Fifty Tips Tips/Tactics

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #39 — Look Upstream to Find the Seams

April 22, 2018

The river is in motion. It carves a path that erodes its rocky bottom and gnaws at its bordering banks. It cuts lanes and moves channels, constantly shaping the valley into something new. And within the river’s path is structure — all the things that give a river character: logs, tree parts, rocks, boulders, gravel bars and rootsy banks. That structure forms seams where trout live. (Find the seams and you’ll find fish.) And the best way to see them . . . is to look way upstream.

One of my favorite things about guiding is how much I learn from others. Sure, it’s rewarding to share my knowledge and experience with other anglers and see those friends catch fish as a result. But trout fishing is the kind of thing where every angler does something unique. No matter the level of experience, every fisherman has something different and valuable to bring to the game. It may be the way a guy stores his split shot or his different take on casting into the wind. But everyone I fish with has something to add. You don’t have to be an expert to have great ideas.

Likewise, good teachers understand that the process of communicating our own ideas strengthens what we already know. It forces us to reconsider and reevaluate our own beliefs. On the stream, it’s educational for me to see through another’s eyes. Without the rod in my own hand, my perspective changes. I see what my friend sees. And sometimes, I notice what he doesn’t see.

Short Sighted

I got my driver’s license at sixteen. And since I’d been driving lawn mowers, tractors and bicycles for most of my young life, I figured a car was, ya know, about the same thing. I was wrong about that. And it took some close calls and sketchy errors for me to learn a few things.

My Dad was a patient and perceptive teacher, and one relevant moment stands out. It happened just a few days after I got my license . . .

With Dad in the passenger seat, we traveled a local two lane road with my two hands on the wheel. Things were going fine until another car pulled onto the road about a hundred yards ahead of us.

I never saw it.

Dad waited a few tense moments and then said firmly, “Brakes!” We slowed quickly, without incident. But as we traveled on, I felt Dad staring at me for a while.

“Where are you looking?” He asked.

I glanced at Dad, and then back to the road. “I guess I’m looking at the road in front of me, Dad.”

“Yeah, but how far?” He asked. “How far ahead are you watching the road?”

Only then did I realize that I’d been scanning the road just a hundred feet ahead — about the same distance you might look ahead while steering a lawn mower, tractor or bicycle. My focus required some adjustment.

I think you can see the river analogy coming . . .

Photo by Austin Dando

Reading the Seams

The structure in your favorite large river or small brookie stream creates seams extending well beyond what is obvious. The two distinct lanes running along each side of a midstream boulder create a third zone, a stall, right in the middle. It’s easy to see those three water features up close to the rock, but the further downstream the water travels, the more those features fade and blend into each other. And such is the beauty of a trout stream.

But the effect of those seams lasts further downstream than the untrained eye might see. The seams are still there, downstream of the structure, even when they aren’t so obvious. And those lanes, those seams, are a reliable target, well beyond what may be evident. Eventually, the seams blend into a new feature, affected by the next log, rock or gravel bar. And once again, the effects of that structure are found well downstream of what is easily seen.

So as you wade upstream, as you float downstream in a drift boat, or as you stand on the bank waiting for rise forms to signal the evening spinner fall, look upstream. See what’s ahead — further ahead — and consider the effects rendered on the water in front of you.

All rivers are a procession of lanes, dividing and merging to infinity.


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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“No matter the level of experience, every fisherman has something different and valuable to bring to the game”….so true….the best thing about fishing with friends.

Domenick Swentosky

Hi. I'm a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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