Non-Descript H2O’s (Now Ya See’em Now Ya Don’t)

Steelheader, Glen Stanley, stretches with heavy anticipation, especially since the broken water above his right shoulder, produced a fresh slab to his skater.

Steelheader, Glen Stanley, stretches with heavy anticipation, especially since the broken water above his right shoulder, produced a fresh slab to his skater.

Rowing, drifting and navigating waters have always been a major stoke and highlight of my fishing and guiding career. “Come for the Float of it,” was actually our slogan when we first started our business in 1982. Since then I have had the good fortune to spend half of my life logging thousands of miles on lakes and rivers that has been nothing short of an incredible watermanship learning curve. Quality, up close and hands on river time that broaden my fishing and guiding skills that ultimately sprouted a deep appreciation and respect for the resources. It has been one hell of a ride although hasn’t been an easy class I float. After three cracked ribs, knee contortion, bruised sternum and a few other minor rowing tattoos I quickly gained the utmost respect for the force and powers of water hydraulics and progressively developed a keen awareness of conditions and impacting elements. Each outing, regardless still waters, tail waters or rivers, is a new opportunity and adventure challenging mental and physical abilities, leaving little room to falter. Off the get-go, the past clearly demonstrated bring you’re A-Game or be prepared to learn the hard way.

Beauty, innocence and terror-they always keeping you guessing.

Beauty, innocence and terror-they always keeping you guessing.

Learning how to read water is not only vital for safe navigation but essential if you plan on feeling that tug on the end of your line. If you don’t know where the fish are it is difficult to make an intelligent approach. Since fish won’t tell us where they will be or what they eat, it is up to us to do the guess work or as the late Bill Schaadt would say “figure it out.” No better way to experience success and keep the odds in your favor than to learn to read water. With ever-changing conditions, impacting rivers and waters, learning and understanding water compositions is a perpetual learning curve that doesn’t require a PhD and can be achieved by most anyone willing to commit, tune in, observe and trust judgment, hunches, guesses, and most importantly, the blind faith of trial and error while searching, probing, hunting and devoting as much time on the water as possible with rod in hand.

When I started my guiding business I targeted the obvious, or easy to read waters, riffles and pools that supported enough depth and flows to swing or drift a fly. I experienced a predictable degree of success that also provided enough confidence the obvious waters became my go-to favorites. (Even today the greater majority of anglers/boaters flock to the obvious tanks.) However when conditions changed, impacting the river, my go-to favorites lost their predictability and more than a few times I painfully added a goose egg to the nest. Baffling, I continued to observe fish rotating and or holding in a wide range of new, at least new to me until I finally took off the blinders, unsuspecting waters. For the first few years I carelessly ignored these waters and simply wrote them off as odd, unappealing and unproductive, especially since nobody else was targeting them. If I had any hopes of bringing home the beacon it was obvious I needed to change my approach. Little did I know these waters would blossom into an entirely new line-up of promising opportunities and ultimately become my personal favorite sweet-spots. I dubbed them “non-descript.”

These guys love non-descript waters.

These guys love non-descript waters.

I reluctantly drifted away from my routine, whenever any kind of change occurred, and began targeting a variety of non-descript water. It was refreshing stretching a line and dissecting new line-ups while feeling the hidden intensity hype and satisfaction of knowing the majority of fish around were not pestered. Surprisingly, success did not come easy yet I stayed with my game plan, hammering it out and focused on the big picture; seasons, climatic conditions, water temperatures, flows and their influence on fish behavior and water compositions, while experimenting with flies, lines, and techniques. A grab here and there, beaching a few fish, insulated my confidence yet boggled the mind, I was beginning to understand there is a hell of a lot more to the Trinity River that I don’t understand.

So what does an angler look for or what appearances do non-descript waters represent? The best description I can come up with is pretty much all the unattractive waters you pass up, without a second look, when high-tailing it straight to riffles and pools; the non-descript varieties. Rather than trying to recognize tell-tell signs, learning and understanding the role and functions of these waters will help to fine tune productive waters and broaden your options. Keep in mind the big picture. Non-descript waters are greatly influenced by current conditions and susceptible to change, influencing and affecting appearance, holding/transitioning fish behavior and productivity. Some waters are fairly predictable and turn on with climatic change and time of the year. Least conspicuous waters simply do not exist or come alive until flows increase or as flows recede; here today, gone tomorrow. Most surprising are waters that lighten up, when prolonged intense angling/boating pressure persists, and fish seek non-descript waters as a last ditch effort to elude the blight.

Reading water has never been easy and learning to fine tune non-descript waters kicks it up another notch; challenging even the most accomplished anglers. There are no aps or programs that will cut the fat or lead to short cuts. The personal stoke and rewards of reading and discovering new productive waters are some of the most exciting and satisfying accomplishments any fish fisher can achieve. From what little I have learned from the past, and believe me I’m the first to confess the more time I spend on the water the more I realize what I don’t know, incognito sweet spots, many sandwiched in- between your favorite obvious waters or right under your nose, have proven, time and time again to be much more than secondary options. So whenever you’re favorite waters are not producing don’t hesitate to step out of the box and lace a few casts into some unappealing, unsuspecting non-descript water; chances are that smash-n-burn grab will alter your expectations.

Our local waters are currently experiencing mid-September levels and conditions, low. However we are fortunate Lewiston Lake and the upper reach TF is supporting cool water temperatures and a nice scoot of summer chinook and steelhead. Enjoy the Summer and Be Fire Safe!!!

Shallow flats are often ignored by the majority seeking obvious deep tanks-Dong Frogner on it and in him.

Shallow flats are often ignored by the majority seeking obvious deep tanks-Don Frogner on it and in him.

Related posts:


2 thoughts on “Non-Descript H2O’s (Now Ya See’em Now Ya Don’t)

  1. Simply put, Herb, you are a legend.

    I hooked my first steelhead on the Trinity about six years ago after stopping by your shop and picking your brain– my search for chrome became official.

    I’ve been up and down California and Oregon in search of new water for steelhead and what I continue to find is although “non-descript” waters are often times fruitless, the reward is tenfold compared to the standard shoulder to shoulder scene at the hatchery with forty other fishermen, or even the popular “secret hole” for that matter– it’s the difference between going to the Louvre and seeing the Mona Lisa and stumbling upon an undiscovered Picasso in your now ex-girlfriend’s grandmother’s attic. Thanks again for the inspiration.

    P.S. My most recent example of the “nondescript” phenomenon was an semi-alpine lake in Tahoe where I’d been fishing a perfect looking rocky point for a day and a half (see: lazy fisherman) only to walk 150 yds. in to the shallow water beach to hook and land the largest rainbow I’ve ever caught. I’ve never been bone fishing but I imagine the strike and subsequent fight is similar to my experience that day on the beach.

Leave a Reply

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

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.