When you think of fishing, think of food. Not necessarily for you (although in addition to catch-and-release spots there are many streams that let you take home a few for the pan), but food for the fish. Finding food is the number one priority for fish, so start thinking like they do.
First thing to know? Fish usually hang out facing upstream.
This way the current flows into their mouths, so they can catch insects and bait fish as the water moves past them. But, as you can imagine, fish prefer spots where the water isn’t moving too fast so they don’t have to expend as much energy to stay in one place. Plus, fish always have an escape plan so they can dash to a cave or rocky crevasse in case of danger.
Look for wide, deep pools where the water gets lazy. Fish like to hang out in the bottom and middle of these slow-water areas as there is generally a lot of food floating around. They are also likely to lurk around the edges of the pool, at the “seam” where two currents meet. Two currents will create a thin line on the top of the water—fish generally hang out on the side where the water is the slowest. Big fish like the shallow section of a pool, where they can hide behind rocks or dart quickly into the depths at the first sign of trouble.
Fish like to lurk behind rocks, under logs and in underwater caves. This is because the rocks help break up the current, which then loosens its grips on insects so fish can grab luck easier. Try to spot submerged rocks that act as food traps. They’ll create bulges on the surface of the water, often with smooth spots that don’t seem to be flowing at the same speed as the rest of the current. In slower-moving waters, the fish may be hiding out in front of the rocks (the current can help dig out small cavities under big rocks). In faster currents, the rocks can create a void, or funnel, behind the rock where fish wait to nab insects as they float by.
Fish, especially trout, love to tuck themselves under overhanging mud and sand banks that have been eroded by fast-moving currents. Foliage on the banks of a stream or river are a fish’s best friend. Not only does overhanging brush provide shade and protection, but it also is a source of insects that drop from the leaves and branches into the water. If your stream allows it, walk quietly along the bank and drop your bait into these calm areas right next to shore. It can be very easy pickings.
These meandering parts of the stream or river provide protection for fish—especially on the sides where the current is slower. Fish don’t like fighting currents, so they head for the outside of a stream meander line where the water is deeper and the food gets funneled to the bank. Fish usually like the inside of a bend in the river as that’s where the water is the slowest. If the stream is shallow, drop your line on the outside of the turn where the water is deeper and the current funnels food toward the banks.