult flies and spent-spinners are floating on the water in large numbers. In the early stages of the hatch, wet flies or nymphs work best. In the later stages, dry flies or spent-wing flies are the most logical. The main thing to remember is: suit your fishing method to the way the trout are feeding at that particular time.
Wet fly fishing
Now that we realize how important underwater aquatic insects are to trout, let’s go back to our wet fly fishing—with an added respect for our wet flies and nymphs. In the early years of wet fly fishing, three flies were used on each leader. In modern fly fishing, most wet fly anglers now use only one. Some use two flies. I prefer using only one fly because it casts better and, in my experience, catches just as many trout as a two or three fly cast. Again, snelled flies used to be the rule but have given way now to eyed flies tied directly to the leader. These may be either turned-up or turned-down eyed flies. Both are good. For use with a spinner or spoon, straight eyed flies are best.
Wet fly leaders
For wet fly fishing a tapered leader, running from .015″ to .009″ (IX) in diameter, is about right. A 7 foot leader is a good length for early spring fishing with the water between 50° and 55° F. In very clear water, using nymphs or “exact imitation” flies, a longer leader—9 ft. to 12 ft. tapered to 2X or 3X—is better.
Natural drift method
There are two kinds of wet fly casting. One is called the natural drift, or dead fly, method—the other the live fly, or action, method.
In the natural drift variety, you cast up-stream or up-and-across the current and let the fly drift back, without imparting any other movement to it. This is the way a natural nymph or larva or adult fly would float down a trout stream.
Certainly this is the most natural way to fish a fly. It is also the most successful method for “educated trout”—those In streams that are fished over a lot. In low and clear water, this method has an added advantage.
The action, or live fly, technique bases its appeal on two things. First, fish can see action quicker than anything else. Second, it is probable that a moving wet fly looks like a small minnow to the trout.
Because of refraction of light rays at the surface of water, a minnow probably is seen by trout in rainbow (or spectrum) colors.
Most fancy type flies (those not direct imitations of natural flies) are brightly colored. It is these brightly colored fancy flies that are more commonly used in action or live fly methods of wet fly fishing. This would seem to bear out the theory that wet flies moved against the current look like small minnows to the trout.
In many situations, I use a combination of these two methods. I described a standard stream set up of this sort in my suggestions on live bait fishing. The same principles apply to wet fly. You cast up stream and across at a 45 degree angle, let your fly sink and drift down with the current, in a natural drift, to a 45 degree angle down-stream.
Pause at this “hot spot” (where many strikes occur) and begin giving action to the fly by gently raising and lowering the tip or by shortening and lengthening the line with the left hand.
Work the fly in this way until it has drifted straight below you in the current, then jiggle it there a few times and gradually retrieve the fly by shortening line until it is about 20 feet from you.
At this point pick up the leader and fly quietly from the surface of the water, so as not to frighten any trout that may be watching, and make your next cast.
As a wet fly has to sink to be most effective, don’t make more false casts than necessary when using a wet fly or nymph. Of course, don’t oil the fly or leader. Also lower the rod tip and keep it low during the retrieve.
Striking in wet fly fishing
In wet fly fishing, especially by the natural drift method, you must be alert to strike quickly—firmly but not too hard— at the first feel of a fish or at the slightest move of the line in any direction other than a natural drift with the current. In fishing a wet fly downstream by the action method, usually the trout hooks himself. Be careful he doesn’t surprise you into an automatic “yank” of the rod that is so hard you pull the fly right out of the trout’s mouth—or break the leader.
Fishing riffle-tongues with wet flies
Considering that most of the aquatic insects in a trout stream live in the riffles, and mat nymphs and” larvae are continually being washed off these riffles, it is only to be expected that one of the greatest of the trout’s “dining rooms” is at the edges of current tongues at the end of a riffle. Cast your wet fly—which should be a nymph or an exact imitation type of wet fly—upstream into the edge of a big current tongue, or into the middle of a little one, and let the fly drift down with the current. This will give you one of the most natural deliveries of a wet fly that I know of. If skillfully done, this presentation will fool even very wary trout into striking.
On the other hand, if this natural drift delivery doesn’t work, or has stopped working after getting you a fish or two, you can sometimes get above these riffle tongues; and fish them again by the action method with success.
In this case use a fairly short line and work the fly with a jerky tip motion. It does no harm to try this with the fly sunk, and later by skittering it across the surface. What a trout thinks this skittering fly is, I can’t imagine; but I know I’ve taken many fish with it.
Fishing rock pockets
There are numerous small and sometimes deep, rocky pockets in every trout stream. Trout love to lurk in them. In 50° to 55° water, you can take a lot of trout from these places by fishing upstream, casting a very short line into the upper side of the pocket and letting the fly drift with the current down to the lower lip of the hole.
An exact imitation fly is best for this use. Pay especial attention to the sides, back and front of all good-sized rocks. This applies to boulders under the water or those that come up above the surface.
With a short line, you can let the fly float with the current around and between the rocks, while keeping the line tight enough to be ready to strike quickly.
Fishing brushy creeks with a wet fly
A good way to fish a wet fly in small brushy brooks, or in very brushy water of any kind, is to pick a spot where you have room for rod action but where the stream below is too brushy for casting. Work your fly and line down under the brush, keeping it deep, and giving the fly action with short jerks of the rod tip or the line. If the current runs down without underwater obstructions, as is often the case, you can fish sixty or seventy feet of line this way. Work the cast out carefully, both going out and again as you retrieve it.
