Being able to read the water and do it correctly is a true talent. I can tell what type of angler you are by looking at your leader, watching you fish, and the water you pick to fish. What people don’t understand is that you need to be able to read the water and match what you are reading to the technique you are using. I find that anglers like to pick a method of fishing and then fish all the water around them with that method. They catch fish in water that is conducive to the method of choice they are using at the time and forgo the rest. So, let me see If I can simplify this a little.
Take the Upper Sac, the Pit River, and the McCloud for instance, three waters I have spent a lot of time on. They all have lots of boulders, with fast water, and a good amount of dissolved oxygen, yet they are also different in many ways. They can fish differently at the same time of year, which brings in the condition factor. Understanding your conditions and how that not only affects your fishing, but also how that will affect how you read the water. I like to break the river into three types of water. Primary lies, secondary lies, and water over six ft deep. 99% of anglers don’t get out of the primary water. Some days you don’t have to. But think about this, if all you are fishing is the primary water it means you are wading through all the secondary water and spooking fish.
Requirements for trout in rivers like these are, current relief, food delivery, and shelter. This needs to be taken into consideration when reading the water. Primary lies are the ones that just jump out at you. (i.e. Two boulders with a stream of current going between them that tails off into a gentle pocket for a short distance then picks up speed and repeats the process downstream). It has the obvious, depth, current speed, structure, and food delivery. Nowadays it will probably have another angler standing right in the middle of it. In those types of pockets there are both primary and secondary lies. This is a classic High stick indicator or indicator less fishing situation. Looking for the holding areas on both sides of the main current flow is a key factor to finding secondary lies. Learning how to get your fly out of that main seam after you have already fished it and in front of the structure to the sides is the key. This might mean lobbing your fly out of the main seam and into some of the slower water in the same run to pick up the fish that are holding just out of the main flow. Laying low in the secondary water.
Pocket water is ideal for short line nymphing either with an indicator, or my favorite, without. I like to start at the bottom end of a run and work my way up stream through it. Primary runs are usually mid-stream. I will wade up stream hitting the mainstream pockets first. Then hitting the secondary water around the main pockets before moving on. I move slow making lob cast in the pockets and along the hedges, ledges and edges of the secondary water. More often than not the pocket water leads into a deep pool. Reading the water at that point is not so easy. This also can require a gear change. Before that I like to walk the pool to see what kind of structure I can find. What kind of flow and how fast is the water moving through this deeper section? How does the water enter the run? Is it fast, does it come in through a shoot creating a revers current on both sides of the main flow? Then slowing to a more evenly pace current from bank to bank. What is the bottom like, is it big boulders, sandy, or cobblestone to medicine ball size rocks? If you had been fishing a short line set up it will require a technique change. But most importantly your presentation needs to be well thought out. More than likely there will be varying currents, since the water on the bottom moves slower than the water on the top. Your fly will not be under your indicator, but behind it. Finding the current that will take you by the structure is the key, this is also a good place to fish the back currents and eddies. I have seen fish on the McCloud hang out in these eddies just cruising around picking off bugs as they get caught in the back current. Remember fish don’t always have to face into the current. On the down stream side of a rock in a fast current the fish will sometimes be facing downstream as the current is reversed behind the rock. This, then washes bugs back towards the rock and out of the mainstream of flow.
The trick when starting out is to just plain fish everything. Pretty soon you will pick up on what water holds fish and what water is just a waste of time. Learning to read water is a forgotten talent. My motto has always been “location, presentation, and fly” in that order. But in between location and presentation should be reading the water, because that tells you what type of presentation you will need.
Don’t forget to check the stream report page. On my web site. www.artteter.com I will be updating it this week sometime