As an angler, new or seasoned, most will agree figuring out how to find fly fishing spots is a big challenge. Fly fishing can get frustrating, especially if you are just beginning. There is already enough to think about with getting new gear and perfecting the proper technique.
As a result, we tend to gravitate to the most predictable ponds and streams that we know.
Keeping things fresh and finding new challenging water can be a chore. But it doesn’t have to be! You may have to put in a little extra effort but you’ll be glad you did.
There are two important components to understand, learning the tendencies of fish and then figuring out the best way to source new fishing holes.
Table of Contents
- Understanding the Fish
- Finding Different Places to Fish
- So What are the Takeaways?
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Understanding the Fish
Fish have preferences that are consistent in any river. You can develop a consistent approach in how to find fly fishing spots that will work almost anywhere you go.
If you understand some basic tendencies your day will be fruitful, even if you are new to the body of water you are fishing in.
Focusing on river fishing is helpful because the nuances in rivers are much greater. Once you understand fish behavior patterns in rivers, you can apply them easily to other bodies of water.
How do I know where to find fish?
The key is relatively simple: think like a fish. Seriously. Let’s break that down into three easily remembered traits.
Fish are Lazy
Late Spring to late Fall produce some of the most spectacular fishing days. There is nothing like a hatch coming off on a Summer afternoon while the water boils over with rising trout.
When the days start getting longer and warm, it is important to remember that fish will try to conserve energy. When you find a long run on a hot summer day, know that every moment the fish exerts energy running is counter-efficient. We all like a moment in the shade. Fish do too.
Understand how the water works.
As an example, when you look at a run from downstream, you see an upside-down “V”. The water breaks along the V with the fast-moving water inside of the lines. Those lines form what is called a “seam”. Fish like to hang out just outside of the seam.
As the faster-moving water churns up their dinner, they can easily make a little move along the seam to eat and then just hang out in the slower water, where spending energy is not so important. Inside of the seam serves as a conveyor belt to deliver their food right to them. No need to go on long, hard swims.
Fish are like any species, where laziness is prevalent but survival is paramount.
Fish Like to be Safe
Fish know to stay safe. Eagles and other birds of prey threaten fish. They protect themselves by seeking cover under or near bank overhangs, boulders, limbs, canyon walls, and other natural formations.
It makes it a lot harder to get eaten. Let’s look at a few.
Rocks are prevalent in any river. The big boulders in the middle of the river provide awesome coverage for fish and great opportunities fly fisherman. Rocks provide some of the best spots to fly fish.
Generally, fish will congregate in two main areas around rocks. It is common for the fish to hold up right before the rocks, especially if those rocks are the starting point for a run.
The water above those rocks tends to move slow and easy. The section right behind the rocks also provides excellent coverage and slower-moving water.
Throw your line above the rock and let it drift by on one side. I usually give it a few throws on one side and then hit the other.
Fallen trees hanging over the water provide great coverage and shade. Throw your fly up above the hanging tree or branch and let it drift down underneath if possible. You should quickly see action.
Willows or similar brush hanging over the bank provide the same type of cover as branches, and it is very common to see fish scatter out towards the center of the river when you are walking up and down the trails on the riverside. Fish congregate along heavy areas like these.
Canyon walls are often productive areas. Walls provide shelter against predators and the water tends to run a little deeper along these stretches. That translates into cooler water temperatures. These are great areas to seek out on warm days.
Beyond laziness, fish are also creatures of habit.
Fish Enjoy Comfort
Fish trend towards cool water. They like a cold bath rather than a hot sauna. When fishing during warmer months, fish will tend to move to deeper holes where the water temperature is cooler.
I often prefer fishing in canyons when temps get up because you can find deep holes and runs in more numerous quantities.
Time of day is very important. If you are experiencing hot temperatures, it is best to get on the water very early, when the water is cooler. As things heat up, the fishing is usually great. But, as the water nears 67 degrees, it is time to think about ending your day.
Comfort also comes in the form of the fish stacking up. If I ever get on a section of water where I catch one fish, I always stay in that area until I fish it out because it is very common for multiple fish to be present. Are fish social? Maybe, they do tend to congregate.
Understanding fish tendencies is half the battle. It is just as important to find the right places to fish.
Finding Different Places to Fish
In modern times there are so many ways to start researching how to find fly fishing spots. I have a few simple starting points.
Social media is a powerful tool for a lot of things. Never before has information traveled so quickly. If you want fast, up-to-date info on fly fishing spots, social media should be a high priority.
Facebook works for browsing if you have a lot of Facebook friends in the fishing world. If not, you’re better off sticking to something like Instagram or TikTok.
With Instagram and TikTok, you don’t have to be “friends,” just simply search and follow fishy folks! People like to show not only gear, methods, and skills, but where they’re traveling and fishing too.
Look for the place where the person lives, travels to fish, and tags in their posts.
Often, folks don’t like to tag where they’re fishing but there are still clues in their Instagram stories or posts or TikTok videos as to where they might be fishing. Landmarks, nearby towns where they’re dining/staying, etc.
