Learning to Love Cover

A recent post on the FlyStream Forum has prompted me to write a few lines about how much trout value cover; and how to fish it. Sometimes I think it’s a wonder we can catch trout at all. Imagine the selective pressure for caution. Let’s say roughly a thousand eggs are laid by a hen fish, and then a few hundred hatch into fry. Of those fry, perhaps two on average will be good enough at avoiding predators (among other hurdles) to reach maturity. Then multiply this brutal natural selection by thousands if not millions of generations.

This wild brown trout has only survived by having a healthy love of cover.

This wild brown trout has only survived by having a healthy love of cover.

So if you are a wild trout, there is zero chance you will reach catchable size unless you are very good at avoiding predators, and that in turn means being very good at remaining hidden; or at least so well protected by physical obstructions that bad things can’t easily get to you.

The reward for getting in amongst the mess - a big Goulburn willow grub feeder.

The reward for getting in amongst the mess – a big Goulburn willow grub feeder.

Accepting this simple truth will change the way you flyfish. Instead of looking at a stream in terms of where it’s easy or comfortable for you to fish, you’ll look at it in terms of where a trout, under almost constant attack, would want to live – and feed.  Suddenly that open, smooth, shallow and sunlit glide becomes ugly; while that snaggy corner with a half-fallen wattle leaning over it and a casting gap of just 2ft between branches and water, is beautiful.

A few blackberry scratches getting in, no back cast, turbulent water that wants to drown the fly... Perfect!

A few blackberry scratches getting in, no back cast, turbulent water that wants to drown the fly… Perfect!

There is a sliding scale here. Discoloured water and/or high flows, low light or a recent lack of predator pressure will all help to bring trout a little more out into the open; while low flows, very clear water, bright light and lots of predators will jam them into every hiding place. These latter conditions will have less experienced anglers complaining that, ‘There aren’t any fish in the river mate, didn’t even spook one.’  On the same river on the same day, the cover-lover will still catch fish by, say, drifting their hopper not merely along the edge of the swordgrass overhang, but actually under it. And they’ll cross to that steep, deep scrub-lined side so they can creep through the undergrowth and drop a nymph off their rod tip in front of a 3 pounder finning in the shadows.

Crossing to the 'uncomfortable' side on the Mitta puts the angler near cover. This side produced three nice fish. The opposite easy bank? None.

Crossing to the ‘uncomfortable’ side on the Mitta puts the angler near cover. This side produced three nice fish. The opposite easy bank? None.

As with flyfishing in general, becoming an effective ‘cover-lover’ and achieving consistent success is not easy. But then I suspect that if you wanted the angling equivalent of mini-golf, you wouldn’t have taken up flyfishing in the first place.

Further Reading: The Good Bits by Nick Taransky, FlyStream magazine, issue 10. http://flystream.com/magazine/