It can be a puzzling situation when you fish a productive piece of trout water and find nothing; no strikes, no rises, no glimpses of movement across the bottom. It can be hard to imagine that not a single trout is on the prowl to some degree, though days like that are a part of fishing.
I learned how capable wild trout are at avoiding humans during all the years I wandered the small limestone streams of Southcentral Pennsylvania. Having developed an eye for trout and the types of lies they frequented, I still found days when I could walk long reaches of streams like The Falling Spring without evidence of a trout. The Spring was clear and relatively shallow, and trout were very visible when they were out on their feeding lies. During winter, when the aquatic vegetation died back, you could see most of the stream bed clearly. I certainly scratched my head a few times wondering where they could all be hiding when the winter sun lit the bottom to reveal nothingness!
Back in those former haunts, I learned the importance of stealth, the necessity of approaching the stream in the manner to make the least possible disturbance. I walked the banks as far away from the water as the terrain allowed, and I concentrated on careful, gentle footfalls. If wading was necessary, I eased in and moved agonizingly slowly, keeping current obstructions between me and my target area whenever possible. When I cast, it was often with a sidearm style to keep my short flyrod as low as possible, ever conscious of a trout’s window.
Learning on the difficult stage of the limestone springs did me a lot of good. I still fish the same way. On a wide Catskill river, I stop and plan my approach, whether I am preparing to cast to a rise I’ve spotted, or simply moving into position to watch and hopefully fish a piece of water. There are times I get excited by a heavy rise, but I still take a long time to wade into casting position. I avoid pushing waves toward the trout’s location at all costs.
My passion is hunting difficult trout with classic tackle and dry flies, and I know that my chosen quarry isn’t going to cut me any slack. Wild trout don’t get big by being careless. That is one of the reasons the majority of anglers pass right by those fish, even when they are feeding. Big old wild trout are masters of stealth.