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River Fly Fishing Tips

Fly Fishing Our Great Rivers Takes Skill, Patience and Plenty of Practice


River fly fishing

River fly fishing is what it's all about.

Photo by Brian Milne

River fly fishing is my favorite type of fly fishing by far. Which is probably the only drawback to living on the California coast, where I’m 3-4 hours away from a blue ribbon trout river.

Lots of lake fly fishing, small stream fly fishing and ocean fly fishing opportunities, but there’s nothing quite like casting on a free-flowing river (think a River Runs Through It).

For those of you like me, who aren’t lucky enough to be living on the banks of a blue ribbon trout fishery, or are new to river fly fishing, I thought I’d put together some river fly fishing tips that highlight some of our top river fly fishing posts on About.com.

Where River Trout Feed

First of all, you need to know where river trout are hanging out when you go river fly fishing.

To help you target where river trout hide out throughout the year, we’ve put together a nice diagram breaking down the four basic trout feeding zones on a river.

Types of River Fish Species

There are a number of species that call our favorite fly fishing rivers home.

Trout are obviously the most popular river dwellers and game fish of fly fishers.

Popular river trout include rainbow trout, brown trout, golden trout, heck, you might even catch a tiger trout on a river near you. For more on river trout, be sure to check out our tips piece on fly fishing for trout.

Bass can also be found on many rivers, although not as often as trout throughout much of North America. The most popular species of river bass is probably the smallmouth, although spotted bass and white bass have also been known to inhabit rivers, along with the occasional largemouth bass, which is known more as a pond or lake species. If you’re going for bass when you’re out on the river, be sure to carry a heavier line and try fly fishing streamers that resemble the small trout, shad and other baitfish bass feed on.

There are a few anadromous species that you’ll come across in our rivers as well, including steelhead, salmon and striped bass from time to time. This trio of fish is known to be among the greatest fighters in our rivers.

Then there are the non-game species that inhabit our rivers. In the high mountains, you’ll find the mountain whitefish, which is actually a decent fight and can provide some entertainment when the fishing slows in the offseason.

At the lower elevations, in warm-water rivers such as in California, you’ll find “squawfish” or pikeminnows that often compete with the other species for food. In California, for example, the Sacramento pikeminnow has become quite a nuisance on some waters.

The carp is another strong fighting, non-game fish, although many anglers enjoy fly fishing for carp because of their size and fighting ability, particularly overseas.

Casting Basics for River Fly Fishing

Now that you know what’s out there, and where they’re hiding out, you’ll have to learn how to cast.

Be sure to brush up on our casting basics before you head out to the river’s edge. While river fishing is one of the most exciting categories of fly fishing, it’s also one of the most challenging.

Along with the strong currents and wading hazards that a river presents, the bank also provides plenty of nutrients for snag-happy shrubs and trees that’ll be happy to snatch your favorite fly on your initial backcast. So before you go, be sure to spend some time in the yard practicing the key river casting techniques.

And most importantly, practice patience. River fly fishing takes some time and a lot of patience before you’ll get comfortable with casting, let along presenting your fly in those key trout holding zones and then hooking up with that first rainbow.

So give yourself every edge possible before you get out on the water. Read the latest fishing reports. Check the weather and the water levels before you go. Stop by the local shop on your way to the water’s edge to see when and where the hatch is coming off.

Then study the water when you get down to the river’s edge, and remember all of the above once you tie on that first fly.

Piece of cake, right?

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