How to Find Trout in a River

While the rivers of Alaska are flooded with fisherman, rivers in Kamchatka are flooded with fish and just waiting to be explored.

Knowing how to find trout in a river is vital if you want to be a successful fly fishing angler. I believe the key to getting more chances in a day is the ability to work out what is not a fish as efficiently as possible.

How to Find Trout in a River – The “S&M Method”

First off, we’re assuming that you want to target big fish. So before you employ this method, do some research and find some waters that are known to hold big fish. The problem with these areas though, is that they don’t usually hold high numbers of fish, so learning how to find trout in a river is super important.

Be prepared for a fairly steep learning curve.

You need to prepare yourself for possibly the toughest fishing you will encounter anywhere and in addition to having a decent cast, being able to spot them before they spot you will be the difference between bliss and blanking.

The S&M method (not what your thinking) is something that our fly fishing guide in New Zealand came up with. He uses it to teach his clients how to find trout in a river.

This system has a clear sequence to follow when the trout are not in plain sight. In some instances the sequences may change depending on the particular conditions you face, but generally the steps are: S-S-S&M.

“S” is for Structure

when you're learning how to find trout in a river, don't look for the fish itself,look where an opportunist would hid while waiting for food to float by. 

Some people think that trout are lazy, but like to think of them as efficient. So, when you’re learning how to find trout in a river, don’t look for the fish itself,look where an opportunist would hid while waiting for food to float by. 

Trout like to tuck in behind boulders, trees, cut banks and the softer edges of a current or eddy where the current breaks. They’ll venture out from the structure to grab food as it floats by and then return to it. Unless they’re disturbed, they can do this for quite some time.

This gives you time to watch and observe its feeding pattern and decide how you will approach.

When no current exists trout will happily cruise in search of food, so keep an eye out for this in backwaters/still waters.

“S” is also for Shade

Improving your ability to spot trout will improve your success.

A trout will almost never be completely camouflaged. Look for some different shade of color, a slight shimmer or a shadow that just doesn’t look quite right.

Because each fish has slightly unique color and body characteristics compared to its surroundings, you’re looking for some sort of irregularity.

Sometimes all you will see is a smudge in the current, and after watching for awhile you can make out a ‘ghost’ like rainbow that materializes in and out of sight like an optical illusion. This is especially true when fish are feeding fast water.

Finally, “S” is for Shape

Analyzing shape is the best way to be sure whether a shade you have spotted is actually a fish or just a fishy looking rock. The shape of a trout is unlike anything else in a river. 

It is good to understand the average size and proportion of the fish you are targeting as this will allow you to recognize if a shape you see is too long and skinny, short and fat, or a mix of either.

Most of those ‘fishy’ looking shadows in a river will give themselves away if you analyze them long enough. And if your still not sure after watching for awhile, it might be worth making a cast.

M = Movement

When you’re learning how to find trout in a river, you’ll find that movement is the most obvious. It is the last thing that I check off of the list, but I’m aware of it during the earlier steps.

At first glance it can be pretty subtle. This is especially true with brown trout. You need to watch for fish moving up, down, sideways and darting in and out of structure to intercept food, or in some cases actually chasing down its prey.

Surface disturbance is a telltale sign of fish feeding on, or just below the surface. Depending on your angle, actually seeing a fish, even when its close to the surface can prove difficult. In faster currents, after recognizing shade, movement is what will give a fish away.

This system works well for me, but every angler is different. So when you are out learning how to find trout in a river, be open to trying different methods and experimenting to see what suits you.

Just remember the name of the game – See the fish before it sees you!

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