December 19, 2012
See This, Do That: Catching Trout in the Slow, Shallow Riffle
By Kirk Deeter
This one is for Sinjin Eberle, who said he wanted us to reprise the "see this, do that" lessons.
In this case, we're looking at a classic midsummer trout scenario (appropriately, this shot is from Argentina). The water is very low and clear. The river bottom is a mix of fine gravel, rocks and sand. It's a hot, bright day (the sun is almost directly overhead). This is a spring creek, so the water temperatures are still perfectly cool. There are rainbows and a couple of browns lurking in this run.
Can you guess where the fish are, what fly we used, and how we approached them?
The first thing you'll notice is that we're all standing back. I took the photo, and I'm crouching back from the edge of the high bank. Felipe (the angler) actually got into the river 20 yards or so downstream of where you see him now. He is deliberately creeping his way into the run. The number one thing he's worried about is making shadows or sudden motions that will reveal himself to the fish. The number two thing he's worried about is making wakes or grinding the gravel with his boots and causing noise or vibrations. I am not at all exaggerating when I tell you that it will take him another 10 minutes before he unfurls the first cast.
The fish are where you expect them to be. The large browns are in the deeper slower, pool in the left of the photo. They're eating sporadically off the surface. The rainbows are in the riffle water, in the middle of the river.
Here's the play: The casting spot is the gravel bar, exactly half-way between where Felipe is standing now, and that green mossy clump in the middle of the river (on a straight line between those points).
The fly is a size #16 black beetle. A single dry fly. (It's too bright for mayflies, and we don't see any naturals. A big hopper might be too gaudy for water this shallow, slow, and clear.)
The first cast (a reach cast, where the angler fires toward the bank, then moves the rod tip upstream to create a mend in the air, before the fly lands) was made from a crouch position. The first targets were those browns. Fortunately, a nice 16-incher ate the first drift within a few seconds after the fly hit the water. To land the fish, Felipe applied side pressure with the rod horizontal to the water, and skated it to his position. He never stands up.
The next cast is angled more upstream, straight into the riffle. And sure enough, he does catch a smaller rainbow on the same fly. That one took two drifts. But here's the kicker: after releasing the brown trout, he pauses and waits 10 minutes before even thinking about casting to the bows.
The lesson: Slow and low is the the way to go when casting at rising trout in low, clear water. If Felipe were to have made even one cast from where you see him in this shot, I am certain he would not have hooked either fish.