An Approach to fishing new water
The process of exploring new water can be intimidating and some anglers, including myself, will start fishing right when they get to the river. There is a buildup to arriving to a new stretch of water and it can be difficult to remain cool and patient. Try the following steps before you start fishing an unknown section of water and you should start to see better results.
Take the water temperature
Photoperiod (amount of daylight), water temperature, water levels, and weather conditions all contribute to the intensity of bug hatches and fish behavior. Water temperature is likely the easiest variable to measure because all you need is a small thermometer. Expect the fish to conserve energy in slower/deeper water the colder the temperature is, say below 42 degrees. As the water warms, the fish will move in to the riffles more often. Warming temperatures also result in increased bug activity this time of year. We start to see more bugs in the Blue River around 45 degrees due to snow melt (average winter temp is in the mid to high 30s). Every river will be different and you will become a better angler if you start paying closer attention to water temps and the corresponding fish/bug activity.
Gather a bug sample
I carry around an entomology kit with a seine and recommend gathering a bug sample before you tie on your flies. Face downstream, place the seine in the water, and stir up the riverbed with your boots. It helps to take bug samples from the seine and put them in a vile. The bugs are a lot more visible when they are in water. Size, color, shape and more specifically the number of tails, wing shape, and antennaes are the best characteristics to identify bug species. Size/shape being the most important in my opinion. Pick up a copy of the Pocketguide to Western Hatches if you are not comfortable identifying bug species. Its small enough to fit in your pack...
I was fishing the Blue River the other day and my normal approach is to fish small midges and baetis. A bug sample revealed large crane flies, drakes, stoneflies, and baetis. Therefore, I adjusted my strategy and fished larger beadhead flies (Hare's Ears, Two Bit Hookers, Zebra Midges, size #16 Pheasant Tails) and ended up having a very successful day.
SCOUT THE AREA BEFORE you start fishing
This is the one I personally struggle with the most. After driving for an hour or so, it's hard to not start fishing right away! However, spending an extra 30-45 minutes finding the right type of water depth and structure will almost always result in a more productive day. Look for a run or riffle with a change in water depth that leads to a deaper/slower moving section of water, ideally one where the bottom of the riverbed is not visible. Water speed is often the best way to identify where fish are located. Once you catch a fish in a certain section of water, pay very close attention to the structure, how quickly the water is moving, and bubble lines. Then you can take that information and replicate it to find similar water that will, at least in theory, hold more fish.
When choosing which direction to walk, a good rule of thumb is to walk upstream. Also, stay out of the water as much as possible. You will spook a lot less fish. Stealth is always your ally when exploring new water. Relax and slow everything down.
Thanks for reading,