Umpqua river retrieve
In fairly fast water and with a fancy type wet fly, you can often get results with a maneuver used a good deal for Steelheads on the Rogue and Umpqua Rivers. You cast quartering downstream and immediately begin to tip-work the fly with short rhythmic motions timed about thirty to the minute.
Retrieve about a foot of line as your fly swings around straight below you. After working the fly up and down in this position for a few minutes, strip off about six feet of line and release it all at once so the fly will sink and float a ways downstream. If there is no strike then, reel in the cast slowly. For some reason, fish will often strike a wet fly when so reeled.
If the water is quite deep, it is a good thing, in wet fly casting, to strip out a few feet of line as soon as the fly lights, and let it sink even before it begins to float down stream.
Random strike retrieve
In fishing the still waters of trout streams with nymphs or wet flies, use long leaders—from 9 to 20 feet depending upon how clear the water is—and count until you know the fly is just above the bottom. You will have to experiment first to see what count is needed. After this is fixed, let the line sink at the end of the cast; at the proper count, strike whether you feel a fish or not.
On a loose line you probably would never feel a fish at all; but you will hook one every once in a while on the random strike method. It isn’t so random either, because just before the fly would have reached bottom is the time a trout would strike nine times out of ten. The retrieve should be made by the hand twist method previously described. Don’t hurry it. Probably nine complete turns per minute will be right. But try different speeds.
Triple jerk and sink retrieve
Here is another trick that often works with a wet fly, a bucktail or a streamer fly. After an ordinary cast, make three fast jerks with the rod tip, lower the tip, and allow the fly to sink for a count of about fifteen (vary this according to the depth of water). Make three more fast jerks, retrieve some line and repeat all through the retrieve. I have seen this method take trout after every other way had failed.
Continuous roll cast
If you are fishing a narrow brush-lined stream with a rather deep current along alder or willow bushes, a good method is to use one roll cast after another, each one placing your fly about six feet upstream from where it was at the end of your drift.
Use a bucktail, nymph or exact imitation wet fly and do not give the fly any action.
Fishing for trout under log jams
You will often find trout—and big ones—well under log jams and heavy brush piles where the fly has to drift quite a way in order to reach a place where the trout can take it. These places often hold your best chances for good fish in a whole day’s effort. In 50° to 55° water a nymph is usually the best fly for such positions. If you want to carefully estimate the time necessary for your fly to drift to the proper place, a good technique is to float a dry fly over this piece of water first and find out what count it takes to make the drift.
You won’t be liable to get any strikes on the dry fly at this temperature, but when you drift a nymph down with the same count, you should bring a solid strike from the trout under the log jam or brush pile. This same trick works for deep pockets undercut banks.
Fishing a nymph
Sometimes, usually in water well above 55° F., you will see trout in shallow water with their heads close to the bottom and their tails making quiet little swirls at or near the surface. These fish are hunting for nymphs or larvae on the rocks of the bottom. Fishermen call this process “tailing.”
A nymph, fished by the upstream natural drift method, will be almost the only way to take these tailing fish successfully. As trout in shallow water can see you more easily than they can in deep water, be especially careful to keep low and cast delicately so your fly will come down on the water like thistledown. A long leader—12 ft. to 20 ft., tapered to 4X—is often necessary for these conditions. Because trout often dislodge nymphs from the rocks and then swim downstream after them, don’t pick up your nymph in such fishing too quickly. You will be surprised how close to you some trout will chase your fly.
Nymphs are particularly good flies to use in fishing still waters. This takes long casting, with long leaders. Be particularly careful to approach carefully because the stiller the water the better trout can see you. You may have to kneel down in the water. Use a side cast and put your nymph down very lightly.
Fishing lower ends of pools
If there is no way to approach a certain piece of fairly shallow still water, like the lower end of a still pool just above the lip of a riffle, you will have to wade up to a good casting position as quietly as possible—even though in plain sight of the trout. Stand perfectly still for five or ten minutes—until the fish have returned to their feeding positions. Use a side cast and let the nymph sink clear to the bottom.
For this technique the fly and leader should sink but the line be treated with a line dressing so that it floats. Watch your line closely. If it moves in any way other than the natural current drift, strike quickly but lightly, otherwise you may miss the trout you’ve lured to take your nymph.
If nothing happens, or you miss him, retrieve with a slow hand-twist retrieve, timed about 15 turns per minute. Continue shortening the line until you can lift it without disturbing your fishing water.
A sloppy pick-up in this situation will spoil your chances. Wait several minutes before making the next cast—and try to make each cast perfect. If your fly lands in the wrong place, don’t pick it up and cast again, or you’ll scare every trout in the neighborhood. Fish out the cast just as if it had been a good one. If you are willing to fish a still water carefully and deliberately, you will probably take more fish than you would by racing by to try fishing as many spots as possible.
Dapping a wet fly
There is a special method of fishing small, deep pools where it is possible to get your rod directly over the deepest water without the fish in the pool seeing you. This situation turns up fairly often in rocky canyons in Western streams and occasionally in Eastern and Middle Western trout streams. Often there is an underwater ledge that prevents the fish seeing you. If the bank of the pool is covered with thick vegetation it helps because you won’t then be silhouetted against a sky line background. I call this dapping a fly.
