Anyone who has been out trout fishing this week has likely found the creeks quite low and clear.
This is especially true of most of the freestone streams in this area. Although rain is in the forecast for this weekend and possibly a few days next week, anything short of several torrential downpours probably won't change the current low-water situation all that much, so anglers will need to adjust their fishing strategies and tactics somewhat to be successful.
When streams are running at typical springtime levels, the first couple of weeks of trout season can offer relatively easy fishing that generally favors the fisherman. The skinny flows we are now experiencing, however, are more like those we could expect in late May or early June, a time when many casual anglers have quit trout fishing. The biggest mistake most inexperienced trout fishermen make when faced with these conditions is to scare away their quarry before making the first cast.
One of my favorite games when fishing low water is sight fishing - that is, staying on the bank and scanning the water to spot a fish and then casting to it. I've always been good at seeing trout. I can remember when I first started steelhead fishing, several of my friends from Erie were amazed how well a "down-stater" like me could pick out a steelie holding in a tricky current. I had to confess that I grew up watching 6- or 7- inch wild brook trout that blended perfectly with the gravel of the streambed, so spotting a 6- or 7-pound steelhead suspended over a smooth bottom wasn't all that tricky.
Most anglers are aware of the benefits of wearing polarized sunglasses when fishing. Polarized lenses eliminate most surface glare, enabling the wearer to see under the water much better. For stream or river fishing, I prefer brown or amber lenses rather than dark gray or green because they brighten the overall scene and greatly improve contrast, making it even easier to pick out a fish, even in shady areas.
There is a bit of a learning curve to seeing trout, but the best tip is don't expect to see a whole fish silhouetted against the bottom even with polarized glasses. Nature has provided trout with wonderful camouflage to hide them from potential predators, so at best you will often just see a part of the fish. I usually look for a tail gently swaying in the current or maybe the shape of a head and pectoral fin. If the fish is actively feeding, it will often give away its position by moving back and forth in the current as it picks off items of food as they drift by.
Low water also offers an excellent opportunity for some great dry-fly fishing. I'm not talking about the traditional strategy of targeting fish that are rising to a hatch of aquatic insects. Trout will respond to a hatch even when the stream is running bankful.
I'm suggesting "fishing the water" with a dry fly, which is another of my favorite ways to catch trout in low, clear water. And that tactic can be extremely productive, not to mention a tremendous amount of fun.
During a hatch, dry-fly anglers naturally gravitate to pools and flat water where numbers of fish are likely to be rising. When prospecting with a dry fly, however, concentrating your efforts on pocket water and knee-deep riffles will be most effective.
A lot of fly anglers would never think to cast a dry fly into these broken water environments, but that doesn't mean trout living won't take food from the surface. Pocket water trout also tend to be less picky simply because they must make up their mind quickly when they see something that looks like food, otherwise it will be swept away rather quickly.
Bushy, high-floating fly patterns work best for probing pocket water. Use a fly that you will be able to see well in the rough water. A hair-wing caddis in size 12 or even a 10 will usually work well. Another deadly dry fly for prospecting is a Stimulator. Don't try to obtain long drifts in pocket water. Drop the fly into potential lies and keep as much line as possible off the water. Usually the fly will only be on the water for two or three seconds until a trout grabs it or you flick it into the next spot. Once you get familiar with this technique, it can produce trout when other methods prove ineffective.