ALL ABOUT THE APPROACH
One of the most important things to consider when working your way up a river looking for trout is your approach to any given piece of water.
This alone can mean the difference between getting a shot at a fish or not even seeing one. I'm going to outline a few key points that will hopefully help you get more chances at trout.
First off, stay out of the water as much as you can. Where this isn't possible, go slowly and gently and try to minimise as much disturbance as you can. There's nothing like splashing around and sending bow waves up the run ahead of you to warn any fish that you are coming. When you have no choice but to get in the water, then stealth mode is the way to go.
When you come across that likely looking pool or run, take a moment and SLOW DOWN. I used to go way too quickly through the water and I used to spook way too many fish needlessly – all because I was too impatient to see a fish. I read somewhere once that go as slow as you think you should….and then go half as slow again. Works for me.
As you head upstream, make sure that you are scanning every piece of water from bank to bank. It never fails to surprise me just how close in trout will sit. Take your time and study any bit of water that could hold fish. Behind rocks, in front of rocks, bits of structure, foam lines, current seams, quiet water just off the main flow, drops offs and slightly deeper sections are all worth your attention.
Wherever you can, get some elevation. Even standing on a rock can give you that extra couple of feet that enables you to see that little bit more and that can make all the difference, especially on overcast days where there is heaps of glare on the water. On those cloudy days, try and position yourself so that you can look into water that has a high backdrop behind it - that will really help cut out the glare and give you much better visibility.
Sometimes you will come across a pool that looks too good to not have a fish in it but will look barren of life. In these cases, it can sometimes pay off to find a spot with good visibility and sit down for ten minutes and just watch. Maybe have a bite to eat and check and re-tie your knots while you are at it. Fish will sometimes appear seemingly out of of nowhere.
I remember doing this on one river a couple of seasons ago and after about five minutes of sitting quietly, I spotted a big brown gently cruising around on a beat. I continued to watch him for another five minutes or so, working out how I was going to have a crack at him when he sipped a big old mayfly off the top. And then another. Then mayflies started hatching all around me and another 2 fish showed up and joined in the surface action. Within a few minutes I had gone from watching an ‘empty pool to three big fish chomping mayflies off the top without a care in the world. I would have walked straight past and missed all this if I hadn't taken the time to have a proper look.
When you are moving up the side of a pool or run make sure you keep a low profile. You can get away with quite a lot if you are crouched low against the bushes but the moment you are silhouetted against the skyline, fish will see you coming a mile off.
When you spot a fish, take a couple of minutes to watch it before you start casting. Take note of how deep it is sitting... Is it feeding or sitting still on the bottom? Is it doing a beat? Is it looking up?! If you need to adjust your rig for the situation, don't be half arsed and just do it. It only takes a couple of minutes and it's totally worth doing. If you have just finished nymphing a deep pool with a double tungsten rig and then find a fish sitting in slow, thigh deep water it's a bad idea to just chuck what you have on at it as you WILL spook it. Since I started changing my rig to suit each situation I have had a lot more success…..don't be lazy!
Ok, so you have found your fish, changed your rig to suit the water you are fishing and got yourself into position. Now it's all about making that first cast count! Try not to cast directly over it wherever possible – practise your reach mend and your short accuracy game (up to 30ft or so) and aim to drop your flies 3 or 4 feet ahead of the fish. If you can nail your first presentation then you are far more likely to get an eat. With each cast you make after that, you increase the possibility of spooking your quarry.
If you are getting decent drifts and nothing is happening, make sure you are getting deep enough. You can achieve this by using heavier flies, adding split shot or changing your drift by moving a few steps upstream and across from the fish if you can get away with it.
If you are sure that the fish has seen your flies, then change them up. Different colour, pattern or size can be all that's needed to seal the deal. Don't rush to change flies and start casting again as its good to rest it for a few minutes every now and then.
These things are just subtle changes to your game but might help stack the odds in your favour every now and then and that's always a good thing.
Next, I'll talk more about hooking, landing and handling fish.