A few years ago I caught a 12-pound salmon while fly fishing a few minutes from an NBA arena. The tree-lined river gave no hint of its urban surroundings. You might be surprised at some of the unlikely places where you can catch trout on your fly rod. Here are five places you might not want to overlook.
1. In town
The salmon I landed on a Woolly Bugger a few years ago was within the city limits of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I was fly fishing the Milwaukee River in Estabrook Park—about nine minutes north of the Bradley Center where the Milwaukee Bucks play basketball.
Recently, I was eating in a little restaurant in downtown Estes Park, Colorado. One of my sons and I were seated on a patio a few yards from the Fall River. As we ate, we watched a rainbow rise to the surface to to take a fly. Later, I chatted with a fly shop owner who confirmed that there is decent fishing in town. The reason is not surprising. Nobody fishes it. Don’t ignore the city limits if a river runs through it.
2. In shallow water
This will come as no surprise to veteran fly fishers. Trout will make their way into shallow waters to sip flies. But I shake my head when I think of how many times I’ve overlooked the shallows.
Once I was sneaking up to a small run in the West Gallatin River not far from my home near Manhattan, Montana. The run was about six feet from the bank. As I approached, I suddenly saw a nice trout cruising the shallows. The sight startled me, and I froze. About thirty seconds later, I tossed my streamer just beyond it. On the second strip, I hooked it. The fish turned out to be an 18-inch brown.
On another occasion, I was concentrating on a long run in the Owyhee River and turned to the side to wade a few yards up river. As I turned, I happened to see a couple feeding trout in extremely shallow water near the bank. I never expected to see trout feeding at that spot. My son ended up catching one of them — a 15-inch rainbow — on a size #18 Pale Morning Dun.
So pay attention to what is going on in shallow water before you neglect it or wade through it.
3. Near a fishing access
It seems like a waste of time to fish within a hundred yards or so of a fishing access because everybody else does. But the truth is, they don’t. They assume everyone else has fished these spots. So no one does.
Plus, the fly fishers in the drift boats are putting away their gear or getting it ready. This means the fifty yards up or down the river might be a prime place to cast your fly.
4. Where someone else has just fished
I like to fish untouched water. If someone else has fished a run a few minutes before, I’m tempted to skip it. But I know a few runs which are so good that they are worth fishing shortly after the previous fly fisher leaves them.
Even if you’re not as skilled as the fly fisher who preceded you, the different look you provide might turn out to be the right magic. Perhaps the fly pattern you use or the different depth at which you fish will coax a trout to take your offering.
Keep in mind that your chances increase with the size of the river. If someone else has fished a run on a small stream, the trout will generally need more time to get back into their feeding patterns. The disturbance factor is simply greater than in a run on a large river.
5. In the grass
Yes, this works – but only if we’re talking about a side channel that runs through the grass. Admittedly, this venue can be frustrating. These channels are narrow, and the blades of grass that flank them love to grab your fly if you don’t get it exactly in the center of the channel.
I’ve caught some big brookies, though, in these grass channels in meadows where rivers flow. Beaver dams often create this phenomenon, but so does high water.
Keep your options open
I’m not ready to abandon the wild places. A trip to downtown Milwaukee is not at the top of my list of trips for this next year. Nor am I planning a trip to fish all the great fishing accesses on Montana’s Yellowstone River.
Quite frankly, my favorite places to fly fish are the most likely ones. But there is a thrill of catching a trout in an irrigation ditch or in a run right along the highway. I’ve learned to keep my options open.