Written by: George Daniel, Livin On The Fly
Low, clear water makes for
difficult fly fishing. You can decide to hang up our waders until the next
rainfall, or you can embrace the challenge, and develop into a better (more
patient) angler. Just as with other aspects of life, the best lessons arise
from challenging circumstances. And recent conditions have created a steep
learning curve for me.
For example, many of the
normal prime spots in a stream become too low to hold large trout, forcing a
migration into the deeper pools. This is normal trout behavior anywhere, but I’m
amazed to see how few anglers target these pools. And when they do fish these
pools, most anglers move fast and try to cover all the water. For years I did
the same thing, until I’d spent enough time getting skunked in slow-moving
Trout holding in pools during
times of low water are on high alert, and any disturbance is going to put these
fish down for a while. They’ll develop lockjaw if you get your nymph stuck and
try to pop it off the bottom, make a poorly presented cast, or hook a smaller
fish that causes commotion during the fight and sends a warning alarm to the
larger resident trout.
Of course, you’re going to
make some commotion no matter what you
do, which means you’re going to spook fish no matter how careful you are. For
example, you can make a great dry-fly presentation to the bank, but even when
you attempt to quietly lift the line off the water it still makes enough sound
to send the fish of the day spooking into the depths. You only had one shot in
that area, and now that portion of the stream is shot for the next hour. And
that should be your biggest takeaway: you often only get one shot before spooking the resident fish in low water, so you
need to identify the most likely holding areas before making a presentation.
For example, there’s one pool
I’ve recently been fishing from which I’ve taken some of my largest trout this
summer. The pool is approximately 100 yards long, but thereare only five spots
along the bank that offer the cover and protection that big trout need. For
years, I would just fish all the water in this pool (a.k.a. a shotgun approach)
whiling working small grids. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and place for
working all the water, but low water is not
the time. I would catch a few small-to-decent-size fish, but rarely would I
land larger trout. That was until I decided to target only the handful of lies
from which I’d seen larger trout spook, during my frothing of the water. Instead,
I would walk along the banks of the pool and pick just the top four or five
I used a slow, careful wading
approach to the first target area, taking as long as five minutes to get into
position. This is so important because you need to be in the best position to
make a great first cast. Since you rarely get a second chance in these
conditions, you need the mindset of a sniper, who only has one chance to make
the shot because his target will be alerted by a miss. After getting into
position, take an additional minute or two to let the water around you calm
down. You’re going to make some commotion no matter how careful we are, and
trout will tense up when this happens. So take a few minutes to let the fish relax
after you get into position, and then make your perfect presentation.
If the fish doesn’t take on
the first cast, try just a few more and then I would advise moving to the next
target. This may mean painstakingly taking another five minutes to move just 20
yards upstream. In this 100-yard-long pool, it may take me 30 minutes to make
only 10 or 12 casts over the entire reach. I spend more time getting into the
perfect casting position than actually making casts.
This requires patience, a trait that I’m only now slowly beginning to develop. This mindset also requires accepting the fact that your rate of success is small, even though you’re going to put a lot of effort into your approach. However, sometimes these efforts will pay off with big trout. Patience has yielded me some of my best low water trout, and I know it will do the same for you.
George Daniel operates Livin On The Fly, a guide service in State College, Pennsylvania. He is also the author of Strip-Set: Fly-Fishing Techniques, Tactics, & Patterns for Streamers, as well as Dynamic Nymphing.