Where to find Big Trout | Part Four: The Permanent Structure

by | Dec 30, 2019 | 5 comments


** This is Part Four of the Where to Find Big Trout series on Troutbitten. This all reads a lot better if you first go through Part One. Find it HERE.  **

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Rivers are built from just a few parts. While the sand and soil of a streambed is fluid, the framework — the shape of a river — is directed by roots and rocks. Time and the tenacity of flowing water changes the shape of the hardest rocks, eventually carving granite into a new form, eroding and molding a riverbank toward a new course. And while nothing is eternal in a river or its floodplain, there’s enough permanent structure in a stream — the immovable objects — that good trout take notice. So does the big fish hunter.

The permanence of a river provides us comfort. In a pursuit where the trout are wholly unpredictable all too often, it’s nice to know that our favorite rocky cut is just around the next bend, even if we haven’t visited it for a few years. Sure, floodwaters do some rearranging. (I once walked far downstream to what we called Three Tree Island to find the entire land mass gone, lifted up and removed, with a huge hole in its place.) But even against the forces of major flooding, the permanent structures of rocks and roots hold up (mostly).

Tree parts are in the mix too. When a sycamore or a hemlock trunk lodges into the riverbed at just the right angle, it can be there, underwater, for centuries. So too are the man-made things like bridge pylons and rock walls. All of these permanent structures are places to find large trout, time and time again.

As repeat anglers on our home water, we learn these areas to perfection. The currents are predictable. The depth is consistent. And after seasons spent refining our presentation in one place, we learn it completely, knowing that large trout sit five feet downstream of the boulder, where the soft water meets the fast seam on the river-left side.

Around permanent structure, such a discovery may take seasons. Perhaps years. Maybe a lifetime.

READ: Troutbitten | Fighting Big Trout | Work With a Trout and Not Against It

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We were on an overnight trip to visit friends and family, with the main event being a birthday party for my young nephew. Because the cake was to be cut at noon, I set an early alarm and walked to the nearby river at dawn. It’s a piece of water that rarely provides double digits, but it has a habit of delivering the largest trout of the year.

The big fish were on. And by eleven-o-clock my net had been stretched to full capacity many times. They were holding and feeding in the predictable big-trout areas, in what I call the special buckets and spillouts. With less than an hour left, I couldn’t bare to leave the river without fishing my favorite piece of structure. So I walked.

There are two huge boulders in this section that we call Big Tit and Little Tit. (Hey, I didn’t name them. I’m just passing this on.) And through the years, I’ve learned exactly where the best trout are found around Little Tit. It’s not where you’d think, either — not exactly the deep, dark prime stuff. They’re further upstream and off to the side. At other times, trout are closer to the lip. But one or the other, their position is predictable, and if the fish are hungry at all, you have a very good chance of fooling a top tier trout.

A chewed up Bunny Bullet Sculpin

It took me thirty minutes to navigate the brushy banks for a quarter mile, to wade near the edge a couple hundred yards and carefully cross the waist-deep current pushing hard against my legs. The best casting angle for fishing Little Tit is on the far side. And though I stubbornly refused this truth for years, I eventually caved to the reality of big trout vs no trout.

From the deep side, I found the minor shelf — the perch I’d stood upon dozens of times before. I plucked my Bunny Bullet sculpin from the hook keeper and tightened the split shot six inches up. With the same setup that had produced all morning long, I was as certain of success as I’ve ever been with big trout in mind.


I caught two Whiskeys in twenty minutes before begrudgingly packing it in and walking briskly back to the house for a piece of chocolate cake.

— — — — — —

These rocks aren’t going anywhere for a long, long time.

Permanent structure is predictable because the setup is the same, season after season. Trout learn the currents and the angles. And so do attentive anglers.

My friend, Smith, believes that the information about local, permanent structure is stored and passed down genetically from one generation of wild trout to the next. What a concept! I think I buy it. But one thing is for certain: I can pass down to my sons what I’ve learned about the permanent structure in my favorite water. The best trout will be there when I’m gone. I’m sure of it.

READ: Troutbitten | Where to find Big Trout | Part One: Big, Bigger, Biggest

The Fish and the Fisher

Big trout can be anywhere they want to be. Indeed, I’ve caught them in all water types, in all conditions and with all kinds of flies. But repeated success comes from narrowing the odds, from finding the most likely places where the biggest trout hold and feed. And when we uncover the habits of these rivers and our favorite trout, we begin targeting specific holding lies. And then, “we are hunting rather than hoping.” (Galloup)

The talent of a big fish fisherman lies in the skill of reading water, in the passion for discovery and the will to overcome setbacks or slow times. All of this is more important than the presentation itself.

By truly knowing our favorite waters, we discover the best ten feet in the prime spillout; we learn to fish the back edge of the special bucket near the root wad; and we know about the inside seam next to the immovable boulder, because it’s been there, carved out, for generations.

Learning where to find big trout is the most important piece of the puzzle.

Fish hard, friends.



** Be sure to find all the chapters in this Big Trout series **

** Subscribe to Troutbitten and follow along. **


Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky



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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.

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  1. Aaaaaaaah yes the permanent structures.. just today they coughed up my only fish, if not for them I woulda got skunked..its amazing the things we discover every time on the water . Great observations from. Happy new year I’m hoping 2020 holds some whiskeys.. with your tips I’m sure to get one

  2. Thanks for a great 2019, Dom, and happy New Year to you, your family and your readers.

  3. Happy new year! Thanks for all the great reads. Inspired by your posts, I spent the last day of the year fishing a river I just recently found out stays open during the winter months. It was cold and I could either fish hard or go home. I fished hard. Couldn’t convince a fish to eat my nymph. It was a good day.

  4. Great article. This is even more true in heavy rainfall areas where frequent big floods reshape rivers and routinely kill trout which don’t make those permanent structures their shelter.

  5. If a bizarre PA trout fishing regulation prohibited fishing spill-outs, buckets, and permanent structure . . . where would you fish for your next whiskey?

    I realize that these three prime lies are fairly specific to freestone rivers; do you think they translate to spring creeks and tailwaters?


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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.

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