Sunday, January 27, 2008


A treatise on the lost art of “reading a stream,” from an out-of-print title The Boy’s Complete Book of Fresh and Salt Water Fishing (1949) by Oliver H.P. Rodman & Edward C. Janes, Boston: Little, Brown & Co., pp. 70-74.

"We found that in lakes there are certain spots where we are always apt to find fish--the coves, weed beds, bays, and ledges. So in streams there are definite places where fish tend to lurk. This is true to such an extent that an experienced fisherman on his first trip to strange waters can tell almost instinctively which stretches will be productive and which will be barren. This knowledge is called streamcraft, and a thorough understanding of the subject will often spell the difference between success and failure.

This past season, I was fishing a trout stream near a village where I formerly lived. This is heavily-fished water, and by the time I had an opportunity to fish it, in the late season, it had been pretty well pounded. I whipped run after run and pool after pool with both wet and dry flies and when, at length, I returned to the car, I had one nine inch rainbow.
I started to take down my tackle and then I chanced to glance at the water below the bridge. It was a flat stretch of uninteresting-looking rapids and I had never bothered with it before. However, it was a warm, bright day and it occurred to me that there is a possibility that the fish might be lying in the rapids. Rainbows in particular, like swift water in the warm weather. I tied on a nymph and waded into the stream. Moving across the slippery rocks to get into position to reach a boulder pool downstream, I suddenly slipped into a hole nearly up to my hips; and as I did so, I saw a nice trout dart from under my feet. By my careless blundering I had ruined a good hole which one would never have suspected was there in a cursory inspection of the stream. I moved more cautiously now, for I began to realize that there might be other hidden pockets in this stretch. There were, too--for from that 200 yards of fast, shallow water I took six good rainbows, as well as losing two and feeling a couple of missed strikes besides.

As I waded along, I discovered pocket after pocket--in clefts between boulders, along the shore and under the bank.
Apparently most fishermen had passed by this stretch of rapids as I myself had often done until this particular morning. And so I added a new, productive area to my fishing waters, another chapter in the book of this particular river. I feel confident that when the water is warm another year I can duplicate my performance of the past season.

Along similar lines, was an experience on a well known brown trout stream. I had fished this river for several years and felt that I knew it thoroughly--that being back in the days before I had learned that the more you fish, the less you know.
I took and old fisherman along with me on a trip to this stream one day. It was a new water to him, but his experience was so great that he had seen every combination of trout water it’s possible to behold. We left the car beside a ruined dam and I led the way upstream past the old mill pond shrunken now, since the dam had gone out, to a flat sluggish shallow. “Where do we start?” the old fisherman asked. “We have to get above the old pond,” I explained. “This stretch is no good.” “Who said so?” he wanted to know. “Why?” I replied in surprise, “Everybody. You can tell just to look at it.” “Anyway, I think I’ll try it,” he said, inspecting the water carefully. “I’ll be along soon.”

I smiled to myself as I watched him clamber down the steep bank and lay a wet fly on the calm, shallow surface. My smile disappeared, at the smashing wallop which was almost immediately forthcoming from a two pound brown trout.
“It was just luck,” the old fisherman said modestly as he held up the husky fish, “but then I noticed some rocks under the surface, and quite often you’ll find a deep pocket behind them where the trout like to hang out.” I knew it wasn’t luck. “There’s a couple more likely spots here,” the old man went on. “Try drifting a fly past that clump of alders and about mid-stream. Let her sink deep.” I followed his instructions humbly and a moment later I was fast to an old soaker of a brownie. Truth compels me to admit that I lost him after a short, furious fight when he parted my leader on a sharp rock. But the point is, he was there and the old man knew he was there. I told him he could smell the trout, but I knew now that it was his deep and abiding knowledge of streamcraft that enabled him to look at this apparently barren stretch of water, which most people passed by, and realize its possibilities.

Fish do not lie in a stream haphazardly. They are where they are for three very good reasons--food, comfort and security from their enemies. The first factor, food, causes them to be in spots where worms, insects, and other favored items of diet are swept along by the current, for while in lakes the fish must seek their food, in the streams, they have only to wait for food to come to them. The second factor, comfort, makes them seek spots where they can keep cool in summer or warm in spring and they don’t have to battle the full force of the current as they lie in wait for food. The third factor, security, places fish in deep holes, under overhanging banks, in tree root dens and behind boulders--dark, shadowy hiding places where they are less visible to preying birds and animals.

Food and security are the two fundamentals of streamcraft and when you find a place which affords both you will practically always find a fish. On the other hand, by fishing in those places which afford neither food nor security, you will only be wasting your time. Stand upon the banks of a stream and you will notice that the current does not flow evenly across. The swiftest flow will be noticeable usually in the middle of the stream or along one side. You won’t find fish in the very center of a swift flow, but, rather, along its edges, where the current dips under a bank or into pools, at a sharp bend in the stream, in the quiet water below big boulders, into debris-littered eddies--these are the places to look for fish. Also in pools at the end of glides and rapids.

There are other spots--caves and boulder dens--which are not apparent to the angler during the high water of early spring. For this reason, it’s a good idea to study your favorite waters at different times of the year, especially in late summer when they are low and such hiding places are revealed. Contours and currents will give you, with experience, an idea of what sort of bottom lies beneath; and you can extend this knowledge from your familiar local trout stream to more distant strange waters. You can, with practice, learn to read a stream as you would read a book.

The remaining factor, comfort, depends upon temperature as it does humans. In the high, cold roily waters of spring, you will find fish lying in the deeper, warmer water, feeding near the bottom. Later on, when the air and the water have warmed to late spring temperatures, the fish become more active, lying in shallower water and moving about freely in pursuit of minnows and insect hatches. Still later, when the waters have warmed uncomfortably, the fish will often come right into the rapids where there is more oxygen in the waters, or else they will seek the cool spring holes around the mouths of feeder rills. Therefore, where you fish depends in part upon the weather and the time of year.

Keep these factors in mind--food, hiding places and comfort--and you’ll be able to catch fish throughout the season. "