Insects and other foods the trout may be eating:
1. Blue-winged Olives
3. Sculpin, Minnows (Streamers)
Fishing Cold Water - Part 15
In my last article, one of the successful cold water trips I wrote about involved Angie catching
lots of trout from Little Pigeon River a couple of miles above Sugarland. The water
temperature was recorded on our video journal and tape log at 43 degrees but I didn't note if
she used a strike indicator or not. I'm almost positive she did. It has only been during the last
three or four years that I was able to convince her that under many conditions strike indicators
can be a disadvantage. After I wrote part 14 of this series, I started to wonder if I
unintentionally led anyone into thinking that's a preferred fishing method to use when the
water is cold. .
The thing that tends to make fishing complicated is the fact there are no set rules, yet it's
amazing to the extent which anglers will go to follow or copy others success. For example, if a
guy reports catching seven trout today on a Pink Panther fly when the water was forty
degrees, angler X will tend to want that particular fly to use tomorrow. If another guy caught a
20 inch brown trout on a Purple People Eater fly, some anglers would go to an unlimited
amount of trouble trying to obtain that particular fly. It's just a fact that amateur anglers, which
represents about ninety-five percent or more of all anglers, tend to copy others that are
The same thing could be said about a particular location on a stream or a particular stream
itself. If one guy reports catching seven trout from Little River just below Elkmont when the
water was forty degrees, or a 20 inch brown trout from Clear Creek, that's exactly where most
anglers would want to go to fish. They would go to a great amount of trouble to try to discover
exactly where Clear Creek is and how to get there. Most anglers are copy cats.
My favorite example of, well I really can't think of a nice word to use, so I will write it like I see it
- my favorite example of "stupidity" on the part of an angler (and I'm really reluctant to use the
word angler) is one that ask "what are the trout hitting", They want an answer such as "they
have been taking the Pink Panther. Often fly shops add to the stupidity and reply with
something like "they have been taking the "Pink Panther" well lately". That's all a guy needs to
hear to reply "Give me a half-dozen Pink Panthers".
Relating this to the use of strike indicators, if I mentioned Angie caught 27 trout from cold
water using a #18 Hare's Ear Nymph, an angler would probably next ask next if she used a
strike indicator. If I replied "yes, she did", I may be inadvertently giving someone less than
good advice. It may have been that twice that number could have been caught without a strike
indicator, or that twice that many could have been caught using a size 18 Prince Nymph. Six
inches of difference in the exact depth setting of the indicator, or one BB size split shot may
also have made a huge difference. It may well make the difference in catching none or dozens.
Planning your fishing strategy in the manner I have just described makes as much sense as
following the advice of a stranger just before enter the booth to vote for President of the
Untied States. It's makes about as much sense as copying a highly successful person's
income tax form to file your own income tax return.
Most likely there's a logical reason a strike indicator may have worked well at that particular
location on the Little Pigeon River. In all likelihood, it allowed the fly to cross right in front of a
lot of trout that day and not only that, but at the same speed of the current the trout were
I'm not trying to make this a "whether or not to use a strike indicator article". I'm trying to point
out that there's much more to it than a few clips of information can possible explain. I can
assure you that what was important was getting the fly close to the trout in such a way that it
was drifting naturally in the same immediate area the trout were holding in. I can also assure
you that at that water temperature, the trout were holding in slow moving water and the fly was
drifting slowly at the same speed of the current the trout were holding in. I also just happen to
be very familiar with that particular stretch of water, having fished it several times in the past.
The stream's declination and configuration in that particular area is such that it's possible to
keep a fly on or very near the bottom for a lengthy drift in areas of deeper, slow moving water.
The bottom contours of the stream are such that it's possible to do that and cover a great
deal of slower moving water on the bottom. I can also assure you that in over ninety
percent of the water in the streams of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park,
that type of thing isn't possible to do using a strike indicator. To make this clear, the
bottom of the all the streams vary greatly in depth every few feet or less. There's no such
thing as a typical stream bottom configuration. Each and every small section of a stream is
different from the next section.
You cannot possible pinpoint the location of trout holding in cold water (say below 45
degrees) using general terms or descriptions of the stream. You cannot pinpoint their location
by saying they are in the pools, or the bottom of the runs, or the deep pockets or any other
type of description you want to use. You can't even pinpoint them by saying they will be
holding in the heads of the pools, the deeper water in the middle of the pools, or the tail-end
of the long runs, or the pockets behind huge boulders, or any other particular description you
can come up with.
By carefully studying a stream (without allowing the trout to see you) and using
common sense, you can eliminate at least half of and often as much as seventy-five
percent of the area of the stream. In water that cold, trout will not be holding in fast
current. They won't even hold in what's usually described as moderate current. If they did they
would expend more energy than they could replenish with food. They will only hold (for any
substantial length of time) in water that's almost still or moving slowly. The only thing that will
change this, is a concentration of food. I want get into that now, but even then, the location will
change only for a very short time. It should also be noted that in the streams of the Smokies
during the Winter, "the food concentration thing" is not a common occurrence. It's more of an
exception that only last a short time when it does occur.
The trout will not be holding in shallow water, at least during the day when much light is
available. Cold water is clearer than water at higher temperatures because it holds less
suspended particles. The trout seek depth for protection from overhead predators. They do
not seek the depth for purposes of being in warmer water. Unlike fish in deeper lakes,that
stratify, excepting insignificant differences, the water temperature is basically the same
throughout the stream from its bottom to the surface.
The above statements, which can be lumped under two categories, depth and current speed,
automatically eliminate most of the water in a stream. The complication comes from the
fact that slow moving water is often below fast moving water. Because fast moving
water that isn't flowing very smoothly (that's almost never the case in the Smokies) conceals
your view of what's below it, it's often difficult to visually determine if the water near the bottom
is moving fast or slow. Even if it happens to be moving very slowly and is the perfect holding
place for trout in cold water, presenting a fly to the trout slowly, below fast flowing water is
difficult. Unfortunately, this is often exactly where the trout are holding.
So far, I've just pointed out the complexities and the problems involved in catching trout from
cold water. After tomorrow's strategy article, I will get into some of the methods and tactics of
presenting flies in cold water.
Copyright 2011 James Marsh