Make your approach slowly and carefully. Keep low. You may have to use the dodge of moving in to your fishing position, even if the fish can see you in the process, and then staying still long enough to let the trout forget the disturbance and go back to their feeding. This they will usually do if you give them time.
In dapping a nymph or any wet fly, I use a leader long enough to reach the bottom of the small deep pool or rock pocket without having any of the line in the water at all. You can dap a fly either on the surface or near the bottom; but I’ll give suggestions on surface dapping later when we are studying the use of the dry fly.
Just now, suppose we are using a nymph, which we should be in the 50° to 55° water temperature range we are considering. With a flip cast or a roll cast, send the fly to the head of the pool and let it sink to the bottom, which is usually sand, gravel or hardpan. If the nymph stops on the bottom, gently raise the top of the rod so the fly will continue its drift to the deepest part of the pool.
Use a natural drift technique except let the fly light and stay on the bottom for a few seconds every few feet of the drift. As you can see just what it is doing all the time, you can guide the fly just as you want to. Don’t try to give the nymph any regular wet fly action. In fact, a nymph should never be fished by live fly, or action, technique.
Dapping a bucktail
If, after several dapping casts with the nymph, you get no action from the trout—you can probably see the fish—then change to a bucktail or streamer and try some action. Cast the same way, let the bucktail sink and then bring it up with a series of gentle twitches of the rod tip, much as you work a bass bug except that this action is vertical while the fly is under water.
When the fly gets to the surface let it drift down again and towards you. Strip in any slack line and repeat the vertical-twitch technique. The hairs of the bucktail or the feathers on the streamer fly should wiggle in this twitch retrieve much like the rubber skirt on an Hawaiian Wiggler.
Fishing a weighted fly
You will once in a while strike some place where your wet fly won’t sink fast enough to reach a place where a good trout should be. In that case use a split shot on your leader. Never use a sinker unless your fly just won’t go down in fast water quick enough. Usually in such conditions worms will do better than your fly and sinker. A flat nymph, tied over a weighted body, and cast upstream on a well-oiled line, will sometimes solve this problem. Let the nymph drag over the rocks. You will lose some nymphs—but you’ll get some big trout.
Bucktails and streamers
Bucktail flies and streamer flies are a very useful variation of the regular wet fly. Both bucktails and streamers should be fished by the action method, as the hair in the bucktail and the long feather construction in the streamer fly make these patterns “come alive” in the water when worked backward and forward in the current.
Bucktails and big streamers are chiefly used to take large trout. That doesn’t mean you’ll get a big trout every time you put on a bucktail. You have to do some real “thinking like a fish” to hook and land these big ones. In the first place, big trout are usually minnow feeders and therefore eat less often because it takes longer to digest a meal of minnows than one of aquatic insects.
Then, too, big trout are mostly night feeders. In the daytime you’ll probably find them not in regular feeding positions in the stream—the riffles and shallow water—but in their resting and hiding positions. Trout of this size have to keep out of sight of fish hawks, mink and other large predators. These resting and hiding positions are usually in deep water under logs, dams or falls. Deep pockets well under overhanging banks and the bottoms of deep heavy-current runs, where there is a little quiet water behind a ledge or rock, are likely places for the big fellows.
Because the trout you are hunting are large it is better to use a fairly heavy leader—never under IX at the tip—and a .010 inch diameter is sometimes better. Ordinarily a 7 ft. to 9 ft. leader is good, especially if the water is murky; but in very clear water and with scary trout you may need a 12 ft. to 20 ft. leader.
Usually a bucktail or streamer is most effective if cast across and slightly upstream, allowed to sink while it drifts with the current until a little below you. Then lower the rod tip and retrieve with a rest-and-jerk action. This may be done either with the rod tip or by a left hand pull. You may alternate the methods or use a combination of both. Changes of pace and action on the retrieve in this style of fishing are often effective. In any case, let the fly drift dead between jerks. The fly should move about two or three feet at each pull. Allow the fly to sink as close to the bottom as possible without snagging. It is better to take a chance on losing a fly or leader than not to get close enough to the bottom to get any fish.
Be careful to get your fly where a big, trout hiding deep down can see it. This means that if the fish is under an overhanging bank or rock ledge he can’t see a fly that is too close to him and near the surface of the water.
Trout usually take a bucktail solidly. For this reason, don’t get panicky and strike too hard. Firmness with no yank does it.
Sometimes you can get strikes with a bucktail or streamer by skittering the fly fast over the top of the water. Especially in white-water Western streams this works surprisingly. Once in a while, too, you will find that slapping a bucktail down hard will bring strikes. In this method you usually will need a long leader of 12 ft. to 15 ft. On a short leader the “spat” of the fly seems merely to scare the fish, where the same “spat” with an extra long leader may attract them.
Streamer flies, especially the marabou feathered kind, can be fished in a way not suitable to bucktails. Cast slightly upstream and, after allowing the fly to sink, lower the rod all through the retrieve. This gives a remarkably life-like action to the fly.
