5 Unlikely Places to Catch Trout

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.

Wisconsin Urban Salmon

You fly fished for salmon where?” That’s a question an acquaintance asked me when I described my introduction to fly fishing for salmon in Wisconsin. A few months after moving from Montana to Illinois, my friend, Leon, took me to the Milwaukee River. It was a cool, damp day in October, and the King Salmon were moving into the river from Lake Michigan.

I brought a nine-foot, eight-weight Orvis rod, and I managed to land a couple of salmon which attacked my purple and pink woolly bugger. I also foul-hooked a couple of others. That was inevitable given the number of salmon moving up the river.

What struck me about the stretch of river we fished was its proximity to civilization.

We were fly fishing the Milwaukee River in Estabrook Park, a half mile east of a McDonald’s on East Capitol Drive in Milwaukee, just four miles north of downtown Milwaukee. It seemed odd to fly fish just minutes from the Bradley Center, home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. On a more macabre note, we were only five miles from the apartment complex where serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer murdered most of his victims. Then again, I’ve fly fished in Montana within sight of the spot where another serial killer murdered one of his victims. But that’s a story for another time.

Surprisingly, when I walked down the path from one of the parking lots in Estabrook Park to the Milwaukee River, it was if I had been transported to another world. Hardwood and softwood trees lined the river, their orange and yellow leaves fluttering in the breeze. When the morning fog lifted, the sun seemed to set them on fire. Other than an occasional siren, all I could hear was the sound of the river and the chirping of birds. Once I heard a dog bark. A few times, I heard Leon whoop when he hooked into a feisty salmon a few yards to my right. To be sure, the river did not run as clear as the Yellowstone in Montana. But I could easily see the pods of salmon darting their way up the river.

I’ve caught fish miles away from anywhere. But on this day, I caught fish blocks away from anything you might want — restaurants, a major university, a hospital, and even a professional sports venue and concert arena. No, it wasn’t the Yellowstone. But it didn’t need to be. Those urban salmon didn’t realize they were “city slickers.” They didn’t fight any more or less than the “rural” salmon I’ve hooked on the Wilson River in Alaska. Nor did they have more metropolitan tastes than the big browns on the Madison when it came to the flies I was using to catch them.

It was a good day on the river, and I had plenty of time to reflect on it as the rush-hour traffic slowed to a crawl when we drove out of downtown Milwaukee.