5 Tactics for Deep Trout

deep trout

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.

Working on Your Fly Fishing Swing

If you want to get more hits, you need to work on your swing. This truism is just as true in fly fishing as it is in baseball. It is particularly critical for fishing streamers, although it can also work for nymphs.

The “swing” is that moment when the current begins to drag (swing) your fly back across the stream so that it suspends in the current directly downstream from you. At this point, you will begin to strip in your streamer (or pick up your nymph).

I have had a lot of trout hit my streamer or nymph as it swings across the current, so it pays to perfect the art of your swing. What initiates the swing is drag. Ordinarily, drag is the kiss of death. This is always true for dry fly fishing, and it’s true for nymph fishing – until you reach the end of the run.

Here are couple different approaches.

The Drift and Swing

Four years ago, I landed ten rainbows and a Dolly Varden — all fifteen to twenty inches—in Clear Creek, upstream a hundred yards or so from where it empties into Alaska’s Talkeetna River. I caught all but one on the swing.

My approach was to drift my streamer, a Dalai Lama pattern, down the run like a nymph. Then, when it reached the area where I knew the trout were waiting, I let the line go taut. This tightening of the line resulted in the current dragging the fly so it swung downriver from me. I quickly realized I needed to be ready for a strike as soon as the fly started to swing.

After I caught several trout, I decided to tie on a big attractor dry fly pattern. I had no action on the first two casts. But on the third, my fly got water-logged and disappeared beneath the surface. When the fly reached the end of the drift, I prepared to haul it in to dry it. But as soon as the submerged fly started to swing, an eighteen-inch rainbow attacked it.

I used this same technique whenever I fished nymphs in Montana’s Gallatin River south of Four Corners. I found a couple long runs, and invariably, I caught the most trout when my nymph reached the end of my drift and started to swing across the current. That’s not the norm for nymph fishing. But in certain situations, it works.

So be ready when your nymph reaches the end of the drift.

The Cast and Swing

The most common technique is to bypass the drift and simply cast downstream at a forty-five degree (or so) angle. Veteran angler Gary Borger likes this tactic in smaller streams where he can cast his fly as tight as possible to the other bank. It might take a strip or two to pull it into the current. But be ready when the swing begins! Trout on the opposite bank will chase it to keep it from escaping. If it makes it across the current and into the slower water along your bank, be ready for trout to dart out and grab it — even before you begin stripping it.

In a larger river, like the Missouri, I will even cast streamers straight ahead or slightly upriver. As soon as the fly hits the water, I will wait a couple seconds to allow it to sink. Then, I start stripping it. This results in a long, sustained swing.

Gary Borger also reminds fly fishers to give their streamers plenty of time to swing across the current. He even suggests letting the fly hang in the current for a few seconds before beginning the strip or picking it up to cast again.

Work on perfecting your swing so you can get more hits. Yes, it’s just as true in fly fishing as it is in baseball.