Getting Started Fly Fishing - Some
by James Marsh
Copyright 2020 James Marsh
November, 2020 Issue
Where To Fish:
I get frequent questions from those wanting to get started fly fishing various streams. The typical email usually
says something to the effect that "we are coming to the such and such river on such and such date and would
like to fish for trout. We will be staying at such and such, etc. Would you please give us some tips on where to
fish". The request usually get down to the "where to fish" question simply because most people new to fly
fishing for trout, or even simi-experienced anglers that are new to fishing a certain stream think location is the
biggest key to success. We often jokingly say, they want to know which rock to stand on.
Sorry, but choosing a location to fish for trout isn't like buying real estate. Success isn't a mater of location,
location, location. Lets susposed it is Great Smoky Mountains National Park or maybe Yellowstone National
Park they want to fish. Of the hundreds of miles of trout streams within these parks, I doubt you could find a
one-mile stretch on a stream with water in it that didn't have a hundred times more trout than anyone could
catch fishing it.
I can think of two things off the top of my head that are not only misunderstood by those new to the sport, but
in many cases, misunderstood by those that have been fishing for a long time.
1. You will hear various data about the number of trout per mile in a trout stream. Nothing else known, and
given a choice of which stream to fish, if stream A has a population of 3000 per mile and stream B a
population of 4000 per mile, ninety percent of anglers would choose stream B. They may not even consider
the fact that stream B is twice the width of stream A, or many other important things. Even worse is that even
experienced anglers rarely consider the fact that your odds of success has little to do with how many trout are
in the stream. I can list dozens of things far more important than the number of fish in a stream even when the
data is compared on an equal basis. To shorten this most trout streams have far more trout than one would
ever believe from fishing them. Your success isn't going to be determined by selecting the stream that holds
the most trout.
2. You will hear water temperature stressed over and over, with stress on the what's considered the ideal
water temperature. Most of the anglers I know don't really understand how water temperature affects their
fishing. You will hear the trout need more food to eat when then water is 60 degrees versus what they need
when it is 50 degrees. While this is generally (and I stress the word generally) true, it isn't a direct factor in how
many fish you can expect to catch. In other words, to make it simple, the trout only need to eat one fly for you
to catch it. If you present a trout a fly that imitates something it usually eats at the time correctly and it won't
make any difference what the temperature of the water is. It will eat it. Put real plain, they will usually eat until
they throw up. One other little fact to help you understand this is that trout don't feel warm or cold like humans.
They are cold-blooded animals and their blood stays near the same temperature as the water they live in
Water temperature and/or the number of trout in a stream per mile both provide good excuses for the lack of
catching, but that's about it.
If wild trout see you, it will usually be next to impossible for you to catch them. The problem that many of those
just getting started have with this is they fail to understand much about how trout view objects outside of the
water. In order to effectively stay hidden from the trout, you need to know a little about how a trout views the
world outside the water. It's also important to understand how they see objects beneath the surface of the
water, but for this article, I'm limiting it to the basics of how they see objects outside of the water.
In general, trout don't see objects above the water very clearly, especially those at a distance.To make it
simple, lets just say for the most part, they see things as a blur. They cannot see anything a good distance
away in detail. A person standing twenty feet from a trout is for the most part, just a blurred image. Now for
those who want to get picky, what I'm about to write isn't exactly technically correct but I'm not writing a
scientific paper. I'm describing how a trout views someone trying to catch them. What trout will notice, much
quicker than anything else, is the movement of an object above the water. They are used to seeing blurred
images of objects above the water that remain fairly still. Trees and boulders don't move around very much.
Overhead predators pose a danger to trout. Large birds and a animals pose a danger. When something
moves above the water, it gets their attention. The bottom line to this is that you should move as little as
possible and when you do move, move as slowly as possible. Of course, it's impossible to wade or cast
without moving and that's an integral part of the problem.
The other main point about what trout see above the water has to do with the distance the object is from
them. To make this simple, due to refraction of light, they don't see things that are low (near the horizon)
above the water. The higher the object is above the water, the easier it is for them to see it. For example,
they can see an object ten feet above the water as far as twenty feet away, but they cannot see an object a
foot above the water that's ten feet away. The lower you are relative to the surface of the water, the closer
you can get to trout without them seeing you. If you stand on top of the highest boulder in the stream and
look around, chances are every trout within twenty or thirty feet of you will see you. Your movements
climbing up on rocks will spook them. Stay low and move slowly.