Bucktails and streamers, which imitate minnows both in looks and action, are especially good for night fishing, as that is the time big trout do most of their minnow feeding. If you really want big trout, you should learn and use night fishing methods.
The first requisite is to know your water thoroughly. Make a study of it in the daytime. Spot just where you think the trout will be, where you should stand to cast, and how long a line you need to fish each good stretch of water.
Incidentally, you should learn to measure the distance you are casting by the line you have stripped off your reel and shot through the guides of your rod. This is one of the things you learn in tournament casting; it certainly comes in handy in night fishing.
Casting with a bucktail or streamer at night is done just as in the daytime. Use a slightly heavier leader at night. Better use one tapered to .011 inch diameter, as you don’t need as light a leader to keep the trout from being frightened and you may have to stop fish short to avoid logs and rocks you can’t see. Besides that, the trout you get run larger. Be sure to take a flashlight with you. Don’t use it when fishing but for changing flies or leader, and for taking fish off the hook —you hope!
Sometimes at night you can get good results fishing a buck-tail much as you do live bait—letting it drift down into the good holes on a fairly slack line. You may vary this by twitching the line rhythmically with the rod tip. Watch closely for signs of a trout; strike quickly and firmly, but not with a jerk.
If bucktails don’t produce for you, put on a lively minnow. There just isn’t any other way of catching so many big trout as by night fishing for them with a bucktail—or live minnows or worms.
Fishing in murky water
Bucktails are also good for fishing the murky water that comes with a rise in the water level of the stream. An action retrieve is even more important here. A spinner-and-bucktail often does well in these conditions. One of these methods, or the use of live bait, is usually the only way to take trout in high and murky water.
Try to fish the early part of the high water stage before the water gets too muddy. In the early stages, trout feed ravenously—underwater and close to the bottom. Later on the water will be so discolored that the trout can’t see to feed. In murky water, watch for the mouths of feeder brooks. If the water is clearer there, they should produce. The water near stumps, logs and rocks is usually clearer than the rest of the stream.
Bucktails and streamers are well adapted to the method of fishing downstream in very bushy conditions by letting your line drift down the current and then retrieving with a wiggle-and-jerk technique.
If you get your fly caught on a bush or grass near the water or on a log or rock, try getting it loose by a switch or roll cast—and then carefully fish out the cast. You are very liable to get a good strike just after your fly comes loose. In fact, if you can cast your fly lightly to a rock or grassy bank and then gently pull it off into the water, it makes a delivery more liable to take a scary fish than any other I know. This is especially true of large trout. It’s a trick that often changes a poor day’s catch into a good one.
The wet fly stream tactics just described are suitable for wet fly fishing in all water temperature ranges. The trout may be in different depths of water, and not doing the same things, but your casting and manipulation of the fly will be similar.
When you have to fish big rivers in fast water when the trout are deep, bait casting is really the best method. Use a very light rod. A 3/8 ounce tournament bait casting rod is ideal. With, it you use 3/8 or 1/2 ounce deep-running lures. You can cover up to 100 feet in every direction with this outfit, and the lure sinks rapidly. This rig makes it unnecessary to use a sinker on a fly rod, which I personally do not like to do anyhow.
When the water is high and murky, light bait casting methods work well, as they also do at night. Large “still waters” are suitable places, too. You can cast in every direction—upstream, downstream and across. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the way big trout will respond.
Trout at 55° to 60° water temperature range
When your stream thermometer registers a temperature between 55° and 60° F., and the water is clear and not in flood stage, you can begin to use a dry fly. Brown trout, which feed more often on the surface than Brooks and Rainbows, will take dry flies freely in this temperature. Rainbows and Brooks will also begin to feed on the surface when a hatch is on, especially in the later stages when the adult flies are falling on the water.
This is really a transitional water temperature stage. In it, trout are still inclined to stay in the medium depth water and in the warmer and sunny parts of the stream. They will be on the medium depth riffles but return to the deep pools frequently. Tails of current in pools and cut-banks are good places. Spots near and under logs, brush cover and above and below boulders in the current in medium-depth water all hold trout during this temperature stage.
I always try a dry fly in these conditions, especially if there are any natural rises. This is partly because it’s more fun casting a dry fly—just the casting itself, I mean—and because the surface rise gives me more of a thrill than a strike under water. I’ll give you the stream tactics on dry fly fishing under the next temperature range.
Wet flies, nymphs, bucktails and streamer flies, as well as a spinner-and-fly, will take trout nicely in these conditions. Stream handling and casting are like those already given you. Fish the exact imitation wet flies and the nymphs up stream by the natural drift method. Bucktails and streamers need the action type of retrieve. Worms, minnows, hellgramites, grasshoppers and other live bait will take trout at these water temperatures, but are seldom needed except when the water is high and murky. In that condition, live bait is most productive.
60° to 68° water temperature range
Water between 60° and 68° F. is the ideal dry fly range for trout. At these temperatures aquatic insects hatch from the nymph, larva and pupa stage more readily than at any other. Trout are comfortable at these temperatures and they range avidly to their feeding grounds—the “dining rooms” mentioned before.
Feeding trout are usually in shallow water, on or just below the riffles, below the gravel bars and in the current runs above and below boulders. The shallow tails of good pools usually hold feeding trout. Along the shore lines where the current brings floating fish food, next to alders, logs and brush cover, and near cut banks, are all good places. Eddies where the white foam collects will find trout watching for water insects and other food to be brought down to them.
