Seeing Trout

I fish to see trout!  Up close and personal… Fly fishing is one of the few ways we humans get to experience wildlife close at hand.  I see more trout close at hand – in the net – when I can ‘see’ them in the pool.  Why is this?

  • I have increased confidence
  • I get clues about their feeding behavior
  • I can approach them with stealth
  • I can tailor my presentation to specific fish
  • I may know precisely when to strike for a positive hook set

What do I mean by ‘see’?  It is rare that I’ll fish over trout that are continuously  visible.  In most rivers near me (excluding the Swift) water clarity precludes this.  As you can observe in the above video of a rainbow trout, these fish have an amazing ability to blend in to the environment.  Note the color of the dorsal surface and the blotches made up of tine specks of black that  perfectly mimic the sandy river bottom in the frame.  To ‘see’ a trout I have to rely on a variety of clues – here they are from most obvious to most subtle:

  1. Surface Feeding – trout leave the water to enter our environment and snatch a fluttering caddis fly, or by virtue of their momentum coming up from depth to take a mayfly at the surface.
  2. Porpoising – with most of their bodies remaining in the water, trout feed at the surface, revealing their head, dorsal surface and tail in rapid succession.
  3. Sipping – hardly breaking the surface film, trout suck in small, slowly emerging bugs or spinners, producing a form that appears more like a raindrop than a surface feeding fish.
  4. Tailing – in shallow water with their heads facing down to eat nymphs at or near the bottom, the trout’s tail can be observed breaking or disturbing the surface.
  5. Bulging Rise Forms – fish that are feeding just below the surface push a hump of water to the surface as they grab emerging insects rising up from the stream bed.
  6. Creases – often observed when fish are chasing bait, the trout’s dorsal fin is close enough to the surface to draw a line in smooth water.  Often this is  accompanied by a bow wave.
  7. Bow Wave – fish moving through the water with enough energy to generate a wave in front of them that manifests as a disturbance  at the surface.
  8. Flash – a trout that is actively taking nymphs off the bottom will turn sideways allowing sunlight to flash off their bright ventral surface.
  9. Shadows – The trout camouflage is so effective that they blend in with the gravel, but the shadow they cast can betray their whereabouts.  Look for a dark fusiline form, and keep your eyes peeled for confirmation in the form of one or more of the next three points.
  10. Moving Shadows – let your eyes rest on the shadows for a few minutes and note whether they change position (shadows from rocks don’t move).
  11. White Mouth Parts – a trout holding position on the bottom will open and close it’s mouth rhythmically to allow water to pass over the gills and to take in passing food (very obvious from the above video but not so obvious ata distance).
  12. Fin Motion – trout can maintain position in the current at the bottom with slight movements of the pectoral fins and an occasional wave of the caudal (tail) fin.  Very hard to see but cueing off a shadow you might be able to catch it.

I sometimes think I can ‘smell’ trout before I catch them – am I crazy?  Drop me a comment about your experiences seeing and/or smelling trout.

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