No matter how hard we try, we simply can’t fish every day. When we are off of the water, we connect with the sport at the vise, sharing stories with our friends or by reading our favorite outdoor writers.
Whether you are treating yourself for the holidays or looking for something for that special fly fishing someone, you should seriously consider one of these great books by the authors we have interviewed in 2018. They are all available on Amazon, and, if you don’t tarry, they will easily arrive before Christmas! You won’t be disappointed!
As the first major snowstorm of the season departs the Southeast, many anglers have officially shifted gears to their “Winter” program. Sure, many of us still fish, but quite a few of us shift our focus to hunting or preparing for next season. Winter is a great time to refill our fly boxes and prepare for warmer days without the fear of missing out.
We have spent quite a bit of time studying the insects commonly found in a trout’s diet and the importance of matching the hatch. The next step is to convert this knowledge into selecting the appropriate fly. While it is tempting to search for the “perfect” pattern, more often than not, you will be better served by focusing on presentation. You will be more successful presenting the “wrong” fly well than the “perfect” fly poorly. Focus on learning to fish a few patterns well. Starting out, if you learn to fish a Pheasant’s Tail, a Hare’s Ear, a Parachute Adams, and an Elk Hair Caddis, you will catch plenty of fish!
As a midge hatch progresses, the pupae finally make their way to the water’s surface. To fish your pupa imitation in the film, simply grease the end of your leader with your favorite liquid or paste floatant. If you want to take the guesswork out of strike detection, you have a couple of options. You can use an extremely small strike indicator. I prefer a small tuft of wool or yarn to avoid spooking trout with the plop of strike putty or a small, hard indicator. Or, you can fish the pupa imitation as a dropper off of a dry fly. Don’t forget to grease the tippet in front of your pupa imitation!
Like the caddis, the midge’s life cycle has three parts: larva, pupa and adult. While midges are small, their abundance makes them a staple in the trout’s diet - particularly in the colder months and on tailwaters. The midge’s small size intimidates many anglers, but it is important to remember that the “match the hatch” techniques we have already learned are equally applicable to midge fishing. From a tactics perspective, a few tweaks can greatly decrease the frustration of fishing smaller flies. For instance, you can pre-tie your midge rigs or use a fly threader like the ones in the C&F Design Fly Threader box. You simply preload your midge patterns onto the threader, and, when you insert your tippet into the threader and pull off a fly, the midge pops off with the tippet threaded. From there, use a simpler knot like the Davy Knot, and you are home free!
As I mentioned in Stoneflies (Part I): Nymphs and Emergers, many of the mayfly and caddisfly techniques described in earlier posts apply equally well to fishing stonefly imitations. It always pays dividends to get current hatch information from your local fly shop or through online fishing reports or hatch charts. If you don’t have a local fly shop to lean on, Orvis’ Eastern Hatch Chart and Western Hatch Chart are good places to start. Just remember stoneflies don’t use calendars any more than mayflies or caddisflies do, so adjust the hatch charts based on current weather and local conditions.
A stonefly’s life cycle has two parts: nymph and adult. Compared to mayflies and caddisflies, stoneflies require the highest water quality, and their presence indicates a healthy ecosystem. As with caddisflies, we can apply the fishing tactics discussed in Mayflies (Part I): Nymphs and Emergers. (Notice the pattern here. Fly fishing isn’t nearly as complicated as you may think. Understanding a few basic concepts will help you be a much more effective angler.) Just like mayflies, stonefly nymphs are available to trout when they are accidentally dislodged from the stream bottom or as a result of behavioral drift. Again, “match the hatch” by checking out the undersides of some rocks or seining the river. Match your nymph imitation to the size and color of the nymphs you find. While you can fish more specific imitations, a Pat’s Rubber Legs or a Girdle Bug can cover a lot of territory. Both of these patterns are extremely easy to tie and involve very few materials, so they are the perfect “starter” fly for the angler who wants to try his or her hand at fly tying. One last thing, most stonefly species spend several years as a nymph before adulthood, so stonefly nymphs are very good searching patterns - particularly in the coldest months of the year. Trout are accustomed to seeing them, and they are a large enough morsel to be worth the trouble. Remember calories in versus calories out!
