by Kent Klewein -
Fly fishing during the fall and winter months can really open the door to some great sight-fishing opportunities for fly anglers targeting trout. Generally, most of our wadable trout streams run low and clear from the lack of rainfall this time of year. If you keep your eyes peeled for trout and wade with extra stealth, there’s always a good chance to sneak up and sight-fish to the biggest trout of your life. With the brown trout moving up many watersheds in preparation for the spawn, and the rainbows or cutthroats aggressively feeding to put on weight for the cold winter ahead, the fall can provide fly fisherman the best trout fishing of the year. My clients and I catch some of our biggest trout during the fall and winter by wading in close to the big trout we’ve spotted and then making precise presentations to our targets. That being said, just because you can see the trout, doesn’t mean they’re always easy to catch. Some days, the trout will make you want to pull your hair out as you painfully watch your flies ignored over and over, as they drift within inches of the trout you’re sight-fishing to. Below are six tips to help fly anglers catch more shallow water trout while sight-fishing during the fall and winter months.
1. Proper Angler Positioning
When trout are holding in shallow water that’s calm and clear, it can make them extremely difficult to catch because the water conditions allow trout to hear and see very well. One of the biggest mistakes I see on the water by novice fly anglers when they’ve spotted a trout holding in shallow water, is they position themselves too far downstream (from the fish they see and want to cast to) when they make their initial presentation. The smaller the angle one casts to a trout, the more precise and accurate the presentation (angle and distance) needs to be. Too long of a cast, and you’ll risk spooking the trout by lining the fish (laying fly line over the back or too close to the fish) . On the other hand, if you cast at the wrong angle, your flies will often not drift close enough to the feeding trout, and will fail to enter the strike zone.
When I’m sight-fishing to trout in shallow water, I always try to approach the trout from the side as much as I can (I get as perpendicular to the trout as possible) without spooking it. Doing so, it makes it much easier for me to present my flies to the trout with my leader only, not my fly line, and I find that I spook far less fish this way. Furthermore, when I approach the trout from the side, it usually decreases the distance of the cast needed to drift my flies in front of the spotted trout. Shorter presentations also improve my ability to lay out softer presentations, and in most cases, I find it much easier to also maintain a drag-free drift to the fish with my flies, because I don’t have to fight different current seams between me and the trout I’m targeting.
2. Approach Slowly and Quietly
Just remember, the closer you get to trout, the more risk you have of alerting and spooking them. For anglers to be successful, they should move twice as slow, and take extra precaution to be as quiet as possible when wading into position. I like to take my time getting into position and then wait an additional couple of minutes before I make my first presentation. I call this the “cool off period” which allows me to continue to observe and keep a bead on the fish that I’ve spotted, but the main purpose is to allow any fish that may have been alerted during the approach to calm down and resume feeding. If you’ve got multiple trout scattered out along a run or pool, sometimes all it takes to ruin your chances at success is spooking one or more of the other fish in the area, which can in turn, alert all of the other fish.
3. Choose the Appropriate Fly Fishing Rig and Fly Patterns for the Water You’re Fishing
It’s really important to match the type of fly fishing rig to the water you’re fishing, and take additional effort to fine tune it so that you can precisely control the depth of your drift. You want to be able to maintain a drag free drift and have your flies drifting in the correct water column at the moment they reach the trout you’re fishing to, in order to maximize your chances of catching the trout. A few inches here or there can make all the difference in whether a trout will eat or not eat your fly. Sometimes, that means going with a dry/dropper rig, instead of a weighted tandem nymph rig. Other times, if the current is faster you’ll have better luck if you use a tiny split shot or a dropper nymph with a tungsten bead. In slow moving water, you may find that a beadless nymph will work more in your favor. The point I’m trying to make here is that choosing the right rig and fly pattern can be crucial for catching shallow water trout, and anglers should read the water and observe the trout’s position before they set the rig up and begin making presentations. I also like to add that I experiment using a Leisenring Lift as my flies approach a trout’s position if a drag free drift isn’t getting the job done and I’ve tried multiple fly patterns…..
Photo Courtesy of Gink and Gasoline