Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #42 — Work into the Prime Spots

by | May 21, 2018 | 4 comments

The trout were on. It started with nymphs, but when the emerging caddis popped to the surface, a green summer morning turned into something special.

Steve was the first to switch to dry flies. Around 9:30 a.m. I leapfrogged his position and stopped to visit for a moment.

“Man, these are the days you dream about,” Steve said as he kept fishing.

Standing in the creek, not far off the bank, he glanced over his left shoulder in my direction, judging the length of his fly line against the back casting space I’d left him. And I continued wading closer to my friend in the ankle-deep water.

“You switched to dries?” I used the statement as a question.

Steve and I followed the same mantra: Trout must give us a really good reason to fish a dry fly, especially when nymphing is good. While many anglers may see nymphing as a last resort, we treat it as a first option in the fertile limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania. The best fly fishers around here (maybe anywhere) have an A+ nymphing game, and they build the rest of their talents around it.

“Yeah, seems like the bigger fish are actually feeding on top,” he said, pointing to a rising fish. “Look.”

Steve gestured up and across the creek, where the top half of a dead maple tree had fallen into the water and stuck itself to the river bed. The bank behind it remained steadfast, as the massive trunk and root system was intact. The small branches were rotted or broken off, and flood currents had angled fifteen feet of the wide maple shaft and branches about forty-five degrees against the main flow. With the blunt end anchored to the streambed and against the solid riverbank, it was easy to see the half tree would create prime structure in this section for a long, long time.

It’s a common scenario for this river, in particular. Some of the streams around here are high gradient, with roads or railroad beds narrowing the stream and forcing flood waters into the main channel, washing out all but the most stubborn structure. But this creek runs through valleys that are far enough away from man’s influence to meander and turn, to dip and plunge with the whims of nature, without any persuading or redirecting from humanity. Flood waters therefore spread across the valley, and much of the good structure, like the half tree stuck to the streambed across from Steve, remains intact for decades. This river is full of good wood.

Photo by Bill Dell

Steve picked off a small trout just ten feet in front of him. He seemed happy when it spit the hook after a few aggressive jumps, and he wasted no motion, turning the slack line given up by the lost fish into his next backcast. His line straightened out, just to the left of my position. Then he pushed the X-Caddis dry fly forward with precise motion. The fly landed only a foot further instream than where he’d hooked the last trout. And a few casts later, another trout slashed at Steve’s dry but didn’t take.

I settled in behind Steve’s left shoulder while I chewed on a granola bar and watched my friend work the river.

Methodically, he fished the edge of the next seam, inside the one where he’d hooked the first trout, and Steve caught two more trout. They were also small.

“You have a plan, don’t you?” I said the question like a statement, and Steve didn’t reply right away.

A single, large cloud blocked the sun for a few minutes as Steve now worked into the middle of the stream, and I followed. After hooking and landing a mid-sized fish, my friend replied.

“I’m saving it,” he said.

“You mean the log? That prime cut over there?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Steve said, as he slowly moved close enough to reach the outermost seam, just off the tip of the half tree.

“That’s a hell of a spot,” he said, nodding across the water and continuing to cast. “Look at the channels created just downstream of it. Imagine what kind of trout is holding in the guts of that thing. I mean, the best trout in the area is making a home right there, no doubt.”

Steve hooked another small wild brown that ejected the hook on the second jump, seemingly at Steve’s command. His words paused with the fish on, and then he continued.

“But what if that Whiskey is feeding in the riffles? What if he’s cruising the bank water looking for injured baitfish. Maybe he isn’t holding in that deep green prime cut right now. Maybe he’s out in this short run.” Steve gestured ahead of him, to the top of the outermost seam he was still fishing.

“On a day like this, I’d rather work into a piece like that instead of barging right in and banging on the door.”

Steve said those words just as he took two big steps into the main flow. He locked himself into the pocket behind a midsized rock and false casted a couple of extra times, sizing up the perfect distance before he let loose, never taking his concentrated eyes from the water.

And then it happened . . .

Steve’s X-Caddis was guided by fate. It ducked under the first branch and dodged left around another. It landed in the sweetest, darkest little corner and danced with the bubbles for an impossibly long moment. And just before the anticipated drag of a tethered line swept the dry fly from a stall, the King appeared.

“. . . Or our Whiskey could be right where he’s supposed to be!” Steve yelled.

He set the hook hard downstream. I watched Steve fight against the wild trout’s determined will to return into the underwater branches. Steve coaxed and convinced the trout with side pressure, giving up line only against the heaviest surges. It was a good hard fight.

Minutes later, I slipped my net under Steve’s trout.

