See This? Do That: Tips for Catching Trout In a Recessed Target Area

This is a situation I encounter fairly often. A trout is tucked under an overhang– in this case it’s a rocky “grotto,” but it might also be a grassy cut bank, a bunch of willows, a log jam, etc.


The water is clear. The fish are in slow current. The main current is between me and the fish. I have not seen the fish eat on top, and I know there are sticks and rocks that would swallow up a nymph fly, not far below the surface. What do I do?

1. First, I’m going to decide on my “targets within the target.” What part of this run looks the absolute juiciest? See that pile of sticks on the right-top of the photo, and the indent in the rocks just above it? If I were a trout, I think that’s where I’d hang out (that’s the deepest cover, and currents and bugs are collecting there), so that’s target A. Target B is just below those sticks. Target C is the depression at the top of the wall on the left. And target D is all the slack water in the middle of the pool (though I assume I’ll find smaller fish there.) So I’m going to hit them in that order, A, B,C, D.

2. I’m going to fish a dry fly. I could go with a streamer, but a streamer will make a bigger splash in that calm water, so I’ll only get one or two shots. Besides, I’m not sure what kind of crud it might hang up on below the surface (if this water were a tad faster and higher, I would indeed choose a streamer). I’m seeing mayflies here and there (I’ve spent several minutes watching before I cast). If I saw caddis, I’d use a caddis dry. But I see mostly mayflies, so I’m going with a little parachute Adams.

3. I’m not going to use a spotter fly. Too much distraction. At this distance, and in that flat water, I can see the little parachute fly fine. So I want to limit the moving parts, and get right down to business.

4. I’m going to make a downstream presentation. I could try that reach cast from the side. If I were really brave I could wade across and try to cast from below the fish, but those sticks are a problem, and I don’t trust a sidearm or hinge cast as much as I think I can pinpoint a downstream drift.

5. Because I am making a downstream presentation, I realize I have to crouch down low (I am potentially in the fish’s field of vision), and make as few movements (including false casts) as I possibly can.

6. I want the fish to see the fly first (and only). So I make the fly land only a few feet in front of target A, and then I lift the fly line off the water. Fly lines grab currents, and in doing so, they screw up drifts. I’m not going to monkey around with mending and all of that, because this is a short shot (20 feet). I cast, and then lift as much fly line off the water, leaving only the fly, tippet, and some leader to get sucked by the current into the zone.

7. Whoa! There he is. I just saw a huge trout come out of the cave and almost eat my fly (this is really how it happened). What do I do– cast again? Heck no. I switch flies. Mr. Trout was really interested in my first bug, but ultimately said no. So I size down with the same pattern that grabbed its attention, changing a size #16 parachute Adams for a size #18 parachute Adams. I wait a few minutes, and make the same cast.

And on that cast to target A, I hook, then later land, a native Colorado River Cutthroat trout on a dry fly, on public water. The trout taped out at just under 20 inches. It was my best fish of the year, caught on the South Fork of the White River in Colorado.