FLY-FISHING FOR TROUT IN NORTHEASTERN NEW YORK
Some wisdom from a fishing guide listed in order of importance. Note that what
follows, in general, applies to relatively large, holdover or wild trout. Stocked
trout behave like panfish typically until they have had some time to adjust to their
surroundings. So fish for them with wet flies and streamers held or moved slowly
in the in the current (If you’re a beginner, fishing for aggressive stocked trout is a
great way to get started).
Back to the wild trout. First Rule: Think. More specifically, think like a fish. Even
more specifically, think like a fish that is living in the place that you are fishing
and has to compete for food to survive. Look around. See what’s going on.
Check under rocks and overhanging trees. Avoid blindly following instructions
from Guides or Fishing Magazines. Rules of Thumb are often too general to
work in the specific conditions you happen to be fishing in. Think of these as the
Five Commandments of Fishing:
1. Find the trout:
This may seem silly but you’d be surprised how many people spend time fishing
some place that has no hope of holding trout. Many streams for example look
perfect but are either too warm or oxygen-poor to hold trout. Three factors in
general impact where trout will be lurking: Temperature, food and cover. This
varies by species but trout are most active between 55 and 65 degrees.
Streams: Generally fish will be down deep in holes. A warm, sunny day will bring
them up to the slightly warmer water as nymph activity may increase. A warm day
in winter can bring a great day of trout fishing but you have to hit it right.
Ponds: Not generally fished in the winter.
Streams: Fish will be down deep early and gradually move up as the weather
warms. Towards the end of spring they will move into faster water for oxygen.
Especially during the day.
Ponds: Trout are generally very close to the surface right after ice out and will
move gradually lower and lower as the weather warms. This is the time to fish
Streams: Because the water temperature changes a lot during a day the fish will
move around more. During the day they may be down deep or occasionally move
into fast water for oxygen, but as the sun goes down they will move up to feed.
Later in the summer look closer to the stream edges as fish start going after
‘terrestrials’. Biggest trout are caught at night.
Ponds: Its difficult to catch big trout on flies in ponds in the summer because they
may be very deep (35/40 feet or deeper). Look for spring fed ponds and fish
around the springs if you can find them. Also, note that many ponds “turn over” in
the late summer making them ‘mucky’ and even more difficult to fish.
Streams: Fish may be returning to the places they inhabited in the spring as water
temperature gets more constant again and water-born insect activity decreases.
Continue fishing ‘terrestrials’ and check for local hatches.
Ponds: Start looking a little closer to the surface. Recall that water temperature
changes lag air temperature changes by several degrees.
As a rule the biggest trout in the East are caught in ponds and lakes. There are
big trout in rivers and streams, but they are fewer (than out West for example) and
further between. Eastern rivers are smaller and not as well cared for (managed) to
maintain big fish.
Go where the people aren’t! Even if large fish migrate to the accessible areas over
the winter, they are either spooked out or caught early in the season. This is the
single most important factor I’ve found in catching decent fish at reasonably regular
2. Don’t spook the trout:
- May be most important. No. 1 isn’t too hard but 2 is easy to mess up.
- In streams, avoid casting a shadow over a hole and avoid fishing from upstream
down. Fish mostly look up and swim facing upstream.
- If you spook them, go away and come back in 20 minutes
- If a hole looks like it may be good, fish it first, then go and check it out.
- Fish a hole from further away then you think you need too and as low to the
water surface as possible (on your knees if you can).
- For Rainbows and Browns, keep the lure as far from you as possible.
- Avoid banging the boat/canoe and standing up in it. Minimal oar splash.
- For Brookies this is less of an issue but it never hurts to be careful.
3. Get your fly or lure where the trout are:
Unless you see fish feeding don’t try to guess where they are. Experiment. Try
fast, slow, deep and shallow at 15 minute intervals.
- If they’re on the surface it may seem easy but fish often appear to be feeding on
hatching insects when they are actually feeding on emergers, or nymphs, or just
picking food out of the surface scum.
- Learn how to fish nymphs. Use weighted nymphs, with indicators. Make sure the
nymph is at the right depth (indicator should be twice the water depth). Strikes are
- Unless they are getting ready to hatch, nymphs crawl on rocks exclusively. Trout
use large rocks for cover so get a nymph between them.
- Learn how to fish streamers. Weighted and otherwise. Use a fast retrieve (two
- Spring fed ponds can be good into the early summer. But as the weather warms
you may have to move deeper.
- Often however, brook trout (and other species) will move into shallow water at
times when you don’t expect it, even when the water is warm, to feed on minnows or
- Many Adirondack ponds are deceptively deep near their edges. The sticks and
rocks there provide good cover so it’s often the best place to fish. On sunny days
a very good way to find fish is to follow the shadow along the edges and cast from
the sun, to the shadow (even a shadow that only extends a foot from the edge).
- Look for clusters of boulders and rocks that can provide cover for trout in ponds
4. Make your lure look like food (or something that makes them angry or
- Dry flies must appear to drift naturally in the current. Avoid pulling them across
the current (put a mend in the line).
- Nymphs should look like they are crawling on rocks.
- Streamers are most effective when retrieved rapidly across the current.
- Slowly (I mean slowly) creeping nymphs or woolly buggers over rocks can be a
deadly. Tough to do in fast current so look for deep, slow holes to try this
- No one really knows why trout strike spinners and spoons (injured minnow, angry
curious) but they seem to work well when erratically retrieved.
- Small plugs (trout finish and others) often work well when fished like streamers.
- Dry flies and nymphs work in ponds also. Dragon fly nymphs should be fished
from the middle of the pond toward the shore (where they head to hatch) early in
- Streamers work well when trolled behind a boat or cast and retrieved.
- Spinners and spoons work in a manner similar to streamers.
- Large spoons and ‘Christmas-trees’ are used ahead of bait, and lures to attract
fish from a distance.
5. Match the ‘hatch’ or other thing it’s eating…or wants to eat:
- For reference, the three major categories of water-born trout flies are Mayfly,
Caddis and Stonefly. Mayflies and Caddis flies are ‘annuals’ and hatch in the
water. Stoneflies however can be in the nymph stage for up to 5 years (good
choice for off-season fishing) and crawl onto rocks and trees to hatch. Check local
shops to see what is hatching and how to fish it.
- Trout however also feed on terrestrials (grasshoppers, ants, beetles – especially
in the summer), and naturals (crayfish, minnows, baby trout, leeches, dragon flies,
scuds and a host of other things). Other than when a hatch is on, trout in general
are opportunistic and will feed on anything that is presented in a manner that
satisfies 1 through 4.
- Contrary to popular belief, one of the more difficult times for the novice to catch
trout is when there is a hatch on. Food is plentiful and trout have good short-term
memories. You have to do everything right to make your fly look like food.
- Fish at night. Covers up your mistakes.
- Bigger food, bigger fish, except maybe in the summer when large trout will feed
on midges and small bugs.
Guide & Outfitter