Classic Trout Water

Trout Fishing

Reading the Water

Riffle on Little Piney Creek-Trout Fishing

Reading the water is an essential element to successful trout fishing. There have been several books written about the subject, but really, a brief description of habitat types, and how (and when) to fish them, is all a beginner needs. An understanding of this concept requires a basic grasp of the biology of a trout. First, trout need much more oxygen than other species of fish. Oxygen content is high enough for trout throughout the stream most of the year, but in the summertime when water temperatures are high, trout will be need to be near where oxygen enters the water. There are several areas that provide this on a trout stream. One is white capped fast water. The bubbles allow oxygen to enter water easily. The other way oxygen can enter the water is through spring seeps. Springs are always cold enough to hold ample oxygen, and they "freshen" the water near the point where it enters the stream. There are three basic water types on Missouri trout streams, and they are as follows.

Pools are the most obvious areas on a trout stream to fishermen. They are always deep, and often have a good current. These places just seem to be obvious lies for trout. There is plenty of food, and oxygen from the riffles that are usually located just upriver. Pools are the areas where most trout rest when they are not actively feeding, although they also hold a good number of active fish, feeding on things like scuds, minnows, or a hatch. The only downside to pools is the very fact that they look so irresistible to fisherman. Pools are almost always more heavily pressured than other water types, and so the fish in these areas are often jaded. Also, most pools have a glassy surface, which allows fish to be spooked easily, and carefully inspect lures and flies. In Missouri, scud imitations, streamers, dries, and live bait are all good options in pools. 

Flat on Missouri's Great Trout Fishing River - The Eleven Point River
Trout Fishing on a small stream riffle

Flats are another water type you will encounter on Missouri trout streams. They are similar to pools, except they are much more shallow, and have a much slower current. These areas are not the best places to fish. They often do hold trout feeding on minnows, crayfish, and scud, but they are very hard to sneak up on in this shallow, smooth topped environment. Also, oxygen and food are usually limited, which keep the fish numbers down. Flats are generally best passed up unless you see obvious feeding activity. 

Riffles are the final habitat type you're likely to encounter on an Ozark stream. Riffles are stretches of relatively fast, shallow water, often with white topped waves. These areas have ample oxygen, and excellent feeding opportunities for trout. As a matter of fact, riffles are often the best place to find actively feeding trout. During the warm months, riffles fish best when trout are feeding most heavily, which is usually in the morning and evening. Beadhead nymphs, or live bait under an indicator are two established methods of fishing riffles. 

The way you approach the stream is also vital. You need to really look at the water, and check for areas that may be productive before you step into. Many fisherman, without looking, have waded right into the area they should be fishing. You need to look for areas that are likely to hold fish, like a boulder, and drop off in depth, or a boundary between fast and slow water. Avoid wading into the stream near areas that are likely to hold trout.


Reading the water is very important to trout fisherman. This is a basic guide, that should help you understand the basic need s of trout, and how the stream meets those needs. Reading the water is not difficult, but it is something that takes a bit of practice, and time on the stream to get a true understanding.

Brown Trout