Sunday’s Classic / 3 C’s of Trout Fishing

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A beautiful wild brown trout taken on a bend that had all 3 C’s. Photo Louis Cahill

Here’s the Million Dollar Trout Fishing Question….

Are you putting enough emphasis on the 3 C’s in your trout fishing? The availability of Current, Cover and Cuisine most often dictate where trout decide to set up shop. Being able to consistently pick them out will ultimately determine how much success you have on the water. Furthermore, if you can find a spot that has all three C’s, you’re probably staring at a honey hole that holds the trophy of your dreams.

Back when I was a rookie fly fisher and lacked knowledge, I can recall early on how I’d start out my day selecting a section of water, and go about mindlessly fishing its entirety from point A to point B. I had no understanding of the needs and survival instincts of trout and how it influenced their whereabouts. All the water looked good to my untrained eyes, and I’d spend equal time fishing the entire stretch of water, regardless of the depth, where the current and food were located, or if the spot had any elements of cover. Back then, I was completely clueless that there was a reason 20% of the water held 80% of the fish, and in turn, I spent way too much time fishing in all the wrong places. It was amazing how long it took me to figure out why I wasn’t catching very many trout.

Don’t make this common rookie mistake, you’re better than that. Instead spend your time eliminating unproductive water, and locating and fishing productive water that has all three C’s. Doing so, you’ll find your catch numbers and the size of your catches increase dramatically. Below are basic descriptions of current, cover, and cuisine, and why all three are equally important to trout.


Trout have a love hate relationship with current. They love the fact that current collects and funnels food to them, but it also requires effort for them to swim against it.  Because of this, trout prefer to hold in spots of the stream where they can feed and take in more calories than they’re burning. Trout accomplish this by directly avoiding current that is too fast and excessive, while still staying close to enough current that they can take advantage of the best feeding lanes (where the most food is coming in). I tell my clients all the time to look for current that flows over areas with deeper water. Examples of this are drop offs behind shoals, buckets, troughs or channels in the stream. It’s important to remember the deeper a trout holds in the water column, the slower the current will be moving. Anglers should also look for soft seams where slow water meets fast water and pay attention to the banks irregular banks that provide natural current breaks. These areas allow trout to save energy by picking off food drifting on the edge of the fast current where the water is moving slower.


Have you ever wondered why they’re always seems to be big fish located near cover in the stream? The fact is, you rarely will find big fish where cover is nonexistent, spawning is the only instance that comes to mind. Trout rank cover too high on their survival list to not use it every day of their lives. It’s no different than the survivor guys on T.V stressing the importance of building a shelter. Examples of cover that provide safety for trout are big boulders with eddies, undercut banks, wood lay downs, deep water, and turbulent surface water (where predators can’t see into it). It’s also an added bonus that most cover also doubles as a current break/buffer. When your fishing a productive piece of water, search out where the cover is located, and you’ll usually find the sweet spot where the best trout will be holding.


One of my favorite things in life is good food, and I do what I can to make sure it’s always within reach, in case hunger calls. Trout are no different, they’re always going to search out areas where the most food is consistently available. It’s doesn’t make sense for trout to hold in water where every time they want to grab a snack, they have to move significant distances to search it out. Anglers should always pay attention to where the food in the stream is drifting, because if there’s not any food, you won’t find trout (This holds true 95% of the time). Pay attention to foam lines and bubbles that can tip you off on where the food is drifting. For the most part though, when you first walk up to a hole, look where the most current is located and chances are that’s where the most food will be drifting.

In conclusion, it’s important to state that all 3 C’s are equally important. Trout search them out together to ensure survival. The good news is, most productive trout water usually has all three of them if you look closely enough. I hope these tips bring you more confidence and success on the water.

Keep it Reel,

Kent Klewein
Gink & Gasoline
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12 thoughts on “Sunday’s Classic / 3 C’s of Trout Fishing

  1. Just like real estate the key to success is location, location and location. The beauty is most spots that provide the three C’s will produce fish from year to year until a big enough flood reshapes the stream/river bottom. The biggest mistake I find novice anglers make is if they have success in a particular location they return mindlessly to the same location irregardless of time of year and conditions. No thought into why they may have had success. As noted the only time I find fish consistently not utilizing cover is the prespawn and spawn period.

    • Gregory,

      Great point. It’s very important to think about why and where you fish, especially during different times of the year because fish will move around some. Thanks for that addition.


  2. The most important, most overlooked, yet easiest fly fishing skill to learn. It’s not rocket science, but I am always amazed at how many people I see pounding the water, standing where the fish should be holding, casting to where they should be standing. Great article.

    • NCguy,

      So true man. Hopefully some of those people will stumble upon this post and it will help them out. Eventually they will figure it out. I was there myself many years ago.


  3. Good post! I’m taking my 12 yr old daughter out this week for her first real fly fishing experience. I’m going to get her read about the 3c’s before we head out.

  4. Every fly angler should live by the 3 C’s. Kent, what do you think about the dark of night and how it effects the importance of Cover? Maybe that would be an exception?

  5. Good advice, and not only for trout. It’s something I already apply sub-consciously on saltwater as well – but will now bring it to the fore when prospecting. Thanks

  6. This same concept applies on lakes, reservoirs and ponds. Yes there is current in a lake especially where there is water flowing into and out of a body of water as well as thermoclines in the water column and wind blowing food up against a shore.
    Fish will also congregate on drop offs as well relate to any structure in the water. The biggest difference is you are the one moving the fly not the current or not moving the fly in the case of hanging a midge off an indicator. Then again you can use the wave action to impart movement.
    I have taken stream guys on lakes and just get overwhelmed by the body of water.
    Once you show them how to dissect a lake they are then able to apply their stream techniques to stillwater.

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