Wilderness Fly Fishing Tips: Cagey Trout in Clear Water

One of the biggest challenges of fly fishing in the crystal clear waters that are typical of wilderness environments, is casting to trout in very clear and often shallow waters. Whether a clear running river, a beaver pond or a high mountain lake, it can be difficult to conceal your movements from skittish trout and adjust your casting technique to these transparent bodies of water. 


The trout that live in these environments are extremely wary and sensitive to outside movements. They have very little protection when feeding and are easily seen by raptors and other predators. They survive by being extremely vigilant in spotting intruders from the banks or from the air. 

On our fly fishing trips in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, this is a common challenge. Late in the summer when water levels are lower, anglers must be especially careful. Here are a few fly fishing tips to help you navigate clear water situations.

Techniques for fishing these waters begin with a careful approach. Simply walking up to the water’s edge will send trout-shaped shadows darting for the far side. First, study the water from a distance and decide where you intend to make your first cast. Then, imagine a 20-degree angle coming from the surface of the water. Keep your head below that imaginary line as you approach. The closer to the water you get, the lower to the ground you’ll have to go. 

If fishing a stream, always start on the downstream end of a run or riffle, and work your way upstream. Remember that the trout are facing upstream, intercepting insects as they arrive on the current. Positioning yourself below the trout and casting up to them gives an additional layer to your concealment.


Only approach as close as necessary in order to cast. Depending on the situation, you may be forced to crawl into position or cast from your knees several yards back from the bank. This is very true in open or grassy areas where your silhouette will stick out. Whatever you do, keep a low profile and resist any temptation to stand up and peer into the water. The trout will spot you first and they never look twice.  

Keep in mind that trees or tall brush surrounding a body of water can work to your advantage. These will break up your outline and allow you to move more freely. A lake in the timber can be easy to move around, especially if it’s deep. But even with a backdrop, it’s best to keep your movements slow and limited. 

Once in position, you must execute a delicate cast that won’t spook a cagey cutthroat. Around beaver ponds or open streams, where you’re most likely to be kneeling, casting can be difficult. Be sure and keep your elbow high and your forearm at 12 o’clock. This will keep your line high and help you avoid snagging grass or brush behind you. 


Then on your forward cast, as you’re about to place the fly on the water, stop your casting motion abruptly and even draw back slightly instead of following through to the water’s surface. The abrupt stop in your motion and slight retraction will stop your fly in mid air. Your fly will then float the last couple of feet, straight down to the glassy surface as gently as a snowflake. 

When you get a strike or hook a fish, the rules don’t change. Keep yourself low and fight the fish from the same position. Each spot can produce a number of fish as long as you don’t stand up and announce your presence to the rest. A grassy bank makes it easy to stay on your knees as you land and release the fish. You can then continue fishing the same hole from your concealed position. 

Fishing these waters has the potential to be frustrating as you watch fish evacuate each hole you approach. But with a low profile and a gentle cast, every spot has the potential to produce a surprising number of trout. 

For more information on fly fishing trips in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, please visit our Fly Fishing Page. You can also contact us for more details or specific availability.