Because they are in shallower water, these feeding trout are more easily frightened than they are in deeper water; but the faster current gives you a chance to get near them without being seen.
Dry fly fishing
I like dry fly fishing more than any form of angling I have ever known. It takes good and accurate casting. If you’ve read my suggestions on fly casting and done some practicing on them, you’ll be able to successfully use a dry fly to catch trout. And will you enjoy it!
A dry fly is designed to imitate a natural adult winged insect floating down the stream. Dry fly casting is done upstream or across stream because otherwise the current would immediately submerge your fly. You have to put a dry fly down gently on the surface of the water, so as not to sink it. Your tapered line and tapered leader help do this. You keep the line waterproofed with line dressing. This makes it float. The fly is treated with dry fly oil and is designed to float on the surface.
The basic principles of dry fly fishing are simple. You cast your fly up and slightly across stream and let it drift on the surface of the water until the current has taken it within about twenty feet of you. During this time take in the slack line with your left hand. You then pick up the line off the water and make a few false casts to dry your line, leader and fly and to lengthen your line again. You are now ready to recast upstream.
Fundamentally that’s all there is to it. Any fisherman can learn to do it well enough to catch trout—the first day. You can spend all the rest of the play time of your life learning to do dry fly fishing better. The fortunate and important point is that the beginner can take trout with the dry fly almost at the start—if the fish are there and feeding.
In dry fly fishing, as in all trout fishing, be sure you keep the attitude that you are stalking the trout. You may think I am emphasizing this point too much, but the more trout fishing you do, the more you will realize how vital it is. If you are fishing from the shore, keep low and not silhouetted against the sky line. If you are wading, move slowly and quietly with as little disturbance of the water as possible.
Wade with your knees slightly bent—just a little springy. Experienced woodsmen and anglers will always walk, and especially wade, that way. Don’t try to stride along in a trout stream like you were walking down a city street. You’ll go swimming if you do. Another thing, don’t go jumping from boulder to boulder either. Keep your feet rather wide apart, your weight on one foot while you advance the other. That way you’ll keep dry.
In wading up a stream be careful not to go through the good fishing water if you can avoid it. There is always a big percentage of water without any trout in it at that time. Try to use this kind of water to wade in while you are moving upstream. Shallow sides of the river, especially silt-covered areas, are good places. Bars, after you have fished below and above them, are good highways upstream. Don’t be afraid to get out on shore if the footing is good.
Fishing the rise
Dry fly fishing is done in two main ways. The first is to fish the rise. This means you watch the stream to locate a trout that is feeding on natural insects on the surface. When you’ve found your feeding trout you carefully plan how best to cast to him—and put on a small scale campaign to get him to take your fly.
Fishing the water
The other way of dry fly fishing is fishing the water—picking out spots where you think trout ought to be and then floating your fly over these places where a feeding trout may be waiting for some appetizing morsel to be brought down to him.
The best theory is to fish the rise where there are any feeding trout and fish the water the rest of the time. Actually most of us make a combination of the two methods. We wade up the stream watching for natural rises. When we find a feeding fish within range, we concentrate on him but in the meantime fish all the good looking water in between.
An important point to remember is that on the way to reach a feeding fish, cast over any water that may hold a trout. There are two reasons. One is that you will get extra fish. The second is that otherwise you may scare out a trout from the intervening water; this fish will rush upstream and scare the feeding trout you are stalking. That’s another reason for wading or walking around, and not through, these intervening holes.
It is vitally important for a dry fly fisherman to analyze the currents of the stream he is fishing and carefully plan his wading and casting to take best advantage of these currents. This is true not only in selecting the proper place from which to cast for each fishing spot, but also to avoid drag on the fly. Drag is any unnatural movement of the fly because of current-pull on the leader or line. Drag may cause the fly to go under water, to move upstream, to move downstream or across faster than the current where the fly is floating.
How far can a trout see
It is important to study the flow and roughness of the water for another reason. In fast, broken-current water a trout can see underwater only three or four feet. In clear, quiet water he may see things under water that are twenty-five to thirty-five feet away, depending upon how deep he is swimming. This fact is very important in judging where you can safely wade without being seen by the trout; also in knowing from how far away the fish can see your fly. It isn’t safe to figure that a feeding trout will come more than a very few feet out of his way to get your fly. You must bring the fly to him, rather than expecting him to come to the fly.
However, it is not wise to cast your fly directly to the spot where a trout is rising. Usually this will scare the fish and “put him down,” as the fly fisherman calls it. That means causing the trout to stop feeding. The scientific reason for this is that a trout sees with only one eye at a time, so he has no perspective. He cannot tell quickly the size or closeness of a fly in the air. To a trout a fly in the air a few inches above the water may look about the same size as a fish hawk twenty feet in the air, so he gets out of there fast. That’s the way his instinct has trained him.
When the fly is floating down on the surface of the water and can be compared with the size of known objects like natural insects, then the trout can tell size and distance; he is not afraid of a naturally floating artificial fly.
What leader to use
These facts make it necessary for a skillful dry fly fisherman to use different lengths and fineness of leaders to fit different water conditions. For cloudy or murky waters and fast broken current, a 7 ft. leader tapered to IX (.009 in diam.) is a good choice, because the trout can’t see far in such water and this length of leader is easy to cast.
