Most people have a fly fishing water source close to home. Knowing where fish rest, hide or feed is the first step in locating the best places to fly fish. Here are four basic steps to finding fish in fly fishing:

  1. Location: Find the fish and you are halfway to catching them.
  2. Observation: Know the foods fish eat.
  3. Imitation: Have your fly look like the foods fish eat.
  4. Presentation: Get your fly to the fish in a natural and lifelike way.

Where to find Panfish

These relatively small fish usually live in warm-water lakes and ponds. You will also find them in warm-water rivers along weedy shorelines and in shallow bays.

In ponds and lakes, panfish (such as crappie, sunfish and bluegill) like shallow weedy areas because that's where most of the foods they eat live. In spring, they spawn along shorelines, in nests that look like light-colored, oval depressions. Panfish also love structures, such as boat docks, duck blinds, depressions in the pond bottom or shallow reefs. Learn to spot these structures, and you can locate the places where you should cast your fly for panfish.

Where to find Trout

Trout are coldwater fish, so you will only find them in rivers, lakes and ponds that have cold water year round. In rivers, trout face upstream bringing the food to them. Like bass and panfish, they spend all their time eating, resting and hiding from predators.

When they are resting, river trout hide under currents; near the bottom of deep pools; under shoreline structures such as logs, brushy banks, undercut banks, and boulders; and in holes and culverts.

When they are feeding, stream trout move to where the food comes to them - eddies (anywhere there is a break in the flow, creating a fast current beside slow-moving water), along weedbeds, behind boulders, at the tailouts (exits) of pools (places in the stream where water moves slowly), and in early morning or late evening in the stream shallows. Discover feeding trout (and bass and panfish) by looking for the riseforms (dimples they make when feeding on the surface). You can locate nymphing trout (fish-eating nymphs beneath the surface) by looking down into the water (using polarized sunglasses) and spotting their sides or open mouths flashing as they feed.

Lake- and pond-dwelling trout behave differently, cruising in search of their food. Look for them along weedbeds, a prime location for insect life. Also look for riseforms on the lake. And, trout often cruise the surface and "gulp" hatching aquatic insects.

Where to find Bass and Pickerel

These fish capture their foods by ambush. Since they prey on panfish, they often lie in or nearby the same places that you find and fish for panfish. In addition to panfish, bass and pickerel snatch moving minnows, frogs and crayfish. In lakes and ponds, expect to find them prowling or lurking around lilypads, weedbeds, boat docks, logs, and overhanging trees or tree trunks - or just lying in the water near any manmade structure where they can hide. Also look for them around headlands, jetties, reefs or along the shoreline.

In rivers where water moves and brings food to fish, expect to find bass hiding wherever you find a break in the flow of the water - around rocks, ledges, jetties, under docks, in the riffle edges of large pools and along shoreline weedbeds. Remember that larger bass usually live in or near the deeper holes. The larger the fish, the more depth it needs for protection and food.

Where to find Saltwater Fish

Inshore saltwater fish move with the tides to find their foods - usually small baitfish. These baitfish also move with the tides, so the more you know about when the tides change and how the changes affect the fish, the more likely you'll be to catch a fish.

Here's an example. When the tides take the water out of saltwater ponds, the moving water washes tiny baitfish called sandeels out toward the deeper water, and predator saltwater fish slash at the baitfish. When the tides are right, bluefish chase baitfish, up against the beaches, where they trap and eat them. On the saltwater flats of Texas and Florida, a rising tide brings the bonefish and redfish in to feed on the creatures that dwell there. Tarpon follow the tides inshore to do their feeding and resting.

So look for saltwater fish around structures such as inlets, tidal rip areas, beaches, headlands, under docks, around lights (at night), on tidal flats and in channels that pass tidal flows.

Also watch for diving gulls and other birds. Chances are predator fish have slashed into schools of baitfish and left crippled fish that are easy pickings for the gulls. And watch for surface disturbances along shorelines, where hunting fish are pursuing baitfish.

On the saltwater flats, look for "busting" tarpon, where the backs and heads of the fish appear on the surface. Also look for things like bonefish eating head-down with their tails sticking up through the surface, and the surface ripples where redfish feed.

Wherever you fish on salt water, surface disturbances indicate fish. Being alert to those disturbances is key to your success!