One of the acute differences I see between professional anglers and amateurs—and I use “amateurs” here in the best sense of the word—is in their respective approaches and entry to water they’re about to fish. Professionals always make a cautious approach and careful examination of the shallows. They’re looking for fish, those either visible or rising. Should visibility be limited, the shallows are probed with a series of casts before ever stepping into the water. Pros utilize this approach on rivers, streams, lakes, ponds—every kind of water they fish. Amateur anglers don’t do this. Almost universally, they wade immediately and unthinkingly for deeper water.
Funny thing is though, in every stream in the Yellowstone area the largest trout (particularly brown trout) want to lie and feed in skinny water. They harbor no qualms whatsoever about it, learning from a young age to trust their instincts and camouflage to avoid predation. The exposure they risk in the shallows is worth it, because the pickings are easy there. All food is compressed into a short column, so taking on or below the surface requires little movement and effort from the fish. The photo above shows just such a large brown in the Madison River. He’s lying in eight inches of water.
This photo was possible because of a studied, careful approach to the river (I learned the hard way, blowing up countless fish over many years). Given the right current speed—not too quick, not too slow—no water on the Madison is too thin to hold a feeding trout. This holds true for the length of the river. I’ve said for years, only half-jokingly, that if wading was banned on the Madison, we’d all catch more fish. Whether that’s true or not, a ban on wading is never going to happen, and so every day—every, single day—big browns and rainbows are spooked from the shallows through careless approaches and over-eager wading. So I advise approaching all water on the Madison with care, looking closely, and if no fish are seen, making a few casts anyway before stepping in. The rewards can be large. Very large.