Insects and other foods the trout may be eating:
1. Blue-winged Olives (Little BWOs)
2. Mahogany Duns
3. Little Yellow Quills (Heptagenia Group)
4. Little Yellow Stoneflies
5. Needle Stoneflies
6. Slate Drakes
7. Sculpin, Minnows (Streamers)
12. Great Brown Autumn Sedge
New Fly Fishing Strategies Series - What Fly To Use - Part 12
I'll get to this in detail tomorrow but before I do, let me try to clear something up that
tends to confuse a good number of anglers. I have mentioned on several occasions
that the number of fully grown aquatic insects in the streams is much lower now than
in the Spring. Although it's true there are fewer insects, some anglers take that to
mean there's very few insects in the water for the trout to eat. That simply isn't true.
This line of reasoning comes from those who are always eager to express their
opinions about what the trout have to eat and how to go about selecting flies to catch
them, but when it really gets down to it, they actually know very little about the aquatic
insects and other food that's in the streams. In fact, it some cases, it's downright pitiful
as to the limited amount of knowledge they have about the food the trout have to eat.
This includes some fly shop owners and salesmen, authors of books and magazine
articles on fly fishing the Smokies, and many other self-proclaimed experts on fly
fishing the Smokies. To put it in the right context, any fifteen year old kid that spent a
week or two studying aquatic insects would have more knowledge than most of them.
They give the impression to anglers that trout in the Smokies eat hair and feathers
and in general live most of their short life starving to death. If you have caught any
trout in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I doubt you have caught any that
appeared starved or that had their stomachs caved in. I've caught a few thousand
and I haven't caught any that appeared to be starving to death.
Fish can go a long time without eating. The cooler the water, the longer they can
survive with lower quantities of food. When they don't eat for a long period of time,
they will begin to get very skinny. I know this from experimentation and from observing
Tom Mann keep bass in an aquarium the size of a house over the years. It isn't
exactly easy keeping enough food, year-round for several large bass, bream, and
catfish. I don't think there would be a great deal of difference in the cold water
species, except that they could survive longer with less food.
Before fish die from starvation, their stomachs will become caved in. In other words,
instead of curving out slightly like they normally do, the stomachs will curve in
considerably. It is very easy to determine if a fish is starving. It is very obvious. As
cruel as it may seem, years ago while on the pro bass circuit, i actually starved
several bass in aquariums to determine the difference in how they reacted to lures
with different degrees of hunger. I watched a spotted bass live for three months
without any food being put in its aquarium. I have also noticed that in the last twelve
years of fishing the Smokies as much as anyone, I haven't caught the first trout that
appeared to be starving.
Because of false information spread by a few that for the most part, and in all due
respect, borderline being completely ignorant about the aquatic insects and other
food in the streams, some anglers picture trout as stupid creatures swimming in the
current, starving to death searching for food. They envision that after several hours,
the trout sees something - a nymph, a grasshopper, or anything small enough to eat -
then grabs it to escape death from starvation for another day. In fact, in talking to
some anglers attempting to learn the sport of fly fishing, it obvious that's
exacly how some picture opportunistic feeding. Such false impressions of what
actually occurs, misleads anglers into thinking success comes from relying strictly on
luck, and/or trial and error methods of fishing the Smokies. Because all trout in any
headwater, freestone stream In the nation often eat more than one item of food at a
given time, they think fly selection isn't an important factor in success. They don't
understand how trout and many other wild animals are programmed by nature to
survive. In very general terms, wild and/or native trout will reject any and all food they
see that requires more energy to acquire than will provide.
For example, lets take Little River near Elkmont. At this time of the year, when trout
are holding in riffles, for example, there are dozens of items of food within a typical
square yard of bottom surrounding the trout. If you consider all the very small items of
food, it can be as high as hundreds of items. There are also many other types of food
available for the trout to eat nearby. The amount of food actually drifting by in the
current is usually very low in quantity. At this time of the year, many of the mayfly and
stonefly nymphs are very small, and much of the caddisfly and midge larvae are in
the early stages of development, but a good number of species aren't small. Those
aquatic insects listed above are all fully grown as nymphs and/or larvae.
In addition, all of the stoneflies and other insects that live longer than a year are
approaching their fully grown sizes. For example, all the streams have populations of
Giant Stonefly nymphs that live for three years. Other stonefly species, like Golden
Stoneflies, that live for two years are sizable at this time of the year. Granted, these
nymphs stay hidden down under rocks most of the time, but they do crawl out to eat
and occasionally get eaten by trout. Winter stoneflies of several different species are
now approaching their full grown size. Minnows and sculpin are plentiful in most all
streams. Crawfish are very plentiful. There are many other items of food. The bottom
line is that although the streams look extremely clear and void of life most of the time,
if you happen to dig around a little (not exactly legal in the park), you would find
there's enough creatures in the water to scare some small kids to the point they won't
get into the water. Grab a large stonefly nymph from under a rock, an ugly sculpin, a
crawfish, or a hellgrammite from the stream and watch them run. Put a cup full of sand
and gravel in a white pan and spread it out and notice the tiny nymph and larvae.
Depending on the time of year, there may be dozens of midge larvae in the pan. In
early spring, there may be as much as thirty larger nymphs in a square foot of bottom.
We have measured and observed hundreds of samples of aquatic insects from almost
every stream in the park. In past years we have done this throughout the year using
various means of collection methods, including kick nets. The higher the pH, the less
the number of insects in general, but even in the high altitude brook trout streams at
this time of the year, there's far more food available for the trout than most anglers
think there is.
The lifetime span of wild trout in the Smokies is short, but in all due respect
to those who think so, it isn't true that the prime reason for it is due to the
lack of food. Over population for the available amount of food, long periods of low,
warm water are two of the reasons, but many other things contribute to the short life
span of the trout in my opinion. I'm convinced that much of the opinion to do with this
particular subject is based on false assumptions rather than facts.
I know that most of the traditional, backwoods fishing strategies that are still
subscribed to by many anglers, and that are still taught by many as relates to this
subject, are completely misleading. There are plenty that still try to bamboozle anglers
with bogus strategies. The lack of good, sound fly fishing teaching methods and
resources is very obvious. This should be noticeable due to the fact that out of
hundreds of books that have been written on what trout eat and specifically on
aquatic insects, none of them have ever been written about what trout eat in the
streams of the Southern Appalachian Mountains.
Copyright 2011 James Marsh