learning the approach

Catch the Easy Fish | Approaching Fishing Holes with Purpose

There’s probably no such thing as a truly ‘easy’ fish, but some fish make themselves easier to catch than others. Some fish hold in obvious spots, while others hold in water that the angler may not think to fish at first glance.

Reading the Water

Many years ago now, I took a float trip on the Deschutes River in Oregon near the town of Madras. This river is unusual in that while boats containing fishermen are allowed, fishing from the boat is prohibited. The mode of operation would be to float for a short while, beach or otherwise secure the boat, and then get out and wade fish. The Deschutes is a large river in that section, a hundred yards wide in spots, with a powerful current and a cobbled bottom. There is not a lot of structure recognizable structure (very little of the pocket water so common here in Colorado), meaning that holding water can sometimes be difficult for the fish to find. For these reasons, fish can often be found sitting close to the banks or around shallow shelves.

Often after we had stopped and were walking into position to fish, our guide would say to me: “Now remember, make some casts in close here to make sure there’s not an easy fish hanging around”. At that age I was experienced enough to pick out the prime spots in a given stretch of river, but he was wanting us to be more methodical, and cover every place where fish might be holding. He did not want us to accidentally spook a fish that might be sitting between where we were standing, and the best-looking lie in the run.

Don’t Spook ’em

Many times, both before and since that trip, I have been over eager to immediately wade in and start throwing casts straight to the best looking holding slot. On more than one occasion, I have spooked fish that were holding right in close to the bank, in water that it may not have occurred to me to fish. I have seen fish shoot out from undercut banks that I have been in the process of lowering myself off of, and have pushed aside low hanging branches to see a fish bolt at the sudden lack of shade.

More recently, I encountered a situation that underscored the concept of fishing the ‘near water’. I was hiking along a river with my lady friend, not wearing waders, and simply throwing a cast here and there. Since I was both tight-line nymphing and confined to the bank, I could not reach some of the spots that would have seemed like the best lies for trout to hold in. In light of that, i simply decided to methodically fish every spot I could get my flies to. That day I ended up catching all of my fish out of water that I would have likely waded right into had I been wearing waders.

Fish it First

The moral of these stories is that you should never wade into a piece of water without first having run your flies through it. Even if you think you don’t see any fish, it’s still worth putting a drift or two over that spot. It will not take much time, and may allow you to pick up an extra fish or two. Trout have excellent camouflage patterns on their backs, and i have seen them materialize off of stream bottoms to eat my flies when I thought I was seeing every rock, twig, and sand patch that made up the river bed.

As we move out of runoff, many rivers are still running relatively high and fast, limiting holding water for fish. This makes bank lies very important, as they are one of the few sure bets for where the fish will be able to find a break from the current. Also, water close to the banks is where there are most likely to be terrestrial insects (think hoppers, ants, and crickets) that have washed into the water. Such insects are only present as food sources during the summer and early fall months.

Body Positioning

The hard part of fishing these types of lies is ensuring you can snake in a cast without spooking the fish. This is easiest when fishing from a boat, but more difficult when one is bank fishing. It helps to fish with the riverbank off your left shoulder as you face upstream (if you are right-handed) and off your right shoulder if you are left handed.

body position
Note that the angler’s body is between his casting arm and the bank. The water is flowing toward the camera. If this (right handed) angler were standing on the other side of the river, casting upstream would be much more difficult.

There are a couple of techniques that can be utilized when one cannot cast upstream in the manner described above. For one, the angler can accomplish this either by tilting the rod such that the casting stroke is made in front of their non-casting shoulder (see below).

casting tip
Note the positioning of the rod hand. The cast would be made by moving the rod tip towards the left side of the frame.

Master the Stealth

More important than casting technique, however, is the element of stealth. The angler should approach bank-holding trout from below, keeping a low profile, but getting as close to the fish as possible. Short-line dry-dropper and contact nymphing techniques are generally best for bank holding trout. It is also very important to get the cast and drift right on your first shot. Trout holding near the banks generally will not give you a second chance.

Fishing lies close to the banks of rivers is a tremendous way to increase your catch rate, because such water is often overlooked by most anglers. One must always remember to make sure there isn’t an easy fish hanging out between where they’re standing, and the deep, sexy pool against the far bank.

Ed Mulhern has fished in five Fly Fishing Team USA regional events and one U.S. Fly Fishing Championships. He received a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Colorado School of Mines in 2014 and currently works for a software company in Denver.