Connecting with Groups
Facebook groups are easy ways to get in contact with like-minded individuals. Simply browse or search for Facebook groups based around fly fishing.
There are usually multiple regional groups to choose from. So simply find one that seems relevant and ask to join. You can join local groups and groups involving a new place you’d like to explore. Every local group is constantly trying to find a good fly fishing spot.
Visit a Local Fly Shop
Fly shops might be the most obvious and direct way to get information on a prospective fly fishing spot. They’re a wealth of information regarding their area waters and should have quite a lot of experience and understanding.
There are two ways to go about this…
Just listen. Especially in the morning when guides and customers are leaving for the river or in the late afternoon/early evening when they return. Folks like to talk and brag… it’s okay to be a sponge.
Second, talk to the shop clerk. Be courteous and friendly and ask specific questions. They love to talk fishing and love to sell flies!
Most fly shops will also post fishing reports on their website and on a board hanging in the shop. Online reports are generally okay and somewhat up to date. Just check the date of the posting to make sure it’s still relevant.
Reports will most often list things like flows, temps, and what flies to use. Some will tell what sections/areas are good too. But they won’t give you a full picture, especially on new fly fishing spots.
As courtesy, you don’t have to break the bank on a new float tube. But, make sure you buy something from the shop as an exchange for information!
Most fly shops offer a guide service. If they don’t they can call or recommend someone.
Some guides don’t work for a physical fly shop but have a website or business listing you can call or email. Google or Guidelsy can also direct you to these operations.
Guides are often the most efficient, most knowledgeable, most real-time sources for fly fishing in new areas. They usually provide a lot of value including:
- They have their own equipment and set it up for you.
- Take you on their boat or walk you into private waters.
- Have up-to-date fishing knowledge in the area.
- Can teach you methods that work best in their waters.
Once you learn the area, you may not need or want a guide service anymore. You may, however, develop a relationship with the guide and keep fishing with him/her for efficiency, value, knowledge, and friendship whenever you come back to that area.
Running a simple Google search for fishing spots might be the easiest thing to do. Just be somewhat specific about the area, river, or body of water you’re looking to fish.
Google searches often lead you to detailed information including:
You’ll find plenty of creative musings, blogs, and even the aforementioned fly shop river reports.
With this method, you’ll have to do some sorting to find the relevant information. Again, be specific about the area and use “fishing spots” or “where to fish” or a similar phrase in your search.
A Google search for fishing in a specific area or water body will also bring up state and local government/entity websites. These are helpful to check out because many will contain relevant local information.
Why are these helpful?
Often these sites include maps, boat ramps, hiking trails, tactics, and yes…regulations pertinent to the area you want to fish.
This brings us to our last suggestion.
In Depth Scouting
Scouting can be the only method you use, but it is often done after some initial research using one of the prior search tactics.
Those who like to do internet research, pour over maps, and obsess over details tend to lean into scouting.
If you’re older, your initial fishing experience was likely driving somewhere to fish with high hopes and an unclear outcome.
You’d heard about a river or lake that was gaining notoriety as a hot fly fishing spot, heard someone mention some water in passing, or just looked at a map and seen a promising looking stream.
This method is great for that free feeling of high hopes/low attachment. The water you scout may turn out to be unsuitable or unproductive in person. Maybe it’s too low in August and you need to come back in the fall after some rains.
Any number of reasons could make your scouting trip a huge success or turn it into just a sight-seeing tour.
Research scouting is a “more research-first, check it later” approach. Apps and online tools make researching an area much easier and gives you better realtime data. I would suggest the following for any research scouting mission.
- Google Maps – Perfect for knowing travel distances via roadways and understanding basic topography.
- Google Earth – High detail terrain maps for finding distances for anything including hiking, river mileage, and seeing details in the topography (i.e. elevation gain, river features, etc)
- OnX Hunt – It’s not just for hunters… OnX has fantastic maps of public and private lands. For any private lands definitely contact the owner to ask permission for accessing fly fishing spots.
Say you’ve heard someone mention a mountain stream in a Facebook group, a fly fishing magazine, or an Instagram Post. I’d first check Google Maps or head straight to Google Earth to find how far the drive is, if there’s hiking involved, or if alternate transportation is needed.
Then, Google Earth or OnX will give you detailed info on the terrain, the waterway, and even water features. You’ll be able to find public access points, trailheads, or to know if it’s even doable for you before you ever leave your house!
Scouting can be a stand-alone method but more often is used in conjunction with any of the above methods to really make a precise and well-thought-out plan!
So What are the Takeaways?
Finding the right fly fishing spot is about combining an understanding of how fish behave with a well-researched plan on the best places to go.
A day of action is much more fun if you are catching fish. Follow our instructions and take a basic understanding of fish tendencies and start to research the best local fishing holes in your local area. These two foundational pillars should give you the tools to get started.
If you follow our advice you should see your catch rates increase dramatically.
Give them a try, and let us know how you do.