Orvis Fly Fishing
What Are Tailwaters, Spring Creeks, And Freestones?
For a fly fisherman, there are three main types of rivers that typically hold fishable populations of trout; the freestone stream, a spring creek, and a tailwater. Each type of water will present a very specific challenge that is typical of the habitat, and there are many clues that help define the water as to which type it should be categorized. Usually, the powers of preparation (a few well stocked fly boxes and a variety of leaders/tippet) will help you catch trout in all types of water. Having a little beforehand knowledge can help you narrow down fly selections and techniques and get you into fish quicker and more consistently.
The Freestone Stream
The water flows of a freestone stream are based on seasonal fluctuations of snowmelt. In the summer and fall, freestone streams grow warm and have reduced flow because water from snow melt is less readily available. Freestones are supplied by runoff and snowmelt, while limestone spring creeks streams are usually fed by springs, providing cooler water and a more consistent supply of water. The more snow a location gets in the winter, the more water is reserved for the runoff and trickle of melt throughout the season.
Tailwater fisheries are those that exist solely due to the influence of a dam at the head of the river, or section of the river, that regulates flow and temperature. In short, tailwater fisheries are there because there's a dam above them. Take the Missouri River in Montana for example, the prolific fishery wouldn't be there if it wasn't for the conditions that are created by the consistent water temperatures that are drawn from the bottom of the in-river reservoirs. This is the case in many of the fisheries across the country.
The Spring Creek
Spring creeks are the least common water types that are fished by most anglers but they are the holy grail of streams to many fisherman. Spring creeks are fed entirely by the groundwater seepage of natural and nutrient rich spring water. Spring creeks can seemingly rise up out of nowhere in a valley, they most commonly meet up with a larger river but sometimes will exist entirely on their own. These fisheries are rare, but contain some incredibly prolific hatches and sometimes large fish. They are tough to fish because the water is usually gin clear, shallower, and the hatches can be tough to decode.
The Difference in Fishing Each Type
Knowing if you are fishing a tailwater, spring creek, or freestone can help you to prepare for a day of fishing in numerous ways, but when it comes to fly selections for the day, it can be paramount to success.
Fishing each type of water, from spring creeks to a tailwater or freestone, can present their own individual challenges for a day of fishing. Highly skilled anglers will always prepare as much as possible and be able to adapt and change tactics to meet situations on the water. Prepare yourself the best you can for a day of fishing and be adaptable to the streamside conditions and you'll likely find success out there.
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