How To Find Fish In A Stream Or Lake

We get a wide array of people using our rods and gear, and we are hoping to get some newcomers into the sport too!  With that in mind,  there are a lot of things to concentrate on when going out fishing that may seem intimidating at first– the casting, the flies and most important… finding the fish. But none of these pieces are difficult, everyone just needs a little information.  So we are giving a brief outline here to help people find some fish. Because the only way to catch them is to put something in front of them eat!

Much of the conversation on fly fishing, and back country fishing is focused around trout, but much of what we are talking about works for other species too.

Trout or other fish are in most year-round waterways around the world, whether there by nature or human planting. It is however a worthwhile effort to just check the area you want to fish for regulations and the presence of fish before heading out. Google is your friend on this one. And in the below we will talk about finding fish in streams, and in lakes. 

How to find trout in a river

Finding fish in streams is fun, and rewarding as there are many clues to where to find them with the main one being – fish are lazy.  If you reference the below image, you can see where fish usually will be in a stream.  They like to hide behind “structure” as we would call it to reduce the effort the fish spends staying in a good feeding area,  but also close enough to the current to see food pass by in the faster water.  This structure may slow down the water directly behind it,  or create a whole section of stream that has slower moving water to make it easy for the fish to hang out, and be able to snag some snacks as they go by.  Keep in mind that not all structure is exposed out of the stream for you to see, some may be deeper and along the bottom. If this is the case then your goal is to send your fly a little deeper to get down to where fish may be so they can use minimal effort to grab your fly. 

If you look at how a fish’s head is built will help you understand this more as well. The fish’s eyes are on the sides of their head, not in front. So they are meant to be facing straight at rocks, logs ect. but have great periphery vision to be able to see all the food going by them.  

Trout Side Eye

Based on that good vision, approach fish slowly, and cautiously.  A fish that is spooked will not be feeding in it’s natural ways and be almost impossible to catch. To help keep them in that comfortable state, wear earth tone colors, and approach or cast from downstream to upstream if you can.  This will give you the best chance to get close for a nice cast. 

Now taking some of this knowledge and moving to a lake or other still water, you can still find fish.  Lakes usually have a little flow to them as well, and will always have some type of structure. Here the fish like the structure more to provide the combination of protection and breeding grounds for food.  The other thing to note is that most fish are within 30ft of shore. This is because the shore may provide things like insects to eat, or smaller fish hiding in the grass and structure that is inherently closer to shore.  So, like in a stream,  approach slowly and cast near shore first, casting farther later. 

So now you have found the fish, how do you catch them you say?!

You just need to send some food, or something that looks close to food, their way. Most food (insects) goes by trout in a stream drifting at the pace of the stream whether it is floating or beneath the surface, so just try to drift your fly in that manner down the stream in what we would call a “clean drift” and you should catch a fish.  If you want to mimic their other food – smaller fish and leeches for example,  make your fly move through the water like one of these. 

We will continue the intro series on fly fishing soon, but this should get you out there having fun!   


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