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Stream reading

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  • Stream reading

    As I sit here at my computer thinking about this topic, I realize that "stream reading" is a big one and maybe a long read. If you like, sit back and enjoy.

    Have you ever fished with someone that is well seasoned in fly-fishing or used a guide? Did you notice how the more seasoned fly slinger seemed to bring alot more fish in? Or did you notice how the guide knew where almost every trout was at? Are they just lucky? No...alot of this, with cooperating fish, is the understanding of reading a stream.

    So, just what is "stream reading"? It is basically observing the movement of the surface water and knowing why trout hold or lie in certain locations of a stream. You observe the current patterns, surface disturbances, any coloration changes, bottom type changes, and any other clues that may reveal a hiding spot for a trout. These also lead us in having to have a small understanding of water hydraulics.

    Let ask a few questions. Why would a trout hold in front of a large rock instead of behind it? Why would a trout hold on the very bottom of the stream when the food items are on the surface? Why does our fly that has been cast near the bank drift more slowly than our fly line in midstream? Ever wondered why it is so hard to get a fly down to the bottom without alot of added weight? Lets discuss water hydraulics.

    Water hydraulics are the different speeds throughout the stream as it flows downstream. The hydraulics are changed due to obstructions in the stream like logs, large rocks, turns in the stream, etc.

    For fun, lets assume we are able to sit on the bottom of a stream that's about 5' deep and 20' wide with it flowing into our face. Hydraulic X would be egg shaped about 8' wide and maybe 2' high in the middle of the stream coming right at as with the greatest force. Hydraulic Y would start about 1' off the bank and come out toward the middle of the stream about 3-4'. It would go down under Hydraulic X back up the other side, and then back across the surface and would have a medium force. Hydraulic Z would start at the bank and come out about 1'. It would be between Hydraulic Y and the streambed maybe 1' high and go across the streambed up to the other bank. Whew, need a drawing for this. Just keep in mind the fastest water is in the center of the stream. The slightly slower water will be encircling the fastest water. And finally, the slowest water being just off each bank and being on the bottom of the stream. Always remember that for a trout to survive, it must spend less energy than what the food item provides.

    The trout holds in front of the large rock because it is feeding and holding in the small eddy formed due to the rock. Eddies actually form on both sides of the rock but many people assume that a trout only stays on the downstream side. Trout hold on the very bottom of a stream due to it having the least current speed; they can easily rise and go back down to their lie. The fly against the bank drifts more slowly than the fly line because the friction with the bank slows the current down. It takes alot of weight to get your fly down to the bottom because it is having to travel down through Hydraulic X which is the fastest section of the stream.

    By observing surface current patterns, it helps you find the location of rocks, logs or other underwater objects that shelter a trout in moving water. A current pushing against a bank may hold an undercut bank which may hold a trout. A seam between fast and slow currents usually makes a good feeding lane. And the trout will be holding in the slower water waiting for the food item to drift by in the faster water.

    If possible, on your next outing, take time to examine the steam from a high angle to get any idea of the streambed, pocketwater, large rocks, logs, or any other clue which may lead you to a trout holding in its lie. Be sure to keep the sun to your back. Use a pair of polarized glasses to help with any glare and a cap with a dark or black underbill helps even more. With a little practice, you'll soon discover what stream reading is and begin doing it without even thinking about it.

    Next topic will cover stalking and spotting trout.

    Last edited by Reel'em In; 01-14-11, 08:39 AM. Reason: editing
    Fish Hard! You Can Rest An Eternity.

    A North Georgia Fly Fishing Outfitter

  • #2
    Excellent write up James! I have always said that what separates good anglers from great anglers is the ability to read the water and know where the trout will be.

    PS: shameless plug here, but one of the bonus benefits of fishing with a guide like James is getting to learn stuff like this first hand. Guides don't just like to put you on fish, they like to teach too! Thanks again James, this was very enlightening.
    Message sent from your mom's bedroom during pillow talk

    Buck Henry
    Simple Goat Herder
    Former NGTO President
    Hall of Fame Member


    • #3
      Very good explanation, James. And without any pictures!
      Jimmy Harris
      Unicoi Liars Club
      Unicoi Outfitters Online Store