Beginning AAAngler Series….exercise: how to access & assess data

Posted: February 5, 2013 by Hellcat in Fish Reports, Fly Fishing, Gear Fishing, News, Tips & Advice, Tutorials
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To all of you over participating in my Facebook activities I greatly appreciate your support. It’s you all who have give me the idea for this most recent article. Don’t ever stop asking the simple questions. You’ll miss the most complicated answers.

This ‘edutorial’ is designed to be opened to comments here on this post for further discussion to anyone interested.

This AAA Exercise is designed for the first time river level reader. If you are an old pro at reading levels and have a specific question OR just wanna help my readers out with your own input….please do so in the comment field.

Thanks for helping out with this new series I’m calling the Beginning AAAngler Series.

River fishing for migrating fish can be about as maddening a fishery as any. Rivers display life like qualities every second of every day in their constant quest of forward progress. Our free flowing rivers and streams are the final passage way for these steely creatures in their quest to return home. They can be wily and finicky. Unpredictable and impossible to find. But they can also product the greatest feeling an angler’s ever had the pleasure of receiving. For most of us, anyway. It’s important that we have a leg up on these fish if we expect to fool any of them into biting. We must truly begin with the water we are fishing before we ever look at the tackle we intend to use. And since most of us can’t live ON or even near enough to visit frequently the water we so fiercely covet…we must rely on technology to report the water information to us.

A little about river level reporting products:

It used to be msg machines you’d call on the phone. I’ll never forget the number. It’s ingrained into my brain. Now the information is all on line. From my site here you can access two different and widely referenced sites for rivers. One runs off the NOAA Advanced Hydrology Predictive Service or AHPS and the other off of the data provided by the federal program through USGS or United States Geological Survey. There are some fundamental differences between the way each of these resources catalog and present their data. One of my readers mentioned something very valid on FB. And that is you must always have a base line or a ‘mean’ river hydrology pattern from which to base any current or future assumptions. Do your homework before you fish a system what some of the normal flows and stages (two different things flows are typically cubic feet per second or CFS while stages are most often garnered in vertical feet referenced. Most of the rivers you fish right now have both CFS AND FEET/Stage being presented through such services but in different formats. You’ll begin to find you prefer to find certain info on either site as it becomes familiar to you.

Here are some simple suggestions and a written exercise for a starting point of understanding river levels and what they mean for you; the angler in the hunt. Once you’ve completed the following tasks come back to this post, comment, and we’ll go from there. Let’s try to make this thing interactive so we can really nail down how I can best help y’all understand how levels will affect your river of choice.

I recommend every new angler use only the NOAA AHPS site to begin with. Choose a river to plan to fish soon and study 30 days of history. I compare it to reading a USA Today newspaper. People like graphics, pictures, easy to use interface and something you can easily read. That’s what NOAA provides with this product. I’ve created a short cut right here on AAA along with some other KEY LINKS directly to that portion of the NOAA site for you to save you time. More than 75% of the rivers listed on this site will have PREDICTIONS of flows to come based on NOAA weather link info. All in all it’s really very accurate over a decent span of time. Most of us who read river information and use it to plan our trips use this NOAA AHPS at some point. So that’s where we’re going to start. It’s the easiest to read thus the easiest place to start.

*It’s important to note that each site reporting this info may do so with either a CFS OR a STAGE/FEET data reading. Each river will commonly have one or the other as the common reference point. This makes a big difference when you’re gathering intel for your trip. If you’re not sure what the common form of measurement is for the river you’re studying just ask someone. Hell, ask me.

Now that you’ve chosen your river and studied the water levels….here’s what you can do with that information to get a visual snap shot of your target water’s recent rising and dropping patterns:

* On a sheet of paper draw as many columns, vertically, as the number of days you are examining. For a really nice and detailed snap shot…turn the paper sideways and draw 30 columns. It won’t take too long and it will give you more to look at. This is your very first personal fishing journal and the purpose is to begin to catalog information on your target river so let’s go big.

* Write down the river level on the graph every three days by marking an ‘X’ roughly where it should be and in scale. Remember to create scale on your graph only by approximating the ebb and flow to the actual data of those days your reporting. In other words…don’t be too serious as finite detail on this exercise is not necessary for the lesson to work correctly.

Now you will draw a line connecting all the levels. Once you’ve completed that task you’re ready to review the month of flows and pick which days would have been good days to go on. Mostly you will focus on days with dropping or steady levels. Granted, water color will not be accounted for…but when you combine things like water temp, freezing levels (if headwaters are high in the mountains) along with the levels you begin to get the whole story.

Finally I’ll take you over to the other water data website I link you to from AAA which is the site. This is the site you will visit in order to get your ‘mean’ water flow. Getting the mean of something is the same as obtaining the average number in a data set. The sum of the numbers in the set is divided by the total of numbers in a set. Fortunately for this exercise no math is required. Simple do the following steps to acquire and add the ‘mean’ flows to your chart.

1) Click on the USGS link here on AAA
2) Select the appropriate state in the top right portion of your screen
3) Hover your mouse over the colored dots on the map in order to view the river name…once you see your river then click
4) A graph will appear with a data table underneath. Copy the MEAN number into your paper graph and draw a straight line across the page to note this number. Again you’re only approximating the position of the line based on your other numbers already entered.

You should now have a completed, hand-written river chart. Feel free to snap a picture of it and email to me at We can share it right here on AAA and talk about what the data means.

Fishing on drops or no changes….hard drops versus soft…..drops on rivers with snow levels up high versus down low….and on and on. First let’s see how many of you wanna comment here on this post to continue the dialog.


NOAA AHPS are only as good at predicting river levels as the weather man is at predicting the weather. Weather patterns, predicted precipitation etc all goes into play when these river level predictions are released. They can also change extremely fast. The USGS site is updated much more frequently than NOAA which is particularly more important on the smaller rivers where less precip is required to alter the flow or stage.

In the comment field….who can tell me a good place to find water temperature for any given river?


  1. Great stuff Chris. I’ve found that due to the help of anglers who have taught me, reading water levels has helped me get into fish on a more consistent basis. It also gives me more confidence to know what I will be encountering when I make the trip out to the river, and helps me select my tackle before I even go out.

  2. I’ve also found that I prefer just a table with numbers as opposed to a graph but that is just my personal preference. Even if I’m not fishing anytime soon I watch those numbers every day!

  3. Hellcat says:

    Lucas my fried you are an APT pupil to say the very least. Your studious nature and passion for this game has allowed your success to follow in stride. I am happy to know you.

  4. jake says:

    headache!!! good ish man. my homework assignment for the week.

  5. Hellcat says:

    hahaha…hey if you really do it I’ll help you from there. I’m having people write stuff down cause it sticks that way. Thanks for the comment, Jake!

  6. BHoov says:

    Love it bro that is one hell of an informative piece good job buddy

  7. REEL LIfestyle says:

    I like the fact that Lucas is a great student… He has impressed us from the get go/// Great article H3LLCAT>J>>>>Jake that is funny and correct.

  8. Jim Reed says:

    Great Read Chris!!

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