This week we wanted to connect the dots between several of our articles to give anglers a wholistic look at how someone could use topics covered on this site to help them during a day of trout fishing. Let's discuss everything from approaching the water, to rigging, flies, and dealing with picky trout.
Approaching the Day:
In our Barometric Pressure article we looked into the scientific basis behind atmospheric pressure's effect on trout behavior. While many perceive that feeding increases before storms and diminishes after storms (just one example), we question the scientific basis of these beliefs. Feel free to explore that article for more details.
Approaching the Water:
When you get to the river one of the best things you can do to start your day is observe your surroundings. Before you jump in, check the banks for hatching insects and watch for signs of rises. Even more important, take a reading of stream temperatures to clue you into where to expect to find fish during the day.
In our Guide to Stream Temperatures article, we explore each type of trout's optimal temperature range. More helpful to most anglers is our discussion on how fish move and act differently depending on stream temperatures. Remember that fish are cold blooded, so as temperatures rise, fish foraging will increase until temperatures climb past their optimal range. In cold temperatures around 40°F fish will be holding in the deepest slowest lanes. As temperatures warm into 50-55°F, fish will disperse into slightly faster water, like heads of pools and riffles. When temperatures reach optimal levels for fish, individuals will spread out across almost all types of stream habitat, into pocket water and rock gardens, near banks, even in fast running riffles during hatches or to heavily feed.
Also helpful to success is assessing the angling pressure on your river. Trout behavior can be reshaped by continual pressure, and catch and release practices will alter fish actions over time. In our Catch and Release article we discuss how intense pressure dissuades fish from exhibiting bold behavior. As a result, catch and release fisheries may be more technical, require lighter tackle, and stealthier presentations. Look for recent flow adjustments to displace fish and mix up their usual routines. These situations can offer better results on highly pressured systems.
Rigging and Rods:
Two simple adjustments to how we rig our rods has lead to some incredible personal improvements. First, as discussed in our Rigging with A Secret Weapon article, tippet rings have become a go-to rigging technique. It can save your leader, and also allow you to rapidly adjust from a nymphing rig to a dry fly rig with one simple clinch knot. The ability to quickly jump from nymphing to throwing dries should be a game changer for all those dry fly inclined anglers. The next adjustment was stepping up to a 10' rod, which was touched on in our article, Rethinking the 9' 5wt. With a longer rod we find it easier to roll cast further, have greater reach on longer drifts, and improve confident fighting fish on lighter tippet (due to the soft rod tip). Fiberglass rods also offer the same soft tip for fighting larger fish on light line.
Fly selection can be tough. There are so many options available, and if you're fishing a new river it can be tricky to figure out where to start. I encourage you to think beyond specific patterns and consider the components of fly patterns that make them appealing. The cdc wings, the rubber legs, krystal flash, etc... These triggers are what trout are really looking for when searching for food. If a stonefly hatch is approaching, large profiled nymphs and long wiggly legs could be the only triggers fish care about in a fly. Generally, look for patterns with those types of triggers, hot spots, and generic buggy-ness. Sometimes overly complex patterns give fish too much detail that clues them in to the forgery. For a more detailed discussion, read more in our Adding Triggers to Fly Patterns article.
Why all the talk about triggers? When we discuss "picky" trout, what we're describing are trout with highly specific searching images of what to look for in food. For a BWO hatch, it's possible that the budding wings are the short-cut image that trout hold in their brains when dodging debris to identify emerging bugs. Like when we're driving and see a red sign, we can guess it's probably a stop sign. If you can hack into an acceptable searching image, you'll likely find out that picky trout aren't all that picky after all. But understanding triggers is central to this discussion. For a deeper dive into picky trout, check out The Mind of a Picky Trout.
We've already touched on finding fish based on stream temperatures, and this alone can help transform tough fishing days into spectacular days. Consider you're on a popular river where anglers almost always fill every well known hole throughout the day. If the temperatures are right, you can find unpressured fish in all kinds of spots that most anglers don't think to touch. People have been fed the misconception that trout are lazy, and only hang out in water suited for couch potatoes. Sometimes this is true, but as we explored in our article No Trout Aren't Lazy, we learned that trout are better described as optimizers. In rivers, riffles are the food factories, and when temperatures allow for it, fish will move closer to those factories to gain as much energy as possible. Does that sound like lazy behavior? Though, sometimes brown trout exhibit more energy conservation behavior than their rainbow trout counterparts. In some rivers where Browns and Bows are found side by side, you can capitalize on these differences by targeting the right areas. See our article Sibling Rivalry.
During your day, you'll undoubtedly spook trout. It's just part of the game. But if you want to avoid spooking fish out of a prime lie, you should understand when to expect a fish to spook, and more importantly when they wont. Solitary fish are likely more vigilant than fish grouped up, so these fish are the most spooky. But as fish group together, competition over food can lead some fish to completely forget about potential threats. There are some interesting implications for streamer anglers and other species are discussed as well: The Dynamics of Fish Spooking.
Adjusting to Difficult Fish:
If you're lucky you'll run into some larger fish. Most of the time these larger fish are generally considered "picky" trout. They hold in trickier water, and are old enough to have learned from past mistakes. In these situations, understanding the available food base is almost required to better dissect appropriate fly triggers. For picky trout, we've also put together this article: The Mind of a Picky Trout: An Angler's Playbook. In these situations everything culminates in an effort to hoist your trophy trout, so having a trick or two up your sleeve may be needed. Carry a seine and check the water column for drifting bugs. Remember, kicking up rocks isn't that helpful when considering what insects are actively drifting in the upper parts of the water column. If you're not getting an immediate reaction from your target, try changing the angle or spot that you're casting from. Even if you don't see signs of drag, micro-drag could be holding you back. Avoid casting directly over the fish, and if the cast misses, try to have it miss on the side of heavier current.
Enjoy the Ride:
Try to enjoy the process of fishing just as much as the results. We hope this article fuels that passion for you and provides some specific tricks that you can implement during that next outing.