In the lower gradient streams of the Ozarks, Driftless Area, and even to an extent the Appalachians log jams and root wads make up the vast majority of the cover fish live around. There is very little traditional pocket water amongst the classic limestone streams that these fish live around. This is simply a fact of geology, limestone is much more susceptible to water as an erosion force than the stronger base rock of the Rockies, or even the igneous mountains west of Colorado. Consequently there are few deep holes and scorching rapids made by big boulders disrupting the continuous flow of a mountain freestone OR tailwater.
In addition to the scientific most places east of the Rocky Mountains don’t see a significant period of runoff were most of the creeks, streams, and rivers swell up, was out, and more or less cleanse themselves of deadfall and other obstacles not tightly ensconced in the matrix of the riverbed. I fish a lot of log jams during the school year. The local streams are full of them, and they produce a lot of trout, as well as the majority of my “large” ones. Thus targeting them is as effective a way to fish limestone rivers as any. Below are a handful of tips / rules I follow to do just that.
Use the right rod
I don’t care how big the fish you’re fishing for is, or how big you think it will be a small rod is ideal for fishing a tight log jam. It’s basic common sense. Most of the casts will be short with significant obstacles inhibiting effective back casts. Dealing with a nine foot pole is headache inducing, and even an eight foot pole is to big in a lot of situations. I prefer a seven foot, fast action, fly rod that can fit in tight places and deliver a fly quickly.
Obviously with so many logs, and branches, and snags clogging up the riffles and runs the drifts are going to be short. You have to be able to put the flies, in the strike zone quickly since they’re only going to be there for three or four feet maximum. Size one split shot with a fairly shallow indicator is my go to if I’m trying to nymph. With a simple set up like that the flies get down quickly, and the short leader length keeps the flies tight to the strike indicator for maximum reactivity when inhaled by a trout.
Forget the Dead Drift
Often times the best trout that hide around log jams and root wads are going to be under the logs or the roots. That’s simply the safest place for them to be, and they know that. This being the case a dead drift with a brace of nymphs won’t put your flies in the right place without getting hung up, so often times swinging flies is the best option for fishing under cover. Weighted buggers, leeches, and soft hackles are great for probing beneath the overhanging logs, and limbs you’re likely to encounter. Again the drift will be short, and oftentimes the fish will come on the first strip or two much like streamer pounding the banks of a larger river, so stay ready. This is a big fish technique that can lull you to sleep at times, but also produce some surprising trout on small water.
Big and Gaudy
Many of these tips are based on the principal of short drifts. All of these drifts will be fast, and only a few feet in length, so getting the attention of the fish quickly is important. I like to throw larger, flashy flies, that will get the attention of trout fast enough to convince them to eat while only being in the water for a few seconds. Large rubber legged nymphs, flashback pheasant tails, and streamers with gaudy mylar bellies are some of my favorite patterns to throw.
Lastly is the idea of properly putting yourself in the right place to succeed. This is hugely important when fishing in and around logs, and pile ups. Often this is as simple as watching your back cast, and just giving yourself a chance, but other times crawling around and climbing on the logs to get the best drift or swing is key. Sometimes I have to lean over logs to drift flies, or use upright branches as cover between myself and the fish. Taking a little time to sneak around, and plan your drifts, and watch your casting lanes can truly make the difference between no fish, and some fish, and little fish, and big fish.
It’s always the little things, that make up the big things. No fish becomes the fish of legend without first being the fish of disappointment. And no fisherman becomes a great fisherman in a single one hundred foot cast.