Columbus MT How to Read the Stream

Learn how to Read the Stream and Spot Fish

“Read the water”, “read the stream”, “spot the trout” – you have surely heard some of these terms before. And no, they are not metaphors. Experienced fly fishers can actually interpret or read the water and find out where fish are hiding. Don’t worry; learning how to read the stream is not rocket science. You just need some information and a bit of patience.

4 Tips On How to Read the Stream and Spot the Fish

Casting your fly blindly may work at times; beginner’s luck is a powerful thing. But it’s not a successful long-term technique. Let’s take a look our basic tips for how to read the stream.

 1. Know what You Are Looking for

OK, OK, you’re fishing for trout. But what kind of trout? The Stillwater River is home to quite a few species: Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, and Rocky Mountain Whitefish are predominant.

And, yes, you’ve guessed it: they have slightly different habits and preferences. A Montana fly fishing guide can, of course, detail the habits of each type of trout. If this is your first fly fishing trip, we strongly advise you to use such a guide. For the purpose of this beginner’s guide, we will refer to trout generically.

2. Trout Like Transition Zones

When you are on the stream, look for the zone where fast water meets slow water, or seams. This is one area where you will usually find trout.

The fish like to stay in these areas as the slower current allows them to use less energy when holding – fast waters require more resistance and, thus, require more energy. The converging current lines also collect drifting food sources, acting as a virtual buffet line for holding trout.

3. Trout Like Cover

Don’t worry; this doesn’t mean you’ll have a harder time spotting the fish. Quite the contrary actually.

When you are on a Montana stream, look for anything that can provide cover. This includes structure like rocks, tree branches, dead falls and even overhanging grass or shrubs. Look for structure on the river bottom too. Basically, anything that can cover trout and protect them from predators qualifies.

4. Don’t Immediately Make a Long Cast

So, you’ve used the above criteria and identified a sweet spot in the stream. Naturally, you are tempted to cast your line in the area that is most likely to hold a ton of fish, even if that area is on the opposite site of the stream.

Until you’ve worked all the water in between, there’s a high chance you’ll spook the trout between you and that area. Rather, approach the water systematically and start with the area closest to you and work your way toward the fish-brimming area. This way, you’ll likely end up catching multiple trout from a single area instead of just one. Yes, the temptation can be hard to resist, but keep this in mind: you didn’t go through all that trouble to learn how to read the stream just to throw all your hard work away by casting in the worst area of the best place. It is a rookie mistake; but it doesn’t mean you have to make it, even if this is your first time on the water.

Ready to test your stream reading skills on your first fly fishing trip? Great!

We have one last piece of advice: be patient. Nothing worth having comes easily. The best fly fishermen are patient people because they take the time to factor in everything they read and they never cast their line randomly.

Let us help, and good luck!

By Stillwater Anglers General Fly Fishing Articles