Every stream or river has its bottomless pit. Or so it seems. After fishing in a foot or two of water, you suddenly come to a hole that looks to be six feet in depth. Maybe you can’t even see the bottom. Maybe the hole is actually a long run.
These deep holes or runs used to frustrate me as much as they tantalized me. I knew large trout lurked in the depths. But I had a hard time catching them.
Lately, I’ve been more successful whenever I encounter a deep stretch of river or stream. I still get skunked occasionally, but I practice some tactics that increase my chances to catch deep trout.
Here are five tactics, one of which or a combination of a couple, may work for you:
1. Start your drift sooner.
If you’re fishing nymphs or even streamers, casting your fly an extra five or ten yards upstream may make all the difference. That will give your fly some extra time to sink to the depth of the trout you’re trying to catch.
I had success with this tactic last fall on a deep run in the Gardner River in Yellowstone National Park. I was catching fall browns at the tail end of a deep pool. But the ones in the prime lie in the middle of the run ignored my stone fly.
At the suggestion of a friend, I lengthened my cast. Suddenly, the fish in the middle of the run started hitting my fly because the longer drift gave it more time to sink to their level.
2. Add more weight.
This is obvious, of course, but needs to said.
I’ve sometimes been too stubborn or lazy to find the packet of split shot in my fly vest and add another one to my leader. But if the run is deep enough, it is imperative to add more weight. Starting your drift sooner is still a good idea, but it may not be enough.
If you are fishing a large river, you might even consider switching to a spool with sink-tip line when you come to a run that is considerably deeper than the ones you’ve been fly fishing. Yes, it takes time to make the switch. But it might make a difference.
3. Switch to a streamer.
I learned this tactic on Montana’s Gallatin River. It was early in the fall, and the water levels were low.
My friend Jerry insisted that we go from big hole to big hole with a streamer. We had a great afternoon landing one trout after another. These holes or short runs did not provide the opportunity to get a long drift with a nymph. All we could do was cast a weighted streamer into the center of the pool, let it sink, and then retrieve it.
This can work with nymphs provided you have enough weight. Let them sink to the bottom, and then retrieve them to imitate an emerger.
4. Dangle instead of cast.
There is a time to retrieve your bait-fishing skills, assuming you grew up dunking worms to catch panfish or even trout.
Some deep holes are in tight places.
I remember one in a log jam on a superb little creek last spring in southeast Minnesota. Casting was going to be impossible. So I snuck up on the hole, dangled my Woolly Bugger over it like a bait fisherman, and then dropped in the bugger. On my second strip, a large trout attacked my fly. I ended up losing the fish, but not before I enjoyed the thrill of the battle.
5. Go with a big attractor.
This is a bit counter-intuitive.
I’ve suggested going deep where the big fish lurk. But at certain times of the year, you might be able to coax a big trout from its lair. I’m thinking of a hatch or a sunny August day when hoppers are hopping along the shore.
A couple weeks ago, I fished nymphs in a small spring creek when I saw a large trout dart out of the deep to grab a mayfly struggling on the surface. It reminded me of my success in deep pools with a Spruce Moth, a Red Humpy, or an Elk Hair Caddis pattern. It doesn’t work in every deep run. But it works in some of them.
So don’t let the deep runs or holes intimidate you. Vary your approach and try a different tactic.