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ORVIS – How To Fish Riffles For Trout

ORVIS presents a comprehensive guide on how to fish riffles for trout. In this instructional video, The Orvis Company takes you to a classic fishing spot: a gravel shelf with a unique twist. Instead of a simple shelving riffle, this gravel shelf consists of a series of fingers. As you look upstream, you’ll notice tiny white fingers extending from the main shelf, each offering potential fishing opportunities. The video explores the best techniques for targeting trout in these riffles, highlighting the importance of fishing shallow water and working your way up systematically. It also provides insights into the early emergence of a mayfly hatch and how to use certain fly patterns and indicators to attract the fish’s attention. Whether you’re a beginner or experienced angler, this article offers invaluable tips for successfully fishing riffles for trout.

ORVIS - How To Fish Riffles For Trout

The Importance of Fishing Riffles for Trout

Riffles are a crucial habitat for trout and play a significant role in their survival and reproduction. Understanding the characteristics of a riffle and why trout are attracted to them is essential for any angler looking to target trout in rivers. Fishing riffles can be highly rewarding, but proper preparation, reading the water, and utilizing the right techniques are key to success.

Understanding the riffle habitat

A riffle is a section of a river where the water flows shallow and fast over a series of rocks and gravel. This creates a turbulent and oxygen-rich environment that trout find ideal for feeding and shelter. The riffle habitat offers safety, as the fast current disguises the trout from predators like birds and larger fish. It also provides a constant supply of food, as insects and other small aquatic creatures are swept downstream, presenting an easy meal for the trout.

Why trout are attracted to riffles

Trout are naturally attracted to riffles for several reasons. Firstly, the oxygen-rich water in riffles allows them to extract oxygen more efficiently from their gills, enabling them to thrive in these areas. Secondly, the turbulent water breaks up the surface tension, making it easier for trout to spot insects and other food items. Additionally, the swift current brings a continuous stream of food to the trout, ensuring a steady food supply and reducing the energy they need to expend in search of food.

Benefits of fishing riffles for trout

Fishing riffles can be incredibly productive for anglers targeting trout. The constant flow of food in the riffle habitat draws trout to these areas, increasing the likelihood of hooking a fish. Furthermore, riffles create numerous holding spots for trout, allowing anglers to target specific fish and increase their chances of a successful catch. Fishing in riffles also gives anglers the opportunity to observe fish behavior and learn more about trout habits and preferences, contributing to their overall knowledge and fishing skills.

Preparation and Equipment

Before heading out to fish riffles, it is essential to ensure you have the right equipment and know how to use it effectively.

Selecting the right rod and reel

Choosing the right rod and reel for fishing riffles is crucial. A medium to fast action rod with a length of 8 to 9 feet is ideal for casting accurately and handling the swift currents of riffles. Pairing the rod with a reel that has a smooth drag system and sufficient line capacity will give you better control over the fish once hooked.

Choosing the appropriate line and leader

Using the correct line and leader setup is vital in the riffle habitat. A floating weight-forward line allows for accurate casting and better control of the fly. A tapered leader between 7.5 to 9 feet in length, with a 4x to 6x tippet, is suitable for most riffle fishing situations. The length and strength of the leader should be adjusted based on the water clarity and the size of the fish you are targeting.

Essential tackle for fishing riffles

In addition to the rod, reel, line, and leader, there are several other essential tackle items that every angler should have when fishing riffles. A selection of nymph and emerger patterns, such as Pheasant Tails, Hare’s Ears, and Blue Winged Olives, should be included in your fly box. Split shot weights, strike indicators, and a landing net are also essential tools to have on hand. It is also recommended to carry a wading staff for stability and safety while navigating the rocky terrain of riffles.

Reading the Water

Being able to accurately read the water is crucial when targeting trout in riffles. Identifying riffles, analyzing water depth and flow, and spotting potential fish holding areas are all essential skills for a successful fishing experience.

Identifying riffles in the river

Riffles can be identified by their characteristics, such as shallow depth, fast water flow, and a rocky or gravel substrate. Look for areas where the water breaks over rocks, creating a turbulent and foamy surface. Riffles often occur after a shallow stretch of slower water, known as a pool, which creates a transition zone for trout.

