Urban Fly Fishing

Fishing is kind of the reason why we do a lot of the things that we do, isn’t it? I know my priorities have changed a lot as I have gotten married and we have had three kids, but fly fishing still holds a very special spot in my heart. I now find it much more complicated to escape for full day trips or multi-day trips, unless I’ve gotten everything checked off the “honey-do” list well in advance. I find it much easier to escape life for an hour here or there and go hit an urban stream or pond than it is to drive hours to get on the water. These short trips help break up the monotony of daily life AND help scratch the itch to get on the water.

I’ve come to find that when I am chasing fish in an urban setting that my experiences are very different than what I generally did as a kid in the mountains.  Fishing within eyesight of a major interstate, hearing semi trucks and overly tuned Honda’s is a very different feeling that hearing nothing beyond the wind in the trees and the water rushing around the rocks. That’s part of what makes it fun. It is a completely different experience.

Another reason why it is fun is that, at least around here, I never know what I am going to find while urban fishing. I was at a urban spot chasing carp with a friend and he hooked into a unexpected (and larger than normal) white bass. Some of these urban bodies of water have everything from brown trout to goldfish, from carp to shopping carts (beware of hooking into shopping carts), from bluegill to largemouth bass. I’ve been at places within ten minutes of work where people are catching everything from tiger trout (which was a surprise) to catfish. The surprise of never knowing what could end up on my line is kind of enjoyable.

That takes me to the next part of what makes targeting these fish in an urban setting is the challenge of figuring out various bodies of water.  One of my local ponds I’ve started changing my approach as I have started figuring different things out. I’ve gone from almost exclusively throwing a 3wt for bluegill and green sunfish to starting to take my 5wt rod out to throw streamers for bass and take my 8wt to target some of the newly found carp.  It’s a fun challenge to figure out what the next opportunity is going to be on any given body of water.

Another fun part of chasing fish in urban environments is the thrill of discovery. I have spent plenty of quick trips during lunch breaks or right before/after work swinging by a new pond or blue line on showing up on my phones map. More often than not the exploration leads me to mark “No Fish” or “No Fishing Allowed” but every once in a while I find a new stretch of water that holds fish that I can try and catch. These little gems have had me catch carp, white bass, trout, bluegill, and green sunfish – with more species to come I’m certain.  As we probably can agree – catching a fish is better than not catching a fish.

I am still learning and growing when it comes to learning and understanding fishing urban waters — I believe I will keep learning more about these waters until the day I can no longer fish — but I would like to share a couple of thoughts and suggestions that I have found to be helpful in chasing urban fish.


  1. Be observant.  This is probably the most valuable attribute when exploring new urban waters. This covers a lot of different aspects.  Noticing “No Tresspassing” or “No Fishing” signs can help avoid fines/tickets. Being able to see fish will help you determine if a body of water is worth fishing. Also seeing fish will help you better determine what types of flies to use.  If you can’t see fish, being observant while fishing (as always) will help increase your chances of hooking into fish.
  2. Try what you know.  When hitting new bodies of water I would recommend trying something that you feel comfortable with. Comfort breeds confidence. Confidence leads towards more success.  In the fishing world success is often viewed in fish (or shots at fish).  If you see fish feeding on the surface, throw dries. If you see fish feeding in the current, throw nymphs or streamers. If you don’t see fish, do whatever you think is most likely to catch fish.
  3. Try something completely random. Yes, this is completely contrary to what I just wrote. Sometimes what we know or what we expect to work isn’t working at all. In those cases, try something different. Being willing to experiment can lead to amazing amounts of success.  A while back I had the chance to watch a friend blind fish a carp fly like it was a shallow water streamer from a bridge. He would cast as far as he could downstream and fish the fly back up to us with a moderately quick retrieve — keeping the fly in the top six inches of the water column. Out of nowhere a fish blew up the streamer and missed. A few casts later there was another topwater explosion and he landed a surprising large (for the area) white bass. It was completely random and worked!
  4. Fish different times of day.  Urban fisheries can operate like normal bodies of water or they can abide by their own rules. I’ve been fishing in areas next to train tracks. When the trains would come by (even though its a track line that is regularly used) the fish would stop feeding right before and for about 10 minutes after a train had passed by. Similar things can happen when there is heavy traffic, different lighting provided by businesses or street lamps, and any number of other circumstances. Experiment with different times of day and see what works for your body of water.
  5. Remember that it is a puzzle. After spending a lot of time fishing the same body of water, often times we can start putting together various pieces of the puzzle to help us catch fish or that help us remember to avoid a certain body of water at a certain time of year. Fishing urban waters are no different. The more time that is spent putting together the pieces of the puzzle, the more success and the more fish that can be caught.  A prime example of this is I have spent many afternoons fishing a local pond and catching bluegill and green sunfish. Last spring I saw my first decent-to-big sized bass towards the end of what I assumed was spawn season. This year I got to visit the pond a little earlier in the year and saw many more pre-spawn bass in areas that I didn’t expect. I didn’t manage to get any of the bigger bass to play nice with me, but I am expecting better things next year. I’ve already got some flies ready for next spring and I’m excited to figure out that next puzzle piece.


Those are some quick pointers into the urban fishing game! I hope that you can be a little adventurous and try out some urban fishing opportunities. Thanks for reading and don’t forget to follow me on Instagram @spenceronthefly to see some of my urban fishing exploits.