Drop-Offs Are Trout Hot-Spots

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Hooked up fishing a drop off. Photo By: Louis Cahill

Adjacentjust before, after, lying near; neighboring

Drop-offs located adjacent to shallow water are trout magnets.

The slower moving water and cover found downstream of drop-offs are the two main reasons trout are drawn here. If you’re looking for super consistent water where you can almost always find trout, you should be searching out dropoffs on your streams and rivers where shallow water transitions into deeper water. The more significant (larger the area) the stretch of shallow water is, the more appeal the adjacent drop-offs will have over trout, especially when the shallow water upstream or downstream holds very little cover.

I regularly float over a long stretch of shallow unproductive water on my home tailwater. It’s about 200 yards long, calf deep at best, and it’s completely barren of any form of trout cover. The trout hate this section of the river because they’re sitting ducks to predators looking for an easy meal, and there’s nowhere for the trout to find refuge out of the excessive current. I’d say it’s a completely worthless piece of water on the river, but the fact is, it does serve a valuable purpose for us fly anglers. This long stretch of desolate trout water, makes it’s neighboring drop-offs and deep water extremely attractive to trout, and in turn, trout will usually congregate in substantial numbers. To put it more clearly, it’s the first available holding water for trout to set up shop immediately before or after dead water.

Just the other day, as my drift boat moved past that very stretch of barren shallow water, and we eased over the drop-off into the deeper water, my client hooked and landed a beautiful 20″ male rainbow trout. The fish put on a wonderful acrobatic aerial show with a series of running jumps out of the water. The trophy couldn’t have shown up at a better time, because I had just explained why the adjacent drop-off and deepwater was such a hot-spot for trout.

Have you experienced similar success fishing Drop-offs? We welcome your two cents. 

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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14 thoughts on “Drop-Offs Are Trout Hot-Spots

  1. there is one beautiful one on the Hiwassee that I like to fish, but there’s never any fish in it. Looks perfect, but never any luck. I have to get in the middle of it to find any fish. Any suggestions on a fly to try when fishing this kind of area, nymph, streamer?

    • Chris,

      Which Hiawassee are you talking about? If you don’t see any fish rising or they won’t come up to the surface for a dry fly, then you should definitely try a streamer or a nymph rig. It’s really important that you get your flies down deep, in case the fish are hunkered down in the pool. That means letting your streamer sink for a few seconds before you begin your strip, or if your nymphing, applying enough split-shot and setting your strike indicator high enough up on your leader.

      Pay close attention to where the current is moving across the drop-off and through the deep water. Look for foam or tiny bubbles a visual clues. That is where I would concentrate my presentations first, because that’s where most of the drifting food will be located. However, if the drop-off area is big enough you should not overrule the other areas since it could hold many baitfish, crustaceans, and juvenile trout, that big trout regularly forage on.

      If I had to lay a bet on what rig would be the most consistent I would have to go with a deep tandem nymph rig. Day in and day out you should be able to keep your flies in front of the fish and convince some of them to eat. For fly patterns for the next couple months I would try the following. Copper John (Size 14 – Red, Green, Fl. Green) as your lead fly (it’s heavy and will help get your rig down deep), and tie on a dropper about 18″ and add a olive soft-hackle, deep wire caddis, flash back pheasant-tail, soft-hackle hares ear, rainbow warrior, zebra midge, or fl. pink san juan worm.

      Good Luck,


  2. Kent,

    When I am fishing these drop offs, I am usually casting right into the base of the plunge and letting my nymphs float down through the turbulent water into the pool. I often times wonder if I am missing fish because my nymphs are still high in the water column right at the base of the drop off, or that I am missing strikes because my indicator is seeing so much “action” from the turbulent water.

    Do you have any luck casting above the drop off and letting your flies fall over and into the pool? That technique has produced nicely with lures on shoal bass, but I never have had much luck getting trout to take a fly that has fallen over a drop-off.



    • Rob,

      Let me see if I can walk you through this one. Your question has several components so please bare with me, I promise to do my best giving a clear straight forward answer.

      Many of the drop-offs that I’m referring to are shoals that mark the end of the shallow water and the beginning of the deeper water. Anything after (downstream) the crest of the shoal I consider productive water. Depending on the size of the water, amount of water flow, and the shoal characteristics, it will determine how turbulent the water will be. Yes, you can have a hard time detecting the strikes if you’re not able to see your strike indicator clearly, but you generally still want to cast your flies as high up as you can without getting them snagged on the shoal or drop-off. This will allow your nymphs to drift through the largest area of productive water, while also giving them ample time to sink into the strike zone.

      Depending on how fast the water is moving, how fast your flies sink, and how shallow the water is before the drop-off as well as right on top of the drop-off, it will determine where you should target your nymph rig to land (drift starting point). I generally try to land my rig right on top of the shoal or drop-off so that it slides over without getting snagged up, and begins sinking at the very head of the productive water.

      Be confident that the depth change that I’m talking about, when I use the term “drop-off”, is very important to trout. It allows them to position themselves deeper in the current so they don’t have to swim as hard, and they can take advantage of the highest percentage of the drifting food, while using the deep water as a safe haven. They have every reason to be here, since the shallow and barren water upstream or downstream is not suitable trout holding water. If you’re not getting bites in these spots, you’re probably doing two things wrong. The first, you may not be casting your rig high enough up or close enough to the drop-off. Try wading up river a steps to get within casting range. The second, you may not have your strike indicator set high enough or have enough weight applied to your nymph rig to get your flies down in the strike zone quick enough. Try adding more weight and moving your strike indicator higher up on your leader. Depending on the depth of the water at the drop-off, you may be floating right over the trout, but not getting your flies close enough to the strike zone to get the trout to move on and eat your flies. The only other thing I can suggest is changing your flies or downsizing your tippet. Sometimes that’s the only problem in the equation.

      I hope this helps.


  3. Thanks for your answer Kent. I’ll definitely try the suggestions you make and work these areas a little more thoroughly.

  4. Where are all the lake run trib fisherman at? These Drop-offs are often refered to as “Glory-Holes”. A resting spot for a tired trout making that yearly run to get their freak on. If you find one of these, which you should find many, it should be BOMBARDED with all buy everthing in your box until you get it figured out.

  5. On smaller spring creeks here in the midwest I’ve heard them called step-drops, and you can typically count on them holding trout all year round.

  6. Don’t forget the seams! There is a drop on a stream I fish that will remain nameless. The interesting dynamic in this dropoff is there are two paths the water takes to fill the depression. Between the two is a bit of slack water. I tie one something heavy and really buggy and let it get to the bottom between the two runs. Make sure your drag is set properly, because the biggest fish in the pool will sit there looking for it’s next meal!

  7. Do the trout spend some, small percentage, of their time in the empty water above the drop-off? Are there times when the water produces hatches and the trout will move up into it?

  8. Pingback: Drop-Offs Are Trout Hot Spots | MidCurrent

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