Whether you are fishing moving water or still water, one of the skills that you should develop is reading water. “Reading water?” you ask. Yes, reading water.
Reading water is the ability to look at a river, stream, brook, pond or lake and have a reasonable expectation that a fish is in that spot. It is a skill acquired through experience. Or from another skilled angler. Or from a licensed guide.
Reading water is key to a day of success on the water. Let’s look at some of the keys to reading the water and catching fish.
Moving waters are the easiest to learn to read. First, look for riffle water. Riffle water is water that riffles as it runs over rocks and woody debris. Fish like this type of water because as the water riffles, more oxygen is added into the water. It is just like an athlete putting on an oxygen mask. The more oxygen, the better a fish can recover.
Taking this a step further, fishing at the base of waterfalls is a great place to fish as the falling water oxygenates the water. In addition, the action of the water has made the water deeper. The deeper water is colder than the surface water. Cold water holds more oxygen than warmer water. The bases of waterfalls are a fish gold mine.
Large woody debris is another place to read the water and find fish. Large wood, like trees, create riffle water, small waterfalls and erosive forces to make water deeper. When you can swing your lure under a piece of large woody debris, you will find fish. In addition, large woody debris is prime habitat for the insects that grow and feed fish, birds and amphibians.
Another place to find fish in moving water is in front of or behind boulders in the stream. Boulders separate the flow of the moving water and a quiet spot forms in front of the boulder. Fish will rest here waiting for food that is being washed downstream. As the flow of the stream rejoins behind the boulder, another quiet pocket forms. Fish will sit here as well and wait for food to drift around the rock.
A final place to read water is on bigger pools of water. These pools have narrow inlets and narrow outlets. When there are surges of water, water that can’t escape will circle back to the top of the pool. These are known as eddies. Between the eddy and the main current, a seam or quiet water forms. Fish will take advantage of this seam and lie in wait for food that runs downstream or recirculates back upstream in the eddy.
In ponds and lakes, the same general rules apply. Fish look for oxygen-rich water. In a pond or lake, this water comes from inlet streams or spring seeps. Inlet streams are easy to find. Look on a topographical map or a New Hampshire Fish and Game bathymetry map to locate these fish-holding locations.
Spring seeps are harder to find but most productive once you locate one. The bathymetry maps will help you as most spring seeps are located where the bottom of the pond drops off the fastest. Should you find a spring seep in a pond, keep it a closely guarded secret. These are the honey holes in a pond or lake and can be fished out quickly if too many anglers can locate the spot.
Tip of the Week
Consider adding a dropper fly to your primary fly when fishing for trout. The second fly will double your chances of learning what the fish are keying on.
Steve Angers is a native son to the Conway area. He is the author of the acclaimed book “Fly Fishing New Hampshire’s Secret Waters.” When he is not casting to trout in the valley, he operates the North Country Angler.