Our Man In Canada
February 1st, 1999

Reading trout water

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

Figuring out the fishy parts of a stream is what we call "reading the water." You can learn a lot about reading water by taking a class on fly-fishing. And you will learn from experience. When trout are rising, you know where they are. It becomes a bit trickier if they are feeding down below and you can't see them. When you are on the water, pay attention. Ask yourself: If I were a trout, where would I hold? Where will I be protected from the current, from predators and have access to a steady supply of food?

Polarized sunglasses are extremely useful for reading trout streams and occasionally helping you actually see fish in the water. These special lenses eliminate most of the surface glare and often allow you to look into the water and see structural variations that create the different types of water that hide fish.

Within the four general types of water (see last week's article) trout tend to hold where they are safe from predators, where the current isn't too strong, and where there is a ready supply of food. Any place in a river that can provide all three at the same time is a prime holding spot, or prime lie. When there is intensive insect activity (either on the surface or below), trout will let their guard down and move into shallow water or to the surface. They often move out of the runs into shallow water as night falls.

Trout tend to hold at the bottom of deeper runs, just below dropoffs, and behind rocks or other obstructions in the stream. They also hold under streamside vegetation or in undercut banks.

Large boulders within a riffle or run form what we call pocket water. Trout hold in front and behind rocks where the water speed is buffered. Conflicting currents make dry-fly and nymph fishing difficult in pocket water.

Brown Trout

Seams are transition layers between two sections of water flowing at different speeds. There is often a noticeable seam between shallow, slower water and a fast run. Trout often hold in the slower water and have the added benefit of a nearby steady flow of food passing by.

Back eddies are also favorite holding spots. Again, the water current is usually slow, and there is a nearby food supply in the faster water to the outside of the eddy. During a hatch, insects often get caught up in the slow swirling currents in a back eddy. It is not uncommon to see trout noses sipping bugs in the back eddy foam. Because of the conflicting currents, back eddies are usually difficult to fish. ~ 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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