Where to find trout in lakes,
rivers and streams?

First step – get the books or DVDs, or get on the net

The first part of answering the question “where do I find trout” is easy – in the water. And finding water that holds trout is just about as easy – get the books,  or get on the Net.

For a fish only introduced to New Zealand about 100 years ago, the trout has done a good job of colonising many of our waterways. They can be found from Northland, to the heart of Auckland’s North Shore, and right down through both islands.

There are three books that cover just about every piece of trout-holding water in this country (New Zealand):

  • John Kent’s 2 books, North Island Fishing Guide and South Island Fishing Guide cover the lakes, streams and rivers that hold trout, how to reach them, the type of trout, and ideas as to what may tempt them.
  • Tony Busch’s Trout Fishing – A guide to New Zealand’s South Island covers the South Island in some detail, with very precise directions on access and how to reach fishing spots.
  • A good source of information on the net is the 'NZ Fishing' site - it has very good maps and access guides - a [goldmine of info].
  • Most Countries, States, Provinces, etc. have books and web sites similar to those above to provide good information on finding trout where you are going to be fishing.

All three of these books, and the web site, will direct anglers to water that holds trout – that is the easy part. Finding trout in the water they live in – now there is the part that is just a tad more difficult.

In fact, most often, it is this one factor that separates the 10% of fishermen who catch 90% of the fish, from others.

To Find Fish – Find the Ten Percent

Here is a piece of information all fishermen need to know – at any one time, trout are found in less than 10% of the overall water they live in – often in much less than 10%.

This is an important piece of info. In any river, stream or lake only 10% or less of the all that water will contain trout. No matter what follows in this book about how to catch trout, in fact no matter how many books or magazines you read, how-to videos you watch, and how many web-sites you visit, two things will remain true:

  • One – if you fish where fish are not – you will not catch fish.
  • Two – if you cannot identify where trout are most likely to be more often than not – most of the time you will not catch fish.

No matter what method of trout fishing you use, no matter where you use that method – stream, river or lake – identifying the most likely place where trout could be holding at any one time is the key to increasing your catch rate. In fact no matter how good you become at the technique of casting a fly or spinning lure, at jigging, harling or trolling, all this technical expertise will be useless if you do not learn to fish where the fish are, more often.

To repeat myself; this is one of the key factors, if not the one key factor, that separates the 10% of fishermen who catch 90% of the fish from the others. They fish where fish are most often.

To emphasise the point even further - good fishermen (the 10%), are usually not just good fishermen in water they know. Take them to a new river, stream or lake and they will get amongst fish quicker than others. Why?

Because here is some good news, all trout water is very much the same, only the scale, or its size alters. The structure of the water that holds trout in a small stream, is much the same as the water that holds trout in a small river, as a big river, and in fact in a lake.

In fact nearly all trout water has three main features:

  • Riffles – are areas where water flow is faster and shallower, usually over and around rocks and boulders. Riffles on big rivers, with big water flows, can verge on being rapids.
  • Runs (also called Glides) – are areas of deeper water, often below riffles – one to three metres deep – often flowing into pools. The water surface in these runs is usually flatter and calmer than the turmoil of the riffles. Runs can be a few metres wide, or on big rivers, scores of metres wide.
  • Pools – are the deepest areas with the slowest moving water. Many lakes are just big ‘pools’, Lakes Taupo and Wanaka included.

illustration of main river features

The diagram above shows a typical set-up of a stream or river. The current flows from left to right across the page. The riffle is shallow water flowing quickly around boulders and rocks. The run is deeper water with a calmer surface. The pool is below the run, the deepest water with less current.

In a small stream the riffle, run, pool ‘set’ can be less than a 100 metres from whoa to go, on a big river the set could many hundreds of metres – if not kilometres.

The order or sequence of these main features varies greatly. For instance the sequence could be - run, riffle, run, riffle, pool, riffle, pool, run, pool...

In the braided-shingle rivers of the lower North Island and South Island the individual ‘ribbons’ of the river branches often contain these same sets – riffles, runs and pools.

Trout can be found in all these sections of water – riffles, runs, and pools – but only in small sections of each of them. In fact in each of the sections, just like the whole river, stream or lake, trout will be found in only 10% or less of the water in each of those sections. Finding where trout lie in these individual sections of water is the next challenge.

Heads or Tails - Or Both?

The part of the river or stream where water enters of exits a feature such as a riffle, run or pool, is called the ‘Head’ (entry) or the ‘Tail’ (exit). This has the potential to cause some confusion.

For instance if you have a run emptying into a pool, the tail of the run is also the head of the pool. So if you were describing a tail section of a pool, it is usual to describe it in full, in this case “the tail of the pool”. I use this convention in this book.

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Terminology Clarification

On many of New Zealand's more famous rivers some of the waters that consistently produce fish have been named. For instance on the Tongariro River there are a number of named areas – Judges Pool, Major Jones Pool, Bridge Pool, etc. There are many more.

Many of these ‘pools’ are in fact not pools in the sense that I have used the term pool in this book. Many of these named ‘pools’ are in fact runs, riffles or pools, and in some ‘pools’ a combination of all or some of the three.

Often when anglers refer to so-and-so pool they are in fact referring to a section of a river that can consistently contain a high number of fish in various lies. Some of these ‘pools’, can be up to a 100 or more metres in length, and contain many lies in a variety of water types.

In this book I use the word pool to describe an area of deeper, slow moving water, not in the more generic sense of named ‘pools’.

Trout Lies

‘Lie’ is the name for the places where trout can be found in water – as well as the lies fishermen tell when they don’t catch fish because they couldn’t find the trout lies!

Despite a human-bred reputation for cunning – trout are about as thick as a ditch-digger’s sandwich. A ten-pound trout has a brain smaller than a pea. So a trout’s life is reduced to very simple basics.

To survive successfully trout need three factors, food, shelter and an environment that will sustain their physiology:

  • Food must be available in a quantity and proximity that ensures the trout does not expend more energy finding food than the food itself provides.
  • Shelter must be close enough to the food source to provide safety from predators and in rivers and streams some relief from the currents.
  • The environment of the water – temperature, oxygenation, current, etc. – must fit within a relatively narrow band.

‘Prime lies’ are the lies that offer the best shelter,
close to a good food source.

No matter where trout lies are found – in rivers, streams or lakes – in riffles, runs or pools – all lies will have all the above characteristics most of the time.

more informationgraphic The process of finding trout lies, or places they are likely to lie, is called ‘Reading the Water’. There is an excellent article on reading the water on the Midcurrent site - an excellent site on fresh and salt water fly-fishing.

more informationgraphic What do you do when you have found trout? Read the Ten Commandments of Stealth, a very good article on the subject.

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