How to Find Trout in a River – An Advanced Tutorial

If you were a talking trout and we interviewed you for this post, we’d obviously start by thanking you for an amazing opportunity. After politely beating around the bushes, we’d casually ask where we could count on finding you in the river. With a patient sigh, you’d point out that trout need three things in the water: oxygen, food and shelter. You’d smile, wish us luck fly fishing Alaskan rivers, and leave us wishing that we’d framed our question better.

Our Takeaway From the Interview

rainbow trout

We’re pretty sure that the message is as simple as it always has been. You find trout where they need to be, not where you wish they were. They don’t hold up signs, so you have to read the water. This is an opportunistic species. You find them where they find an easy meal, where they find shelter and where they can get away from you in a flash. Luckily, reading water is easy, once you know what to look for.

Break Up the River

Fly fisherman fishing in river to catch brown trout

Not one of Alaska’s 12,000 rivers are alike. That makes an angler’s life in the Last Frontier just about perfect. Most of them feature similar structures, and that makes it a little easier to read the water and catch fish. Let’s break down a typical Alaskan river into five trout zones.

1. Riffles Offer Everything

Riffles run with plenty of surface disturbance that keeps the water well oxygenated. A riffle is a short, shallow length of stream in which the stream flows at slower velocity but a higher turbulence. As a result of the lowered velocity and heightened turbulence, small ripples are frequently found. They give trout resting spots and staging areas for darting out into the current nabbing prey. We suspect that the fish in riffles aren’t as picky as they are in slower water, and that can work to an angler’s advantage.

2. Pools Stay More Productive at Heads

We fish calm, deep pools on really sunny days when the trout seem extra spooky, but you’ll have better luck casting into run zones just below the riffle. Trout like to suspend in these heads on the edge of the current and fill up on insects washing by.

3. Tailouts Function Like Funnels


You know the calm water that forms a V (most of the time) at the end of a hole right before it becomes rapids? That’s the tail out! Or, from the fishes perspective, it’s where the water starts to slow down allowing the fish to rest. A tailout just above the next riffle gives fish a perfect spot to lie and wait for a sip at hatching insects floating by. Unless the water is really shallow, keep your eye on the tailout for the kind of rises that turn a good day on the river into a perfect day on the river.

4. Obstructions Open Up Opportunities

Fishing around boulders, logs and deadfall takes practice, and you’ll loose some flies, but trout love the cover. Obstructions offer up great opportunities, so approach them from upstream, cast down and across to your target, and always use a strong tippet.

5. You Can’t Go Wrong With Seams

 fishing net pole

Seams indicate varying speeds of current in the form of undulating lines at the surface of any body of water. Big or small, seams hold trout. Obviously, larger and deeper are better, but you can’t go wrong when you cast to that sweet spot where two currents converge. The best seams to fish are found in tributaries, slots, eddies, and drop-offs. One thing to note, these feeding lanes don’t always have as much cover as we’d like, so the fish can be spooky. We’re partial to the action in small seams around pocket water.

Almost Everything Else

If trout were willing to talk to us, it’s not hard to imagine them listing off their favorite spots for taking breaks in slow currents. We base this suspicion on our experience casting to gravel bars, bends and shelves. High banks with plenty of overhang give the fish safe hangouts loaded with bugs dropping in. While deep holes, drop-offs and changes in bottom contour aren’t easy to spot, they’re all excellent areas for finding trout in the river. They’re also among the many reasons we like to fish wearing polarized shades.

When the time comes that we can actually interview ‘bows and cutthroat, you’ll be the first to know. Heck, we’ll post a video and probably break the internet. Until then, we’ll keep sharing the basics, exploring the latest, and saving you a place at the best fly fishing lodge in Alaska. We’re always easy to find up here at No See Um.

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