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September 23, 2014
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Reading the Upper Delaware River; Fish where the Fish are

Upstream and on the right is the tail of a pool where it begins its descent into the next run, seen at bottom left.
Photo by David B. Soete

By Capt. Joe Demalderis

The beginning fly fisherman can sometimes become overwhelmed with all the information available on the sport from casting, to entomology, to how to read a stream. All of these elements can be broken down into simple and easy-to-learn parts that will make your days on the water enjoyable and productive.

A successful angler will, over time, learn many things and each skill is an important part of the process of fly fishing. Effective casting is as important as knowing what fly to use in order to be consistently successful. The same is true of fly presentation and the techniques used to fish different types and styles of flies. Now the question becomes, where are the fish?

It’s often been said that 10% of the fishermen catch 90% of the fish. I know that fishermen who fish in the right place will do much better than those that don’t. So let’s take a look at how to identify those secret locations.

First, start thinking like a fish. You’ll quickly recognize two of the most important needs for survival are food and shelter. When both of these occur together, you’re better than on the right track, you’re there.

In addition to geographic names fisherman share to identify location, such as “Trout Pool,” each location has a variety of types of water such as riffles, runs, pools and pocket water.

Let’s start with riffles. These areas are parts of streams that have more of a downhill gradient that causes the water to have more velocity. A broken surface and somewhat of a gurgley appearance characterize a riffle. A small rapid might give you the picture. Riffles are higher in oxygen content and tend to be fertile with aquatic insect life. The broken surface makes seeing through the water difficult. It also makes it harder for trout and other fish to see out and, to a fish, that equals cover.

The techniques you’ll use in riffles vary with the behavior of the fish. When there are insects hatching and trout noticeably feeding from the surface, a dry fly technique can be the most exciting method. At other times, nymphs, wet flies and streamers will also be effective.

Riffles run into pools. Pools are deeper, sometimes wider parts of the stream that act to slow the current and provide depth for fish to seek cover. Feeding fish are usually near the top, or head, of the pool where current speed still provides the cover of a broken surface, or at the shallow end, or tail of the pool, where feeding on surface flies is easier but the refuge of deeper water is just a tail flip away. Approach these areas carefully. Fish can easily see your approach and will hide in the deep water before you ever see them.