by Tom Rosenbauer
SOME WATER that is easily fished during a hatch is tough to blind-fish with consistent success. Stream reading is a vital skill for prospecting, but you should approach a day of fishing with the philosophy that not all places in a stream hold trout, and others that may hold trout cannot be blind-fished easily.
When you cast to rising fish, you know exactly where each fish is, you have a good idea what they're eating, and you stalk one fish at a time. You know the fish are willing to feed, and if your casting is accurate you know they can see your fly. On the other hand, when blind-fishing, you must constantly keep two questions in mind: Can he see my fly, and can he see me? If he sees you before he sees your fly, the fish will be spooked, and even if he doesn't bolt for cover he won't be interested in eating. You must have confidence in your ability to locate unseen fish, and you must be able to make a decent presentation to the narrow range where a suspected fish can see your fly.A giant slow pool, like this one on the Delaware, is difficult to read and to prospect for trout in.
In general slow water is the hardest water to fish blind, for a number of reasons. Slow water is more difficult to read, because in big pools you don't have the benefit of differing currents to narrow the possibilities of where you may find a trout. In a riffle or run much of the water is too fast for a trout holding in place, and some of the water is also too shallow. Trout will be found in narrow, easily recognizable bands where fast water meets slow, deep water meets shallow, or rocks or shelves offer relief from the current. It is difficult to cover slow water without spooking the fish, because fish in slower currents get a much better look at the outside world and the food they're eating. In a riffle you can drop your line right on top of a trout without spooking him, so a thirty-foot drift will effectively cover thirty feet of water. In slow water, though, a thirty-foot drift will cover a maximum of fifteen feet, the length of the longest leader most of us can handle, and the trout lying under the fifteen feet of fly line will probably be spooked. Frankly most of us lack the patience to blind-fish slow water. The fly drifts so slowly that we lose interest and confidence in what we are doing.
You've seen fish rising in your favorite pool on another day when there was a good Sulphur hatch, so you know exactly where they are lying, right? Sorry. Those fish may be lying below the same spot you saw them rising, but in slow water, especially during a heavy hatch or spinner fall, trout often move from their normal lies into places where they can capture floating food with greater ease.Prospecting is much easier in this kind of riffled water.
There are ways of finding trout in slow water, which we'll explore a little later in this chapter, and there are methods of fishing that work in slow water, which I'll talk about in later chapters. Vermont's Battenkill has miles of slow, deep water that I have tried to blind-fish with a nymph or dry during every month of the season, but I find myself spooking an entire pool before I can get a fish to look at my fly. Where a riffle punctuates the slow water, I'll do fine, but between the infrequent fast water I find myself relying on streamers, which can be fished independent of the current and for which trout will move from ten or even twenty feet away. On the other hand, when conditions are right in faster water, I can take trout on dries, wets, nymphs, or streamers.
So prospecting for trout relies heavily on riffles, runs, and pocket water, which is fine because in a heavily fished stream this is the water most fishermen ignore. When there are no hatches, I always start fishing at the head of a pool or run, in pocket water, or in a riffle, and then I graduate to the slower water if I can figure out what is going on. Fish in rough water are less easily disturbed, and they're also less wise to the dangers of artificial bugs. Trout fishing is supposed to be challenging, but I am quite content with the dumbest, least neurotic trout available if there is no hatch to even the odds.