In very clear, still water the trout would see too plainly the connection between your fly and the more obvious line. Here a longer leader is needed—9 ft., 12 ft., 15 ft., 18 ft., or 20 ft. The length required depends upon how clear and how still is the water and how scary the trout. In this case the leader should be tapered down to 3X, 4X or sometimes 5X (.007 to .005 in diameter). You must fit the terminal tackle to the conditions.
Weather and barometric conditions as well as the time of day influence both the places in a stream where you will find trout and what the fish will be doing. In most cases none of these things influence the fish in a trout stream as much as the water temperatures, the stage of the water, or the hatches of available aquatic insects; but they still are important.
In most cases, fish go into deeper water when the barometer is falling, and into shallower water when the barometer is rising. This effect is much more pronounced in lakes and ponds than in streams, because of greater differences in depth, but it applies to rivers as well. Stormy weather usually occurs when the barometer is falling. A rising barometer normally indicates good or going-to-be-good weather. Fish will, as you would expect, usually go to deeper water in stormy weather and come to shallower places when the weather becomes normal.
Other things being equal, trout will be more likely to feed freely when the barometer is rising and the weather is normal than in stormy weather with a falling barometer. However, very often a change in the stage of water (higher or lower), or a change in water temperature will reverse this trend.
The commonest case on a trout stream is when the barometer is falling and stormy weather is coming on accompanied by a rise in the water level that washes a lot of nymphs and larvae off the rocks of the rapids and into the current. This influx of food causes the trout to go on feed—but near the bottom and mostly in the deeper water.
There also appear to be certain periods at different times of the day and on different days—called solunar periods—during which fish feed more freely than at other times. The same natural factors which control tides apparently control these solunar periods. A friend has made a life study of solunar periods. I always take a copy of his Solunar Tables along with me on fishing trips, and try not to miss being on the lake or stream during the best solunar periods. You don’t always find good fishing then, because water temperature, weather, stage of water and fish food conditions may reverse the solunar period influence, but I’ve found it always pays to take these feeding periods into account.
Time of day
When the water temperature is between 60° and 68°, the time of day makes quite a difference in the feeding habits of trout. Contrary to what happens when the water is colder, the fish are more liable to stay in shady spots during the middle of the day and go into the shallow feeding positions in the evenings, early mornings and at night. This tendency gets more pronounced above 65° water temperature.
Above 66° you will find trout during the day in the fast, more highly aerated waters—just under small falls and in shady spots below riffles.
Fishing current tongues
Let’s suppose you are fishing a pool with a tongue of current at the head, coming down from a riffle above. The temperature is in the 60°-68° range, so a dry fly is logical. The current is medium fast, so the trout below the riffle can see only five or six feet in the water. A 9 ft. leader tapered to 3X looks about right—with a No. 12 dry fly. Water is clear but you don’t see any natural rises.
In this condition trout are very likely to be lying both at the end of the tongue of current as well as along each side of this fast water.
There is a shallow, silt-bottomed bar on the right hand side of the pool (looking upstream) that doesn’t look fishy, so you wade in there and take a casting position about 35 feet below the tip of the current-tongue. False cast in the air until you have about 42 feet of line out and make a right hand positive curve cast to a point about five feet above the tip of the current-tongue. This is to drift your fly over a fish that you hope is at the end of the current.
It’s fun to see that little dry fly come bobbing down the current, whether the trout comes up to suck it in or not. Very likely he will, though.
If nothing happens at the end of the current, let the fly float on down the pool taking in the slack with your left hand as it goes, until the fly is below you.
Then pick it up and repeat the cast. Give the trout a number of chances.
When you have taken this trout at the point of the current tongue—or concluded he won’t rise—then cast, as in the last sketch, to the side of the current and let your dry fly float down the side of the fast water. Here you use a less pronounced right hand positive curve cast. If this current tongue is long enough and looks good enough you can make successive casts up the right hand side of the current clear to the riffle. If the casts get beyond 50 feet, move up nearer the riffle, as there is no need in these conditions to cast over 35 feet. As a matter of fact, you can catch trout much closer to you than that in this broken-current water.
Alder bush tactics
While you were fishing out the right hand side of the current tongue at the head of the pool, three trout have started to feed close to some alder bushes across the river near the left hand bank, where the current has swung in close to shore. It is too deep to wade there; anyway, it would scare the fish. Besides that, your first position on the shallow side of the stream makes the best position for reaching these trout, so you wade quietly back there and start to work.
A left hand, or back hand, negative curve cast is the choice here, because you need a big, loopy curve. Make it to a point about six feet above the position of the upper feeding trout.
Here a cast will drift across all three rising fish—an unusual opportunity. You really should connect here. Keep your fly drifting along a couple of feet out from the alder bushes. If you get a rise, just tighten up firmly on the line, set the hook, and then lead the trout downstream and towards the shallow side of the river where you are standing.
Again, even if you don’t get a fish, this is good sport.
