If you are just learning how to fish for trout in a river and better understand the different sections, there is no need to worry. It’s not as difficult as some would have you think, and I’m going to teach you about each of the following:
- River Currents
- Riffle Sections
- River Run Zone
- Eddy Pockets
In order to learn more about how to fish for trout in a river, keep reading!
Fishing Method: Fly Fishing or Spin Fishing?
You most likely know which setup you are going with whether it’s fly fishing or spin fishing, or maybe both.
With fly fishing, the weight of your line carries the fly through the air. In spin fishing, the weight of the lure creates the distance of line released from the spool.
Knowing this, it is important to understand how to approach and cast to different sections of the river for each method.
We are going to focus on how to fish for trout in a river in regards to location and sweet spots where you can apply each casting technique.
Understanding a Trout’s Tendencies
A trout can be finicky so the first objective when examining a river is to keep in mind that if you can see it, it can see you.
A trout has both monocular and binocular vision as a mechanism to have advance warning of predators arriving from behind or above.
So try not to get too close to the bank near popular areas that we will discuss below.
If you are detected, there’s a good chance the trout will resist coming out of hiding for quite some time.
As you will find out, trout find slow moving water such as pools or areas under cover as splendid resting areas.
This doesn’t mean you can’t catch them in faster moving water though. Trout use currents to their advantage since they don’t have to spend excessive amounts of energy to find food – the water current brings it to or near them. This is an important tip when learning how to fish for trout in a river.
Understanding a Trout’s Needs
To increase your chances of landing a trout you need to have an idea of not only where they can be found but also what they want.
If you are fly fishing or spin fishing, in both cases you are presenting food to them to eat. Try to keep this as natural looking as possible which means minimal splash from your line and if spin fishing, focus on your reel speed – mimicking something attainable for the trout.
Trout know that the water current will bring them food and if successful they will remain in the vicinity while feeding. This is the area you want to find and there are a few different types of these areas or sections we will touch on next.
Aside from food, trout also like to rest. This doesn’t mean at all that they won’t cross into faster moving water.
The idea here for example is that a rock will break the strength of the current right behind it. A trout can sit behind the rock and move in and out of the faster moving water to grab it’s food.
Another example is a downed tree which breaks the current – this is another excellent resting spot.
Pools are a popular resting area with slower and deeper water. On top of this factor in cover such as trees to protect the trout from overhead predators.
Lastly, trout need oxygen. Oxygen is an element the trout cannot live without. One of the areas that contains lots of oxygen for the trout is the riffle area for example .
Why? Because riffles contain splashing water which introduces oxygen into the river.
If a trout needs oxygen and you now know where it is plentiful, then you should include those areas throughout the course of the day.
The main idea to targeting trout in a river is to understand how the current creates different channels throughout the length of the river. This is the overall of high level idea when learning how to fish for trout in a river.
These currents and flow of the water are repetitive. The sections flow in a pattern and starts with a riffle, then a run and finally a pool, and repeats.
Each river will display different characteristics, so that is the importance of having a glance of the current and any patterns you see.
Getting used to the river will become an advantage so you can move along to the different sections and become more malleable to it’s properties for both fly and spin fishing.
The anatomy of the river contains different sections as we discussed. The following is a breakdown of those sections:
The riffle section of the river (white arrows above) has a fast current and due to it’s shallow depth you will notice this area as there will be rocks protruding out of the disturbed water as it flows downstream.
This area will provide oxygenated water with spots behind rocks perfect for trout to sit and dart in and out of the current for feeding.
This can occur on both sides of the rock in which is called a seam. Since this area has plenty of oxygen, a rest area and food, this is the perfect spot to target for trout. Due to the depth, most of the trout you will find here are smaller in size.
River Run Zone
Runs are located between a riffle and a pool with a greater depth than riffles, as well as a slower current.
This area of the river provides a great opportunity to land a trout as you can find them here most of the time throughout the day. As opposed to the riffle section, you can find larger trout here mixed in with smaller trout.
The characteristics of this section that are appealing to trout include excellent cover whether it be trees or the depth for the trout to move down to.
As we mentioned, trout like the water to do the work for them so where there is still a current flowing through there will be food passing by for a quick meal without exerting too much energy.
Pools are the deepest section of the river and you can identify them by slow moving current with a darker color.
Pools are great resting spots for trout, but have limited food supply since the current is much slower.
