Catching selective trout that are feeding on the surface can be very challenging but also rewarding. Anglers often mistakenly feel that the most important aspect of being successful is having the right fly. While “matching the hatch” can be very important, stalking into casting position and presenting the fly so that it drifts naturally into the trout’s feeding position is critical to success. I have listed some important considerations that I have learned through years of experience attempting to catch selective rising trout.
I. Time spent studying the feeding rhythm of a trout is often more productive than repeated casting over the same trout. Your best chance is your first cast.
II. If you don’t know what fly to use, study the water with mini-binoculars or use a small insect net to seine the water close by. Select a fly that is the approximate size and color of the natural.
III. Although you may know what insect the trout are eating, you must determine whether he is feeding on, in or just under the surface film. You can determine if he is feeding on the surface or in the surface by watching individual insects with mini-binoculars as they drift over a feeding trout.
IV. When you approach a rising trout, wade as quietly and carefully as possible so you don’t make too much surface disturbance to the water and to minimize the sound of your wading boots grinding against the bottom.
V. One of the most important considerations to catch selective rising trout is to get as close as you can. Getting close can minimize false casting and the closer you are, the more accurate you are likely to cast.
VI. When you get in position to cast to a rising trout, wait for him to rise a couple of times before you make your first cast.
VII. If you put a trout down and he stops feeding, stay in position and wait five minutes or so. He’ll often start feeding again. Don’t forget to look around. Sometimes if you put a trout down he’ll change locations and start rising again.
VIII. If the surface is covered with aquatic insects you can sometimes draw the trout’s attention to your fly by giving it a very subtle twitch just as the fly starts to enter the trout’s window of vision.
IX. When you need to use a very small fly or emerger that you can’t see to match the hatch, you can use a larger more visible fly and attach the small hatch matching pattern as a dropper about 8” – 12” from the larger fly.
X. If the surface is covered with aquatic insects, it might not be to your advantage to match the hatch. Sometimes you need to do better than match the hatch. Use something different like a Royal Wulff, Parachute Adams, or beetle. It should be about the same size as the naturals but something different can draw the trout’s attention to your fly.
Sometimes anglers can make the mistake of overcomplicating the situation. The final requirement is having the proper equipment, especially designed to make a delicate, natural presentation. Depending on conditions I think there is a place for glass, bamboo or graphite rods. All rods have advantages and disadvantages. I still use a Winston Stalker glass rod 8’ #3 that is perfect when the air is breathless and the sun is bright. I also use a superb 7’9” #4 bamboo rod built for me by Shuichi Akimaru from Japan. My favorite graphite rod for delicate presentation is my Sage TXL 7’10” #3.
A light rod isn’t enough without the proper line, leader and tippet. RIO’s Trout LT line works perfectly on my glass, bamboo or graphite rods, and is a wonderful presentation line. My leader of choice is a 12 foot Trout knotless tapered leader with 3 feet of RIO’s Suppleflex tippet on the front end. I personally don’t like to tie the fly directly to the tapered leader. Instead, I cut about 18” off the tapered leader and replace it with tippet. That way I also know exactly how much tippet I have.
The storied waters of the Harriman State Park section of the Henry’s Fork have been my classroom to learn from selective trout. They don’t know how many books I’ve written, my education, my life accomplishments, and so on. They have simple basic instincts critical to their survival, and the only chance for success is to play by their rules.