Fishing across a current tongue
This is the hardest position in which to get a good cast because it makes your line cross the fast current to place your fly on slower water beyond. This you should avoid doing wherever possible. Here you can’t help it because the river is too deep to cross and too deep to wade to a spot on the left hand side of the tongue of current. All you can do is cast a deep-looped left hand negative curve to a point about five feet above where you think the trout should be; and take a chance. A bivisible fly will probably work best here, because it floats better than most.
If I haven’t succeeded with a dry fly on this pool—or if I have taken all the fish I can on a floater, but think there may be other good trout there—I frequently change to a nymph and cover the same territory with a natural drift wet fly technique.
Usually you will get more fish, and more fun, fishing out each pool or riffle quite thoroughly than making a few casts, and then rushing on to the next spot.
About 75% of all fish food in a trout stream is in the riffles or series of small rapids and rocky pockets common to all good trout rivers and creeks. This water is always of the broken current variety—in Western streams is often white-water. At first glance these rapids may seem like just a mixed up lot of fast water with no place for a fish to stay in; but, if you’ll look closer, you’ll find rocky pockets all through the riffles where the current has gouged out deeper holes. In these pockets the trout can hang in fairly gentle current close to where dislodged aquatic insects are floated to them.
The pockets should be fished upstream with a very short line—whether you are using a dry fly, wet fly, nymph, buck-tail or streamer. Because riffle trout are definitely feeding, you don’t’ need to wait to see a rise—you probably wouldn’t see it in the fast water, anyhow. These trout can’t see far in such water, so use a 6 ft. or 7 ft. leader, tapered to IX.
Cast to the upper side of each pocket and let the fly drift across. Every kind of water manipulation works here. A straight dry fly float, a natural drift wet fly handling, action manipulation with a wet fly, bucktail or streamer, and dapping with a fuzzy spider, bivisible or a fluffy bucktail. Literally everything goes. If it’s hard to find trout feeding, then the riffles are your best bet. They’ll produce when nothing else will—probably not your biggest trout, but the greatest number and the most action. A No. 10 or 12 size fly is usually about right. The 60°-68° water bracket is ideal for this riffle fishing.
Fishing the flats
The flats in a trout stream — long, shallow, quiet water stretches over gravel or sand bottom, usually at the lower ends of good sized pools—are a challenge to the dry fly angler.
In the 60°-68° water temperature range, these areas probably may not hold any trout in the hot part of the day, but in the late afternoon, evening and early morning in normal weather and clear water the big trout—especially Browns— take to cruising in these flats.
The water is quiet and shallow so you can see the rises and often see the trout themselves. The ease with which you see the fish means it’s just as easy for them to see you; and a cruising trout is super-alert for danger.
Ospreys love to pick up big trout in these places—and don’t think for a moment the trout don’t know that.
As mentioned, you may have to wade into casting position at the lower end of these flats and stay perfectly still for five, ten or fifteen minutes to let the trout get over being frightened. If they return to cruising and feeding you may then have a grand chance for some good fish.
Watch to see which way the fish, or line of rises, is progressing and then cast your fly about fifteen feet ahead of the trout. Just let the fly lie still on the water. If you don’t get a rise try to let the cruising trout go by and let the fly drift clear down close to you before picking it up. One drift may take as much as five minutes, but it’s worth the time.
In the evening or at night you will often find trout—and good ones—feeding on fairly shallow gravel shoals, over which there is a smooth current flowing. These fish are usually cruising, although not to the same extent as they do in the flats. These gravel shoal trout are very scary. They may see you from as much as forty feet away. The approach is the main problem here.
There are two ways to do it. One is, after you have fished out the deeper current without getting within forty feet of this gravel shoal position, to make a fifty to sixty foot cast from the deeper water, using a 12 ft. to 18 ft. leader, tapered to 4X (.006 in diam.). The fly should be an exact imitation type and fairly small—No. 12 or No. 14. Hatch conditions will dictate the fly, but the approach and leader needed won’t change.
Dry fly is usually best accomplished by casting in the direction that would be generally downstream but which is upstream to the eddy current. It takes a little more time and care to do it this way, but you’ll take some big trout that would certainly see you and refuse the fly if fished in the ordinary way.
If there is foam on the eddy, you can sometimes lure a big trout by dropping your fly on the edge of the foam and letting it float there a moment before it drifts into the clearer current of the eddy.
Smooth swift water tactics
Often a smooth stretch of swift water will be found sweeping silently along at the head of a piece of white water. The fish in this smooth, swift water are liable to be big ones which seem able to see the angler rather far off. Use a long line, and a fairly long leader—about 12 ft. is best. Try to cast as nearly straight up the current as you can. A side cast is less liable to disturb the fish. Begin at the downstream end of the smooth stretch and work up—lengthening the casts as you go. Feeding fish may be in any part of the stretch.
Fishing overhanging banks
An overhanging bank next to a good, close-sweeping current, is a nice place for good trout. Under the bank is a resting place for the fish, but it is so close to where aquatic insects will be floating down the current that it is practically a feeding position, too.
You can fish such a spot either with a short line from the shore above the trout or from a position across the current and a little below the overhanging bank. Either way is good.
With a dry fly, be careful not to float it so close to the bank that a fish, low under the bank, can’t see it. The float should be made at least two feet out from the overhang.
Sometimes as the fly is going by on the surface, you will see the flash of a trout down deep but have no rise. In that case let the fly complete its drift, pick it up very quietly, and then repeat the cast. You’ll probably get a strike on the second drift. The trout was just moving into feeding position during the first drift.