During spawning season pools are a sought after section for trout as they need limited current and ample rest. Another tip on pools is that they may spend a greater portion of their day here if it is hot and sunny, targeting the lower depths.
This is also the case if they need protection from predators, resting closer to the lower depths for protection.
It is important to note that pool population in regards to trout may increase in the later months of summer when the water is lower and the riffles and runs are much more shallow than in the spring. Changes also occur depending on the size of the river – a small river might contain more trout in the pools if there are less properties containing their needs in the riffle and run sections.
There are areas of the river where you can see water swirling upstream, there are called Eddies (3 blue arrows swirling inwards above).
An eddy is created usually by an obstruction in the water that can take the form of a boulder connected to the bank, a downed tree or a sand bar sticking out above the water.
The water current is forced around these obstacles, and once past these, the water swirls back towards upstream. Aside from the obstacles as a way to identify eddies, you can also see bubbles on the water’s surface.
A large eddy can be seen after a significantly large downed tree or a protruding sandbar running well into the middle of the river.
The water in this eddy pocket is moderate, providing a resting spot for the trout where they can move in and out to the start of the swirl as insects are brought into the area.
I prefer to fish eddies while fly fishing as the drift allows the fly to naturally be brought through the swirl into the eddy pocket.
Tail-outs occur after the pool section until a new riffle begins.
The water with insects floating on top funnel down stream and into the new riffle. This isn’t an area to ignore.
Sometimes in these tail-outs one side can be deeper than the other as the tail-out continues from the deep pool area. This is where you can find some large trout aside from the pool itself.
Fishing Tips for Spin Reels
You can use a few different methods for spin reel fishing depending on the size of the river and time of year. Applying these tips to your new knowledge of how to fish for trout in a river will add to the amount of enjoyment you get during a day of fishing.
Using spinners early in the spring will be great in deeper runs, eddies and pools. These will provide you with the depth needed for spinner lures. Riffles may bring more of a challenge as you will find the treble hooks will snag the bottom more often.
If the water is too shallow you will be aggravated by catching on the bottom or having to reel too fast to avoid snagging as well.
When using spinners near a pool, cast across the pool to begin and then at a 45 degree angle and you can spread this out with the fan approach, shortening up your casts and then increasing the angle.
Stronger currents you can cast slightly upstream and let the current push your lure as you retrieve.
If you have a strong current, you can cast towards a strike zone by an eddie and allow your spinner to be pushed towards the swirl where trout strike.
Further on in the summer when the water is warm, trout will find rest in a pool at a lower depth where the water temperature is more favorable. This is a good scenario to use spinners as they have more weight to reach the resting trout.
A tip for color choice is to try to match the color of the spinner to that of the water and overhead conditions.
On bright days, gold and silver can bring bites and on cloudy days or near dusk blue, black and red will do the trick with a gold blade attached.
A light weight spinner would be 1/32oz or 1/16oz size, heavier would be 1/8oz or 1/4oz size.
Additional Spin Cast Tips
There are other lures that are popular among anglers, but you can also go with an old fashion worm.
One of my favorite setups is a double blade spinner attached to a hook and worm:
I prefer this method as it is lightweight, trout love worms and you can let the current direct the worm in situations such as eddies and pockets.
Additional Fly Fishing Tips
For flies, having nymphs, streamers and dry flies in your fly box are essential when trout fishing.
You will hear the phrase “match the hatch” many times while reading about fly fishing and trying to decide what fly to use.
Chances are if you can see which bug or insect populates the water the most and replicate that with your fly you are fishing the river with the right food trout love.
In the late August and September months, this is the perfect time to fly fish faster water about 3-4 feet deep with dry flies, nymphs or streamers. Target riffle sections for trout holding up behind rocks and you should increase your bites.
The Bottom Line
Each section of the river can provide an opportunity depending on depth, structure, water speed and time of day. Riffle sections are attractive as this is a heavily populated area for oxygen. River run’s you should beware of depth and avoid spooking the trout, while pools are deeper and an except spot for the trout to sit idle and wait for passing insects. Sand bars, rocks and downed trees can create eddies that trout find attractive for food swirling in and slower water speed.
All of these areas should be fished differently but understanding each section will give you a breakdown to your approach when you get out there and better enhance your ability to fish for trout in a river.
Another aspect to think about is weather conditions – go have a look at how to fish for trout in the rain.