Story and Photos: Lessons of the Sweet Spot

Written and photographed by: Len Harris, Jr.

Consistently catching the larger fish in a stretch requires knowing how the seasons affect where they lie.

I looked back on my log books recently and realized that  I first fished this hole 25 years ago.  I got the tip from the local taxidermist, who had a really nice brown trout come in while I was at his shop shooting the breeze.  The guy with the big fish described the stretch, but he never said the stream name, offering just a general area and county.  The tell-tale clue, which he dropped as he leaving, was that the stream was non-designated water. My trout radar knew the general area right away.  The thing that sealed the deal was how he described a big swamp along one bank.

In early spring, you’ll usually find the fish holding in slower water, so look for current breaks and structure.

I did some recon, asked landowners for permission, and I thought I had reached the promised land. I hit the stream in the early season–it was cold and the water temperature was 44 degrees–and was not disappointed. The sweet male brown shown above was hanging in the slow water at the end of a sweeping corner. The brown had to be in the slow water, as it would have taken too much energy to hold in place upstream in the current.

The larger a trout gets, the warier it becomes, so you need to employ your knowledge of the water and stealthy casting to bring them to the net.

Over the years, I’ve learned a thing or two from fishing this particular stretch of water. Here are just a few lessons of the “Sweet Spot”:

  • The stretch fishes differently in the summer.  Depending on the sun conditions, the trout move up to the fast water at the top of the hole. The bigger trout inhabit the primary lies, so they get the first shot at food coming down the feeding lane. Sunny days can be frustrating, though, and on those days you can hardly pry the fish out of their hiding places because they feel exposed. If it is overcast, the trout could be almost anywhere.
  • Always have a thermometer with you to check the stream temperature.
  • The structure at the top of the holes creates many different feeding lanes.  The corner sweeper also creates deeper runs. Spring floods cut out ledges and hide places for the trout to wait in attack mode.  The vast majority of trout face upstream waiting for their next meal.
  • Always cast a few feet upstream of a good trout lie.  Don’t drop the fly right on the fish’s head.  A nymph or streamer needs time to get down and appear to be food.  A direct hit usually spooks the fish, and you’re done.
The sun is your enemy, especially during summer.
  • Bright sun will make your target “bigs” lay in broken water or the deepest lays in the hole during summer. Spring when the water is still kind of cold you should target slow water and deeper also.
  • It is always important to look at the water differently in each season, to target where the “alpha trout” might be.  If you just cast blindly, you might catch a small trout by accident. While this is fun in its own right, a smaller fish thrashing around at the end of your line pretty much destroys your chance of fooling a real trophy because you’ve announced your presence.

If you do catch one of the subordinate trout, land it as quickly as possible, so it doesn’t spook the entire hole.

Len Harris, Jr. is a former fly-fishing guide in the Driftless Area. Check out his blog, The Stream of Time.

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