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The Advantage of Fishing High-Use Venues: Understanding Trout Behavior

Hanging Out: The Secret Lives of Trout in Popular Fishing Spots

When fly fishing a well-known river venue for trout, you might be surprised at how many fish are just hanging out nearby, waiting for you to leave. Trout at popular venues become acclimated to the presence of people and have learned that if they hunker down and don’t feed for a moment, the threat will leave. However, in less known river venues, wild trout seldom see people, and they’re very much afraid of us. Wild trout will scatter like mice when you approach the water, making zigzags and running over each other to get away. This difference in behavior occurs because trout in high-use venues have a lot of reasons to tolerate human presence. It’s not solely due to the fish being used to people; a significant factor may be that the heavily fished venue has a limited extent. Fly Fishing for Trout in Streams and Rivers Tailwaters below dams are one example of these shorter runs. Trout in tailwaters may not have anywhere to flee. Some habitats may only be a mile or two long. The trout have learned that there are humans both upstream and downstream, and they have learned that if they just hang out and don’t feed for a while, you will move on. These educated fish hang tight. Trout will get used to you and start feeding again if you are not splashing around and alarming them. Trout notice things and they remember events, both good and bad experiences. In our region (South Park, Colorado, a 9,000 feet high altitude basin between mountain ranges), we have multiple gold medal waters. Two of these areas are tailwater systems, places where the spillway below a dam drains from the bottom of the reservoir and therefore is usually of a consistent cool but not freezing temperature and is well oxygenated. The Advantage of Tailwaters That Never Freeze The most significant aspect of a tailwater that never freezes is that the aquatic insects are constantly engaged in their life-cycle of reproduction and generating more pupae or nymphs, which are a trout’s main diet. Mysis shrimp and scuds, crustacean species of tiny aquatic animals, are often artificially introduced to tailwaters by state biologists to provide super enriched nutrition for sustaining huge trout. The spillway area provides the cool temperature and elevated oxygen levels. Water flowing and frothing down a spillway picks up free oxygen as it splashes, and the resultant freshwater crustaceans thrive year-round. These two particular crustacean species are commonly added to tailwaters in order to feed the growing population of fat trout that live like couch potatoes at spillways. The abundance of crustaceans and pupae are why trout get so big in a tailwater. Catching Trout in High-Use Areas A population of huge trout is how a tailwater becomes classified as gold medal or blue ribbon, depending on which state is defining the fishery. That is why anglers need to know about and look for tailwaters in their region for fly fishing. If you are ever trapped alive, having to stay in a place you don’t want to visit, get a map and look for reservoirs. Find out which ones flow from the bottom. Chances are there may be a fishable tailwater for you to escape from your situation. When you are in a high-use area like a tailwater, the trout are likely to hold in place. They hang out, waiting for you to leave because their habitat is a limited area and they have no place to go. Your job is to out-wait them, take your time, be conservative in your movements, and have faith that the trout are there. They will resume feeding. Knowing that trout are hanging out near you is a big advantage. Take time to analyze your vicinity and make a plan. Try “high-sticking,” a method of holding the rod high and keeping the colored part of the line off the water. Don’t cast very far. Present the fly to pockets of water near you and include the water downstream. This unorthodox approach to fly fishing allows you to skim the top of riffles or control a dead drift with more ease than if you cast far. So the next time you fish a famous venue known for its fishing pressure, have faith. The trout are there, waiting for you to out-wait them.

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