9/06/09

Insects and other foods the trout may be eating:
1.   Blue-winged Olives - mostly Little BWO - Isolated hatches
2.   Mahogany Duns
3.   Midges - hatching in isolated locations
4.   Little Yellow Stoneflies - hatching
5.   Slate Drakes - hatching
6.   Cream Cahills - hatching in Isolated locations
7.   Little Yellow Quills
8.   Needle Stoneflies
9.   Beetles
10. Grasshoppers
11. Ants
12. Inch Worms
13. Crane Flies
14. Helligramite
15. Streamers - matching sculpin, baitfish and small crawfish

The Learning Process - Part 44
Continuing from yesterday's article, what I needed to learn was exactly what the
trout ate. I didn't need to know that I should buy a Purple Goat Egg Fly in a hook
size 16. I would hear over and over "take this fly - its all you need'. Angie asked one
day when we left a fly shop, "if thats all we need, why didn't we just buy a box of
them and never use anything else?". She asked a very good question.

I started hearing words, some of which I had never heard before. I had heard of
mayflies and I had even used mayflies for bait. I had netted them and sacked them
up in plastic bags to freeze and use later to catch white catfish above Guntersville
Dam when I was a kid. The Willowflies ( a
Hexagenia species like the Great Olive
Wing Drake) hatched every June at the lake. I had even tied my own flies that
imitated them to fly fish for bream during the hatch.

I started reading words that were new to me in the dozens of fly fishing books I was
purchasing. I started seeing them in the fly fishing magazines I subscribed to, which
by the way, was all of them. I didn't know what a caddisfly was, much less a caddisfly
larva. I read that trout ate them and that is all I needed to inspire me to learn
everything I could about a caddisfly larva.

The difference in me and many other anglers, is that I realized quickly that I had to
learn everything about the food trout ate. I had to learn its behavior, where it
existed and exactly how to imitate it. I had done the exact same thing when I had
learned to catch any other species of fish in the world. Of course I knew that if I just
selected flies at random and used the trial and error method that I would catch
trout. I also knew that was a poor strategy to use for catching any fish.

By the way, not long before that time, in the early 1990s, I only lacked catching a
very few species of fish listed in the IGFA World Record Book, to have caught them
all. Some species were so rare it was almost impossible to ever catch one. About
the time I was going to make an attempt to do just that, the IGFA added several
more species to their list. I know I will never accomplish that now and I doubt anyone
else will ever do it. If they did, it wouldn't buy them a bus ticket to anywhere.

I spent twelve hours a day, almost every day, studying trout and the food they
survive on. I made a huge misjudgement back then. I had purchased about all the
videos on trout fishing and found very little information on the insects and other
foods the trout feed on. I decided that I would capture every insect and other food
item trout ate and video tape it using macro lens, so I could study the food and
eventually produce a video on it. What I grossly misjudged was the amount of effort
and time it would take to do that.

I was told that in the Smokies there were not enough of any one insect for the trout
to feed on "selectively". I was aware of what selective and opportunistic feeding was
because that applied to any fish species, not just trout. What I didn't understand
was that trout anglers classified the trout as being either one or the other. They
seemed to think is was a black and white issue, with no gray areas. They contended
that at any one time the trout either ate any and everything available
(opportunistically) or they only ate one insect and nothing else. I knew that was the
wrong way to approach to it. I knew it was a matter of percentages or odds.

A couple of years later, after having fished many streams in the Northeast and
Western states that were similar to the streams in the Smokies, I realized that there
was little difference in the way the trout feed in the headwaters of any freestone
mountain stream. I also realized there was little difference in the food in terms of
quantities of insects. The huge hatches that blanketed the water that were suppose
to occur in the West but not in the Smokies, didn't exist in similar streams.

It took some time, many two years would be a good guess, for us to realize that it
didn't take a huge hatch of anything for the trout to focus on eating that particular
insect. In fact, when we did encounter a huge hatch in a lower section of a Western
stream, we found it difficult to catch trout. The trout simply had to many real insects
to choose from. The words "opportunistic" and "selective" were not very useful in
describing what really occurred. The scientist are technically correct. All fish feed
opportunistically in the sense that they will never focus on any one thing 100%. By
definition, if a trout ate one out of a hundred insects that were different from the
other 99, it is feeding opportunistically.

We realized that when there was an abundance of any one insect around, the trout
would usually focus on it and eat more of that particular insect than the others. For
example, when the quite plentiful Yellow Sallies are hatching in the Smokies, the
nymphs come out from under their normal hiding places down under and between
the rocks on the bottom of the stream and crawl on the bottom to the banks to
hatch (out of the water) into adult flies, the trout focus on eating them. The fact that
a trout in that stream may also eat a grasshopper that falls into the water is
irrelevant when 95% of the food being consumed at the time is Yellow Sally nymphs.
It didn't take me very long to determine that under those conditions, we were far
better off fishing an imitation of a Yellow Sally stonefly nymph, than we were an
imitation of a grasshopper.

When most everyone else we talked to were debating whether a Hair's Ear Nymph
was better than a Zug Bug at the time, or a Tellico Nymph was catching more trout
than a Parachute Adams, we were concerned with what fly best imitated a Yellow
Sally nymph crawling to the bank on the bottom. We knew that if it were presented
correctly, a specific imitation of a Little Yellow Stonefly nymph would catch more
trout than any generic fly.

I had been down that same road with every species of fish I ever tried to catch. If I
discovered Blue Marlin were feeding on schools of Blackfin Tuna in the rip lines of
the Desota Canyon, I was far more concerned about finding more offshore rip lines
and the best imitation of a Blackfin Tuna I could find, than I was debating which was
the hottest lure, a Zucker 5.5 BP or a Moldcraft Green and Black Lure Wide Range
lure.

Trout don't eat feathers and hair, they eat insects. When someone advises you to
just drop a X fly off of a Y fly, or use a ABC fly, or heck, they may eat a DEF fly. It
really isn't important. You may do good on a FX fly, what they are telling you is that
don't know what the heck they are doing. Their advice is worthless.

Copyright 2009 James Marsh