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The Surprising Behavior of Trout in High-Use Fishing Venues

Trout’s Ability to Adapt in Popular River Venues

When fly fishing in a well-known river venue for trout, it is easy to assume that the fish would scatter as soon as they sense your presence. However, you might be surprised to learn that many fish actually hang around, waiting for you to leave. Trout in popular venues have become acclimated to the constant presence of people and have learned that if they refrain from feeding momentarily, the perceived threat will eventually disappear.

Wild Trout’s Fear of Humans in Lesser-Known River Venues

On the other hand, when you find yourself fishing in a less-populated river venue, wild trout behave quite differently. These trout seldom encounter human beings and are naturally wary of us. They quickly scatter like mice when you approach the water, making zigzag movements and even running over each other to escape. This behavior is not exhibited by trout in high-use venues due to a variety of reasons, including their familiarity with human presence, but often, it can also be attributed to the limited extent of their habitat.

Tailwaters: A Special Case

Tailwaters, which are stretches of rivers below dams, are an interesting exception to the behavior patterns of trout in high-use venues. These tailwaters, which often have a limited extent, force trout to stay put rather than flee. The fish have learned that if they hang tight and avoid feeding for a while, anglers will eventually move on. This is known as an educated fish’s strategy. In a tailwater, if you minimize disturbance and avoid alarming the trout, they will eventually get used to your presence and resume feeding.

Gold Medal Waters in South Park, Colorado

In our region, South Park, Colorado, there are multiple gold medal waters, two of which are tailwater systems. These tailwaters, situated below dams, provide a consistent cool temperature that does not freeze, making them fishable year-round. Moreover, state biologists often introduce mysis shrimp and scuds, two species of crustaceans, to these tailwaters. This results in an abundant supply of pupae and nymphs, which are a trout’s main diet. The combination of a constant food source and an ideal habitat allows trout in tailwaters to grow to enormous sizes.

The Advantages of Fishing in Tailwaters

Understanding the behavior of trout in tailwaters can provide significant advantages to fly fishers. The fact that trout are likely to hold in place in these high-use areas means that you can out-wait them and take your time. Being conservative in your movements and having faith that the trout are present will eventually pay off, as they will resume feeding once they perceive the coast is clear.

An Unorthodox Approach: High-Sticking

When fishing in a popular venue, it can be beneficial to employ unorthodox tactics. One such approach is high-sticking, which involves holding the rod high and keeping the colored part of the line off the water. By not casting too far and presenting the fly to pockets of water near you, including the water downstream, you can maintain control over the drift and easily skim the top of riffles. This method allows for a more efficient dead drift and a higher chance of enticing a trout to bite.


Next time you find yourself fishing in a famous venue known for its fishing pressure, remember that the trout are likely to be hanging out nearby, waiting for you to leave. Understand their behavior, take your time, and have faith that they are there. By analyzing your surroundings and making a plan, you can increase your chances of success. Remember, patience and adaptability are key when it comes to fly fishing in popular river venues.

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