Trout Fishing Tips: How To Study the Water For Trout

By Tom Claycomb

Five trout fishing tips that get you an immediate payoff.

Every year at various sport shows and outdoor stores I do seminars on “Glassing for Big Game”. I know that it sounds funny but in them I also talk about glassing for trout.

study the stream you'll catch more fish 448x297

Pause to study the stream, and you’re almost guaranteed
catching more fish in less time.

Two Lessons, Years Apart
I stumbled on this idea almost by mistake. A combination of events led to my discovery. The first was a family fly-fishing trip in Colorado. My brother and brother-in-law thought they saw a good hole down the mountain, but it was near the end of the day and they were tired. So, they pulled over and glassed it to see if it was worth crawling down there.

It was the only hole in that stretch of river so Bobby told Eddy to go down and he’d watch from the road. When Eddy got there he deftly laid a caddis on the water under an overhanging bush. A nice 17-inch rainbow slammed it. Bobby was able to watch everything in vivid detail through his binoculars from his vantage point above.

Years later my boss Mike Rempke took a few of us fly fishing on the famed Silver Creek in Idaho. I was hooked up with a guide named Nick Price. One day we pulled up to a hole and Nick said hold on a minute. I like to study a hole before I hit it. It amazed me what he observed that I would have missed. He said. “See that one feeding over by the log? We’ll hit him first.” Then, “There’s one occasionally sipping flies by that grass. That’s a big fish.” A few minutes later, “See at the head of the hole where that one just hit? There are two feeding there.”

use binoculars to glass a stream 381x336

Through binoculars, you can tell this is a hole where fish tend to stop as they work upstream.

Nick taught me a lot that day about studying a hole before I hit it to see where the fish are, what they’re feeding on, and to plan a strategy first before ever entering the water.

His advice taught me that what I learned years earlier from Bobby wasn’t a one-time occurrence. Do I always glass a stream before entering? No – not when I’m close enough to observe with my bare eyes, but up close or from afar, you should take a minute and study every hole before you jump in.

Glassing Holes Saves Time
What if you’re hiking down a trail and the river is 300 yards below and you see a nice hole? Why not glass it to see if it’s worth sliding down to? It may take you 45 minutes to slide down, fish and get back up to the trail. If you’re in the back country that means you may only get to hit 16 different holes in a 12 hour day. Why waste nearly an hour on a dead hole? Use that time more wisely on holes in which you can see fish feeding.

I’d like to think that I can tell a good hole when I see it but every now and then I’m fooled. For instance, last year I backpacked into the backcountry and had thrown up a camp. I hiked four to five miles downstream and found a log jam on the river. There was a little pool in front of the log jam so I crawled out on it and figured I’d catch a few fish. Gee whiz – 18 hits later I was amazed!

Sometimes you don’t know, so ask yourself two questions:

  • Does the hole supply a good food source?
  • Is it the first hole after they’ve swam a half mile and they’re congregated up there?

You may never know but it pays to examine every hole you see.

glass the stream when in mountains 448x336

In a mountain area, you’ll save lots of time by glassing the stream below and planning your approach to maximize your
time and your catch.

A couple of years ago I backpacked in for a few days on a backcountry trip by myself. I was going down the trail and looked down and noticed that a back eddy fingered off the main stream.

I stopped and studied it for a minute. Wow, there were four to six decent cutthroats feeding in the dead water. It wasn’t even a foot and a half deep, so I carefully approached it on my knees from downstream. I hammered a few nice fish that otherwise I would have hiked right on by if I hadn’t stopped and studied the river.

I’ll bet you a dollar to a donut hole if you’ll slow down on your next trip and study the hole before you jump in that you might just make a few observations that will net you more fish.

Tips for Glassing Trout Waters

  1. Glass holes if you’re up above them. You’ll be able to choose the best.
  2. Notice if there are stoneflies in the trees. Observe everything, not just the streambed and the water.
  3. Notice if there are grasshoppers in the meadow – they’ll feed themselves to the fish.
  4. How close are other holes?  If you’re looking at the first hole for a half mile, fish may be congregated there.
  5. Use the current to drift your fly into strategic spots – you’ll be able to determine the strategic spots before getting close to the water, so you won’t spook as many fish.


About Tom Claycomb III

tom claycomb outdoor writerTom lives in Idaho writes outdoor articles for various newspapers, magazines & websites. If it’s something outdoors, he probably likes it. You can read some more of his writings at:,, and

Click here to read more articles on trout fishing.

Read what by Capt. Dave Sipler says about the Havalon Baracuta, and then watch his video.


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