Low Water Trout Tactics

By Michael Hatfield

   In times of low water flow on a trout stream, fish can get very spooky because there isn’t the natural protection from their predators that the water normally provides.  During these times, fishing can be difficult, but by following a few simple tips, success can still be achieved.

   First off, try to blend in with the surroundings.  Now is not the time for a bright colored ball cap or a bright colored fishing shirt.  Drab, natural colors are the way to go.  When approaching the stream, stay lower than normal and slow down.  Get down on your knees if you have to.  We have all seen the examples showing a trout’s line of sight in the shape of a funnel as it looks up.  An angler standing somewhat straight up in normal water conditions may be out of a trout’s sight window, but if the water level is low, that same angler is now visible to the trout because that line of sight starts at a lower point.  In some cases, this may also require us to make longer casts to a piece of water in order to stay out of a trout’s sight.

   One tip I always stress with anglers is, don’t get in the water unless you have to.  This is doubly important in low water conditions.  As an angler wades through a stream, they create a disturbance which radiates out like shock waves signaling danger to the trout.  Your feet clanging rocks together on the stream floor is an alarm as well.  In low water, that clanging and scraping sound travels much faster, sending trout into their safety lie.  So let me repeat.  Don’t get in the water unless you need to.

   I may also change to a smaller diameter leader and tippet combination in low water conditions.  My normal choice of SA Trout 5X may drop down to as light as 7X.  When using this light of tippet, it is very important to set the hook gently and don’t try to muscle in the fish or you may break it off.  Leader length can play an important role as well.  With spooky trout, it may be necessary to change to a leader/tippet combination in the 12+ foot range.  If you have the option of going to a lighter line weight, I would suggest that too.  A 3 weight line creates less of a disturbance when it lands on the surface than a 5 weight line does.  If you only have a 5 weight rod, experiment with using a 3 weight line on it.  Quality fly rods will easily handle two sizes above and below what they are rated for so you can be very versatile with your set up.  Just be sure to practice with the set up first so you are familiar with how it feels.

   Fishing during low water conditions can be a very good fact finding mission if this is a stream you fish regularly during normal water flows.  Troughs, stumps, under cut banks, ledges and boulder fields where trout normally hold, become visible in low water.  Make notes of these holding areas for when you return later in the year when the stream is at a normal flow.

   To summarize:

1.     dress drab

2.     go low and slow

3.     don’t get in the water unless you need to

4.     use lighter lines and longer leaders

5.     study the stream structure and surroundings


Just follow those easy tips for more success in your low water angling, and study your surroundings for more success on future trips.