As I mentioned in Caddisflies (Part I): Larva and Emergers, most of the mayfly techniques described in earlier posts apply equally well to fishing caddis imitations. It always pays dividends to get current hatch information from your local fly shop or through online fishing reports or hatch charts. If you don’t have a local fly shop to lean on, Orvis’ Eastern Hatch Chart and Western Hatch Chart are good places to start. Just remember caddis don’t use calendars any more than mayflies do, so adjust the hatch charts based on current weather and local conditions.
A caddis’ life cycle has three parts: larva, pupa and adult. Unlike the mayfly, the caddis’ larval behavior varies by species. At the risk of oversimplifying things, caddis larvae roughly break down into three categories: free living, net spinning and case building. [For a more detailed discussion, please check out Chapter 6 of Dave Whitlock’s Guide to Aquatic Trout Foods or Gary LaFontaine’s Caddisflies.] Free living caddis larvae resemble tiny worms and inhabit the stream bottom just like mayfly nymphs. As their name implies, net spinning caddis spin silken nets to seine food particles from the water. Finally, case building caddis construct and live in protective cases made from materials found in the stream. In the Southeast, fishermen sometimes refer to them as “stickbait”.
When you think about fly fishing, you can’t help but think about mayflies. There are epic stonefly and caddisfly hatches, but mayflies have been at the center of our storied sport for centuries. While many mayfly species predominantly hatch in the Spring and the early Summer, there are important species such as the Blue Winged Olive (BWO) that are available outside of this traditional window. Cloudy, drizzly afternoons in the late Fall and Winter often result in memorable dry fly fishing for this tiny mayfly. With their constant temperatures and flows, tailwaters often produce epic mayfly hatches lasting for months. The Sulphur hatch on the South Holston is a perfect example.
The mayfly’s life cycle has three parts: nymph, subimago (or dun) and imago. The nymph is the underwater stage that hatches into a sexually immature dun. Shortly after hatching, the dun molts into a sexually mature imago, mates and dies. Most fly fishermen focus on nymphs and duns. Fishing the spinner fall for imagos is fun but involves a tricky combination of planning, luck and often technical fishing.
Since most of the Southeast hasn’t yet experienced a few hard frosts, terrestrials can still play a meaningful part in your Fall trout game. There are times when trout key on terrestrials such as grasshoppers out West or cicada or flying ant hatches, but, for the most part, in the Southeast, terrestrials are a change-up pitch. Since most anglers don’t fish terrestrials, they are a great choice when fishing over selective or heavily pressured fish. They don’t appear out of place, and they haven’t educated as many trout with the barb of the hook. For instance, on the South Holston River, it is sometimes difficult to dial-in the trout. A small, black beetle can often seal the deal. Don’t limit your terrestrial fishing to dry flies. Sunken patterns can also be effective!
Now that we have a basic understanding of trout behavior and requirements, we can apply a similar analysis to the insects and other organisms that make up a trout’s diet. By focusing on the intersection of trout and their forage, we can significantly increase the odds in our favor, because we have a deeper understanding of when, where and how to target trout. [Dave Whitlock’s Guide to Aquatic Trout Foods is an excellent resource offering detailed information on major food types and suggested imitations. For a deeper dive, check out Ernie Schwiebert’s Nymphs (Volume I) and Nymphs (Volume II).] Just like trout, there are seasonal aspects to food behavior. For instance, for insects (like mayflies) that hatch multiple times in a season, each successive generation is smaller than the one before it. So, if you are fishing late in the season, you should select a smaller fly to imitate the targeted insect species.
