There is never a sure thing when it comes to fly-fishing for trout.
Too many factors can negatively impact the river and the trout and make things tough on the angler — weather changes, off color water, no hatch, angler pressure or just trout that are not feeding can all create difficult conditions. All things being equal with decent water clarity, decent hatches and relatively happy trout, there are some things anglers can do to come closer to a “sure thing.”
Finding the right water
The first and most important is to seek out the most productive water in any given stretch of river.
Deep, slow pools may hold feeding fish at times. Shallow tailouts might attract trout if there is enough food to make it worth the risk of exposure to predators. Fast whitewater could be necessary for providing cool, oxygenated flows in very hot, low late summer conditions. Meandering runs with conflicting currents may have rising fish that make it difficult for even experienced flyfishermen to achieve the correct drift.
But by far, as far as finding trout that will be the most willing to eat fly, the best water to seek out first is a riffle. All water is not created equal as certain habitats, food production in a river and riffles provide an ideal habitat, lots of food and good security for trout.
Moderate speed and moderate depth is the key. Choppy but not rough current in the 2-4 foot depth range will generally hold trout consistently spring through fall.
Late summer fish seek out riffles for cool water and the visual protection created by the broken surface.
Winter fish choose deeper, slower water but will push into riffles when the water warms slightly and food sources become more active.
Fall and spring trout feed actively in riffles when midges and blue winged olives hatch and also spawn in these locations.
Riffles give trout everything they need. Broken surface water creates security cover from airborne predators. Riffles are also very well oxygenated and aquatic insect activity is high.
Stoneflies, mayflies and caddis all prefer riffle habitat and they are constantly drifting through the feeding zone. Consequently, while trout found in deep, slow holes may be motionless and resting with no interest in feeding, trout in riffles are there for a reason. That reason is to eat. Holding in a riffle requires a little energy expenditure, but this is more than offset by the calorie intake that is achieved when a trout feeds in riffles.
Another reason anglers should seek out riffles is because they are relatively easy to fish when compared to other water types. For example, slow, glassy pools require a gentle presentation and perfect drift.
Not so with riffles. The broken surface accommodates a close approach, and because the moderate water speed is uniform throughout the length of a riffle, it’s simple to achieve a good drift. A little swing and drag on your fly is not a bad thing in a riffle as bugs are often actively swimming toward the surface and hatching.
Trout in riffles are willing to move and chase bugs like emerging caddis with little regard to absolute dead drift. Because these fish are aggressive in nature and many insect species drift by them daily, riffle trout are rarely as selective as fish in other water types. Consequently, fly choice is sometimes not as important and general attractor type patterns work very well. Hits on nymph rigs move the indicator noticeably and dry fly strikes are assertive and energetic.
There is no better place to introduce novices to fly-fishing for trout. Guides often seek out choice riffles to teach beginners how to fly fish.
Our area rivers are full of this type of water. The Eagle and Roaring Fork have riffles around every corner and the Colorado has many long, attractive riffles that hold many more trout than surrounding areas. These areas have all been fishing very well recently.
For more information on where to find some great fishing, check in at the Vail Valley Anglers fly shop in Edwards or check out our fly-fishing reports at vailvalley.com.
Brody Henderson is a senior guide for Vail Valley Anglers in Edwards and can be reached at 970-926-0900.