Field & Stream Online Editors
Field & Stream Online Editors

Tailwaters & Spring Creeks Tailwaters and spring creeks often go overlooked by anglers who don’t understand how they differ from typical rivers and streams. A tailwater is simply the controlled flow beneath a man-made dam. Spring creeks are natural phenomena: small to midsize streams whose water comes mostly from underground. What tailwaters and spring creeks have in common is a generally even, regulated flow; comparatively steady and fish-favorable temperatures; and nutrient-rich water loaded with insects, baitfish, and trout.

**34. Understand the water. **In tailwaters and spring creeks, the generally slower, clearer, placid currents make trout more wary. Also, since trout are surrounded by so much food and have so much time to inspect and select what they eat, your artificial fly or lure must be perfectly chosen and presented.

35. Stalk trout. As a general rule, the typical freestone approach of casting blind to attractive water is counterproductive on a spring creek or calm tailwater. Exploratory casting disturbs the water and frightens trout, and it rarely places the fly or lure with the kind of precision needed to catch fish. It’s better to scrutinize the water carefully before approaching, looking for visible (and especially, feeding) trout that you can observe and-only then-stalk and ply with a careful cast. To help spot fish, wear quality polarized sunglasses and a hat with a dark-underside front brim.

36. Get a closer look. Carry a pair of lightweight binoculars to scan for rise activity, water disturbances, and visible fish. Also use binoculars to study nearby trout and floating or drifting insects and to examine the immediate area for other trout.

37. Channel your cast. On small to midsize waters, look for trout in weedy channels, particularly those with open patches of bottom. Big trout hold in these protected, food-rich lies.

**38. Work the margins. **With larger tailwater rivers, do most of your fishing on the margins outside the main current: undercut and thickly covered banks; heads and tails of islands and adjacent bars and side channels; and the large eddies that form on inside bends and below jutting points of land.

39. Be Sneaky. To target a specific trout, false-cast away from the fish, off to one side, to avoid spooking it with the line and also to prevent water droplets from falling over and scaring it. The more clear, open, and shallow the water, the more you need to make a stealthy approach and cast.

40. Know when to strike. Watch the fish, not your fly. Look for a silver flash as the fish rolls slightly to grab a nymph; or for the sudden show of white as its mouth opens to take a fly. Strike as the white disappears (and the mouth closes).

** 41. Nail the approach.** Trout in these waters don’t need to move much to take in food. So your fly or lure must enter their exact drift lanes. With flies, the presentation should also be drag-free. Good approaches include the across-and-slightly-downstream cast with slack line, the across-reach, and the upstream curve. With ultra-wary, leader-shy trout, often the best approach is directly downstream, using a slack-line cast that presents the fly to the fish ahead of the leader.

**42. Pick Your Fish. **Target one fish at a time, especially when you come upon several trout feeding or holding together. If you try to cast generally to the group, chances are you’ll present well to none of them. Or worse, you’ll put the whole group down.

43. Carry a broad-based but key selection of flies * Midges Have cluster and dry patterns (Griffith Gnat, (A) Parachute Midge, Black Gnat; Nos. 16¿¿¿24); pupae, larvae, and emerger patterns (Brassie, Beadhead Midge Worm, Disco, Palomino, Foam Head; Nos. 16¿¿¿24).

  • **Dries **Favor sparse, “realistic” patternns tied in no-hackle, parachute, thorax, and Comparadun styles (Adams, Light Cahill, (B) Bluewing Olive, Paradun, and specific local hatch-matchers; Nos. 12¿¿¿24). Include some spent-wing variations to mimic the dead adult flies that float, wings outstretched, in the surface film.

a * **Nymphs **You want Pheasant Tail, Prince, (C) Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear, Gray Muskrat (Nos. 16¿¿¿22; some weighted, some beadhead); Floating Nymph, and various local emerger patterns.

  • **Other Sinking Flies ** Bring Scuds, Nos. 12¿¿¿18, in olive, gray, tan, and pink; some with sparkle or flash fibers, some weighted; Cress bugs (Nos. 12¿¿¿16); and the (D) San Juan Worm (Nos. 6¿¿¿10).

  • Streamers Good choices include the Matuka, Zonker, Clouser Minnow, Woolly Bugger, Muddler, Sculpin, and (E) Leech Fly, in black, olive, and brown; Nos. 1¿¿¿8; some weighted.

44. Lighten up. Much spring creek and tailwater fishing is best suited to the lightest rods and lines. This is the place where 81/2- to 9-foot, 2- to 4-weight fly rods earn their keep. Weight-forward lines are acceptable in these ranges, although some experts insist on a double-taper’s softer casts. Long, light leaders are very important: 14 to 16 feet, with 3 to 4 feet of tippet as fine as 6X to 7X, depending upon fly size. For spin fishing on creeks and many tailwaters, use ultralight, 5- to 51/2-foot rods with 4-pound-test line.

45. Get heavy. On some large tailwater rivers, heavier outfits-a 9-foot, 6- to 7-weight fly rod or a 6- to 61/2-foot medium-light spinning rod spooled with 6- to 8-pound-test-are helpful for making longer casts, and for handling bigger lures, flies, sink-tip lines, and windy conditions.

**46. Find out what’s on the menu. **The best way is to get into the water well below the fish, in its exact current lane. Use a hand net or square of soft screen to sift out the flotsam for close inspection. You don’t need to be an entomologist to get a bead on the feed. Just match a fly to the naturals as well as you can-to size, shape, and color, in that order of priority.

47. Remember the “pounds of meat” rule. When several kinds of flies and bait are in the water and you aren’t sure which one to match, go with whatever is most abundant. More often than not trout prefer the most plentiful food in the water, the one that provides “the most pounds of meat.”

**48. Think very small. **Be sure to choose small, lightweight lures in subdued colors for most clear or shallow water conditions. Spoons from 1/16 to 1/8 ounce, and size 00 to 0 spinners, can be softly dropped in pockets, near banks, and in weed channels; or drifted and then “activated” in front of holding or feeding trout. Jigs from 1/32 to 1/8 ounce work great for this kind of fishing. In black, green, or brown marabou, they can be free-drifted, jigged, or hopped along the bottom to imitate numerous prey items, including nymphs, crayfish, sculpin, and leeches.

** 49. Try a Fly on your Spinning Rod.** Streamers that imitate sculpin, minnows, and leeches are easily fished with ultralight spin tackle. Use weighted flies and/or add split shot 6 to 8 inches above the fly. Toss dries with a casting bubble. With nymphs, a three-way-swivel rig will allow the fly to drift more naturally along the bottom.

50. Go Nuts. If nothing is working after hours of careful strategy, break the “rules.” Start by enlivening your dry flies or nymphs with twitches, skips, and darts. Skitter and dance a Variant across the surface. Try a No. 10 Royal Wulff or Madame X; or a thumb-size Woolly Bugger or Leech. Exchange the 00 spinner for a No. 3; try cranking a big crayfish diver. Purists will shriek, but-sometimes-these last-resort deviations catch trout when conventional tactics fail.