Where Fly Fishing is a Professional Passion…..

Reading Water Tips…….

Sat. Apr. 6, 2013…..A great spring day and good morning to you.  What a nice day it is outside, especially after fishing in two days of some of the heaviest sleet and snow I have fished in all year….sometimes the sleet was heavy enough you thought it was raining gravel.  Unreal, pretty weird for April.  Unless you are in the Appalachians.  We call it normal.  But spring and warm weather are finally here.

One of our regular posts is to cover some ideas and tips on one of the most interesting and request topics in fly fishing….Reading Water.  And its an essential skill…if you are going to be consistently successful.  Imperative if you want to fish in all seasons and conditions because changing weather and stream conditions are constantly playing their hands in the situation.  Here are a few tips on some very common water types here in the mountains of Appalachia.  But they are found nearly everywhere and the application is appropriate where you find these water types no matter the locale.


Reading Water 101…..

riff pic


This is what I’d call a ledge riff/run….its not really a pool and has some characteristics of a riffle and a pool, and the reading water and presentation is complicated by the ledge wall sloping into the water.  We have a lot of these features particularly where the lower elevation stocked waters and delayed harvest waters start to gain in elevation and meet with true mountain terrain…and here we’d be talking where the ‘Foothills’ meet the mountains, or where the elevation goes from 1000-1500 feet to 2000 to 2500 feet.  You will find a lot of this in areas where our most popular DH waters exist….Wilson Creek, Stone Mountain State Park waters, South Mountains (Shinny Creek, Jacobs Fork, etc), the Catawba River and tribs, a good many of them what I call ‘front slope’ waters.  This is a good nymphing and dry fly spot if you fish the right part of it.  The blue arrows at the top and orange one at the bottom indicate the general water flow.  Water boils in fast at the top, fish would occupy a spot near the top of this run where the water comes in (1) if there were a hatch coming off or (2) if the water temp is above 40F.  The red indicates where the fish hold here.  NO EXCEPTIONS.  The dotted yellow line or circle indicates the most favorable water for a fish, or, rather, the best real estate in the area.  The three orange hashes indicate where about 90% of the folks I see fish this throw first.  When I am guiding, I’d say 80-90% of folks will throw there too unless I tell them not to.  They see that “great looking wall and deep fast water” and cast there…in effect or in doing so not only throw past and line the fish potentially spooking them— but they are throwing into water that is really moving so fast its hard for a fish to hold there.  To sum it all up , they’ve just fished where the fish…in Appalachian mtn terminology ‘aint’….  Obviously, your chances go way  up of catching a fish by only fishing where they are.  RULE ONE of any fishing….FISH where they are and don’t fish where they ‘AINT”.  Make sense?  Sounds good to me.  The reason the fish are where they are here is simply because it goes back to what fish need…safety, food, and enough food so that the tradeoff of energy consumed vs energy expended comes out in their favor.  That’s why you won’t see them or find them holding out in that heavy water.  Its inefficient.  A few tips would be, and again in my guiding unless I say something specific as far as stay low and stay back from the water folks will walk right up to the edge, stand tall and upright, and cast line, shadow, and more right over the spot.  Standing too close.  Fishing to far.  Change those two things and you just found a game changer.

eddy pool


This one is an easy one to read… its a pool with a heavy current coming in, and some of the current spins off and forms an eddy, which is a circular or reverse current.  Any fish in this “reverse’ current on the far left edge of the pool won’t be looking up stream they will be facing you.  The blue arrows indicate current flow, yellow indicates the general ‘fish holding water’ and the faint red arrows indicate where the fish are.  The line or area where the flat calm of the pocket/pool meets the edge of the heavy moving water is the 80-90% probability water…in the middle of the stream where the red hashes meet the yellow dotted line……that is where you find the most fish and subsequently that’s where you want to fish first, well, and thoroughly.  Great spot for fishing a dry and for deep nymphing.

deep escaledge


One of my favorite holding spots for fish, especially large fish.  A bankside ledge or undercut.  Mistake #1….Long cast.  Most of the time unless someone has been taught this they’ll start pulling off tons of line of the reel and immediately start false casting and working line out.  No need for that.  This spot is a deep undercut bank ledge on one of our private waters in VA, but these features exist almost everywhere there are trout…..especially streams that have ledges…which are most in some form or another.  The ledge we stood near and the water is 6″ deep and drops to 8.5 feet or deeper in places.  I guided Marty Hurley here last week and we scored over a dozen fish here and some huge fish up to 24″….and all after fishing for 25min from the other side .  We changed positions and rigs (my deepwater rig w/bobber or indicator stops).  The  whole key is keep casts under 10 feet, use a ton of weight or shot, and get really precise /controlled drifts.  I like to nymph a spot like this or fish a really heavily weighted streamer and literally fish it by jigging it vertically under the ledge.  Most of these fish are in the deepest water and almost everyone I have ever witnessed fish this spot in my 14 years of having access to the property will fish way too shallow, with too little weight, make two dozen drifts, get nothing, and move on having concluded that fish aren’t there, aren’t interested, aren’t feeding.  The problem was, they never got down to where the fish actually are.  I can usually come right behind them and get some action.  A week and a half ago I was here guiding Mike Lanning as well and he scored probably 15 fish from this spot.

Hope these tips help you in some of your fishing time.  Look for these types of places and apply the principles above in fishing them.  You will catch fish and improve your score.  Then try to look for similar spots on different areas of the river you are fishing.

Have a great weekend…!




Spring fishing on the South Holston….we had a good day…Group Shot…Left to right:  Luke Lucey, Ben Grieves, Will Grieves, Becca Lucey, Tanner Smith, Jeff (yours truly) , Taylor Smith, Van Smith, Bret Grieves.

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