generous and strong and decent, not because we believe in ourselves, but because we hold
beliefs beyond ourselves."
George W. Bush
"Reading a stream" is a term used to describe the act of studying the
structure and mood of a stream where fish are more likely to be at a certain time. Here
are some of the characteristics of a stream to look for when "reading" and
tactics to use.
One of the first things I look for when
reading a stream for fish are what I call "feeding rocks." Feeding rocks are
small boulders where fast moving water scours out worms, nymphs and other munchies from
the sand and silt. Hungry fish feed on these anywhere from a few inches downstream from
the rocks to ten feet or more.
I look for feeding rocks that are close
to the shore first. I ask myself "which ones can I get to first with the minimum of
effort?" Because I am basically lazy and because fish know when something enters
their feeding area. Remember swimming as a kid and ducking under water to yell at your
submerged buddies? Sound travels ten times faster under water and just that much further.
Call it superstition, but fish know when
I enter the water. There have been too many times when Ive caught several nice trout
right when I first arrived at a place, and then it turns off for a long while. Then
its hit and miss but not as hot as that first fifteen or twenty minutes. I believe
its because of the footwork we do getting to those choice spots, "way over
there" when we should play out the closest areas first and then slowly ease over to
the other areas as we work toward them. That footwork grinds the bottom gravel and bumps
stones and logs giving off an alarm louder than a tornado siren in a Kansas town.
Another thing feeding rocks do is allow
moving water to dig deep trenches behind them for big fish to hide in. Big fish like to
watch whats going on without being seen and they are big fish because they have
learned to keep out of sight. These troughs are great places to sneak up to and toss
letting the current naturally take the nymphs down the troughs and into
the feeding zones of the big fish.
Currents create patterns as they cut
across and into the sand and mud. Some currents form what is known as a riffle or a
"rif" and this looks like a series of Vs or an old washboard and this
washboard does the same scouring of the stream bottom as a feeding rock. Insect larvae,
nymphs and worms are sifted up and delivered efficiently to feeding fish waiting in these
Look at the stream. Are there deep areas
where a wary trout may like to hide? Fish these areas close to the bottom with a weighted
fish imitator like a "Woolly Bugger"! Woolies are probably the most versatile
fly around. They can be used for trout, bass, pike, etc. A woolly is usually a marabou
feather for a tail with hackle wrapped around a chenille body. They are effective in
white, black, green, brown, purple and other colors.
Play minnow imitations by "stripping"
(pulling in line a strip at a time with your free hand with a one, two,
one, two, three
rest). This gives the feathers a chance to
wiggle and flare like gills and a tail.
Stripping a streamer along is one of the
best ways of attracting big fish. Streamers are longer, most times flashier flies and are
presented by casting far out and then stripping in towards the caster. Streamers can be
fished at all levels of the water with various styles of retrieve and different types of
Windows to the eye of the tiger
Barry Reynolds showed me how to fish for
tiger muskie with a sinking line and his floating oversized flies and this is a great
technique for big fish all over, because youll see it covers a wide range of angles
and depths. The more angle and depth variations your fly covers, the greater the odds of a
fish spotting it and attacking. Barry has authored several books since his first, Pike
on the Fly and each is stuffed full of techniques for catching a variety of fish on
Back to Barrys technique: the idea
is to load your reel with sinking line, using a rod of nine feet or longer so you are far
enough away from your quarry not to spook it. Your reel should have a disc brake unless
you dont mind breaking a big fish with your palm and you should have lots of backing
on your reel in case of long runs. Now, once the fly has landed in the area where you
suspect your fish is lurking then wait a few seconds for the sinking line to sink and then
began a methodical
wait, until you have
stripped in the fly and are ready to cast again. Be careful to reel in the excess during
some of the "waits" because a big fish on the run is not easy to hold by
grasping the line.
The sinking line being lower than the
floating fly pulls the fly down vertically on each strip as it is also moving forward
horizontally. This is very important because of the angles and points of vision various
species of fish have.
Dewey Thornton is one of the most
knowledgeable people around when it comes to tigers. When he was a ranger at Quincy
Reservoir in Aurora Colorado, he kept a journal of every state record tiger musky caught
since the species was introduced to that lake. Dewey knew the time of day, the color and
size of the lure, line test, and even the barometric reading at the time of the catch.
We used to talk for hours about the
feeding habits of tiger muskies and here is what makes Barrys technique so deadly:
According to Dewey, tiger musky have a very narrow window of vision, giving the fisher a
limited field to cast into. This field of vision lies at a forty-five degree angle up and
forward from the tigers eyes, rendering a cast right in front of the fish, just to
either side or below this forty five degree angle useless.
However, a cast of a floating fly
attached to sinking line, with a series of strips causes the fly to cover a great deal of
area, increasing the odds of that fly entering that forty five degree strike zone
resulting in a graphite bending, "C R R R A C K!" and "W Z Z Z Z Z Z! As
line strips down to the backing in a matter of seconds.
Now, Im not forgetting the lateral
lines and vibration sensing used by these freshwater sharks, but vision is the prime sense
we want to attract.
