River will Teach You

Guest Blogger: Joe Dellaria

I am a scientist. Years of training have engrained a habit of being observant. Many times small observations make or break an experiment. It was natural for me to apply this to trout fishing. Friends and family laugh when they see me walk a stream shore. I am always stumbling on something as I am looking at the water for fish or structure. It’s even worse when I try doing the same thing while driving by a river.

Sometimes what I see leads to an immediate payoff. I have learned the holding places of several large fish by watching the water. This led to catching many of these fish on a later trip. In other instances, it takes several observations to see a pattern that leads to success. That is the case in today’s article. It took several years to piece this together. There are conditions where fishing the shallow side of the river can be extremely productive.

For years, I watched nice fish flush tight to the shore as I walked back to the car. I always assumed these fish were sunning themselves and were uncatchable. That changed one calm Saturday morning.

It had been a long week at work. I was tired and just wanted to be alone. Catching a fish would have been nice, but I really didn’t care, at first. For no good reason I elected to fish a long slow run. It was shaded and would not get direct sunlight for a couple of hours. In addition, suitcase size rocks and little holes punctuate the run. Getting fish out of this water is difficult as it was also very clear. Fish can inspect your fly from several rod lengths away. If everything isn’t perfect – no dice. Sometimes I don’t even see a fish in this half-mile stretch.

A walleye snell holder used as a two-fly set-up holder. An unwrapped set-up is in the foreground.
A walleye snell holder used as a two-fly set-up holder. An unwrapped set-up is in the foreground.

The deeper side of the river looks very “fishy” so I usually focus on that side. I started with a likely deeper spot at the tail of the run. It tends to hold one, or sometimes two, nicer fish – no luck today. I was just about ready to reel in and move to my favorite hole upstream when I noticed the smallest dimple of a rise tight to the shallow shore. The water was 6-9 inches deep there. I decided to cast to the fish to delay the ten-minute walk upstream. I tied on a pre-tied #18 tan caddis with a #20 BWO emerger dropper (I keep several different ones on snell holder for walleye rigs; See the picture). There was no rationale other than this set-up had the two smallest flies and I was too lazy to tie up something else.

Fully expecting a 4-5 inch fish, I rather lazily made my cast about a foot ahead of the last rise. Having such low expectations, I was very relaxed as the fish sipped in the caddis. In fact, I was so relaxed I almost forgot to set the hook. Fortunately, my fishing sense kicked in and I instinctively set the hook. At first, I was confused. The rod doubled over. I thought I had snagged something, but could not see any snag. The confusion was quickly cleared as the water exploded and the fish made a wild dash for deeper water. It turned out to be a 15” brown (on this river that is a decent fish).

Thinking this was a fluke I worked my way up to the next dimple near the shallow shore. This time it took a couple of casts to get the fly over the fish (my whole body was still shaking from the adrenaline rush of the first fish). Once again, the fly disappeared with a quiet sip. This time I was on high alert and over set the hook. The hook nicked the fish’s mouth but missed. Incredulous, I watched a nice fish dart into deep cover. They say in math, two points form a line, three points prove a line. With that in mind, I worked my way into a good position to cast to the next rising fish. Now I was on high alert. Sure enough, the fish quietly sipped in the BWO emerger. I paused a couple of seconds and set the hook with a short snap of my wrist. Bam, another nice fish on – another 15” brown!

Now I was pretty sure this was a pattern as I had the third point on the line. For the next hour or so, I picked my way from rising fish to rising fish. Almost without exception, the fish would sip in one of the two flies. I ended up with over a dozen 14-17” fish. Most of the fish were within inches of the shallow shore in much less than 12” of water. At the end, it finally dawned on me (my mind is faster than a speeding slug and able to jump small cracks in multiple bounds!); these were likely the same fish I was spooking when I walk by the shore on the way back to the car.

This pattern works best right at sun up or sun down. Sometimes it works when it has been cloudy all day long. Don’t ignore the shallow side of the river. Under these conditions, it can be a gold mine for some great trout fishing.

1 Comment

  1. Excellent observation, and in my experience on Montana trout rivers, browns will often seek out the cooler shallower waters at night. There they feed on fry and other goodies until something spooks them out after sun up. More than once I’ve been walking up the shallow side of a pool and seen that puff of mud that was the result of me spooking a fish. When I remember that, I’ll often make my first casts along the shallow edges instead of the deeper, faster currents. Doesn’t always work, but more often or not, at dawn fish will be hanging around the shallow edges.

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