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Finding the elusive trout

Jim Kanda

You have just driven to a spot along the river, parked, strung up your fly rod and walked down to the river’s edge to only stand there and scratch your head pondering where to begin fishing.

Some folks just begin fishing and hope to come across a trout or two, while others take a moment to observe their surroundings and create a game plan. When deciding how to approach a stretch of water, you will need to observe a few different variables or conditions. The conditions I take into account when fishing generally coincide with the different seasons of the year and include the water’s temperature, flow, depth and clarity.

During the winter months with cold temperatures, and slow, low and clear water, you can expect to find trout holding in the deeper runs, conserving energy so they can survive until spring. In these deep runs, trout typically “pod” up along the river’s bottom, well beneath the stronger currents found above. The fish will congregate in these areas to wait out the long winter months. Because of the lack of food, trout will go into a winter slumber, making them difficult to catch. When fishing these areas, you will want to concentrate all of your presentations accurately along the bottom. I generally fish a deep nymph rig consisting of two or three micro-sized blue-winged olive or midge patterns, a split shot and an indicator. When winter nymph fishing, you must get your flies down to where the fish are, otherwise you are wasting your time. Trout will not go out of their way for a meal; you literally have to bounce your flies off their nose to get them to strike. With that said, do not be hesitant with your split shot: Add as much as it takes so you are occasionally snagging the bottom. The great thing about winter fly fishing is when you find one fish, you have more than likely found many.

When things begin to warm up just prior to spring runoff, you can experience some of the best trout fishing of the year. With warmer ambient temperatures, the snow will begin to melt and trickle into our surrounding fisheries, warming them slightly and causing both insects and trout to become more active. Still in somewhat of a winter slumber, trout will still be found primarily along the bottom of deeper runs trying to conserve energy. You would approach fishing these runs exactly the same as you would in the winter, only this time you should anticipate quite a bit more action. There have been times when I have only moved 15 feet upstream and moved a dozen or more fish.

When things begin to truly warm up, causing our local rivers and streams to swell with last winter’s bounty, you will need to adjust your approach at finding trout. When runoff is going off, you should begin to fish larger fly patterns such as streamers and large stone fly nymphs. Fish these patterns high and tight along the river’s edge. You will find that fish tend to seek refuge from the stronger main currents found in the middle of the river by hiding behind large boulders or points that break up the river’s current. Large flies are important during runoff because they are easily seen in the murky water and the trout can justify fighting the strong currents for a larger food source.

Just after runoff, when water temperatures are warming up, flows are dropping and clarity is improving, you should begin to anticipate a smorgasbord of aquatic insect hatches. With these improving conditions, you will also begin to notice that trout will hold throughout the entire width and depth of the river. Trout, being opportunistic feeders, generally hold in water that allows them to feed consistently without expending too much energy. These areas are found where fast water meets slow water, or seams. These seams are typically created by boulders found throughout the entire river and points found along the river’s bank. The trout will hang out in the slow water in anticipation that insects will float by in the faster water; they can then dart out and snatch their meal off this “conveyor belt”. Another common place to find actively feeding fish is in front of rocks. Fish found in front of rocks and boulders, are surfing the hydraulic wave created by the rushing water going around or over the rock. Again, these fish are expending less energy by holding in slower water and are first in line when insects do float by.

During the latter months of summer, water levels will greatly subside, temperatures will increase, and insects will be few and far between. These conditions will cause the trout to begin to move into the riffle water in search of both food and oxygen. Because warmer water holds less oxygen, trout will go where the water is more turbulent and aerated. In addition to more oxygen, riffle water will displace more insects off the river bottom and provide a consistent food source for the trout.

When summer gives way to fall, we typically experience cool evenings and chilly mornings. These cooler temperatures in turn cool the rivers in our valley and allow the fish to begin to move back into their usual summer haunts. Again, you will find trout holding in the slow water behind rocks, boulders and points, waiting for their next meal to float by. With the water now extremely low and gin-clear, you must now more then ever be extremely stealthy when fishing. These fish have seen it all summer long, are well educated and are extremely wary. This is a great opportunity to practice your sight fishing by acting as if you were a predatory bird in search of your next meal. Move deliberately and fish methodically to be successful during the fall months.

Hopefully this better informs you on how to approach a river under different fishing conditions. You must remember the ecosystem these fish live in is constantly changing, and that you need to be alert as to what is going on both below and above the water’s surface.

” Jim Kanda | Gore Creek Fly Fisherman


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