In my previous blog entry I discussed comfort factors you can use to help determine where trout might be holding in your favorite lake or perhaps one you are visiting for the first time. In addition to comfort, other factors affecting fish location and activity include protection and food.
Surface texture, light, weed beds, algae and areas of transition are key protection factors that influence where I hunt trout. Let’s take a brief look at each factor and its effect on trout.
A wind induced, rippled surface, breaks up and diffuses light in the same manner as a riffle on a river or stream. Trout are most likely to prowl the shallows using this form of protection. Always take advantage of rippled areas of the lake. Flat calm conditions put trout on edge. Trout cruising under bright skies and calm conditions are spooky and challenging to fool.
Trout, perhaps remembering their moving water roots, instinctively cruise upwind. Use this knowledge to your advantage. If a trout breaks the surface target the area upstream of the disturbance. I prefer to present my flies downwind or quartering across the wind so they fall within the trout’s field of view.
Light levels also play a similar role to the texture of the water’s surface. As both predator and prey, trout prefer to forage under low light where they are less visible to loons, ospreys and other dangers. Early and late in the day trout cruise the shallows, secure under low light.
I target the shallows early and late in the day moving out to deeper water as the sun rises and its angle changes. Use light levels to predict which structure might offer shade security. As the sun rises in the east a drop off running north south is shaded on the deep water side in the morning. Late in the date the same drop will be bathed in light causing trout to avoid it. Cloud cover also reduces light levels. A bright sun coupled with flat calm conditions is perhaps the toughest condition stillwater fly fishers face due to the trout’s heightened sense of awareness.
From my perspective, weed beds are a stillwater prime lie. Weed beds are one of my favorite stillwater haunts. Trout find all three comfort factors in and around weed beds, comfort, protection and access to food. From a protection perspective trout cruise through long stem weeds in the same manner you and I would navigate through a forest. The wide leaves common to many long stemmed aquatic plants mask the trout’s presence from above. Trout also use the weed carpet as a form of camouflage. A trout’s dark back blends in making them tough to spot. Swimming over the darker weed patches trout use open pockets to silhouette and ambush prey. Present your flies over weed opening or in weed pockets to take advantage of this tendency.
Algae is a common feature on many productive lakes. Many anglers shy away from algae covered lakes. Providing the algae is not a source of oxygen consumption, which it can be during warm summer months, I view algae as an excellent source of protection. Algae, fueled by the sun’s energy, typically extends 5-10 feet down. Absorbing the sun’s energy, algae provides a cool, perfectly lit environment for foraging trout.
Suspending chironomid pupa or leech patterns under an indicator just beneath the algae cap has produced some of my most memorable stillwater experiences.
Trout, like many animals, frequent areas of transition. Edges of weed beds, the seam joining mud to sandy bottoms, marl fringes, the transition from shallow to deep water and light to dark water seams are trout magnets. Trout seldom stray from their primary sanctuary, deep water. Remember, when you last hooked a stillwater trout? Where did it try to flee? Nine times out ten it was deep water. Make a point of targeting areas of transition adjacent to deep water.
If you can, obtain an underwater contour (bathymetric) map. Lines that are close together identify areas quick depth changes such as drop offs and around the perimeters of sunken islands. Identify these areas on your map. Target them during your next trip. Bathymetric maps also help identify areas that channel trout movement such as the gap between opposing points of land. Game trails such as these are consistent producers.
Sounders are a valuable tool as they identify subtle changes that do not appear on bathymetric maps. A shallow channel on a shoal or discovering a small room sized hump draws and concentrates trout, often in significant numbers. A small handheld GPS is invaluable for marking these locations so you can find them again. Triangulation using shoreline objects is another time tested method of marking structure.
The next time you venture on the water keep these protection factors in mind. Understanding their value eliminates non-productive water, placing you in locations that you are most likely to experience a close encounter of the trout kind.