Written by: Toby Halley
I used to fish a lot of good trout water and wonder why I wasn’t catching big fish, knowing that they were in there. It wasn’t until I started fishing with my good friend, Rick, that I really understood how to read water and find bigger trout. I see a lot of anglers casting flies in a long flat stretch with little current, medium depth, and no structure. Like I said, I used to do the same thing. You may catch fish in these stretches, but usually the big one is in a deep hole with lots of cover and a good current flowing into it. The most important things to look for are are depth, current, and structure.
Depth: When I say “depth,” I’m talking three or more feet deep, but it really depends on the stream you are fishing. The deeper the water, the better your chances of finding a bigger fish. Trout like deeper water because it will protect them from many predators, and the water temperature is cooler near the bottom. You will need to use weighted flies, such as streamers or beadhead nymphs to get down deep, but the results are rewarding. I like to use a weighted streamer or heavy nymph with a smaller nymph attached as a dropper. You will need to get your fly into the strike zone and keep it there as long as possible.
Current: Current is like the belt on the checkout at the grocery store that brings your food to the cashier. The current delivers food to trout. The fish will sit in the slower water and pull food from current seams. Look for the foam line on the sides of the current. Trout like to use as little energy as possible. A prime example of a trout lie would be behind a log or rock and in eddies. Remember, you need to manage your line to get the best possible drift. If the fly looks unnatural, the trout usually won’t take it.
Structure: Structure is probably the most important of this list. Structure is somewhere trout feel safe and where they can hide out from predators or rest until they start feeding. Structure can be something as simple as a log, rock, or a undercut bank. I have caught many trout in spots with just one log in the water. If you find a hole with depth, current, and one log, then fish it hard. Trout will seek out any type of structure they can find.
Log jams, fallen trees, with just the leaves in the water, boulders, bushes hanging over into the water, wooded areas, and undercuts banks are perfect hiding spots. I have found my best success fishing log jams. Trout will use the logs to dodge predators. I have had many trout on my line snap me off from wrapping around logs, but if you can pull a big fish out, out the results will always be worth the flies lost. My personal best fish, huge male brown with a hook jaw, was pulled out of a log jam.
I like to fish a streamer as tight to the structure as I can. I usually make a cast and let the current pull the fly as close as I can get it without snagging. Once I’m there, I start stripping the line in across the current. I’ve also had success with dead-drift presentations.
Toby Halley lives and fishes in Minnesota.