Trout fishing on the flats is just as invigorating almost any other form of coldwater fishing. Dry flies and site fishing make the experience a must.
Flats fishing is not just for saltwater fish or great lake’s smallmouth. The most widely recognized target species of fly fisherman, trout, can also be fun to chase in shallow, still, water. This area of coldwater fishing can often be overlooked even though it provides open space and fishing for people in a crowded environment, or something new to try for someone looking for a change or challenge.
Often times, on tough fishing days when one technique is not the clear favorite of the fish, you may have to resort to a wide variety of techniques to catch fish. This kind of trout fishing, flats fishing, is a perfect way to add another dozen fish to your daily total, specifically when fish aren’t just jumping on the hook. Often times when few people are catching fish I can have steady fishing with no competition or other fishing pressure to speak of.
When looking for flats trout it is key to find slack or extremely slow moving water six inches to two foot in depth. Rocks, Brush, or other structure in the water will help hold fish in an area. Usually in clear trout water you’ll be able to see the fish cruising, tailing, or just resting in the shallow water. These fish will be noticeably more spooky than the average trout and it is important to move slowly and quietly to avoid spooking them. On hot days, in the heat of summer, shade on the water is a sure bet to hold fish.
Throwing to these fish requires just as much stealth as stalking them. Strike indicators are a big “no” as they cause too much noise and surface movement when they plop down in the water. Much like saltwater fishing double halls and accurate casting are just as important as you fly selection. My go to set up is always a large dry fly: big ugly, hopper, chernobyl ant, or some other high floating visible terrestrial that I use as my top fly which targets fish in the upper part of the water column. Below that I add a bead head midge of some kind or a weighted scud. Fish hit both flies equally on most occasions, usually the bottom fly is ate mostly around rocks, while the top fly is hit in the shade more frequently. The top fly, if not taken, acts as an indicator and is dragged under when the bottom fly is bit. This means I don’t have to deal with indicators spooking fish, but I’m not fishing blind either.
Start fishing in the shade first, that is usually where the most fish will congregate. Work outwards from there to areas with rocky cover or flooded logs and brush. Shallow points off gravel bars hold fish from time to time as well. Key in on light patches in rocky bottoms where the gravel is void of moss, fish move to these areas and often times group up to feed there.
Once the area has been worked over effectively with the dropper rig I begin to target fish feeding on the bottom. An important skill in any fishing is the ability to target fish in different levels of the water column. Flats fishing for trout is no different. To fish the bottom portion of the column I use a similar setup as before. For the top fly I usually tie on a large white, red, or pink san juan worm. This fly works as an underwater strike indicator as well as another option for a feeding fish. My bottom fly, and the fly most fish take is a size 14 scud of a variety of colors. Cruising fish will pick rouge scuds up off the bottom often when they’re looking for an easy meal. Usually fishing around rocks, pools in flooded grass, and shallow areas close to the bank are the biggest producers with this rig. During the fall large browns and rainbows often occupy this stagnant water to both feed and rest, providing opportunities for big fish that few anglers chase.
This kind of fishing is designed for days when it can be a challenge to get a bite using traditional techniques in common locations. Combine this technique with others to have a successful day of fishing when others slog through the day catching just a handful of fish. Experiment and develop this type of fishing to fit your water for days when your usual holes just aren’t doing the job.