How River Trout Fishing Works

Boy releasing rainbow trout in a river.
Darryl Torckler/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Ah, a day in the life of a trout: water, rel­axation, food brought close enough that you'd barely have to move. Sounds like a nice change of pace. But I have to say, I prefer having a brain bigger than the size of a quarter.

There are two large facts that make understanding the trout's lifestyle a little easier. Trout are a tad lazy, and they're less intelligent than many of their freshwater neighbors. If you apply these facts to your fishing techniques, you just may improve your success!


First, let's think ­about the lazy life of the trout. As a rule, trout prefer rivers, or water with a current, because they don't have to move to find food each day. They can find a covered area when the water's flowing moderately and just wait for their food to come to them. That's a helpful tip in finding the trout.

­The fact that they're unintelligent is also important for you to remember while fishing. The trout isn't capable of processing more than one thought at a time. They just simply aren't made to multi-task [source: Cochran]. So, apply this: If you scare the trout, it will forget it wants to eat. And a fish that's scared and won't eat, certainly won't venture to the surface to take your lure.

We understand the basics, so use your complex brain to continue reading! Next, we'll learn about understanding rivers and fly fishing.


How to Read Water for Trout

After learning about the trout itself, you should learn about rivers. You'll see that it's easy to un­derstand where you'll find the fish if you understand the anatomy of a river. Luckily for us, it's not that complicated. If the trout's figured it out, hopefully you'll be able to.

River currents tend to flow with a pattern that repeats itself over and over. Just remember: "riffle-run-pool" [source: Troutlet]. Here's a basic breakdown of each section and how it translates to trout fishing.


The riffles of rivers tend to be where water is shallow and the current is strong. In large rivers, this area would be the white-capping rapids. In all rivers, you might see banks of gravel or pebbles breaking the surface of the river throughout the riffle. For the most part, this area of the river will only contain small trout, because the water isn't quite deep enough to ensure large fish cover.

The run of a river is deeper and slower than the riffle. If you're looking for the area of the river that house the most adult trout, this is your best bet. It provides good cover and the current is a great moderate speed that allowed the lazy trout access to a sufficient buffet. After all, the trout's ideal habitat is one that provides him with adequate shelter and delivered food.

River pools are the laziest part of the river. Here the water is deep and the current runs slow. Some trout, especially big Brown trout, may be found here, but the slow current doesn't provide enough food for most.

Now that you understand the current and its effect on trout, read on to the next section to learn how to use that knowledge in fly-fishing.



Fly Fishing for Trout

There are a few different ways to fish trout -- some easy, s­ome not so much. But you're up to the challenge. Fly fishing is difficult, but it's also one of the most popular methods for river fishing.

A fly is a type of lure made out of light-weight materials like feathers or special string. You attach a fly to a hook and use a lightweight rod to cast the fly onto the surface of the river. The cast is the difficult part, so read on to get a better understanding.


Here's one method, but before you go out, you may want to do further research on the specific, and sometimes, complex details of fly-fishing.

  • Get a firm stance on the edge or slightly in the river and let out 30 feet (9.14 meters) of line. With your wrist pointing down, keep your thumb on top of the grip.
  • With your wrist still firmly cocked down, bring your forearm up, keeping the rod in a straight line. When the rod is close to perfectly vertical, immediately stop your arm.
  • Snap your wrist back and forth, keeping your arm still, until there are no waves in the line. It should begin to form a narrow loop. Pause slightly until the line is unrolled and then make a forward stroke.
  • With your wrist cocked back, move your arm forward toward your target and stop quickly when the rod forms a 45-degree angle with the ground.
  • Snap your wrist forward, aiming the end of your rod a few feet above your target on the river.
  • Steadily lower your rod until it's horizontal. Your line will unroll, straightening out with the help of the leader and placing your fly on target.

Once you've mastered the hard part, don't forget the little things you already learned. Go to the final page for a helpful wrap-up.



River Trout Fishing Tips

In the end, trout fishing is really about understanding the fish and applying that knowledge. H­ere are five main tips to help you succeed:

  • Be organized: Fly fishing is fast paced compared to still water fishing. Even when the fish aren't biting, you've got the current catching, pulling and dragging your line. Wear a fishing vest and be sure to have plenty of flies on hand. You'll need them.
  • Where are you most likely to find the fish? Find the run of the river, and you're most likely to see a high number of trout.
  • Take in your surroundings: When you first arrive, find a high spot and look at the run. Try to find objects, like boulders, river bends or trees branches that are touching the water. Then watch for any sort of movement around these objects and they provide great shelter for trout.
  • Be calm and wear drab clothing. We know not to spook the unintelligent trout. Wearing drab clothes is just another way to blend into your surroundings and stay out of the trout's sight [source Kugler].
  • Your reel should be oiled before you go out. It's an exciting form of fishing and the equipment must be conditioned.
  • Always make sure you've checked on necessary permits and laws pertaining to river fishing before you make your trip.
  • Remember to check the water temperature for ideal conditions. Trout are most active when the water is between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit (12.7 and 18.3 degrees Celsius). Any warmer or colder than that means the trout will be lazier than it already is!



Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Cochran, Bryant J. Jr. "Reading Water" (parts 1-4) Killroys. Accessed 11/18/2008
  • Freshwater Angler, the. "The Complete Guide to Freshwater Fishing." Accessed 11/18/2008,M1
  • Kugler, Trevor. "Some Great Tips To Help You Catch More Fish While River Fishing." Ezine articles. Accessed 11/18/08
  • Schullery, Paul. "Imperialist Trout." Midcurrent. Accessed 11/18/2008
  • Troutlet. "Basic Fly Casting." Accessed 11/18/2008
  • Troutlet. "Catch and Release Fishing." Access 11/18/2008
  • Troutlet. "How to Read a River when Trout Fishing." Accessed 11/18/2008