I fish a lot of small streams when I’m at school. Six of the ten blue ribbon trout streams in Missouri are within an hours drive of campus, most of which rarely get much wider than thirty or forty feet. These streams are blessed with a healthy population of self sustained rainbow trout, which I believe drives an interesting pattern I recently noticed: trout stacking up in the shallow water ahead of riffles.
Most, if not all, Ozark streams are very similar. Large rivers are really just versions of their smaller feeders. They’re all a series of pools and riffles. This isn’t the Rockies, so there’s no pocket water; or the Appalachians so there aren’t many waterfalls and plunge pools. Instead the water drops down a fairly mellow rifle into a deep blue hole before flattening out into a shallow slick just ahead of the next riffle.
On the smaller trout streams some of the most productive, yet overlooked water, is that shallow slick. Oddly enough trout like to spread out there and feed. There’s not much cover typically, or even shade, but it never fails that I’ll wade wade through it and spook out four or five solid fish.
It took way to long before I began to take advantage of this pattern, but since I did it's been extremely effective.
The key is the approach. These are very spooky trout, that don’t tolerate much crowding. They don’t like fly lines slapped down above them, or fluorescent strike indicators bobbing by, consequently a downstream approach is best.
Swinging flies is the most effective technique for these shallow trout because it's easy to cover lots of water without spooking fish. Leach patterns or the classic wooly bugger are a good place to start. Other, more subtle patterns, like soft hackles and nymphs are also an excellent choice when trout aren’t responding to larger streamers.
This has become a pattern that I’ve not only taken advantage of, but specifically targeted. On certain days, when the sun is just right, it's easy to spot a half dozen or more fish feeding in the shallow current. Picking them off with a Pheasant Tail and Partridge is almost easy.
I’d assumed for the past two years that there weren’t any fish in that shallow, seemingly dead, water. Why would they be? There’s no cover, or depth, or obvious food source. I still don’t know why they’re there, but they are. It’s amazing how often you learn something new. I hope it never stops.