Fishing on rivers and streams is like playing hide-and-seek with a little kid. Play the game a few times, and you’ll quickly discover there are only a handful of places to check. And just like giggling or a lump in a blanket are dead giveaways, most of the best fishing spots are obvious after a quick scan of your surroundings.
First, wade or hike away from heavily visited areas of the river to improve your number of bites and fish size. Then remember that the 80/20 rule usually applies to fish location in rivers. That is, 80 percent of the fish are located in about 20 percent of the river. Sure, you might catch a fish here or there by just randomly casting. But I typically find fish grouped in areas where the speed of the current or the depth of the water changes.
CHANGES IN CURRENT FLOW
If a fish sat in swift water all day, it would have to swim hard just to hold still. No matter how much it ate, it would burn way more calories than it consumed. Instead, fish prefer to sit in spots with relatively little current that are very close to higher current areas.
While burning little energy in the slack water, fish wait as the current washes food down toward them. When smaller prey struggles to move forward in the rushing water, a hungry fish can dart out to grab its lunch and then immediately return to its hangout, waiting for the next meal to come by.
Most current changes are easy to detect. On a calm day, watch the bubbles on the surface of the water. Notice how they travel down slowly in some areas or quickly in others. Of special note are areas where the bubbles turn around and flow upstream, in what’s referred to as an “eddy.” Eddies can be very large, formed by a shallow gravel bar or a tree that’s fallen halfway across a stream. Smaller eddies are formed when a large object, such as a boulder, blocks the current. While water gushes around the rock, there is a small calm area directly below it, making this a classic fish-holding spot.
Ripples on the surface of the water are another indication of changes in current flow. Big rocks or logs just under the surface will cause a bulge, giving away the location of current breaks. In rapids, the fastest current is often very choppy, while slower water is much smoother.
Finally, where two currents come together, like below an island or where a creek empties into a river, there will be a visible seam where the stronger current meets the slower. Any spot where calm water borders swift is worthy of a cast.
CHANGES IN WATER DEPTH
Like current changes, depth changes also attract fish. The beginning and ending of rapids are classic examples of good fishing spots, where the river goes from deep to shallow through the rapids, then returns to deep in the next pool. Deeper sections of the river are warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, have slower current for resting fish, and offer protection from the true “professional fishermen” (eagles, herons and ospreys).
Depth changes also work as current breaks. Like a hiker would hide from winds on an exposed ridge by going lower down the side of the hill, fish tuck just below underwater drop-offs, where they are protected from the stronger current flowing just above.
Deeper sections are easy to see in clear rivers. In muddy waters without a view of the bottom, look for sections with steep bluff banks. Deep holes typically form in river bends as well, with slow-moving shallow water on the inside of the bend and faster-moving, deeper water on the outside of the bend. With a mix of shallow and deep water plus fast and slow currents that normally form an eddy — you guessed it — river bends are one of the best fishing spots.