On the Fly: Watch and learn
August 20, 2013
When we pay attention on the river, the trout almost always tell us what they want. It sounds simple, but even the best anglers are learning and categorizing behaviors every day of their fishing lives. A quality pair of polarized lenses is the basic tool of this enterprise, which takes away surface glare and allows us to see into the trout's world.
Some fish are simply uninterested in feeding and are reaching for the antacids (you would be, too, if you just ate 30 size-10 green drakes) and should be skipped over after brief consideration. Others beg to be cast at immediately, and we all must learn to know the difference and read the signs to realize our fishing potential.
A trout's mouth is nearly all white inside, and there is a noticeable "blink" when fish beneath the surface have consumed food. Seeing this "blink" has alerted me to many fish in the hand before an indicator twitched or my line became tight.
A fish near the bottom that is rising up a few inches as it opens its mouth is telling us it wants the emerging insect currently hatching on the swing or slightly wiggled and raised as you drift your fly by. A pheasant tail or soft hackle usually suffices in these instances. The trout swinging wildly about and eating everything in sight will usually attack anything we offer, but we also must realize that the fish unwilling to move more than a few inches will be more selective and sensitive to sloppy casts.
When we only see the backs of trout and not the noses on the surface, they most likely are enjoying insects that are struggling to push through the viscous surface film, and we should adjust to this, as well. Greasing our tippet to within a few inches of the fly can allow it to sink slightly below the surface, or we can simply suspend a nymph or emerged 6 inches or so below a dry fly.
Surface feeding is not straightforward, either. My mother and I fished a tremendous pale morning dun hatch with green drakes in the mix last week on the Fryingpan, and we noticed that the fish were considerably more interested in cripples and duns flopping around struggling to free themselves from the shuck than the perfect dries poised for takeoff. Slight bumps and flops with our dry flies resulted in hook-ups, but trimming the fly so it would lie on its side sealed the deal. These trout simply told us they weren't interested in a perfectly presented and drag-free, drifting, upright fly, and we reaped the rewards.
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Some fish will tell us exactly when to cast by establishing a rhythm in any part of the water column, especially near the surface. Watch the trout closely for "blinks" or rises, and then start counting. You'll soon notice the happy fish you are hunting is eating every four or 40 seconds, and realizing this is usually a breakthrough moment for any angler.
We get to the river sometimes in a big hurry, but learning to stop and watch for a while teaches us what the trout are interested in instead of guessing or rigging exactly like we did yesterday in the parking lot. Troutspeak doesn't take long to interpret if you learn to read the signs.
"On the Fly" is provided weekly by the staff at Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Basalt.
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