If you locate a tangled mass of brush and rubbish around the submerged roots of a tree or stump in or close to the current, that’s a good place to find trout. Cast as you would to a fish below an overhanging bank, except that you usually have to cast from out in the stream. Don’t float the fly too close to the brush; and start the drift eight or ten feet upstream.
Broken medium-depth stretches
The broken current, medium-depth stretches of a river with a lot of boulders in it constitute one of the finest fishing positions of a stream. Each boulder and current tongue should be considered separately—and carefully fished. Brown trout are likely to be above the boulders; while Brook trout and Rainbows are usually found below or at the sides of the rocks.
Fish such a stretch upstream, using curve casts for the spots above the boulders.
Straight line casts in most cases will be better for the other positions. In the water temperature range we were considering—60° to 68°—in high water, these faster-current rifts are especially good places.
68°-75° Water temperature range for trout
If you know something about the highest temperatures tolerable for trout, you may say this 75° upper temperature is foolish, because Brook trout will sometimes die in 73° water. However, Browns and Rainbows will stand higher temperatures, and the amount of oxygenation (percent of dissolved oxygen) of the water makes almost as much difference as the temperature. The more rapid the water, the higher the oxygen content. Then too, we are talking about surface water temperature, and trout may find deeper, cooler spots.
Anyway, often in the summer you will find trout streams with water between 68° and 70°. Up to 70° the fishing may be quite normal but with the trout in deeper, cooler water. They will be in the shaded rapids instead of the open pools or sunny flat stretches. Spring holes or cool feeder brooks are good places for warm water trout. Then, too, you’ll find trout coming out into the open feeding positions in the evening and at night. The warmer the water and the bigger the fish, the more are trout liable to become night feeders.
In fairly good-sized rivers, the deep, strong-current rifts flowing steadily around and between big boulders are good summer fishing grounds. The fish can see you a long ways off in these places, so cast a long line and use a long, light leader —12 ft. to 20 ft., tapered to 4X.
When your stream thermometer reads between 68° and 75° and the water is high and a bit murky, look for trout in the fast water just under falls or rapids, in the shade, watching for bottom-drifting nymphs and larvae. Live bait will be most successful at the very high temperatures in murky water.
If the stream is only slightly roily, try wet flies, bucktails or streamers, fished deep by the action method. Dry flies will be taken up to 70° and sometimes up to 72° if aeration is good. Above that the trout are usually too lethargic to come to the surface.
Struggling fly action
One trick method that will sometimes stir up a trout loath to come to a dry fly is to twist the wings of your fly so it spins in the air on the false casts. When the fly is put down on the water it twists and turns like a struggling adult aquatic insect. This is bad for the leader, but often draws strikes from trout that would not otherwise take your fly.
Fish hard-to-get-at places
While not limited to the 68° to 75° temperature bracket, I want to point out something that often transforms failure into success in warm water trout fishing. You will find that when the temperature goes up, trout will retire to deep, secluded hide-outs, near spring holes, under deep cut banks, under deep rock ledges, down under piles of brush, under logs and submerged tree roots, and in the heavy shade of deep vegetation.
Most of these places are hard to fish and most fishermen don’t even try to fish them. For this reason, the trout in such spots become less wary. They will strike more easily than trout in open waters.
I have found that if you will carefully stop and figure out some way to fish these tough spots—and be willing to lose a leader and fly or two—you can usually come home with some good trout when otherwise the day would be a blank.
Fishing over bushes
One such spot is the deep shade along a bank with thick bushes and heavy overhanging grass, where the water is fairly shallow and cannot be approached from the stream side without scaring the fish. Nine out of ten anglers just splash up the middle of the stream and never get a rise from such water.
The tenth fisherman will look over the set-up before scaring the trout, will climb quietly out on the bank and stalk the trout from there. Keeping low, he will cast a heavy, short leader with about a No. 10 fly out over the bushes and grass and let the fly and only part of the leader light on the water. It takes a much longer line to do this than to make a straight cast.
Also you have to stretch out your arms and make a “little-boy” type of hoist of the trout into the air over the bushes and grass if you hook him, or you won’t get but one trout from that stretch.
If you get a big one, you’ll have to climb through the bushes into the water to land him; and then certainly you will not get any more trout from that bit of water. But if he’s a worthwhile trout you won’t care.
Trout in 76° to 83° water
While it has no connection with general trout fishing, I have caught Cutthroat trout in the Yellowstone National Park country in 76° water, and heard of them being caught in water up to 79°. This seems to be only where trout have been accustomed for years to live in streams with warm springs in them as in the Yellowstone.
The highest water temperature in which I have heard of trout being caught was reported by Ancil Holloway, of the U. S. Fish and Wild Life Service. These were Brown trout, taken in 83° water on wet flies, fancy type, fished by the action method, in the South Mills River in Pisgah National Forest of North Carolina, about the southernmost range of trout in the Eastern part of the United States. The trout were pretty logy from the heat.
The water, as would be expected, was fast, rough and highly aerated. One other alleviating factor to this extremely high temperature was the fact that the water temperature dropped to 78° in the evening and to 70° by early morning. The trout were in the deepest, coolest water they could find.