In the first of this series on types of rivers, we examined the pristine spring creek. In this second part of the series we will look at freestone rivers. Freestone rivers make up the majority of the world's free flowing cold water rivers. So named for the rock and gravel that make up their riverbed. As most fly fisher's know rock and gravel are vital to trout, steelhead, salmon and other species that rely on these substances to make their redds during spawning season.
Typically, for fly fishing, freestone rivers are of most importance in the mountainous regions. Where snow melt, glaciers, springs, and rivulets, come together to form a river. Usually a fast flowing, cold, well-oxygenated river. One that has aerobic, active forms of life including insects and the corresponding fish that lives on them. Because of the rock and other debris that line the freestone bed and banks, trout and their insect prey have an array of places to lie. The currents, however help the trout with their turbulence, and whirling nature constantly offer up a plethora of insect life for the choosing.
It is a double edged sword however, as the freestone giveth, the freestone taketh away. No other major river form in this series suffers so much from the forces of nature. Temperatures can be extreme as are water flows. Flash floods can give way to drought conditions in some cases over night. As well as longer cyclical climate forces can enforce their will. Both insect and fish populations can fluctuate wildly.
But what thrives is the heartiest of the hearty. Fish that used to having to survive, indeed it is in their DNA, as well as the flies. Stoneflies, mayfly crawlers and swimmers, and those glorious caddis flies all call freestone rivers home.
When heading out to fly fish a freestone rivers, be ready with a myriad of fishing flies. The infamous patterns that conjure up afternoons spent fighting and releasing feisty hard nosed trout will all be effective in the freestone. Nymphs including the biggest names, Hare's Ear, Pheasant Tail, Prince, and dry flies like Adams, Parachute patterns, as well as hair wings, all were made for freestone rivers.
In the early season be ready for high, fast and cold water. Wading can be dangerous, but often unnecessary as high waters will bring fish close to the bank, taking advantage of pockets and undercuts, that normally are not there. And, remember that river bottoms can change over the winter, so even a familiar river can have unforeseen wading hazards.