In the Southeastern United States, we have three species of trout: brook, rainbow and brown. You can shift the fishing odds in your favor if you spend a little time looking at each species’ unique preferences. Brook trout are the only species indigenous to the Southeastern United States. In fact, there is a genetically distinct Southern strain. Of the three species, brook trout are the least tolerant of poor water quality and don’t compete well. As a result, you will generally find them in the cool, clean headwaters of streams and rivers. Rainbow trout are native to the Western United States. Rainbow trout tolerate a broader range of water quality than brook trout and prefer faster water such as riffles and runs. Finally, brown trout are native to Europe. They tolerate the broadest range of water quality and can inhabit the warmest water of any of the three species. They are also more structure-oriented and tend to be more active in the low light of early morning and late evening.
As the heat of Summer gives way to the crispness of Fall, we should pause to consider this seasonal shift’s impact on our trout fishing. The shorter days and cooler nights result in cooler water temperatures. With water temperatures in their “sweet” spot, trout begin to feed more actively. The signal that Winter is coming provides an additional incentive to put on the feedbag. This explains the effectiveness of the streamer game. As we move into the heart of Winter, things slow down considerably. Dramatically colder water temperatures radically reduce the amount of available food and slow a trout’s metabolism to a crawl. As a result, you will often find trout podded up in slow, deep water to win the calories in calories out battle.
Before we leave our introduction on a trout’s eyesight, we need to spend a few minutes on color. When we fish streamers and nymphs, a fly’s color in hand may not be its color underwater. As sunlight passes through the water column, the water progressively filters out the sunlight’s constituent wavelengths. (Remember sunlight is made up of a collection of different wavelengths of light.) As a general rule, the water filters out the longer wavelengths (such as red) first and the shorter wavelengths (such as blue) last. Once a particular color’s wavelength is filtered out, the original color disappears and is replaced with gray. For instance, in the absence of red light, the red “hot spot” on a nymph will appear gray.
In our last post, we spent quite a bit of time discussing how a trout sees, but we didn’t spend any time on how the same laws of physics affect how we see trout. We now know that, when light passes between air and water or vice versa, it bends. This explains how a trout can see a larger area than the circular area immediately above its head.
In order to effectively stalk trout, you need to fundamentally understand how a trout sees. First of all, unlike you and me, trout have lateral lines that run down each side of their bodies. These lateral lines allow trout to feel vibrations in the water. For instance, trout hear you when you thud down a bank on your way to the water or when you noisily wade in a stream. (As a footnote, these sound vibrations travel better (are louder) in water than in air, because water is a better conductor.) Take to heart the advice to fish like a heron, and you will put more fish in the net. However, take it from the Beach Boys, not all vibrations are bad. In addition to their eyesight, trout use vibration to locate food. You can use this to your advantage. For instance, if water visibility is poor, consider using a fly with a rattle. Or, use a fly with a large head that will push water and create vibrations as you strip it through the water.
In North Carolina, October 1st marks the beginning of the Delayed Harvest Season for trout. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission stocks over thirty rivers and streams throughout the Fall, the Winter and the Spring. On Delayed Harvest Trout Waters, an angler may not harvest or possess any trout from October 1st to the second Saturday in June and may only fish with artificial lures having one single hook. Delayed Harvest Trout Waters are marked with black and white signs. The Delayed Harvest Season is an ideal time for new anglers to work on their skills. Freshly stocked fish are generally easier to catch, but, over time, they get wiser and harder to put in the net. It is a great way to build confidence!
All species of fish have three fundamental needs: suitable water quality, protection from predators and access to food. While these three fundamentals don’t change, it is important to remember that how they are satisfied changes based on daily and seasonal conditions.
Regardless of your path, the more effortlessly you can accomplish your goals the more fulfilling your experience. While the quantity of information is daunting, in my opinion, our sport has done a relatively poor job giving anglers a holistic approach for their time on the water and equipping them with practical problem-solving skills. How many times have you thought or heard “I don’t understand. I killed it the last time I was here with the exact same fly.”? Or, “I can’t find any TMC 5263s. I guess I can’t tie that pattern.”? While there is no substitute for putting in your the time, our current approach can’t help but increase frustration and decrease participation.