The Situation: Finding Success in Low and Clear Water

Posted on 12 October 2019

 The Problem: At the end of September, I took a road trip to Penn’s Creek located in Central Pennsylvania. When we approached the creek, we were greeted with gin clear water and lots of exposed rocks. It wasn’t the ideal situation, but we were determined to fish. 

The low, clear water had the wild trout of Penns Creek extremely skittish and spooky. Sloppy or hurried wading would most definitely frighten the fish before we ever had a chance to cast to them. The clarity also required a long thin leader. After a few minutes of observation and planning, we were ready to give it a go. 

Tactics for the day would need to include a slow and stealthy approach. We had to adjust to the conditions, which had the trout very skittish, and adopt the “pace of nature.”

The Solution: I’ll start with a few basics of fishing in low and clear water that we so commonly encounter in late summer and early fall. These tips will not guarantee success, but they do put the odds on your favor. It’s a slow, methodical way of fishing, but sometimes it’s what is needed.

1. Wade slowly and quietly, if you have to wade at all. Consider staying on the bank and stalking fish with a low profile. Sometimes, this may not be possible. On my home waters of the Letort Spring Run, we rarely wade. Wading in low and clear conditions may seem natural, but if you can avoid setting foot in the water it’s to your advantage.

2. Use the lightest gear you are comfortable fishing. For this “situation” I was using an 8’6” #3 Winston BIII X Fly Rod. A Hatch Finatic 2 Plus was spooled with a Scientific Angler Amplitude Trout floating line. For a leader, I used a 12 foot Nylon leader, tapered down to 5x. Flies were going to be small to avoid spooking the fish. We saw a hatch of small Blue Winged Olives, so we matched the hatch with a size 18 cdc BWO dry fly.


TCO Tip: The Hatch 2 Plus is the ideal reel in the Hatch lineup to match 2, 3 and 4 weight rods.       Click here to purchase!

3. Another thing to keep in mind is that I do not wear brightly colored clothing to fish. Fly fishing in these conditions is somewhat like hunting. Wear clothing that will blend in to your surroundings. I'm a little superstitious, so I only use black colored nippers as well! Even with camo or drab clothes, try to keep a low profile. By being stealthy, it allows you to actually present a fly to the fish without putting them on “high alert.”



TCO Tip: The Simms Solarflex Camo shirts are a great bet when fishing to fish that can easily see you.          Click here to purchase!


4. Although I was fishing with a buddy, we avoid yelling or loud, excessive talking. We communicate in a stealthy manner, and still seem to have fun! 


5. “Foam is Home” the foam line often indicates the place where different speeds of currents meet. This is often a hot spot for fish to sit and feed. I recommend fishing each side of the foam, as well as right down the center of the foam line. 

I recommend an upstream dry fly presentation to stay out of the trout’s line of sight. Be sure to wade quietly, and avoid “lining” a fish you can see. By that, I mean avoid casting your fly line directly over a fish. Oftentimes, casting so just the leader and fly are over the fish is the ticket.  During really tough conditions, you’ll want to adjust your angle to the fish and place only the fly over it during the drift while the leader is off to the side.


TCO TIP: Rio Suppleflex is a great leader to present dry flies to spooky fish. Try the 12ft 5x!     Click here to purchase!

I tend to work the side of the main channel, or what I refer to as “Blurry Water.”  Blurry water is when you can see definition on the stream bed in the shallows. As you scan out to the deepest part of a run or channel, you’ll notice the definition of the bottom becomes “blurry.”  This indicates a subtle change in depth, which will often hold fish! Work the sides first, then move to the center of the “blurry” water with your presentation. Once you have covered the full spectrum from left to right, or whatever pattern you choose, only then do you cast further, or walk upstream to cover more ground. The main concept here is that only after we have presented a fly to all the close fish, do we move on to fish that are upstream. I choose to fish with a fixed amount of line and avoid pulling more line off the reel. If a fish is rising and out of casting distance, I’ll simply wait and get a few steps closer while wading slowly. This ensures that you present a fly to all of the fish in range before spooking them. 

TCO Tip: Notice the “foam line” or line of bubbles. This is the most likely holding water for trout in these conditions.

The Reward: Catching a fish in low and clear conditions is not easy. It will test your patience, as well as your ability to stalk the most skittish of fish. The next time you encounter these conditions, slow down and see what happens! We don’t always need to be casting. Instead, make less casts and make them count! Hopefully the next time you find yourself in a seemingly impossible situation, follow some of these tips and you may be surprised with what you can produce!

The Reward!

Neil Sunday

TCO Fly Shop Employee

Relentless Fly Fishing Guide

IG: @neilsunday


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  • Garry W Kauffman: November 02, 2019

    Do you change your leader/length for these conditions compared to normal or high water level?

  • Mike Goyne: October 16, 2019

    Good advice! Also good for working a mini-bugger or nymph upstream under an indicator!

    Sometimes there is no bubble line but you can find the meeting of slow and fast waters with a blade or two of grass or stream side weeds. Of course this is for downstream walking and fishing.

  • EC: October 16, 2019

    thanks for this. keep the articles coming. love reading these processes and how to diffuse difficult situations or scenarios properly.

  • Kirk: October 16, 2019

    Great advice here – thanks Neil!

  • Cody Meassick: October 16, 2019

    Really enjoyed ready this. Let’s fish again soon.

  • Ryan harkinson: October 13, 2019

    Great read! The recent fishing conditions do reflect this exactly and I definitely will put these tips to use. I love small stream fishing for browns and brookies so I try and stay small and slow things down but sometimes the excitement of seeing fish rising can increase my casting and pace. Thanks for the reminder!

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