May 31, 2016
If trout fishing were the road to eternal salvation, then I'd be in pretty good shape. Maybe you're in a similar pair of hip boots, or at least want to get out on the streams more. Either way, there's always hope.
And no matter how you travel the stream of trout fishing life — with a lively nightcrawler wiggling on your hook, a silvery willow-leaf blade churning in the current, or a pretty little piece of fur and feathers drifting with the flow — trout are the same. They live, hide, hold and feed in specific kinds of places.
So here are trout fishing's Top 10: the spots you should hunt out as you prospect for stream browns, rainbows and brookies. Knowing these kinds of places, and how to fish them, can make your search for trout fishing heaven a little easier.
When trout are actively feeding — morning or evening, a cloudy day, or spring's first warm days — fish riffles. A riffle is a shallow section of fast water, a "soft rapids" of sorts. My son Jeremiah used to call it "rough" water when I was teaching him the ways of trout. A riffle's water is well oxygenated and contains plentiful food in the form of minnows, crustaceans and insects. Trout are in a riffle to feed.
Fish carefully and with a low profile, because the trout are exposed, alert and wary. Work your way upstream, flipping bait or fly ahead and letting the current tumble your offering back toward waiting fish and you. Cast hardware up- and across-current, retrieving and bouncing with the flow like your spinner or mini spoon is a struggling, injured minnow.
A run moves slower than a riffle. The creek is narrower there, and the water deeper. Trout in runs are less aggressive than those in riffles because the fish are preparing to move up into a riffle for an evening feed, or drifting back down toward a daytime hide after a morning feed.
Do more dabbling and precision fishing with your bait or fly, trying different current seams and exploring positions where trout might hold. Work an artificial along with the current, letting the blades flutter or body flash to excite and attract trout that are already hungry or still willing to make an easy kill. Float bait under cut banks, tree roots, overhanging grasses or other cover.
Pools are classic trout water. A pool is a deep section of water where the flow progressively slows down after entering at a rapid rate, often from a riffle or run. In creeks and brooks, trout hold and wait in a pool, grabbing food as it drifts past. In bigger streams and rivers, trout often cruise pools in a hunt for food.
Patience is a virtue when fishing any pool. That's because trout in pools aren't always actively feeding; there are better places to get a meal. But the fish are there. You just have to take your time and work the territory thoroughly.
Fish a pool from the side, casting upstream and across, letting the current carry your bait or fly through and swing past you. With bait or flies, work the close water first, then move a little farther out with each drift so you don't spook nearby trout. Cast a spinner, spoon or minnow bait upstream in a similar fashion, then work it back.
Always fish a pool's head — the faster water — thoroughly. That is where the most active trout will be. Work the eddies to the sides of the incoming flow. Don't ignore a pool's tail end, where the water slows but may be deepest.
Trout love the overhead cover an undercut bank provides, because most predators attack from above. Couple that security with moving water and you have a prime trout hold. Undercuts also are great because what hides the trout from predators also hides you as you approach to fish.
To fish an undercut, position yourself across the stream from it (not right on top of it, where you would spook the fish). Cast upstream and let the current sweep your bait or fly in and under the bank, making sure it goes deep enough. Bounce a little spinner or spoon along with the current, letting it flutter and flash to entice hiding trout to dart out and hit.
Some streams — mostly mountain or hill-country creeks — never slow down. They tumble, drop and hurry, always in a rush but never really resting. One of the best trout spots in this situation is a big rock or boulder right in the streambed. The water may rush around or right over the top. Either way, the obstruction protects trout from the current, and provides a holding spot where the fish can watch for food.
It's natural to fish behind the boulder. Trout do rest there, but they often face downstream because eddies carry food around and back toward the rock. An even better spot may be in front of the boulder. As water rushes up, a pocket of slack water is created before the flow careens off to either side. This is where the actively feeding trout will be.
Fast freestone streams offer little classic trout water, so you have to look for fish in "micro" pockets. A rock (mentioned previously) is one such hold. Another is an eddy — a backwash created below rapids, behind chutes and to the sides of fast flows. Here the current "backs up" instead of flowing downstream. Food accumulates, and trout can hold position relatively easily.
To fish an eddy, cast above the backwash and let the current carry your live bait, fly or hardware naturally into the whirlpool. This requires some finesse, so try several drifts before moving on. Dropping bait or hardware directly into an eddy will spook the fish, and a wet fly, streamer or nymph fished like that won't get down to where it needs to be.
In any creek — fast, slow or a combination thereof — downed trees, logs and woody snags combine overhead cover that trout desire with current that scours out a deep hole and also brings food. You'll lose many a rig in such a place, but you'll also find big trout.
You can't fish from behind a snag and cast upstream, and getting on top will spook the trout. Your best bet is to attack from the side. Cast upstream and let the current carry your bait or fly right in to where it needs to go. Guide your presentation with your rod tip as needed. With a spinner, spoon or minnow bait, let the current sweep the lure under the snag. Then make a painfully slow retrieve, letting the lure flutter and struggle close to the cover.
Sometimes a downstream presentation is necessary. Position yourself upstream and let out line as the current carries your bait, fly or lure into and under the snag.
Streamside trees give trout cover in the form of shade and, more important, roots that stabilize the bank and help form an undercut. The best trees are next to fast water, where trout can rest in safety but also watch the main current for food.
Unless the tree roots are right along a feeding lane, trout can be reluctant to dart out and grab your offering. Therefore, fish the water thoroughly. Pass your bait, fly or lure through multiple times. Be sure you're getting your offering down along bottom where the trout are, and not drifting over their backs.
Any place where a stream changes direction is a good place to find trout. In meadow streams, where the spring water wells up and meanders lazily along the creekbed, a corner or bend is the best place for trout because holes get scoured out, offering deeper water. Food accumulates in the resulting eddy.
Approach a bend carefully from downstream, and cast upstream. Look for seams of faster current. Fish the water closest to you first, working your way across and upstream with each drift. Active fish are often on the inside of the bend, where the eddy forms.
A great time to fish for trout is late summer. Jungle-like foliage and abundant bugs keep other fishermen away, so you have the stream to yourself. And in the early morning before the sun is high and hot, or in the evening when the world is cooling down, the fishing is fine. Long grass trails over the stream banks and provides excellent but temporary overhead cover.
It's painstaking fishing because a trout could be anywhere, but it's also productive. Hop right into the creek (it's easier than walking the jungle-like banks!) and work every inch of water as you travel stealthily upstream, flipping your bait ahead and fishing under anything and everything that might offer seclusion to a trout.
This spring and summer, hit your favorite trout streams — and explore some new ones — with an organized plan. Armed with these insights into trout fishing's Top 10 hotspots, and ideas on how to fish them, you're sure to find more success on the water — and maybe even a little trout fishing salvation as well .