Analyzing water depth and flow

Understanding the depth and flow of the water in riffles is crucial for determining where trout are likely to be located. While riffles are generally shallow, there may be deeper pockets or runs where trout seek refuge. Pay attention to areas with slower water near the edges of the riffle, as trout will often hold in these spots to conserve energy.

Spotting potential fish holding areas

Trout in riffles seek areas of slower water and cover to conserve energy and hide from predators. Look for eddies behind rocks, in front of submerged logs, or along the edges of deeper pockets. These spots provide a break from the swift current and serve as ambush points for feeding trout.

Matching the Hatch

Understanding the insect life in riffles and selecting the right fly patterns are crucial for successful fishing in this habitat. Matching the hatch involves imitating the insects that trout feed on during their lifecycle.

Understanding the insect life in riffles

Riffles are teeming with insect life, making it a prime feeding ground for trout. It is essential to have a basic understanding of the insects found in riffles, including their lifecycles, behavior, and patterns of emergence. Common insects found in riffles include mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies, and midges.

Selecting the right fly patterns

When fishing riffles, it is crucial to select fly patterns that closely resemble the insects present in the water. Carry a selection of nymph and emerger patterns that imitate the different stages of insect development. Match the color, size, and profile of the natural insects as closely as possible to increase your chances of enticing a strike.

Fishing techniques for imitating nymphs and emergers

Imitating nymphs and emergers involves presenting your fly at the correct depth and using appropriate techniques to mimic the natural behavior of the insects. Techniques such as dead drifting, adding a slight twitch or bounce to your retrieve, and using a drag-free drift can all be effective methods to imitate nymphs and emergers in riffles. Experiment with different techniques and observe the behavior of feeding trout to determine what is most effective on a particular day.

Approaching Riffles

Knowing the best times to fish riffles, using the correct wading techniques, and maintaining stealth are essential when approaching riffles to avoid spooking fish and increase your chances of success.

Best times for fishing riffles

The best times to fish riffles are typically early morning and late evening. During these times, trout are more actively feeding, and the low light conditions provide them with a sense of security. Overcast days can also be productive, as the diffused light reduces the visibility of anglers and makes the trout more confident in venturing into shallower water.

The correct wading techniques

Proper wading techniques are vital when approaching riffles. Move slowly and deliberately, making sure to feel for each step before putting your weight down. Utilize a side-step or cross-step technique to maintain balance in the fast-moving water. Avoid dragging your feet or creating excessive disturbance, as this can alert trout to your presence.

Maintaining stealth to avoid spooking fish

Trout in riffles are highly sensitive to disturbances and can be easily spooked. Stay low and avoid making sudden movements, as this can send vibrations through the water and alert the fish to your presence. Keep a low profile along the bank and use the cover of vegetation to conceal yourself from the trout. Additionally, minimizing noise and avoiding unnecessary splashing or disturbances in the water will increase your chances of getting close to feeding fish.

Fishing Techniques for Riffles

To effectively fish riffles, anglers should master casting techniques for accurate presentations, work the entire riffle systematically, and adjust retrieves based on water conditions.

Casting techniques for accurate presentations

Accurate casting is essential when fishing riffles, as it allows you to place your fly precisely in the fish’s feeding lane. Practice casting techniques such as roll casts, reach casts, and aerial mends to achieve accurate and drag-free presentations. These techniques will help ensure that your fly drifts naturally and entices trout to strike.

Working the entire riffle systematically

To maximize your chances of hooking fish in a riffle, it is important to work the entire area systematically. Start at the head of the riffle and make casts progressively downstream, covering the entire width and depth of the riffle. Trout can be spread throughout the riffle, so thoroughly covering the water will increase your chances of encountering feeding fish.

Adjusting retrieves based on water conditions

Water conditions can vary in a riffle, and adjusting retrieves accordingly is crucial for success. In faster currents, a faster retrieve may be necessary to keep your fly at the desired depth and prevent it from being swept downstream too quickly. In slower pockets or eddies, a slower retrieve or letting your fly drift naturally may be more effective. Observe the behavior of feeding trout and be adaptable in your retrieve to increase your chances of enticing strikes.