Each fish has its own particular
characteristics and strike zone. Using the technique Ive described combined with
sinking line and floating flies, will get more fish on your line.
Trout like structure, such as rocks,
stumps, rapids and riffles, anything that causes the water to slow down and deposit
protein-rich insects, snails, worms and other food. Look for these types of structures in
the water and more times than not there will be a feasting trout right there waiting for
your expertise. This is also true for most game fish.
Think stealth and camouflage
Fishing is more like hunting than any
other sport. With the increased pressure on most fishing spots, there is more
reason to be careful not to bring too much attention to yourself while trying to hook up
with the big one. Remember, we are after a wild creature. A fish spends its life
trying to eat as many things as it can, while not getting eaten! The law of survival is in
full swing in a mountain stream and we need to understand this law and fit in with it,
obeying all rules of the hunter.
Bright colors will strike you out! White
or other bright colors can be seen by a wary trout way before you can see the trout. Even
ball caps with bright patches will be seen as a movement that shouldnt be there and
your trophy will dart to the safety of deep, deep water, before you know it.
Dull, natural colors are best for stalking
the wild and wise trout of the mountains and watch out for shiny things such as line
snips, buckles, watches, or knives.
A sudden reflection of light can startle
a fish and make it lose its appetite. Even your eyeglasses or sunglasses can reflect
light, so it is best to keep your head down so that your hat brim will shade the lenses
from direct sunlight.
Second to being attacked by other fish,
the primary danger our fish face is a predator from above. Birds, animals and man are all
waiting to take a shot at a scaly dinner. Fish are created with instincts to flee from
movement above the water because a flash of sun off of a wing may mean death in the next
The better to SEE you with
If you can see a fish then it can see
youthe edge we have is to aid our eyesight with the best sunglasses we can find.
These dont have to be expensive, but they do have to be polarized for the
clearest vision through water. Polarized sunglasses can make the difference in spotting
fish and going home with no stories. My good friend and world-class fisherman, Joe Butler
told me, "I believe in polarized sunglasses so firmly that if I should forget my
glasses, then I may as well turn around and go home!" Joe is the author of
Trouts Choice, the best book ever written on spotting trout and combination spinning
and flyrod techniques. Joes other book, Big Trout With Flies, is also one to
stalk and has great tips on going after the BIG trout
Sneak, crawl, hide and move
The faster you move, the more noise and
vibrations you will make and these vibrations will transfer right into the water. When you
reach the water, take baby steps. Slowly step to a spot downstream from your quarry. Trout
always rest in the water with their heads facing upstream, so when advancing upon a
structure or hole where your fish is, approach from downstream where you are less likely
to be noticed. Cast the line just ahead of the fish or where you think the fish may be and
let the current take it to the fish. You may have to cast the line over and over until you
get a take
just be persistent and make slow moves. Practice so that you can make a
The best way to get wary fish is to rig
your line with a long stretch of monofilament so that the flyline wont spook the
fish. Nymphing can be done with just mono loaded onto your reel and has been used
successfully in swollen streams or where the current is too fast and pulls
to quickly at the floating line. Normally, however, you will want six or seven feet of
clear leader and then your tippet, according to the length of your rod. Just remember the
fly line is solid and moves. This is enough to turn off a skittish fish.
How many colors of floating flyline
can we find on the market? I lose count. Most people would chose a dark color for fly
line, thinking the dark would blend in with dark rocks and stream bottoms. My theory is to
use light colors matching white clouds and blue sky when in open water and greens where
trees and foliage tower overhead. I think matching what is over the water is more
important than matching the bottom, since fish usually are striking from below and floating
line should blend in with what is above. Line will still look dark because of the bottom
side of it being opposite the light source but the top half should disappear. This theory
is null and void when the sky turns gray or black, then dark works.
Finally there are clear fly lines out on
the market today which blend almost perfectly into the background. I think I would mark
them every so often with a tiny dab of bright red nail polish just to be able to sight
Use plenty of clear mono for the leader
and this will keep some distance between your fishs sight and the fly line. Remember
fishing is more like hunting than anything else and you should use stealth, cunning and
silence to your advantage.
Sinking line should be darker since it
needs to blend into the darker surroundings. If you look around you can even find some
camouflage line. Camo is great because it breaks up the continuous streak of one color.
A rule of thumb for choosing fly line is
to view it from the eye of the fish not the angler. Will the fish be looking up? Match the
line to the skyline. Will the fish be attacking from the side of a bank? Match the line
with the color of the water
the combinations are endless.
"The nine most terrifying words
in the English language are, Im from the government and Im here to help".
When tying knots on a windy
day, use your nose to hold the loops stable. This helps keep the line in place. Should you
inhale a micro nymph in the process dont panic! Your bodys natural acids will
dissolve the hook in about three years.
Text by Harry P. Davis © 2003
This was a chapter from a the book
"Guerrilla flyfishing" by Harry P. Davis
More info about the book can you find at http://guerrillaflyfishing.com