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Spring Fishing Part 3 – Trout Holding Water

Posted On
Apr 22, 2015

Trout Holding Water

Alright, this is the third and final part to the Spring Fishing Series here on the good ol’ Frogwater blog. Part 1 was about spring hatches, part 2 was about spring fly patterns, and this part will be about the types of water that trout tend to hold and feed in. This part is probably the least precise as there is a transition in the type of ideal trout water from early in the spring to late in the spring. Water flows (e.g., pre runoff, runoff, post runoff), water temperatures, and corresponding bug activity all influence the location that trout are holding and feeding. Because these factors tend to vary more in the spring than any other time of year, identifying the predominant location of trout during the spring requires some educated guesses and trial and error. Below are a few bulleted points to consider when trying to identify the water that the trout “like” throughout the spring.

Water Flows – Most western freestones experience high and murky water during runoff when the lower elevation and then higher elevation snow melts. Even many tailwaters increase flows in the spring to imitate the natural flows and/or start to meet irrigation demands. On tailwaters, very high, fast, and murky water conditions can push the vast majority of the trout (including the big boys and girls) to the banks. The trout migrate to the banks because the flow is less severe (and less energy is needed to hold) and the visibility is slightly better in 8 inches to 2 feet of water as opposed to deeper water. Furthermore, on some rivers skwalas and salmonflies may be hatching mid to late spring, which further increase the trout’s interest in holding close to the banks. It’s important to note, however, that increased flows on tailwaters usually do not lead to drastic temperature changes, although some exceptions may apply. It’s important to note that the more tributaries that are bringing in cold runoff water from higher elevations will ultimately cool the water temperature even more. In late spring in some warmer areas, this may be a good thing. However, if the tailwater is only at 40 degrees and even colder water is coming in, this can potentially slow the bite a bit. Fishing upstream of the cold tributaries can sometimes be a good idea.

On freestone rivers, the same phenomenon of trout pushing to the banks can occur during very high water conditions. Water temperatures tend to be a little more volatile during the spring on freestones as the water is not constantly flowing from the bottom of a reservoir. Instead, warmer air temperatures can cause snowmelt which actually gives boosts of frigid water through a river system that’s already on the cooler side. It can really be helpful to keep a thermometer on hand in the spring… Fishing 39 degree water as opposed to 47 degree water is a drastic difference and techniques will need to be adjusted.

In early spring there can be a window in which low elevation snowmelt is complete but high elevation hasn’t started. Water temperatures can creep in the low 40s and trout can really go on the feed after minimal food intake all winter. Depending on the geographical location, this window can coincide with midge, baetis, and/or skwala hatches.

Water Temperatures – Water temperatures have a direct affect on the activity and holding/feeding areas of trout. Very cold water leads to trout that are highly concerned with energy conservation. Their overall activity level is quite lethargic. In these very cold conditions, trout will hold in “winter water”. Winter water typically consists of deep and slow moving pools and runs that allow the trout to hold and occasionally feed without expending much energy. As spring progresses and water temperatures start to warm, trout will be more willing to move to riffles, pockets, and banks in search of food and lessen holding water competition with other trout. When fishing in the spring time, the angler has to figure out if the trout are still in the winter water or if they spread out a bit and are more active. There’s no hard and fast water temperature to look for here, but once the temps start getting in the low to mid 40s, you are likely to start finding fish in more traditional feeding lanes. Trout may move out of their deep slow runs to feed during the heat of the day, but then migrate back when the sun goes down.

Overall, I don’t want to say that it’s a guessing game, but the angler definitely has to do some searching and trial-and-error in mid spring to figure out the best water to target. Keeping an eye on water temperatures can help you make more informed decisions when determining what type of water to target.

Bug Activity – I’ve talked a bit about bug activity in part 1 and 2, but not so much in how it relates to where trout are holding. As spring progresses and hatches Spring Fishing become more pronounced, trout will move to different locations to feed. During skwala and later salmonfly hatches, trout will migrate to the banks to feed on these nymphs before they crawl to the bank to hatch. They’ll also devour egg layers and adults that might blow to the water’s surface. You’ll often find trout in slow tailouts, softer runs, and sometimes even in riffles chowing down on baetis and midge nymphs/adults. In late spring, trout can sometimes be stacked up in riffles eating caddis larva and emergers. Note that in late winter and early spring, you may not find a single fish in this water, but the eventual warmer temps and increased bug activity will gradually elicit this drastic change in location.

It’s important to be aware of the aquatic insects that are active on the streams and rivers that you’re fishing in the spring. By understanding their nymphal, pupa/emerger, and adult stages (as well as their overall activity level), you’ll be able to better predict trout feeding locations.


In summary, water flows, bug activity, and water temperatures all interact to influence where trout hold and feed throughout the spring time. Trout holding and feeding water differs considerably from early spring to late spring and the successful angler will want to monitor and keep up with the moving trout.

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