6 Tips for Catching Suspended Trout

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Fly Fishing tips for suspended trout. Photo By: Louis Cahill

One of the toughest situations I’ve encountered trout fishing over the years, is when trout are suspended in the water column and feeding in a stationary position.

These trout are usually too deep to persuade them to rise to your dry fly on the surface, yet are also holding too far up from the bottom for you to easily dredge your tandem nymph rig in front of them. Most of the time, this is a frustrating sight-fishing scenario for the fly angler, where all you see is the trout occasionally open and close its mouth. You can see the trout you’re trying to catch, but no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to get your flies to drift in the correct feeding zone of the holding trout and get them to eat. I see this situation a lot on deep clear pools or on long and slow flowing runs, but you can also find this same situation in pocket water where eddies and irregular bottom structure provides slower water holding stations/sanctuaries for trout as well.

Make no excuse, these trout are catchable. It just requires a more technical approach and increased awareness of where your flies are drifting for you to find success. For fly anglers to catch trout in this situation they need to correctly match their fly fishing rig with the water they’re fishing, and slow down and concentrate on making quality presentations not quantity.

Tip 1: Get as close as you can to the sighted trout without spooking it.

I’ve found the trout that are suspended and feeding stationary, usually are also lazy. They don’t want to have to swim out of their position to feed, and that means fly anglers will need to make accurate and precise presentations, since the strike zone is so small. By getting close to your target you’ll find it much easier to keep your flies consistently drifting at the correct depth and in-line with the trout. Often if you’re positioned too far away, you’ll find one presentation will be good, and the next three will be off target. This might not seem like a big deal, but you’re not only trying to get good presentations, you’re also trying to read the fish to see if it likes your pattern or not as well. Getting into proper position and keeping your casting distance to a minimum will allow you to accomplish both much quicker.

Tip 2: Take the time to look for drifting food in the water before you choose your fly patterns

In the last tip, I said, “usually these suspended fish are lazy”. They are in the big spectrum, but it’s important to understand that when trout are suspended and feeding stationary, most of the time it’s because the trout are keyed in on a specific type of aquatic insect, that is drifting at the level the trout is holding. Spend a few minutes watching the feeding trout and look for any drifting bugs. If you see the trout continuing to feed regularly, but you can’t see any drifting food with your naked eye, a light bulb in your head should be going off and telling you to tie on fly patterns that are small. Try using a size 18-22 pheasant-tail nymph or a midge pattern. Don’t expect your size 10 woolly bugger to get the job done in this situation. Sometimes it will work, but most times, these fish are selectively feeding on small micro-invertabrates, and you need to downsize your flies to fool the trout into thinking it’s eating the same stuff it’s been feeding on the last couple hours.

Tip 3: Try a dry fly with two nymph droppers

This won’t work all of the time, but in shallow water situations, I’ve found good success using a dry fly and then tying on a long tandem dropper (two nymphs off the back of the dry fly). Approximate how deep you think the fish is holding, and tie on your lead dropper at that depth. Let’s say the trout you are sight-fishing to, is holding at two feet of depth. Tie on your lead dropper so it will be two feet below your dry fly. Then attach a second piece of tippet (12-14″) off the bend of the hook on your lead nymph dropper and attach your second nymph dropper. This should have both of your flies drifting pretty close to your target depth. Keep in mind, the faster the current, the deeper you should set your lead dropper. So in faster water with a trout holding at 2 feet, you might instead have your lead dropper set at three feet instead of two.

Tip 4: In deeper water try using a tandem nymph rig and strike indicator

When trout are suspended in deeper water (4 feet or more), I like to use a standard strike indicator setup with tandem nymph droppers. Again, you’ll want to start out by trying your best at approximating how deep your target trout is holding, and then get your flies drifting as close to that location as possible. Use split-shot if necessary, but you can also try using a weighted nymph in combination with an unweighted nymph to give you a more natural drifting combination. I use the weighted nymph to help get me down and at the level of the fish, and the unweighted nymph to hold close by and imitate the small micro-invertabrates the trout are keyed in on. If you’re an advanced fisherman, try using a three-fly nymph rig. This will make it easier to get at least one of your flies drifting at the correct depth.

Tip 5: Don’t cast your flies too far ahead of the fish

Most of the time we think the longer the drift we get the more water we’ll cover and the more trout we’ll catch. That’s true in a lot of cases in trout fishing, but it’s quite the opposite most of the time when targeting suspended trout. You always want to present your flies well ahead of the fish so it gives the trout time to see your flies, give your flies enough time to sink into the target zone and it decreases your chances of the sound of your flies hitting the water spooking the fish. I agree with all three of these, however, in this situation, where your strike zone is so small and your flies have to drift through such a small window, you’ll want to eliminate any extra distance in your presentation that isn’t required. Why is that Kent, you may be asking? The reason for this is because streams and rivers generally have different currents, and if you cast too far ahead of your target fish, you’ll usually find that these differing currents (flowing at different speeds) can pull your flies and drift off target (to the left/right of the fish or throw off your drifting depth). So even if you make a perfect straight line presentation above the trout with your flies, if it’s made to far ahead, that perfect tracking straight line of your flies will no longer be straight by the time your flies get down to where the trout is holding.

The concept is very similar to how a golfer reads his/her putt on a green. He/she has to take into factor the elevation and topography of the green when aligning their putt. Generally, the longer the putt, the more they have to factor in these inconsistencies on the green. Same things goes with presenting your flies to trout in the stream or river. The currents are like the elevation and topography of the golf course green. If you want to be super technical, try throwing in a small twig 2-3″ long and see how it floats and how the currents effect the drift path of the twig, just like a golfer would do by throwing a handful of grass in the air when gauging the wind before an approach shot. Then take this information gathered and present your flies with a distance cast that won’t spook the fish, give your flies time to get down and allow your flies to track a straight line all the way to the suspended trout.

Tip 6: When all else fails try lifting or swinging your flies

Sometimes, even your best efforts won’t allow you to get your flies drifting perfectly at the feeding level of the trout. If you’ve tried multiple fly patterns and you aren’t finding success, try taking a few side-steps upstream of the fish. This will give you the extra distance needed so you can swing your flies into the face of the trout as it enters the strike zone at the end of your drift. As your flies begin to enter the viewing window of the fish slowing lift your rod tip and strip in your slack, so your flies will begin emerging up through the water column and across the nose of the feeding fish. Over time, you’ll get very good at this technique, but it takes a while to perfect.

Give these tips a try next time you find yourself sight-fishing to a feeding trout that is suspended and stationary. It should increase your chances significantly at catching these kinds of trout. It will require you to spend a little extra time, and may even lower your fish counts and water you’ll be able to cover some days, but the reward you’ll receive from catching one of these technical and supsended trout will be the highlight of your day on the water, I promise.

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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