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Taking Lies for Steelhead

Posted by Mark Thursday, September 24, 2015 2 comments






Have you ever noticed that when you fish your favorite waters you catch fish consistently in certain, specific areas of that run? I certainly have and have become interested in the how and why of it all.

The last few days I have been in sitting in continuing education classes for work and I had a chance to day dream a little while listening to the various speakers drone on about a host of tree related topics on the agenda.

The thoughts that came to mind more often than any was the idea of holding water, holding lies and taking lies for steelhead.


Lets get a few definitions out of the way

  • Holding water-  resting water that often holds steelhead due to the water speed, structure and orientation in the run(head, middle,tail out)
  • Holding lies- specific places within the holding water that may vary in depth from quite shallow to depths in excess of 6 feet. Generally found around some sort of structure or seam that breaks current speed and does not require the fish to expend much energy.
  • Taking lies- even more specific places in a run where fish are holding and are exposed enough to visualize and actively move to a properly presented fly. These are places where fish consistently seem to come from.
 Now these are general observations and steelhead being what they are, can and will blow any of these theories away at any time so bear that in mind. That's the fun part of all this, we try to figure things out, we analyze, we obsess but at the end of the day the mystery remains and we still know so little about these fish and why they do what they do. This is my feeble attempt to make some sort of sense out of it, if for no other reason than writing it down and working it out in my own mind.

After many years fishing the same waters, I have gathered some very valuable feedback on both holding water, holding lies and the actual specific taking lies in dozens of runs.

Holding water and holding lies can be taking lies for fish but not all holding water and holding lies are necessarily taking lies. Let me explain further.....

When I look at a good piece of water on the river I fish, I know there can be fish holding in many parts of the run at any given time. I am fishing the run because it is good holding water and may have many holding lies but only a few taking lies.

I have spotted fish in several key areas in, on, and around structure and have noted their location when I fish through the run. These fish are in what I would call holding lies. Sure I have hooked fish in almost every location where fish sit in many of these runs but it is more the exception than the rule. 90 percent of the fish I hook come out of specific areas of these runs, what I would call the taking lies.

What is it about these taking lies that seem to bring fish to the fly?

Is it only structure,water depth and water speed that make these taking lies produce?

There are many factor involved I would say, some known and many unknown. The known factors are things such as water levels, water temps, time of year, number of returning fish in the river, angler pressure, type and size of fly, the fishes feeling of exposure or comfort due to the depth at which they hold.

I know of runs where the consistent taking lie is heavily structured, fast moving water and over ten feet deep. Conversely I fish many runs that the taking lie is in 3 feet of water or less, slow moving with very little structure. The depth at which fish hold does not always determine their willingness to move to a fly or limit the fish as a taking fish. Fish can consistently come out of any depth of water at key taking lies. 

I believe one of the most important things that separates the taking lies from just a mere holding lie is the anglers ability to slow the fly down and show it to the fish by covering the lie properly.  The fishes ability to see the fly is obviously a key to getting a take. If the fish cant see it he cant eat it. There is a reason that fish consistently hold and then take flies from a given spot in the run. They can see it and are in a position to take a swipe at it.

I fish runs on the NU that I can spot the fish before I fish it. When looking into these runs, if I see a fish in the taking spot I am confident that I will get the fish to move to the fly. As an angler I fish much more precisely when I get into that taking zone knowing the fish is there. This fish eats the fly a lot. There might be 3 other fish in the run but this fish that sits in 2 feet of water in the tail out is a day in day out taker when he's home.

I have various thoughts on why I think the taking lies consistently hold aggressive fish to the fly. On many occasions I believe the taking lie holds the most rested fish. This would relate back to the idea of holding lies. These taking lies are often the best holding lies as well, but not always.

These taking lies can be the first places to hold fish in the early season. I look into a lot of runs and watch diligently when fish start to enter the river. I look at runs day after day and make keen observations when I see the first fish in the run. There are no other fish in the run and many great holding lies but the early fish on one particular run always seems to gravitate into the tail out position and the key taking lie.

Lets talk about short and long term holding lies and preferential spots in the run as they relate to taking lies. .  

Some more definitions...
  • Long Term Parking- holding water that fish will stay in for longer periods of time
  • Short Term Parking- moving water, choke points, pockets etc
  • High Rent District- the best holding lie in a given run, the preferred holding spot if there are fish around.
  • Low Rent District- secondary holding lies that will be filed as fish are pushed into these spots by fish already holding in the High Rent spots 

 There are many runs on the NU that I consider "moving" water. These are places that fish move through quickly as run timing,weather patterns and water levels change. These are places that also fall into the short term parking category. When I know fish are moving due to one of the above mentioned factors I fish these runs looking for a taking fish that is going to be aggressive to the fly. The fish will move into the run and hold briefly maybe as little as minutes sometimes. If they settle and hold for even a brief time these are taking fish. They are already in moving mode and have little trouble striking a fly that comes through. These are active mobile fish. They come into the high rent taking lies in these short term parking spots and can light you up if you are in the right place when they are there.

Generally speaking again, long term parking holding water has many holding lies but fewer taking lies. Long term spots will generally have some deeper water and deep structure that will hold fish for longer periods or through periods of warmer or colder water. Many of the high rent spots in long term holding water are not easy to get a fly to. taking lies can be fewer. Just because there are more fish holding in these runs does not always mean that you will get fish from where the majority of those fish hold. That's when the low rent spots come into play. These are secondary holding places that may bring the fish closer to the surface and put the fish into a more conducive taking lie.

Secondary holding areas can also be places where fish can be seen,sometimes better seen than fish in the primary lies. Fish can be pushed into the shallows or up off the bottom onto side shelf's and ledges exposing them to the angler who can now get a presentation to them.

This is a very basic look at some of this stuff and there are a hundred different approaches and thoughts on this. This is all based on my observations over the last thirty years in the game.  I would like to think I know a few things about these fish but they constantly challenge and humble me and that's OK. I wouldnt have it any other way.

The point of all this is to make you aware of these factors when you are out there fishing. Ask yourself Where is the best holding water? Where are the best holding lies in that holding water and where are the taking spots within those holding lies?  Keep track of where you are hooking fish and make notes on those specific areas. Fishing more diligently through key and consistent taking lies will increase your success. Knowing where key taking lies are helps you edit water and focus on getting a fish to grab your fly more often.

Get out there and pay attention to some of these things, its fascinating to observe this behavior and may make you a better angler.

Speaking of holding, thankful to know the one who holds all things together.......

Isaiah 41:13 

For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.”








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