Our Man In Canada
January 25th, 1999

Trout streams

By Clive Schaupmeyer
Adapted from "The Essential Guide to Fly-Fishing" by the author

Rivers, streams and creeks are as alluring as the trout they harbor and nourish. Sure, we all love catching fish, but one of the pleasures of fly-fishing in streams is the fascination we get from wading in these spellbinding, flowing watery habitats.

Streams vary widely. Slow-flowing spring creeks meander through pastureland and change little with time. Rivers and streams fed with melting snow and rainwater babble peacefully through mountain gorges and get larger as the head downstream. But these sometimes peaceful waters have another face. Spring rains coupled with high temperatures that melt upland snows can turn them into raging torrents. Raging rivers can be brutal to the fish and it's a wonder they survive at all. But all of this mayhem has been happening for millennia and will likely continue for a while longer if we have the wisdom to protect our watersheds.

This flowing, scouring, wearing and grinding carves a river's path through the geography. Because of this action the stream bed develops a many-sided character that provides hiding, feeding and breeding places for trout.

There are four general types of water that have been etched into our ideal trout stream by the flow of water: riffles, runs, glides and pools. There are all sorts of less-distinct hybrid water bearing characteristics of two or three of these types. Within these four general types of water are places where fish tend to congregate.

A riffle is a fast, choppy section of shallow water. The speed is determined by the slope, and the roughness is caused by stream bed rocks. This choppy, fast water is highly oxygenated and can hold incredible numbers of insects. During significant insect activity, trout will often move into riffles to feed on nymphs that are getting ready to emerge.

A run is a section of fairly fast and fairly deep water. Depending on depth and stream bed rocks, the surface can be choppy or smooth. Runs are often faster portions of wider sections of rivers bordered on one or both sides by a wider, shallow shelf. Trout often hold at the bottom of runs or in seams between the actual run and slower adjacent water. The head, or upstream end of the run, is usually a dropoff just below a riffle. Fish will hold at the head of a run waiting for dislodged nymphs to float along or waiting for mayflies that emerged in the riffle. The end of a run is called the tail. (The word run is sometimes used by fly anglers around here to identify sections of streams and rivers–such as the Dog Run or Deer Run. These locations include several types of water.)

A glide, or flat, is a section of slow, smooth water. Most are a few feet deep, but some glides are quite shallow and are smooth because of the slow water speed and smooth stream bed. Glides can be very difficult to dry-fly fish and often require very long and light leaders. The smooth, slow water allows the fish to get a clear and close look at a dry fly. Wading quietly is critical because of the surface smoothness and lack of natural water noise.

Pools are relatively slow, deep sections of a stream or river. They often occur where a severe dropoff has carved a deep pocket. Trout tend to hold in pools during hot weather and in winter. Pools are considered to be favorite haunts of large trout. Because of their depth they can be difficult to fish.

These water types are often connected in some predictable way, yet the combinations are infinite. Water in a typical section of a river might run through a riffle that drops off into a deeper run. The deeper run may have shallower side sections. The run may become shallower and evolve into a glide or flat. And as the gradient changes, it may narrow again, forming the tail that speeds up and transforms into yet another riffle that becomes the head of the next run. And on and on . . .

Spring creek: A stream fed primarily from underground springs with alkaline water. The water temperature in a spring creek tends to be more stable than in a freestone stream. They often stay open throughout the winter. Also called limestone or chalk streams.

Freestone stream: A stream fed primarily with surface runoff from rain and snowmelt.

Next week: Reading trout streams. ~ Clive Schaupmeyer

Our Man In Canada Archives

Bio on Our Man In Canada

Clive Schaupmeyer is an outdoor writer and photographer. He is the author of The Essential Guide to Fly-Fishing, a 288-page book for novice and intermediate fly anglers. His photo of a boy fishing was judged the best outdoor picture of 1996 published by a member of the Outdoor Writers of Canada. He fly-fishes for trout in Alberta's foothill and mountain streams and for pike near his home in Brooks, Alberta. For information on where to find, or how to get a copy of Clive's book, Click here!

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