Copyright 2014 James Marsh
Tips On Fly Fishing Freestone Trout Streams
When most anglers are fishing a freestone stream, they place their fly in every likely pocket, current seam or any
other place a trout could be holding. After all, even the clearest lie can conceal a trout. If the fly is placed in the
right spot, a trout may take it, that is, if a trout is there. If a trout isn't there, an angler certainly want be getting a
strike. If a trout is there, then the angler may or may not get a rise, depending on many factors. Some of these
factors are within the angler's control and some are not within their control. If the angler don’t get a rise, they
usually either try again, or they move on the next likely holding spot.
In many cases anglers prefer to locate trout by spotting the fish or their rises, but in many small, freestone
streams they are not usually able to spot them. Even if they can't actually see a trout, most successful anglers try
to envision a trout in each and every likely spot. In other words, they consider that if a trout did exist in that lie,
exactly where it would be positioned and exactly where it would be feeding.
Of course, an angler must first take into consideration the type of food the trout may be eating. This doesn't
necessarily mean what species of trout food, but more particularly, if the trout may be feeding on food that is
drifting on the bottom, somewhere beneath the surface, or floating on the surface of the water.
If an angler spots a trout, they should first plan a way to approach it. They should also select a fly to best imitate
whatever they think it may be taking. Finally, they should make a good presentation of the fly to the fish. In other
words, if one knows a fish is there. It is up to them to catch it and that's best done by planning and preparation..
When angles are fishing fast pocket water, moving from one pocket, current seam or likely holding spot to
another, they don’t know if a fish is there or not, unless they spook them and happen to see the fish. This is the
nature of fishing freestone streams. It is completely different from fishing spring creeks, for example. Fishing
spring creek anglers are often able to determine if a fish is in a certain place or not. In the case of fly fishing
freestone streams, instead of finding a feeding fish and approaching it to try to catch it, you fish place you "think"
a fish may be holding. Of course, the same thing may be true of most any type of stream.
In the typical high elevation freestone stream, most of the time, there is not enough of any one insect or
other food for the trout to be feeding on selectively. There's often not any hatches taking place. Since there is a
lot of water that could cover up a trout, there are a lot of places anglers could place a fly to try to get a fish to take
it. If one covers them all, they will be spending a lot of time casting to places where there aren't any trout. If
one only presents their fly in places where fish are most likely holding, they are going to increase their odds
tremendously. This is a very important key in fishing freestone streams. You must eliminate most of the water, or
you will be making a lot of waisted presentations.
Assuming you make good presentations, use the right fly and don't spook the trout, presenting your fly in the
most likely holding lies is the only way you can increase
your odds of catching trout in small, fast water freestone streams.
If you were fishing competitively, against others and thank goodness you this
isn't the case in the park at least, you would go a step farther. You would only
present your fly in the most likely holding lies or the choice places in other words
you would make your first cast count, and make only one or two more cast and
then you would move on. In the competitive bass fishing world they call this the
hit and run approach. Instead of fishing a hundred yards of the stream in an
hour you would fish it in ten minutes only casting to the most likely holding spots.
Am I recommending this method of fishing? No, I am not. Trout fishing would
become work and less fun. I am strictly trying to point out the way you increase
your odds of catching fish in small, fast water freestone streams. You only place
your fly in the likely holding and feeding lies.
As always, the streams to be affected the most in terms of water level are the
small, headwater streams. There is little water left in any of them. The low water
temperatures (low for this time of year) have spared the trout. Although i have
no scientific justification for saying this, I do believe the brook trout are more
capable of surviving these tough environmental conditions than the other
non-native species of trout. They hide from their predators and manage to
survive even when the water is extremely low.
If you can be sneaky and make good presentations you can still catch plenty of
trout. Everyone is probably aware that you should stay low, dress correctly and
stay hidden from the trout. Those things are basic for fishing small streams,
especially under low water conditions. What prompted this writing is a factor that
I think most all of us overlook.
If you move extremely slow, the trout are far less likely to notice you. Before I get
to the point, you may want to review this article. Trout can see almost all the way
around themselves. There is only a small area directly behind them, called the
blind spot, that is not within their peripheral vision. I have found that as long as
you move extremely slow, they won't notice you in their peripheral vision area of
coverage nearly as quickly as they will when you move at a normal pace. By that
I mean not only move you body very slowly, but refrain from the making the
movements necessary to cast.
The trout's vision is not very different from bass. Both species can see almost all
the way around themselves. For several years, I had the opportunity to
experiment with bass in my close friend's, Tom Mann's Fish World in Eufaula,
Alabama. Tom allowed me to go up to the top of the aquarium and experiment
with fishing for the huge bass in the large tank. The tank is about the size of a
small house and looks much like a large swimming pool from up top. Below,
windows allow visitors to look into the aquarium from an underwater perspective.
If you approached the water from up top where visitors are not allowed, every
fish in the aquarium would shoot for the nearest cover. They had become used
to the people down below looking through the windows and had learned they
didn't pose any danger. That was not the case up top.
Trying to cope with the fish spooking every time I attempted to cast to them, I
used every method I could think of each time I tried to approach them without
their knowing it. I discovered that if I moved like a snail, they didn't notice me. If I
moved any faster than that, they did. Even though my clothes didn't blend in with
the color of the walls behind me, they still didn't notice me as long as my
movements were very, very slow. When I learned to cast with an underhanded
cast or flip of the rod, they would all try to eat the lure, that is until one got it. You
could fish with the same lure for the rest of the day and they would only hide
from it but that is another subject.
I discovered that by using this same procedure, I could approach trout in
extremely clear spring creeks in Pennsylvania without spooking them, but doing
so is not easy. Moving at a slow, slow pace is not easy to do. It seems you will
never get into a position to cast and then when you do, you must do so with the
flip of a wrist, side-armed and very low. That means you can't cast very far and
that means you have to get very close to them. I have caught brown trout as
close as fifteen feet from me in shallow, extremely clear water, when I was
standing my full height which is six feet, two inches.
Most of the time I make the mistake of moving too fast. I am not very patient any
way and fishing at the pace of a snail isn't easy for me to do. What I am
describing is not a cure all for catching fish in low, clear water by any means.
Casting to a trout may take twenty minutes of ultra slow-motion movement before
you attempt the first and only cast you will get. I usually stoop down to my knees
in slow motion when I do get close to the fish and then cast side-armed with as
little body movement as possible.
Please note that I am not contending that this is the way to fish with the low water
conditions we currently have. I don't think that extent of extreme caution is
necessary in most cases. I do wish to stress the point that trout do not notice
your presence by identifying or determining that you are some type of creature
from out of space that is going to harm them. Without turning and placing you in
their very narrow binocular area of vision, they cannot see you well enough to
determine anything other than something is in their area that doesn't belong
If you were in the woods observing the forest and one of the trees suddenly
moved a couple of feet, you would spook. If a tree started moving towards you at
a rather fast pace, you would really freak out. When a portion of the trout's
surroundings suddenly moves, it will freak out. Slow your movements way down
and you will catch more trout under low water conditions.
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