Some beginners at fly fishing struggle with their first time
on a trout stream locating where fish are feeding. It's not the pattern, cast,
or the retrieve that gets them in trouble, it's the presentation and figuring
out how to get their fishing flies in the strike zone. Here's a look at the
four basic feeding zones on a typical trout stream and what percentage of the
time you can generally find fish there. You might be surprised to find trout
feed under the surface 90 percent of the time.
On the Surface
Trout rarely feed on the surface, hitting insects in the
surface film no more than 10 percent of the time. It will be evident fish are
feeding on the surface when you see boils at the surface, hear fish slurping
bugs off the top or even jump out of the water to haul in adult aquatic insects
as they emerge. This is a common sight in the evenings when mosquitoes are
prevalent at the water's edge. Turn to an Elk Hair Caddis or similar dry
fishing flies when trout begin to dance on the surface.
Just Below the
Same goes for the immediate subsurface bite, or the first
two or three inches below the surface. Trout consume about 10 percent of their
diet here as well, snacking on adult insects as they make their way to the
surface. Dry fishing flies will still work at this stage, although switching to
a light nymph like a pheasant tail is probably a better idea.
Middle of the Road
While a stream's midsection might contain a majority of the
water, it only holds about 5 percent of the trout's diet. Insects rarely hold
in the middle layer because the currents are usually stronger here and there is
also little shelter in this intermediate zone. Again, most nymph fishing flies
end up here in the midsection unless they are a beadhead or fished with a small
splitshot weight just before the fishing fly.
On or Near the
Trout spend a majority of their time feeding on
bottom-dwelling insects and sculpin, consuming 75 percent of their diet at or
near the bottom. If you don't see fish boiling or occasionally breaking the
surface, it's a good bet they're holding down below. Fishing beadheaded nymph
fishing flies, heavy streamers or adding a splitshot will help get your fishing
fly down where the bottom feeders lurk.
Matching the Hatch
with your Fishing Flies
A good way to monitor when and where trout are feeding is to
bring a nymph net down to the stream and sift through the different feeding
zones to see what types of insects are holding there. Match your fishing flies
to the hatch and you'll be on your way.
Illustrations by Brian Milne