Exploring a new body of water can be very rewarding, especially when you land a good fish.
Photo by Dave Brown

Fishing in new locations can be a little daunting, but expanding your repertoire is a great way to hone your skills and help reduce crowding in popular areas. We asked a selection of Orvis recommended guides how they like to approach new waters in the hope that their insights will be helpful the next time they explore a new place.

John Way, The tackle shop (Ennis, Montana):

I start by searching online as there is a wealth of information available on most sites these days. I will then reach out to some of the writers for further insight and this sometimes includes local fish and game departments. This has saved me a ton of time and hassle over the years.

Upon arrival, I like to take my time to get a feel for the river by slowly walking along the bank and really observing it. I see what kind of water the trout are holding and what techniques the other anglers are using. When I’m not sure, I’ve found that most people are very helpful if I just ask.

When I first start fishing I usually break the river into smaller sections and just focus on the ripple, run or pool in front of me so I don’t get overwhelmed trying to approach the entire body of water at once.

Hilary Hutcheson, Lary’s Fly & Supply (Columbia Falls, Montana):

My first step when exploring a new body of water is to consult local experts. Orvis stores and the non-profit organization United women in a snap are great resources. Whenever possible, I book a guided trip, as it’s incredibly rewarding to experience new water with someone who knows it intimately. When tinkering myself, the first thing I do is call the nearest fly shop to find out about conditions, including current, whitewater class, spawning times, hatches, fishing pressure, and local regulations. I also keep a map of public lands to ensure I have legal access to the water. I never go alone and only take my dogs when I’m sure it suits me.

After a personal stop at the fly shop to pick up essential gear (including a hat and stickers) and set up my shuttle, I try to get to the waterfront early enough that I’m not in a rush to set it up. When drifting, I always follow another rower who knows the water well. When I wade I spend some time getting used to it by looking at the structure of the river to decide on the best approach. Where are the safe crossings? Do I have room to throw back? Should I start with the inside curves or the outside curves? I’ve learned the hard way not to rush when approaching a new stretch of river, whether by losing my footing after hitting like a freight train or by fishing in a gyre on the opposite river side startle after assuming they would hold further away. It has helped me get the most out of my days by slowing down and taking the time to acclimate to the environment before splashing water.

I usually revisit the fly shop after the trip to give them feedback on my experience. By letting the stores know how well you did out there, what challenges you encountered, what the fishing pressure was, etc., they can provide the next customer with the most up-to-date information. I think it’s important to share fishing information openly to motivate people to help protect the resource.

Captain Dave Pecci, Obsession Charters (Portland, Maine and Charlotte Harbor, Florida):

When I explore new waters, I look for similarities to areas I already know. Whether I’m targeting striped bass on the Kennebec River in Maine or redfish and snooks in Charlotte Harbor in Florida, it really does seem like ninety percent of the fish is in ten percent of the water. But there are certain things to look for to help narrow down the problem, such as available food, good structure, and a place to flee from predators. When I find areas with those three things, I tend to catch fish.

Jess Westbrook, The Mayfly Project (Benton, Arkansas):

Before I get to the river, I consult the internet and a local fly shop to answer two important questions: what species of trout are in the river and are they stocked or wild? Knowing the answers will help you narrow down where the trout should be holding on and what technique might be the most effective.

Browns tend to be more aggressive which means streamers might work best. Cutthroats and rainbows tend to look up, so dry flies may be the best option. Game fish tend to stay in a wider variety of waters, including faster waters, while stocked fish often prefer slower, deeper waters with less current. Wild fish will also be choosier about fly selection, while fish keepers will eat a much larger selection of ‘junk flies’.

The time of year also determines where the fish are, as they will no longer feed in faster water during the warmer months, but will retreat to deeper holes to conserve energy during the leaner winter months.

Dave Brown, Dave Brown Outfitters (Fernie, British Columbia):

One of my favorite ways to fish a new stream is wading with a dry dropper rig, using a Chubby Chernobyl Ant as a dryfish and a Beadhead Nymph as a dropper, 12″ to 24″ under. This is an effective way to cover water most of the year, as the ant can mimic stoneflies early in the season and grasshoppers in the summer and fall. Also, the pipette has year-round appeal, although I don’t use it often during high funnel times of the year.

When the dry dropper rig isn’t working, it’s time to fish nymphs with a spoon. The key with this method is to continuously adjust both your weight and your indicator so your flies are always low to the ground. Don’t be afraid to also hang a streamer under your lure when fishing faster runs. Also, panning a streamer downstream on the way back to your entry point is a good tactic to ensure you cover multiple approaches.

Exploring new places is very rewarding – even when fishing turns out to be a failure – and the challenge of stepping out of your comfort zone by trying new fly fishing tactics will surely make you a better angler.