The recently stocked trout in the stream near my house were quick learners this year. With a winter short on snow and a spring that only just recently made up a couple of inches against the lingering drought, water levels were low and the fish were instantly wary after the DNR truck dumped them in. It was a different season from the previous two, where high waters allowed me to be a bit more obvious and gave me more room to work in the water column.
This year, however, it is a different story, the stockers are more like their wild kin, taking quickly to the running water and holding in fast flows - where they can find them. It seems that behind every boulder is now a pocket to be explored, and trout are relating to the fast moving current breaking around the edge of every obstruction. So it goes with fishing – seasons change, conditions change and the way fish relate to those changes requires us as anglers to adapt and look for cues in the flow to help us figure out our quarry.
Take, for example the mid-stream boulder. Whether the water around it is fast moving or slow, this break provides a perfect ambush point and multiple edges that fish can relate to. Whether it’s a streamlined trout or an opportunistic smallmouth bass, structure which creates current seams, eddies and a place of rest against the rushing water is an ideal spot to look for them. The pocket behind the rock might be big, or it might be small. It could be all of the water column, or just a portion due to a short or flat topped rock. It’s worth a look either way.
But checking the pocket created by a rock in the stream, or any other obstruction – bridge pilings or downed trees – is much more involved than just casting out and hoping to hit the target. If you suspect a fish is holding in the seams behind or along side the obstruction, cast beyond the pocket and bring your lure back into it – naturally, like an item of food being swept downstream. Work different areas of the pocket – from pulling the lure over the rock and dropping it in the front of the current break to casting beyond it and bringing a jig or bait through the end of the slack water. If fish are active, you may want to focus on the seams where the slow water and fast water meet, as that is where hungry fish will be looking to intercept food.
As I attempted to figure out the local trout with my buddy Erik this past weekend, I began to find the pattern after just a few fish. I keyed in on fast runs and flows and found the big rocks that provided a point of ambush for these quickly-educated fish. Even after cold front conditions seemingly locked them up, the fish that were holding in the riffles and runs behind larger rocks were the more aggressive ones, snapping at what appeared to be an easy meal. It wasn’t long and I passed the pattern on to my friend and he connected with his first brown trout.
While the fish and the conditions weren’t easy, we were able to exploit the changes in flow to put fish on the line. We connected with enough fish to make each chilly trip to the water worth it, not only for the hooksets and the smiles, but also because we were reminded that even though things change, we can adapt and find familiar places where we’ve caught fish before.
I’ve always seen obstructions in life as just opportunities in disguise. The same goes for obstructions in the water. Because with a well-placed cast and a good presentation, the opportunity to catch fish, no matter how tough the conditions, always exists…in our outdoors.