Last week was tough, with the stream flows still being low, and a distinct lack of rain or cloud cover the fishing was demanding. During times like these we focus on learning other skills. Casting technique, drifting dry flies correctly, fish and insect behavior, we can even learn about the hydrology of the river. All these skills are very important to an angler. Without learning about things other than hooking and playing fish, a fisherman cannot learn to hook or play fish. Fly fishing is all about baby steps; many beginners become frustrated when they fail to catch fish immediately. A lot of times anglers neglect to learn the fundamentals, and I am not referring to just casting, learning knots and a few fly patterns; but becoming familiar with the day to day workings of a trout stream.
Understanding the differences between stream insects is very important. Learning the Latin names of the flies is not all that important and will not help you catch trout, though you will sound cool! What is important is being able to look at an insect in flight or on the water and be able to differentiate between which order of insect it belongs to; mayfly, caddis fly, stonefly, midge or cranefly. The way to identify insects is through their flight behavior and profile. There are obvious differences, for example, a mayfly has tall “sail boat” like wings with a long thorax and two or three tails, depending on species. When a mayfly leaves the water surface, it flies almost strait up into the sky, toward the bank-side trees. A caddis on the other hand, flutters and bounces while in the air. The flight pattern of a caddis adult is very similar to a terrestrial moth’s; they “bumble” through the air. Once you understand the differences between the orders of insects, you can begin to examine the rise-forms of trout. Trout will rise to types of insect and their specific stages differently. A caddis or an emerging member of the Ephemerella genus of mayflies, will draw a quick and splashy strike from trout. As opposed to a mayfly spinner or midge rise, which would be more like a “sip”, with the fish’s nose barely breaking the surface.
During slow days guiding on the river, I really focus on making sure the angler understands how trout behave when they are not actively feeding on insects. When nothing is hatching, the trout do not cease their search for food. All fish, or all wild animals for that matter, are in a never ending battle to find food. When trout are being stubborn and do not wish to play your game, you have to play by their rules. What that means is you have to adjust your attack. Your first step would be to stop; think about where the trout are in the water you are fishing. Most likely, if you cannot see them in the water column nymphing or actively rising, they are at or near the bottom, under rocks and undercut banks, seeking refuge. Fishing nymphs in this situation could produce some fish; however, if you are not seeing fish flashing, taking nymphs as they slide past their face, they are not feeding heavily–period. An angler in this situation needs to make the fish move. Streamer fishing is a great way to take a few fish when they are not happy. In most rivers, due to pollution, the aquatic insect population is not what it once was. Seemingly, once in a blue moon the angler will stumble into a heavy mayfly or caddis emergence, which can be life changing. However, this is normally not the case; most days when I am on the river, which is most days, I seldom find happily rising trout. This will leave me three choices: a dry fly searching pattern, a nymph searching pattern, and a wooley bugger, which is the best searching pattern. Personally, I despise nymphing. Not that it isn’t an effective method, I just find it to be too serious. So as far as a searching pattern goes, I prefer a good old bugger; in fact, most anglers I come in contact with use a wooley bugger as their fall-back, go-to fly when trout do not want to participate in the activity at hand. This is because a streamer pattern like a wooley bugger or a zonker creates what I call, a reaction strike. The fish see something large come whizzing past their face and out of instinct, they strike, or at least chase the fly. Which gives us insight to where the trout live; hence the reason we call these flies “searching” patterns. The idea of a searching pattern is to find fish, so once you get a swipe or two on your fly, do not leave, stay put for goodness sake! Give the area a thorough fishing; you may or may not catch any trout, but there is a better than average chance you will.
So the next time you find yourself standing on the bank, scratching your head cuz em’ old wiley trout have got ya stumped. Take a step back from your pre-conceived ideas about fly fishing for trout and give the ol’ bugger a chance; you may surprise yourself with a hefty trout.
By Rob Lepczyk