Many trout fishermen learn to fish targeting innocent stock trout. They are hungry and usually associate humans with food. Catching stock trout can be trout fishing on easy mode.
My fly fishing story began at the other extreme, I learned to fly fishing by targeting wary wild brown trout living in pristine, crystal clear water. The difficulty was dialed up to 10 by the fact these trout were frequently fished over and caught.
They have seen fishermen before, and they knew what to avoid. Poor presentation or a sudden movement sent them hurtling to their hides. Catching these trout required close to perfection in presentation but also approach. Anything less will result in getting skunked.
In this article, I will provide some hints on how to have more success targetting heavily pressured trout.
1) Always approach from downstream
I will start with a basic one, trout face up current while feeding and while it is true they nearly have 360 vision, their ability to see behind is greatly reduced. This means. if you keep a low profile trout have a blind spot from directly behind.
Approaching, and casting from a downstream direction greatly reduces the chance of being seen.
Using a side cast, rather than an overhead technique can also reduce the chances of being spotted.
2) Try and approach in an unusual direction
Most fishermen follow the same route when fishing a river, sometimes it is called the anglers highway. They walk there because it is easy and more open.
Trout in heavily pressured waters do start to associate the ‘easy’ side with danger. So they tend to be more alert from that direction.
So sometimes when targeting trout, it is worth the effort to fish up the less accessible side of a pool and cast from a direction that the trout have not learned to associate with danger.
3) Walk a long way from the parking lot before fishing
Many trout fishermen, including myself, are lazy, we park our trucks then walk to the nearest spot on the river and start fishing. The trout nearest the cars are often the most heavily fished and are always on edge.
Such trout can be caught, but they are certainly more difficult than trout that have seen fewer rods.
Sometimes it is worth walking a mile or two upstream before fishing. That way you are targeting fish that have seen fewer anglers.
4) Avoid fishing on the weekends and bank holidays
Trout fishing rivers are a lot busier on weekends and bank holidays. Wary fish can be challenging to catch at the best of times, they become extremely difficult to catch if they have recently been fished over.
Try fishing during the week to get the river to yourself.
One exception is during major sporting events. During these, I have noticed many fishermen will rather stay home to watch the TV rather than go fish.
5) Fish at unorthodox time of day
It is common knowledge, that the first angler of the day often has the most success. This can result in many fishermen arriving just prior to sunrise with the hope of being the first on the river. This early time of day can get rather crowded at some locations.
Sometimes, the other extreme can prove to be more productive. How about try arriving at 3pm, all the morning anglers have either packed up and gone home or have fished many hours upstream’s. This means that the spots closer to the access have likely had several hours to rest.
This certainly works on one of my local streams where all the fishermen typically arrive before 7 am.
Another, more extreme option is to try night fishing. Us fly fishermen love talking about night fishing, but surprisingly few actually do it.
6) Fish smaller flies, lighter tippets
It is nearly always more successful to fish smaller flies and lighter tippets when trout are pressured. Go small.
It is no secret that thin tippet is more difficult for the trout to see, and it allows the flies to drift more naturally improving presentation.
I am not entirely sure why smaller flies seem to help, maybe they are harder for the trout to identify
7) Long leaders
While the diameter of your tippet should decrease, the length needs to increase.
A longer leader is more forgiving, it reduces the influence of drift and keeps the fly further away from the highly visible fly line.
While a long leader is useful, it is only useful if you can still cast it accurately. A well presented short leader, is better than a long leader that fails to turn over.
8) Limit or eliminate false casts
This one is fly fishing 101.
Every false cast is another chance that the trout will sense the presence of your line. Keep the number of casts to an absolute minimum.
9) Try to sight the fish first and cast directly at it.
In a similar vein to the above, when targeting heavily pressured fish in clear water conditions I try to sight them before casting to themselves.
This allows me to present the fly directly to where the trout are.
Blind fishing in such a situation will likely spook many trout before you even know they are there.
10) Use the environment to your advantage, try and hide behind scrubs.
Try to minimize your profile and one of the best ways is to position yourself behind structure while casting. I like to crouch behind a scrub or boulder while casting.
The scrub helps block the outline of my body making any movement more difficult for the trout to see.
11) Consider using unique fly patterns
I have started to expect that some highly pressured trout can recognize commonly used styles and patterns.
We have probably all experienced a mis-strike, but then the trout will ignore any further presentation with the same fly, but such a trout will happily accept a different, but similar fly.
I believe over time, trout can start to associate certain aspects of a fly with danger, maybe a golden bead, or white tuff of hair. If everyone seems to prefer to fish golden beadhead nymphs, simply changing to black beadheads can greatly improve the fishing.
12) Look for fresh footprints
When fishing in remote locations, I always study the soft sands and sediments for footprints. If I can see footprints, it means someone has likely fished the river shortly before me.
If I know a river has been recently fished, I take a lot more care with my presentation and mentally adjust my mindset to expect more challenging conditions.
Sometimes, I will even pack up and drive to a different spot hoping to avoid fishing in the footprints of another angler.
13) Probably best to avoid bright colors.
I left this one to last because I do not know just how important it is. But, in general, all fly fishermen prefer to wear more natural looking clothing, with the mindset that is makes you more difficult to see.
Some fishermen even take it to an extreme and wear camouflage.
Unless I am winter fishing. I nearly always wear dark, dull colors. But, I do want to finish on one note which could counteract the importance of dull colors. I have hooked and landed countless trout from my bright yellow kayak. So, that does make me second guess the importance of wearing natural colors while stalking wary fish.