Targeting Shallow Water

Understanding the behavior of trout in shallow water, choosing appropriate fly patterns and presentations, and utilizing dry flies as indicators are all key techniques for targeting trout in shallow riffles.

Understanding the behavior of trout in shallow water

Trout in shallow riffles behave differently than those in deeper water. In shallow areas, trout are more cautious and easily spooked. They tend to hold in slower currents and cover, making accurate presentations crucial. Understanding their behavior in shallow water allows anglers to adjust their approach and increase their chances of success.

Choosing appropriate fly patterns and presentations

When targeting trout in shallow water, it is essential to choose fly patterns and presentations that match the natural insects present. Select low-riding dry flies or emergers that imitate the insects on the surface. Present your fly delicately and avoid dragging it unnaturally across the surface, as this can startle trout and cause them to refuse the fly.

Using dry flies as indicators in shallow water

In shallow riffles, using dry flies as indicators can be an effective technique. By attaching a buoyant dry fly as an indicator above a nymph or emerger pattern, you can monitor the movement and behavior of the dry fly to detect subtle strikes or changes in trout activity. This technique allows you to present your nymph or emerger at the desired depth while still having a visible indicator on the surface.

Navigating the Riffle

When fishing riffles, navigating the area effectively is essential. Mapping out your approach, covering the entire riffle area, and identifying hotspots will optimize your fishing strategy and increase your chances of success.

Mapping out your approach in riffle fishing

Before jumping into a riffle, take a moment to observe the water and map out your approach. Identify potential holding spots, analyze the flow patterns, and plan your casting angles. Having a clear plan in mind before you start fishing will help you navigate the riffle more efficiently and increase your chances of hooking fish.

Properly covering the entire riffle area

To be successful in a riffle, it is crucial to cover the entire area effectively. Make sure to cast to different areas of the riffle, including the head, tail, deeper pockets, and seams between currents. Trout can be scattered throughout the riffle, so thoroughly working each section will ensure you are presenting your fly to as many fish as possible.

Identifying hotspots and adjusting fishing strategy

While working the entire riffle, pay attention to areas that consistently produce strikes or signs of trout activity. These hotspots can be identified by observing rising fish, noticing subtle movements in the water, or experiencing repeated hook-ups. Adjust your fishing strategy and spend more time targeting these areas, as they are likely to hold a higher concentration of trout.

Techniques for Streamside Management

Fishing riffles should not only be about catching fish but also about practicing proper streamside management. Caring for the environment, practicing catch and release methods, and adhering to leave no trace principles contribute to the sustainability of trout populations and the preservation of these beautiful habitats.

Caring for the environment while fishing riffles

When fishing riffles, it is crucial to respect and care for the environment. Avoid trampling on vegetation, disturbing the riverbed, or damaging rocks and gravel. Do not litter and always pack out any trash or fishing gear. By leaving the environment in the same or better condition than you found it, you contribute to the long-term health of the habitat and the fish that inhabit it.

Practicing catch and release methods

Trout populations in many rivers are declining, and practicing catch and release is crucial for their conservation. When fishing riffles, consider releasing the fish you catch, especially the larger ones that are essential for future breeding. Maintain proper handling techniques to minimize stress on the fish and release them gently and quickly, increasing their chances of survival.

Leave no trace principles in riffle fishing

Adhering to leave no trace principles is essential in riffle fishing. Minimize your impact on the environment by staying on designated trails and access points. Do not disturb wildlife or their habitats, and be mindful of other anglers and recreational users of the area. By practicing leave no trace principles, you ensure that future generations will also have the opportunity to enjoy the beauty and abundance of riffle fishing.


Fishing riffles for trout is not only enjoyable but also an opportunity to refine your skills and deepen your understanding of these magnificent fish and their habitat. By understanding the importance of riffles, properly preparing and equipping yourself, reading the water, and utilizing effective fishing techniques, you can greatly increase your chances of success. Remember to always care for the environment, practice catch and release, and continue learning and improving your riffle fishing skills for a lifetime of thrilling and rewarding experiences on the water.

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