The Structure of Streams

brook_troutOne of the best things my father and brother ever did for me was to take me fishing. They were always patient with me while teaching me the intricacies of fishing. They taught me a lot about fishing in different waterways and one thing I learned from them is that you cannot fish every waterway the same. For instance, you cannot fish a pond the same way you would fish a stream. You cannot fish a river the same way you would fish a lake. Each waterway has its own unique set of structures and covers and these in turn will change the ways you fish. What we will concern ourselves with today though is streams.

I remember that my brother and I would often fish the Swift River which runs along Rte. 112 between Lincoln and Conway NH. Like with all streams, we tended to walk down the center of it, getting soaked while fishing. We had a long time running joke when my parents would ask why we were wet. We would always say “he pushed me in”. I don’t think my parents bought it though.

One of the first things my brother taught me about stream fishing is to look at the structure and cover to determine where the best places would be for fish to hide. He showed me the difference between structure and cover and told me that if I found the two combined in a stream, then I would probably also find fish there. So, what is the difference between structure and cover?

Structure is the changes in the stream bed. This can be in the form of large rocks, pools, undercuts, rapids, plunge pools or anything that will not change throughout the year.

          Plunge Pool                                            Undercut Bank                                               Rapids

Plunge Pool                   Undercut                  Rapids

Cover are the things that will change with the seasons. Things like overhanging tree branches, weedy areas, debris in the water like fallen trees or maybe tall vegetation on the bank of the stream. Another good thing to keep in mind is shadows.

Fallen Trees                                         Overhanging Branches                 Tall Vegetation

Fallen Tree        Overhang        Tall Veg  

Here are a few different types of structure and cover you will find on a stream.

You are going to find emergent rocks in every small stream. Look at them. See how the water swirls around them? See the small pools that are directly behind them? These small areas can hold fish. Usually if the water is moving swiftly, these rocks will make it easier for a fish to lay in wait for food so go ahead and fish behind every emergent rock.

Sometimes while fishing streams you will come across a small patch of foam. This usually happens around fallen trees but can happen almost anywhere. Foam will almost always hold a fish because it offers excellent cover by blocking the view of a fish’s biggest predator… you. 

Rapids can be found an all coldwater streams. The reason rapids are good places for fish is because they are not only a food source that brings food to the trout, but they offer protection from predators and oxygenate the water. Because the water surface is broken and choppy, it can hide the trout from predators. This is the same reason that it is easier for us to approach without spooking the fish. The rapids make it harder to see us from the fish’s position and the sound of churning water also helps hides our approach.

Pools are the deeper sections of a stream and can be anywhere from 3 ft. deep or more. Pools can be found quite often at the end of rapids or when the stream drops in levels, creating a plunge pool. Trout can often be found in these pools, but be aware that you can catch suckers and chubs as well. Don’t let your fun be ruled by the type of fish, just have fun catching them.

Undercut Banks
An undercut can happen wherever a streams flow brings it against a bank, thereby eroding the bank or undercutting the area. The result of this is sometimes a cave-like overhang where fish will hide. You have to be careful when presenting your bait to an undercut as there will probably be roots under there. A fish will grab your bait and tangle you up if you let him.

Fallen Trees
You will find all kinds of debris in streams. You’ll find fallen trees, branches and sometime logs. All of these will create a break in the structure of a stream. These areas will provide shelter for fish in the fact that they provide cover and a lot of times deeper water and even shadows.

Overhanging Vegetation
Whether it is tree branches or tall grass on the bank, anything hanging out over a stream is a good place to throw your line. These places are hard for the fisherman to get to and the fish know it.

Shade or Shadows
Shade and shadows are an excellent place to find fish, especially when combined with another cover such as a fallen tree. The shadow will make it harder for predators to see the fish that is hiding, but also provides a cooler area when the sun is blazing.

What to fish and how
I know I have said this before and you are probably getting sick of being reminded that you are an amateur fisherman. Heck, I am too and I have been fishing for years. With that said, I am going to tell you how to fish a stream and with what. Worms are the best, but you can use grubs, salmon eggs or even artificial baits. For live baits, use small worms on a #6 – #10 snelled hook. Use a small split shot sinker about 6 to 10 inches above your bait. Also, it’s important you know whether you are allowed to use live bait such as worms on the stream you are fishing so check out the rules for the stream you want to fish

If you are fishing artificial, you need to go small and light, say 1/8 to 1/4 oz. With artificial you will want to cast and retrieve. Going too slow will probably catch you a snag, but going too fast won’t seem natural to the fish. The secret is to reel just fast enough to not snag.

Lure 1       Lure 2

How to fish a stream
Ok, so now you know where to fish and what to fish with, but what presentation do you want to use? With live bait what you want to do is cast above where you think the fish is hiding and let the streams’ current bring your bait to the fish. This will let your bait appear more natural and is more likely to get the fish to strike. Think of it this way. If you are facing up stream then you want to cast to the two and ten o’clock positions. You never want to cast directly to the spot where you think the fish is as this could spook the fish. When you cast up stream, hold your line between your fingers so that you can feel when a strike happens. Once it does, set your hook and reel in that fish.

With artificial baits you want to cast closer to the spot where you think the fish will be because if you let it settle for too long before beginning your retrieve, you are more likely to snag. Cast over where you think the fish might be and retrieve your lure so that it comes directly through the spot where you think the fish is.

In closing, just keep your eyes open when fishing streams and if you can find multiple types of structure and cover in the same area, then you will most likely find fish as well.

Tight lines, The Amateur Angler

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s