Conquering the Deep Water Brown Trout Adaptability


“The ability to change to fit different circumstances.” An insignificant definition to most, but for those who methodically target challenging species it’s an attribute that can influence the fine line between a substantial achievement and continuous disappointment.

The Brown Trout, is undoubtedly one of the most actively pursed trout species on the planet. Equal to its sought after status, the Brown is widely recognized as a complicated and wary adversary that requires versatile techniques to successfully hook and land on the best of occasions.

When searching for big Browns within a stillwater environment, fly fishing techniques have traditionally been focused on targeting shallow water structures and their immediate transitions, often applying one’s angling efforts within 2 to 12 feet of water. These locations are popular during primary spring and fall periods when Brown trout are customarily active due to favourable water temperatures and the presence of resident and seasonal forage, like minnows, caddis, midge and water boatman.

And rightly so, the allure of visual indications like big swirls and rises from respectable fish would convince anyone that these observations are proof to obvious feeding activity which would warrant an honest attempt to provoke a tug. Until… I can vividly remember a pinnacle moment during one of my very first stillwater Brown Trout adventures, that forever changed my opinion and approach on how, where and when I would target these allusive monarchs. It was mid-morning during the first week of June, I was four hours into my day when I decided to move from a shallow grass edge to a long shallow point that was strewn with sunken logs and a series of beaver huts. Eager to get to my next spot, I chose to cross over one of the lakes deep water basins to save a little time. To increase my odds on hooking up I decided to cast out about 30 feet of my intermediate sinking fly line and indulged in a slow back troll. When I reached the half way mark I was temporarily stalled due to my electric trolling motor being void of any battery power and made a move to a quick battery change. With my fly rod propped up against my transom I began to change out my battery and take a little time to put away some other gear.

My house keeping efforts couldn’t have been more than a minute long when my fly rod began to double over and my line started to moderately peel off my reel. I was quick to grab my rod and instantly set it to a substantial resistance. Immediately after the hookset the unknown at the end of my line began to rise fast, doing everything I could to keep up with the slack, I immediately slammed my electric motor into reverse and soon after connected with a tight line. A brief lull was instantly met with an explosive jump that revealed a giant, golden object that rapidly engaged in a series of bulldog antics, twists, turns and stressful deep runs. After minutes of strenuous side pressure and a lot of praying, I managed to land a massive 26 inch Brown.

So there I was, in the middle of the lake, dumfounded as to what just happened, when I glanced at my sonar and realized that I was in 30 feet of water. Taking a closer look, I was surprised to see a remarkable amount of large arks hovering throughout the 18 to 24 foot water column. I had soon realized that my successful hook up was a result of my flies sinking slowly through an isolated school of deep water hawgs.

Not fully recognizing it then, I had mistakenly stumbled upon an extremely effective technique that would drastically increase my success rates and consistently put my flies in front of huge, active fish. Upon request, the deep water Brown has now become an attainable and consistent fly fishing option that readily affords an opportunity to successfully conquer.


The Why’s, When’s, Where’s and How’s of Deep Water Browns

Why would I target Brown Trout in deep water?
Like many other trout, Browns move in and out of shallow water almost like clockwork. Finite feeding patterns offer a very small window in shallow water columns, usually reserving consistent success to low light periods. Typical Browns will usually stay secluded in shallow areas in order to ambush their chosen forage, causing them to be reluctant to move out of their comfort zone and chase a fly. Big Browns love to stage in deep water, waiting for an easy meal and cruising within a preferred water temperature.

When would I most likely use this deep water technique?
The most common affects that would push Browns to deep water would be in result of prolonged high pressure systems, severe low pressures systems or major cold fronts and rising water temperatures in primary shallow feeding areas. But in general, Brown Trout will stage in the deep water columns during the majority of daytime hours throughout the open water season.

Where do I search for Brown Trout in deep water?
For this action to be accurate, sonar will be required. For those that have observed Browns feeding in shallow water areas, finding the nearest deep water transition will be fairly easy. With the primary feeding areas unknown, find deep water that is nearest to obvious structure like points, sunken logs, rocks, grass lines and beaver huts. Search the adjacent deep water transitions and focus on water that offers 17 to 30 foot depths. Start in the deepest water possible and work your way towards shore, observing the various columns on your sonar for activity. If there is a sharp drop off present, key in those obvious transitions areas. Once you observe fish on your sonar, mark your location and stay on top of the fish.

How do I target these Brown Trout in their observed water columns?
There are two key considerations when targeting Brown Trout in deep water. Wind speed and fly line types. Suspended Browns will consistently bite a fly when presented with a reverse drift method.
The optimum speed for an effective drift will be between .35 and .50 miles per hour. If fish are observed between 10 and 15 feet of water over 30 feet, an intermediate line will be your primary choice. Attach a 14 foot fluorocarbon leader in 6 pound test, with a 10 inch dropper half way up your leader, at 7 feet. With 75 feet of fly line out in front of you, your line will stay within the 10 to 15 foot mark at the required drift speed with your dropper and point fly covering two different vertical water columns.

If wind speeds cause you to drift faster than .75 miles per hour, change your fly line to a 15 foot sink tip or Type 3 full sink. Attach a 10 foot fluorocarbon leader in 6 pound test, with a 10 inch dropper half way up your leader, at 5 feet. With to 75 feet of fly line out in front of you, your line will stay within the 10 to 15 foot mark at the increased drift speed, again, with your dropper and point fly covering two different vertical water columns.
As winds increase or decrease, minor adjustments can be made to the amount of line you have out in front of you to ensure that that your flies are staying in the targeted water column.

If Browns are observed in deeper water columns, change your line to a type 5 or 6 full sink and adjust your line lengths until you receive a take. Keep track of your line lengths and the speed at which you are drifting and repeat your drifts in a consistent pattern.

If wind is non-existent, your best options are to cast over the suspended Browns and retrieve your line as slow as possible, bringing your point and dropper fly through multiple water columns and triggering a bite as they move past the suspended fish.


About Author

Owner of Alpine Country Outfitters, Manitoba's Stillwater Fly Fishing Specialist Hunt Fish Marketing Consultant for Travel Manitoba Career Fishing/Fly Fishing/Hunting Guide in Manitoba Career marketer in Manitoba’s hunting and fishing industry Current board member on FLIPPR (Fish and Lake Improvement Program for the Parkland Region) Current board member on the Manitoba Lodges and Outfitters Association Past Executive Director of the Manitoba Lodges and Outfitters Association Competitor at four Canadian National Fly Fishing Championships 2004/2005/2009/2010 (Individual) Siver medalist at 2009 Canadian National Fly Fishing Championships: Fernie, BC (Team) Siver medalist at 2009 Canadian National Fly Fishing Championships: Fernie, BC Current waterfowl and fly fishing guide at Birdtail Waterfowl Past Fishing/Fly Fishing Guide at The Lodge at Little Duck, Webber’s Lodges, Knee Lake Resort, Hayes River Past big game and waterfowl hunting guide at Webber’s Lodges Former Orvis Endorsed Fly Fishing Guide/Fly Fishing Instructor Former commercial fly tyer

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