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​Tips & Tactics for Fishing Shelves & Drop-offs

When fishing the Fall through the Spring, being able to identify and effectively target shelves and drop-offs in the river will give you access to the greatest concentrations of fish and some of the hottest action of the season! When the waters are low and food in the river thin, shelves and drop-offs provide trout with vital cover and easier access to what food is available in the river. Here are a few tips in order to help you identifying and fish shelves and drop-offs which are bound to pay off with more fish in your net!

Finding Shelves & Drop-Offs

Shelves and drop-offs are created when fast-moving water erodes and carries away gravel and small rock from the riverbed, creating sharp, deep depressions or trenches that provide trout with greater depths to hide in and slower flows in which to conserve energy as they feed. These sweet little fishing collection spots will often be found at the river transitions from a steep, fast flowing riffle into a slow flat pool, or at bends in the river where the current comes up against a boulder or bedrock. With most of the aquatic insects in the river calling the fast-flowing riffles home, the position of the deep shelves and trenches immediately downstream of the riffle make them points of food collection as drifting nymphs and larva hit the deep, slow current and lazily drift in front of the schooling trout.

How to Fish Shelves & Drop-Offs

There are a couple of techniques to help you maximize your fish count when targeting shelves and drops-offs; one being a traditional tandem nymph rig and the other being a Czech or euro nymphing setup. Nymphs, larva, pupa, and wet flies are going to be your go-to patterns, especially when fishing in the fall through spring when hatches are few and far between. Whether you prefer to use lead split shot, tungsten putty, tungsten weighted nymphs, or a combination of all the above, weighing your rigs to ensure a precipitous, quick descent is essential. It might take a little bit of time to find that sweet spot, using just enough weight to drop your flies into the feeding zone along the bottom of the shelve or trench but while getting hung up. Arguably, the most effective rig for targeting shelves and drop-offs is Czech nymphing with a long 10’ – 12’ rod. This technique allows you to pinpoint and drop your heavily weighted tungsten beadheaded nymphs right off the shelf while feeling every tip, tap, and take translated directly from fly to fingertip.

From the time the leaves start to fall until the trees bud again in the spring, shelves and drop-offs are going to offer you consistent action on the fly! Coldwater makes for slow fishing, but if you go deep and scrape the bottom of the river you can almost guarantee to pick up fish in these off-season hot spots!

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