Lesson learned.


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky



Share This Article . . .

Since 2014 and 600 articles deep
Troutbitten is a free resource for all anglers
Your support is greatly appreciated

– Explore These Post Tags –

Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

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.

More from this Category

Nobody Home | Nobody Hungry

Nobody Home | Nobody Hungry

Nobody home means there’s no trout in the slot you were fishing. And sometimes that’s true. Nobody hungry suggests that a trout might be in the slot but he either isn’t eating, isn’t buying what you’re selling, or he doesn’t like the way you are selling it.

Does it matter? It sure does!

New Structure | Old Structure

New Structure | Old Structure

One of my favorite places in the world is a deeply shaded valley that runs north and south between two towering mountains of mixed hardwoods. The forest floor has enough conifers mixed in to block much of the sunlight, even in the winter. The ferns of spring grow tall, and thick moss is spread throughout. The ground remains soft enough here that all large trees eventually surrender to the valley. When they can no longer support their weight in the soft spongy ground, they fall over, leaving a broken forest of deep greens and the dark-chocolate browns of wet, dead bark. It’s gorgeous.

Fallen timber also dictates the course of this cold water stream. The fresh tree falls force the creek to bend away from the hillside. Rolling water carves away the earth and lays bare the rocks — these stones of time, as Maclean puts it. And when water cuts into a neighboring channel, previously dry for centuries, new river banks are undercut and fresh roots exposed . . .

What Lies Beneath

What Lies Beneath

There’s a world unseen below the surface. The riverbed weaves a course and directs the currents, giving shape to its valley. Water swirls behind rocks. It moves north and south against submerged logs. The stream blends and separates, merges and divides again as vertical columns rise and fall — and all of this in three dimensions. . . . Eventually, knowing and admiring what lies beneath is as easy as seeing what flows above.

The Water Column — And the All-Important Strike Zone

The Water Column — And the All-Important Strike Zone

Seeing into the river is a learned skill. It takes a lot of time on the water to judge the three dimensional flow of a river. Reading the surface is easy. Even without bubbles on the top, most anglers quickly learn to gauge the speed of the top current in relation to their fly or indicator. But what lies beneath can be unpredictable and deceiving. Eventually, with the help of polarized lenses and some serious thought, experienced anglers become proficient (enough) in reading the currents below.

But where does it begin?

Understanding a little about the water column and the correlating habits of trout goes a long way toward better fishing. So let’s do it . . .

Fly Fishing Tips: #54 — Don’t let a good bite teach bad habits

Fly Fishing Tips: #54 — Don’t let a good bite teach bad habits

Fly fishing provides so much variety in presenting flies to a trout that a good and well-rounded fly angler can make something happen, even on the slowest days — usually. And so, we spend our time on the water learning and refining these various techniques with dry flies, nymphs, streamers and wets, waiting for the trout to turn on, but fishing always with persistence and hope flung into each cast.

I’ve been around enough long-term fishermen to understand one primary character trait — we all approach the water with an effort to learn. That’s what keeps things fresh year after year. That’s what keeps a man fishing from childhood to the grave. It’s not the trout, but the process of discovery, the perfection of tactics that will never be good enough to make a sure thing out of a day on the river.

Every angler finds moments when the fishing is easy, when seemingly any decent presentation of the fly brings a fish to hand. Even the most difficult rivers give up a good bite once in a while. And the easiest rivers, with eager trout, produce great bite windows that last for hours or even days. But what should we learn from that? . . .

Fly Fishing Tips: #53 — Nymphing: Set On Anything Unusual

Fly Fishing Tips: #53 — Nymphing: Set On Anything Unusual

On a first drift through the lane, you may very well set on anything. But maybe that line hesitation was just the flies ticking the top of a rock. Good. Now you know.

Don’t set on anything. And don’t wait for a sixth sense to kick in and grant you the superpower of sensing trout takes. Instead, pick a lane and learn it. Use the nymph as a probe to draw a mental map of a specific lane. Refine the drift. And all the while, set on anything unusual.Let’s break it down real quick . . .

What do you think?

Be part of the Troutbitten community of ideas.
Be helpful. And be nice.


  1. Awesome post, love the storytelling (which gave me fish goosebumps) and the lesson. Thanks!

  2. Hi Domenick
    Reading this article has helped me to understand the benefits that come with fishing. It was interesting to learn that

    fishing can help to build confidence at a young age. I hope that I can remember this article

  3. cool post, as usual, I’m a follower of this series because i found it one of the best that gives a lot of information about fishing. and i recommend to any friend who asks me about fishing


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Articles

Recent Posts

Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

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.

Pin It on Pinterest