Trout Tactics for Low Water

Due to the absence of rain in the Central Pennsylvania area lately, many streams are at very low flows with crystal clear water. Many anglers tend to steer away from fishing streams when low, clear water conditions are present. What they may not realize is a lot can be learned while fishing streams that have low clear water flows. Not to mention, with the right approach, it is still very possible to catch fish in these conditions. The tactics used to approach the stream is the most crucial part to being able to catch fish in low, clear water.

When water is low and clear, an angler needs to “hunt” fish much more than when water is at normal flows. Low, clear water presents an opportunity to “sight fish” which, in plain terms, means locating a specific fish and then trying to fool that specific fish into eating your offering. This can be very appealing because aside from being able to see the fish, often the strike (fish eating your offering) is visible in plain eye sight. For myself, this is one of the most challenging but equally satisfying aspects of fly fishing.

The golden rule to catching fish in low clear water is to be very cautious while approaching the stream. An angler should always fish in an upstream approach under these conditions. Fish face the current in almost all situations, therefore by fishing upstream an angler can keep himself behind the fish. This can perform wonders for limiting the number of fish an angler spooks. The second most important thing an angler can do is to simply slow down. Take your time and move very slowly getting into position, this also will limit the number of fish spooked drastically. In low clear water, the battle between an angler and fish, is often won with the right approach.

Low Little J Brown
A brown trout taken in during very low, clear water conditions.

Aside from utilizing this approach, following these 6 tips will  increase the number of fish put in the during low clear water conditions.

1. Lengthen the leader. By lengthening the leader, the fly line will be a farther distance away from the fish while making casts and drifts. Aside from the way an angler approaches the stream, throwing the fly line too close to fish when water is low and clear is often how most fish are spooked.

2. Fish lighter tippet. When water is low and clear, an angler should fish lighter tippet in order to fool more fish into eating the offering. Lighter tippet, with a smaller diameters, allows for much cleaner drifts than heavier tippet. I recommend fishing at least 5x and in some situations 6x in order to improve catch rates during low clear water.

3. Eliminate flashy flies. Often times drab, natural toned flies are the way to go during low clear water. These flies will not turn fish off the way that flashy flies can during these conditions.

4. Be careful with bead-head flies. Bead-head flies are designed to get flies deep very quickly which is often not necessary in low water. Aside from the extra weight disturbing fish, gold beads also tend to turn fish off in these conditions. If fishing beads is necessary, try sticking to colors such as black or copper in order to spook less fish.

5. Subtle Strike Indicators. Low, clear water is not the time and place for very bright, big indicators as these types of indicators can spook fish. Thin white yarn indicators, as well as small white foam stick-on indicators are both solid choices

6. Blend into the surroundings. This can be done by matching the color of apparel worn with background colors around the streams. Camouflage is often the best choice, but anglers can get away with black, brown, or olive colors as well. By blending into the surrounds makes anglers much less noticeable to the fish.

By keeping these tips and tactics in mind, anglers can approach low, clear water conditions with confidence. Despite contrary belief, these type of conditions can produce some of the best days on the water of the year, but only if approached the correct way.

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