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ORVIS – How To Fish A Gravel Bar

Gravel shelves are highly favored by trout and are often the ideal spots to find them. In this tutorial, Dave and Amelia Jensen will guide you on identifying these gravel bars and demonstrate the most effective method to attract trout by presenting your flies.

If you wish to enhance your knowledge and skills in fly fishing, including various techniques and tools, we encourage you to explore our additional educational resources available at ORVIS. “ORVIS – How To Fish A Gravel Bar” is an instructional video created by The Orvis Company. In this video, Dave and Amelia Jensen share their expertise on finding trout in gravel shelves and how to effectively present your flies to these trout hotspots. Gravel shelves are common features in trout streams, typically located in corner pools, mid-river shelves, and heads of troughs along undercut banks. These shelves act as a current break, providing a feeding position for the trout. The video also touches upon the different fly fishing techniques, skills, and tools that can be explored through Orvis’ instructional resources.

Gravel shelves, formed through the movement of water and settling of gravel as a main substrate, offer a prime location to find trout. As these shelves create a break in the current, trout are often attracted to these areas for feeding. By understanding the behavior and feeding patterns of trout on gravel shelves, fishermen can significantly improve their chances of a successful catch. Whether it’s nymphs, mergers, or stoneflies, these trout hotspots present an opportunity to hone your fly fishing skills and techniques.

ORVIS - How To Fish A Gravel Bar

Finding Gravel Shelves

Gravel shelves can be found in various trout streams, and there are common features that can help you locate them. One common feature is corner pools. These pools are created where the river takes a sharp turn, and the water slows down, allowing gravel to accumulate. Mid-river shelves are also common, where the riverbed flattens out and gravel builds up. These shelves can be productive fishing spots as they provide a break in the current.

Another feature to look out for is the heads of troughs along undercut banks. These troughs create areas with slightly deeper water, and the gravel shelves at the heads of these troughs can be excellent spots for trout to feed. Lastly, look for transition zones where the depth of the river changes and gravel becomes the main substrate. These areas often harbor gravel shelves that are favored by trout.

Understanding the formation of gravel shelves is key to finding them. Gravel shelves are formed over time as the river’s current carries and deposits gravel. This gravel accumulates in areas where the current slows down or changes, resulting in the formation of shelves. The size and shape of these shelves can vary, but they often create habitat that is ideal for trout.

Characteristics of Gravel Shelves

Gravel shelves possess several characteristics that make them attractive to trout. One important characteristic is the presence of current break. The shelf creates a break in the river’s current, allowing trout to position themselves where they can conserve energy while still having access to food.

Another characteristic is the shallow feeding position that gravel shelves provide. Trout can take advantage of the shallow water to feed on aquatic insects, such as mayfly nymphs and emergers, that are abundant in these areas. The shallow water also allows trout to easily move from deeper areas of the river to the shallows when they detect food.

During droughts, gravel shelves become even more significant for trout. These areas often become concentrated feeding grounds as the water levels decrease. Trout will heavily congregate at the heads of these shelves, where small pockets of deeper water provide them with refuge and access to food.

Fishing Techniques for Gravel Shelves

When fishing on gravel shelves, it is important to position yourself properly. Stand low and on the inside edge of the current to minimize your impact on the water and avoid spooking the fish. casting errors can easily be made in this environment, as the overhead cover of the water can obstruct your view. It is important to remain vigilant and make accurate casts to the target areas.

Respectful fishing is crucial on gravel shelves. These areas can be highly productive, but they are also sensitive habitats. Be aware of your surroundings and maintain a respectful distance from other anglers. An awareness window is necessary to ensure that you are not disturbing the feeding behavior of the trout.

To effectively target trout on gravel shelves, it is important to understand their feeding behavior. Trout will often position themselves facing upstream, waiting for food to drift down towards them. By presenting mayfly nymphs, emergers, and stonefly nymphs as bait, you can imitate the natural food sources that trout are feeding on and increase your chances of success.

