Guest Blogger: Joe Dellaria, Woodbury MN

Have you ever looked at a spot on a river and thought to yourself “Wow, there has to be a fish there!”? Then you fish it thoroughly and nothing-totally bewildering. Years ago, I went through a phase where I spin casted for trout. This happened after I had just finished fly fishing a hole and caught nothing. A spin caster walked up to the exact spot and after three casts with a Rapala, he hooked and landed a nice 16” brown. I was amazed and dumbfounded. To my total astonishment he threw the fish back while saying, “Too small” with a disgusted voice. I promptly started asking questions about his catch rate and size of fish. Impressed by his accomplishments, I switched to spin casting.

This is not the point of my article, but I needed to set up why I was spin casting in one of those “fishy spots.” It was late summer and overcast, a storm front was on its way when I reached this spot where I never had a follow or hit prior to this day. Despite my lack of success, I began casting through the section (My wife claims I am part bull dog!) expecting nothing to happen as usual. My cast went perfectly up against a partially submerged tree in the water and thankfully just missed two branches in the water. Just as the Rapala cleared the last branch the water exploded. The fish hit the lure so hard he knocked it 3-4 inches out of the water. I was thinking “Oh, I hate when that happens,” when to my amazement the fish hit the lure again. In my excitement I over set the hook and pulled defeat out of the jaws of success. My heart rate goes up every time I tell someone about this incident.

I could go on and on with different accounts of other spots with the same pattern. A “fishy spot” produces nothing for dozens of outings, and then, one day a big fish nails my fly. If you are prepared (i.e. steel yourself to not set the hook too soon), there is a good chance you can hook and land a very nice fish.

Just last year I came to a huge deep hole. It is so deep that the water takes on an aqua blue hue (hence its name “the blue hole”). Everyone knows about it and it gets pounded. I have fished it 30-40 times over the years with no big fish. Even so, I fish it every time I go by just in case someone is ready to eat. I was about half-way through the hole and cast up and across with a #10 tungsten head girdle bug (I affectionately refer to this as my depth-charge fly as it sinks really fast) with a #16 bead head nymph dropper. The flies hit the water and I started looking for where to cast next while the flies sank. Then I realized there was a big flash just about where my flies should be. I set the hook, and boom, my rod doubled over and the fight was on! It was a feisty 17” brown that would not give up. He fought so long I started worrying he would wear a hole in his mouth and the hook would come out. I finally slid the net under the fish and lifted him out of the water. “Pretty sweet,” I thought to myself.

The point is persistence and focus eventually pay off in these apparently fishless “fishy spots.” As I approach one of these spots, I go through my launch sequence; it begins with reminding myself that there could be a nice fish in or near this spot. Now it’s time to make the choice to assume today is the day, and be extremely attentive to what my flies are doing, and most importantly to remember to wait for the fish to turn BEFORE setting the hook (one of my friends from England tries to say “God save the queen,” before setting the hook.). By doing this, I am focused and ready for something good to happen. Granted, most of the time nothing happens, but, when something does, it almost always produces a nice fish and sometimes even an exceptional fish.

A few years ago, I had the same set-up on and came to another large hole that gets fished heavily. Again, I had low expectations for a large fish, but as my friend’s dad used to say, “There is a 100 percent certainty you will not catch the fish if you don’t cast.” With that in mind, I cast across the back eddy immediately in front of me to the outside edge of the current line. I let the flies dead drift until they were completely in the eddy, then I twitch the flies back in 8-10” strips in a start-and-stop rhythm. On the first cast, a 12-13” fish followed the nymph almost all the way in. The second cast led to a 9-10” fish following again.

Thankfully the progression reversed on the next cast. About half-way across the eddy, I looked to find my flies just in time to see a very nice fish staring at the nymph 4 inches from the fly. I jostled my rod tip and watched the wave go down the line and move the flies and inch or so. That’s all it took to induce the fish to nail the nymph. It turned out to be a 22” brown!

The moral of the story is, those “fishy spots” often have large fish even though nothing happens dozens and dozens of times. If you prepare yourself to focus and persist in fishing these spots every time you go by, eventually something good will happen.

As a side note. my experience is that you are wasting your time casting and recasting a spot during the day time (sun-up to sun-down). I fish these “fishy spots” thoroughly but move on when nothing happens. This seems to be the case except for at night where you can induce a fish to hit by casting the same spot for a long time (that is another article that is coming soon).


  1. Great stories Joe, and points well made. All you had to say was “fishy spot” and “fish it thoroughly and nothing” for me to picture about two dozen frustrating places I know. I’ve found recently (aricles of my own on the way about this) that there’s generally something to learn about each such spot, and once learned the trend begins to reverse. The decode can differ for each spot but it exists to find.

    That’s part of the mystery of fly fishing I guess–always something to learn. Great stories, thanks…and by the way that’s a nice fish laying on that tiny little toy net…. : )

    – Mike

  2. Hi Mike,
    Thanks. Can’t wait to see your “decoding” articles. It was a scary moment netting the fish. About 2/3 of him fit in the net. As soon as I had the head in the net, I swept towards the tail while lifting and slammed my rod on top of him.
    If I don’t hear from you before Christmas – Merry Christmas to you and your family.
    All the best,

  3. Nice post, Joe, thank you. I know many spots I refer to as “Bubba Holes.” My theory is that a large fish takes up residence and intimidates the smaller ones. Lesser fish may shelter in such spots, tolerated by the Alpha fish as long as they don’t try feeding there. So when you fish such places you are going to get some interest from the Big Guy (or Gal, for that matter) or not at all. There are a few strategic moves that, IMHO, you can employ to improve your chances. First and most importantly, as Joe so rightly says, is persistence. Next, if you have the luxury, try to fish at off-times when the spot has been rested from angling pressure for as long as possible. Assess how other anglers fish the spot, and try to make your casts from a different angle if you can. Choose a novel fly pattern instead of what everyone else is using. Even when you’re targeting a big fish, don’t think you have to use a huge fly. Elephants eat peanuts, after all. Finally, respect the wariness of a big, experienced fish and employ maximum stealth in your approach and presentation.

  4. Big trout usually reside in “prime” lies! Once caught and if kept, that lie will not remain empty for long!
    Worth fishing there again down the road to see who’s home!

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