Water Visibility & Stream Trout Fishing – Part 4

Guest Blogger: Joe Dellaria, Woodbury MN

Low Water Visibility Leads to Shallower Holding Areas: In the summer when the water is very clear, the fish will hold in six to eight inches of water just before sun up, at sun down, or during the night. These are medium to low water visibility conditions. There is little or no light so the fish often move into very shallow water where they can feed easily.

Twenty years ago, I was fishing a run that just screamed “big fish!” I fished it all summer long during low light periods at sun up and sun down. No dice. Not a single fish came out of that run. One morning I got up early and arrived before the sun had risen. In fact, there wasn’t even a glow at the horizon. It was pitch dark. My heart was racing partly because it is uncomfortable to fish alone when it is dark and partly in anticipation of a nice fish.

I made a short cast to avoid accidentally hanging up on a tree or overhanging grass. I heard the #4 olive wooly bugger plop as it hit the water. Immediately the line came to a stop. Instinctively I set the hook and the fish ran upstream. I had never felt a fish that heavy before. It just went straight up the stream. A couple of seconds the leader snapped with a crack. I never saw the fish but the memory was well worth getting up early and the long walk through the dark to that run.

This illustrates how the interplay between available light and water clarity changes water visibility and where fish hold. I had fished the tail, the body and the head of that run numerous times during summer to no avail because it was too light and the water was too shallow. These were medium water visibility conditions. But by fishing in the dark, I was under low water visibility conditions the fish took the fly on the first cast. After recovering from the fish snapping my line, I walked over to where the fish had taken my fly and it was about six inches deep. With no light six inches of water was plenty of water to provide cover for the fish. Whenever fish hold in shallower water like this they are there to feed and it will be obvious when they take the fly because they are very aggressive in those situations.

Identifying Morning and Evening Holes. For years I knew that certain holes were more productive either in the morning or in the evening. Water visibility finally explained why. One particular run is two to four feet deep and is almost always more productive in the evening. This section of the stream runs north-south. The east side is shallower and the west side deeper. The west side of the stream is guarded by a steep bank and heavily forested. At sunrise, the angle of the sun is such that you can see every rock in three or four feet of water. Unless there is a heavy hatch in the morning it is unlikely you will catch or even see a trout in this stretch after the sun rises as these are high water visibility conditions.

In the afternoon, the steep tree lined bank shades the river. Even though the river is clear as a bell, you cannot see the bottom of the river clearly in over a foot of water. In the summer both shorelines can produce fish. Trout can be caught on the eastern and shallower side next to any obstruction or depression in the river bottom. I have caught over sixteen-inch trout on the shallower side of this stretch.

The western shore is full of boulders and deadfalls. The water drops rapidly to the maximum depths of two to four feet. The water appears dark in the afternoon because of the shade. Fish will sit tight to any shoreline obstruction. Casts must nearly hit the shore to raise a fish. I have lost and caught many larger trout on the western side of the stretch. All of these fish came either in the afternoon after the river was shaded or before the sun has risen. These are medium water visibility conditions.

There is another hole that is a morning hole. It also runs north-south. As you might have guessed, the eastern side of the hole is over five feet deep and is protected by a rock cliff. The cliff provides shade for the hole until almost nine in the morning. As soon as the sunlight hits the pool the fish shut down. One cloudy morning I had numerous fish following my streamer and making agitated strikes at the fly for over an hour. The wind picked up and blew away the cloud cover and minutes later there was not a fish to be seen. The pool appeared to be a fishless desert. The water visibility changed from medium to high when the clouds blew away.

Stained Versus Unstained Water. For years I realized that active fish held in different areas in streams with stained water. They were always shallower than I expected. Water visibility explains why. Stained water has a lower water visibility than clear, unstained water under the same available light conditions. This allows the fish to feed in shallower feeding lies in the stained water.

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