Trout normally face in an upstream direction. Their bodies and fins are streamlined such that they can
remain in current expending as little energy as possible. They couldn't hold their position in current if they
had their tail pointed towards the current. Most of their food comes to them in a downstream direction.
Aquatic insects caught up in a current seam are always drifting downstream and the trout face in an
upstream direction looking for them.
The bottom line to this is that you can get closer to the trout if you are downstream of them. If you fish in an
upstream direction, they will not be able to see you nearly as well as they could if you were fishing in a
downstream direction. With few exceptions I won't go into here, in the small, fast water freestone streams you
should always fish in an upstream direction. By that I mean, casting in an upstream direction and progressing
in an upstream direction.
Trout don't see object the same way humans do. They have a much wider peripheral vision. In other words
they can see almost all the way around themselves. Their binocular vision isn't near as good as ours. That's
part of the reason they don't see things above the water a good distance away very clearly or with very
Trout have a blind spot in their peripheral vision. It's a small area directly behind them. When they are
positioned in the moving water of the stream facing in an upstream direction, that small blind area offers
some advantage over approaching them from the opposite direction. It helps you to get closer to them than
you would otherwise be able to do. Getting close to them by approaching them from their front side, or the
direction they are looking, without being spotted is almost impossible. Again, it's the movement of objects at
a distance that gets their attention quicker than anything.
Another big factor in just how well trout can spot you has to do with how you contrast with the surrounding
background. For example, If you are wearing a white shirt and a white hat, you are not blending in very well
with the typical background of a stream. You want to blend in with the background in the same manner a
deer or turkey hunter would need to blend in with the background. In fact, the best clothing you could
possible wear would be the best matching camouflage outfit you could find to that matched the colors of the
forest during the different seasons of the year. I'm not suggesting you should go so far as to wear a
camouflage net over your head or that you should shade your eyes with makeup. I'm not saying that
camouflage clothing is necessary, although it would help solve the problem. I'm just contending that trout
won't detect your presence near as well if your clothing blends in with the background. Subdued shades of
browns and greens usually work best. You should avoid bright, flashy colors that contrast with the
Another factor in how close you can approach trout is how well you can see ahead. If there's a lot of glare on
the water, and there usually is, you should wear polarized glasses. You don't want to stumble over a trout
directly upstream in front of you. It will shoot upstream and warn its entire family that an ugly creature is
coming their way. Seriously, I believe that when trout suddenly shoot upstream, it signals other fish that
danger is approaching, or it at least makes other trout aware something isn't normal. The least fish you can
spook, the better off you are.
I don't want to get into wading but when you can see everything in the water ahead of you, you can
approach trout making the least amount of disturbance. I'm not suggesting you need to necessarily see the
trout ahead of you. I'm referring to being able to clearly see the bottom where your wading.
Another often overlooked problem. Trout don't have to see you in order for them to detect your presence.
They can hear you. You can yell at your buddy and that won't bother them but if you move a rock on the
bottom of the stream, it will spook them. If you stumble along the bank, it will disturb them. They can hear the
sound you through their lateral line. Again, I don't want to get technical. Just be aware that you should walk
softly, without disturbing things on the bottom of the stream or the ground.
1. Keep a low profile. I don't mean crawl along the bank or even that you need to stoop low when you are
wading. Just be aware that the higher you are above the surface of the water, the farther away the trout can
see you. Don't climb up on boulders and search the water for the trout. There are plenty of them ahead of
you. You're just making them aware of your presence.
2. Fish in an upstream direction. Whether you are wading or moving along a bank, progress in an upstream
direction, not downstream. Cast in a general upstream direction, not downstream. You can get closer to the
trout and they won't see you as well as if you approached them when they are facing you. There are a few
exceptions to this but not if your just getting started.
3. Dress to blend in with the surroundings. Don't wear flashy or bright colored clothing.
4. Don't disturb the bottom of the stream or the ground along the banks. Trout can hear you. Avoid moving
or kicking rocks.
5. Wear polarized sunglasses. The better you can see what's ahead in the water, the easier it is for you to
prevent spooking the trout ahead. If you loose your footing and step off into a deep hole you will spook
every trout in the creek.