Learning How-To Read the Water
“A trout is a moment of beauty known only to those who seek it.”- Arnold Gingrich
There are many elements to understanding the water and how it relates to catching fish. Once again, the more you become aware of the changing conditions, the better fly angler you will become. A good set of all-around polarized sunglasses can greatly help you spot fish by allowing you to see through the glare that is often on top of the water. Grey, Copper, and Rose colored lenses are generally considered all around lenses. For those low light days, a more yellow lens can be beneficial, but you don’t need to run out and buy multiple pairs of sunglasses. The Grey, Copper, or Rose will work fine to start. Suncloud brand sunglasses are affordable and the optics are pretty good for the money.
Scanning the water for feeding fish and “fishy” water before entering the water is always a good idea. It is best to have the sun at your back but that is not always realistic when fishing. Watch for fish eating adults off the surface and watch for fish tailing. Any sign of a fish is a good sign and if you can identify what they are eating, that’s just a bonus! Pay attention to your shadow in relation to the water. You don’t want your shadow spooking the fish. Another good idea is to fish next to the bank to start. DO NOT enter the water until you’ve fished near the bank. Many fish will sit near the bank, especially in the warmer months. But even when conditions are right in the winter, they might just hover next to the bank. Maybe the smarter fish stay near the bank waiting for an angler to spook them. This way they can avoid being caught. Then, work your way out from the bank. Work slowly and methodically. After several casts in one spot, move up the river a step or two. Often, simply changing position in the water can present the fly in a way that the fish will eat. When nymphing, the shorter casts are better.
Trout prefer to stay in one position in the current, this is called a lie. There are four different types of lies. Holding lies, sheltering lies, feeding lies, and prime lies. Understanding where fish hold is another key to unlocking some of the magic of fly fishing.
Holding Lie- A holding lie provides relief to the trout from swift current. Finding protection from the current and predators is the highest priority of the trout. At times, a trout will even sacrifice feeding to protect itself from danger.
Sheltering Lie- A trout will use a sheltering lie to protect itself from danger. This lie will also offer the trout relief from the swiftest of currents and will also provide cover. Sheltering lies are pre-determined by the fish and they will use these when threatened. The trout blends in well with these lies and the coloring of the trout is like a sort of camouflage when hiding from predators. Some examples of sheltering lies include but are not limited to: the deepest recesses of stream bottom, a dark shady area beneath a bush or tree, under a sunken log, undercut banks, weed beds, and many more. This lie offers the trout a certain level of comfort as the name sheltering lie implies. The oxygen level, water temperature, and flow provide what is necessary for the fish to regain its strength and energy.
Feeding Lies- These feeding lanes allow for a steady supply of food to the fish. Trout will seek these lies to feed. These lies will be found in many different types of areas in the body of water. Submerged bushes, trees, weed beds, and many other places in the water will be utilized as feeding lies for trout. As the river rises and lowers, these lies will also change. As the river changes, the trout are also adapting, just like you as a fly angler should be adapting to the changing conditions to take advantage and catch those trout. A feeding lie is simply a spot for fish to feed that allows the food to come to them. Fish will often eat near sheltering lies so that they have a place to go when threatened. Having an understanding of these lies and why fish use each one will unlock more secrets for you as a fly angler. Simply understanding the water a little more every time will help you become a great fisher. Whether or not you catch fish, you should always be learning something new every single time you fish. Use each new adventure as a learning experience and this will enhance your success as a fly fisher.
Prime Lies- When a trout does not feel threatened, has an adequate food supply, a good supply of oxygen and does not exert too much energy, is known as a prime lie. When all of these factors come together, a trout has found an ideal lie known as the prime lie. Often when you find a prime lie, you will find fish. Bigger fish and smaller fish alike prefer these lies. When you find a prime lie, inspect it. Try to find out where the fish are holding and cast your fly above the fish without the fly-line going over them. Often a 45 degree upstream cast can effectively do this. If they are near the surface, try a dry-dropper or even two dries of different sizes. Observe what food sources you are seeing and where. These lies can sometimes be very hard to find and conditions can vary, which can make or break being able to find these lies. Look for boulders sticking out of the water, downed tree limbs, pocket water behind dispersed boulders can be great, look for bugs along and near the surface, look for baitfish in the water. These can all be keys to finding a great lie that holds feeding fish.
Sources; Flyfishing: First Cast to First Fish! By Joseph F. Petrala