Different Trout Species

Different trout species exhibit varying behaviors and preferences when it comes to gravel shelves. Cutthroat trout, for example, have a tendency to congregate at the heads of gravel shelves during droughts. These fish seek out the deeper pockets of water in these areas, where they can find refuge and abundant food sources.

Rainbows, on the other hand, are often associated with fast water. While they can still be found near gravel shelves, they may be more likely to be found in areas of the river with faster currents. Understanding the specific behaviors and preferences of each trout species can help you target them more effectively.

However, it should be noted that trout can be found associated with gravel shelves all year round. These areas provide favorable feeding conditions, and trout are known to utilize them regardless of the season. By locating gravel shelves and understanding what attracts trout to them, you can increase your chances of catching trout throughout the year.

Optimal Fishing Conditions

When fishing on gravel shelves, certain conditions can make your fishing more successful. Low flows and low dissolved oxygen are often favorable, as trout tend to seek out shallower water at the head of the run or the tail out of the pool. These areas provide them with the necessary oxygen and access to food.

The peak of summer can also be an ideal time to fish on gravel shelves. As water temperatures rise, trout may become more active and move to shallower areas to feed. The abundance of aquatic insects during this time makes gravel shelves particularly attractive to trout.

Resting fish can also be targeted on gravel shelves. When trout are not actively feeding, they often rest near the heads of shelves, waiting for food to drift by. These resting fish can be enticed to eat if presented with the right fly.

During the terrestrial stonefly season, there is also a chance of catching deep-holding fish on gravel shelves. Stoneflies are known to crawl along the riverbed, and trout will often move from the depths to the shallow water to feed on these insects. By imitating stonefly nymphs, you can effectively target these deep-holding fish.

Deep Fishing Techniques

Deep fishing on gravel shelves can be challenging but rewarding. One technique is deep knotting the fish. This involves using heavy nymph rigs or streamers and allowing them to sink deep into the water column. By presenting the fly at the appropriate depth, you can increase your chances of enticing the trout to strike.

Another technique is to take advantage of opportunities for fish to come all the way up to eat a dry fly. This may require observation and patience, as you wait for fish to rise to the surface and feed on insects. By presenting a dry fly that imitates the natural insect, you can have success in catching trout on the surface.

Deep fishing tactics also play a role in success on gravel shelves. This includes adjusting your leader length and weight to achieve the desired depth, as well as using techniques such as nymphing or swinging streamers to entice the trout to strike.

Advantages of Gravel Shelves

Gravel shelves offer several advantages to anglers. One major advantage is that trout are relatively easy to locate on these shelves. Due to the favorable feeding conditions, trout tend to concentrate in these areas, making it easier for anglers to find and target them.

Another advantage is the presence of overhead broken water. The broken water created by the shelf dampens the impact of your line and leader, making it less likely to spook the trout. This allows for more accurate and effective presentations, increasing your chances of success.

Lastly, gravel shelves offer an advantage in terms of trout behavior. The shelves create a split decision for the trout – whether to take the fly or not. This often leads to a more aggressive response from the fish, resulting in more successful hookups.


Gravel shelves are hotspots for trout and understanding how to locate and fish these areas can greatly enhance your fishing experience. By identifying common features of trout streams and observing trout behavior and habitat preferences, you can effectively find and target trout on gravel shelves.

Using appropriate fishing techniques, such as standing low and on the inside edge of the current, presenting the right flies, and respecting the habitat, can increase your chances of success. Whether you are targeting cutthroat trout congregating at the heads of shelves or rainbows associated with fast water, gravel shelves provide favorable feeding conditions for trout throughout the year.

Optimal fishing conditions, such as low flows and low dissolved oxygen, the peak of summer fishing, and the terrestrial stonefly season, can further enhance your chances of catching trout on gravel shelves. Deep fishing techniques and the advantages offered by gravel shelves, such as easy trout location and overhead broken water, should also be considered when fishing these areas.

Overall, gravel shelves offer a unique and productive fishing experience. By familiarizing yourself with the characteristics of gravel shelves and employing the appropriate fishing techniques, you can increase your chances of success and make the most out of your time on the water.

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