Stream Fishing Technique

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When stream fishing for trout, presentation is the key. Some fishermen love to tell you how incredibly smart trout are. They're not really. They just know when something doesn't look right, and if it doesn't look right the fish aren't about to touch it. Keeping that in mind, you want to present your bait or lure in a such a way that it mimics a trout's natural food source as much as possible.

For fly fishermen, this means "matching the hatch" or otherwise imitating something the trout would normally feed on. Since trout are predators, patterns that simulate small fish or even mice can be productive in addition to those imitating bugs. Ask at a local fly shop or sporting goods store if you're not sure what to use. Many fly fishermen like to stand downstream from the fish and cast upstream while fishing, since by doing this you position yourself behind the trout (which are usually facing upstream looking for food). This minimizes the risk of spooking the trout as you move or cast.

Bait fishermen are usually better off positioning themselves upstream from the fish and allowing their bait to drift downstream into the trout's vicinity. Don't try to cast directly to the fish - aim for a spot a little upstream from them, and then let the current do the rest. When doing this, keep two things in mind. First, trout usually live in clear and fairly shallow water. This means they can easily see movement on the banks within their field of vision. The fish can't necessarily distinguish what it is that's moving, but it doesn't matter, since any perceived movement or any shadow falling across them will usually cause them to spook. To prevent this, you'll want to either stand far enough upstream to be out of the trout's field of view, or crouch down low enough not to be easily seen. If you have to move into close proximity to a promising-looking hole in order to cast to it, make sure you stay low and avoid casting shadows on the water if possible.

468 x 60 Fly Fishing

The second thing to remember is that your bait must drift naturally into the hole where the trout are positioned. To achieve this, use as little weight on your line as you can get away with - just enough to cause the bait to stay near the bottom. The faster the current, the more weight you'll need to get the bait down. Start with no weight at all and adjust from there. When adding weight, start with a size 7 or so split shot about 18 to 24 inches above your hook (see figure 1). If one isn't enough, add another, or replace it with a slightly larger split shot. Too much weight, though, and you'll just anchor your bait on the bottom.

Bait fishing rig for trout

And don't hurl your bait into the water with a mighty splash. This is unnatural, and will scare the fish. Ideally, you should drop it into the current upstream from your quarry and just let it drift down. If you have to cast, try to get the bait into the water as quietly as you can. In situations where you're trying to reach a swirl or a hole behind a rock or log, drop your bait in above the obstruction and let the current carry it around in a natural manner. Sometimes this means standing in the stream or casting to the far bank so that the current takes the bait the way you want it to.

If you drift your bait through a likely-looking area and nothing happens, don't be discouraged. Retrieve it and try again. Sometimes the trout just need to be enticed a little bit before they'll bite. If you know the trout are there, but they don't seem interested, try varying the amount of weight on your line to get the bait into their comfort zone. When fishing small holes, especially in areas confined by overhanging brush or tree branches, I like to use a technique my friend Geoff calls "lobbing." To lob, let your bait drift down through the hole you want to fish, then close the reel bail after it reaches the other side. Instead of retrieving the bait by reeling it it, pull the line right in front of the reel with your off hand so that the bait is dragged back toward the rod tip, then drop it in again just upstream from the hole and let go of the line. This keeps you from having to cast repeatedly in an area where you'll likely get snagged.

In large, calm pools, consider casting lures and retrieving them through the pool to stimulate a bite. This is especially effective during the trout's peak feeding hours in the morning and evening. Use small spinners such as a Mepps Aglia (sizes 00 or 0), or try small spoons or tube jigs. A fly fished behind a clear plastic casting bubble (figure 2) can also be a good producer in large pools or intake ponds. Retrieve it across the surface in a series of short jerks to attract the fish.

Fly and casting bubble rig for trout

Hatchery trout will often experience a period of disorientation immediately after they're stocked in a creek. During this time, which typically lasts for 24 to 48 hours, the trout may not eat. If you can see fish, but they're not biting, they might be recently stocked. Chances are you'll have better luck trying to catch them a little bit later. It never hurts to try changing baits, either. Just because "everyone" in a given area uses Power Bait, salmon eggs, or whatever, doesn't mean that's all the trout will bite. Often the opposite is true. Try something they don't normally see and you may get very lucky indeed.

And last but not least, don't be afraid to break the rules if nothing is working. I have caught fish in spots I was sure wouldn't produce, because I fished there out of sheer frustration. I've also caught a number of trout that didn't hit my bait when I drifted it down to them in the approved manner, but nailed it as soon as I started a slow retrieve against the current. Stay flexible and don't give up.

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