Over the course of my two previous RIO blogs I discussed two of my three factors on ‘How to Find Trout’ in stillwaters trinity. The final segment in this three part puzzle focuses on food. A segment most might view as a familiar component to finding fish in any environment, from saltwater to spring creeks.
When it comes to finding trout in stillwaters and using food sources as a guide, the first step is to consider where forage is concentrated. Energy from the sun’s rays stimulates plant growth. Aquatic vegetation is preferred habitat for invertebrates and forage fish. In lakes, the sun’s rays only penetrate the top 20 to 30 feet depending upon water clarity, the clearer the water the greater the influence of the sun’s rays. This means we need to concentrate our efforts on the shoal and shoreline margins of a lake where weed beds abound.
Trout venture into shallow weedy areas on a daily basis to forage. Targeting the shoal region also provides us with the greatest presentation advantage. Probing the shallows allows us to use a variety of fly lines and tactics. Floating lines with and without indicators, full sinking lines, creeping buoyant flies just above the bottom tethered to a sinking line and the list goes on. When plying deeper reaches in excess of 20 feet our presentation options are limited.
It is important to learn and understand all of the major stillwater food sources so you can recognise and simulate them through your pattern choice and presentation technique. There are a number of excellent references available, both books and via the Internet.
It is important to learn and recognize the various stillwater food sources in your favorite lakes. Know their behavior and their preferred habitat. If they emerge, how and when do they hatch? This knowledge helps you identify what insects are active. Insects such as damsel and dragon flies crawl from the water to emerge. This knowledge is important should you see empty shucks on the water’s surface. Suspecting a hatch may be taking place, you can eliminate dragons and damsels from your suspect list due to their out of water emergence behavior.
Staple food sources are always important. Staples are food sources with completely aquatic life cycles, prolonged aquatic stages and those with prolonged hatch cycles that imprint themselves on the trout. Scuds, leeches, forage fish, dragonfly nymphs, damsel fly nymphs, chironomid larva and chironomid pupa are the bread and butter forage trout focus on in the absence of a hatch. Invest time in learning to present staple patterns well.
There are a couple of tools I always carry with me to keep track of the trout’s menu preferences, an aquarium net and throat pump. Aquarium nets are handy for sampling and subsequently identifying prey items you see on and in the water. Trying to capture something by hand is challenging and can become dangerous should you topple into the water.
Working by vacuum, throat pumps extract recently consumed prey. Used carefully and in moderation on trout 14-inches or larger throat pumps provide three key clues; 1. What the trout is feeding upon? 2. If trout are actively feeding 3. At what depth are the trout feeding?
If the sample is wriggling like mad you know trout are feeding. Match what you see with both pattern and presentation technique and you should be successful. Deceased prey is an indication of inactive feeding suggesting a change from imitative tactics to attractor patterns and presentation techniques. Knowing where food sources live you can interpret the sample to determine feeding depth. For example, if a sample contains chironomid larva (bloodworm) and scuds you know trout are feeding near the bottom as this is where these creatures call home. Concentrating your presentation efforts just above the bottom should produce a fish or two.
Your power of observation is the catalyst that integrates all three factors: comfort, protection and food. All three of which should help you find trout in stillwaters. Pay attention to the clues Mother Nature provides to determine where to go, what flies to use, what presentation tactics to use and what depth to focus on. Get in the habit of making notes for future reference. A simple diary is a great idea. The patterns and factors you observe and make note of repeat themselves, increasing both your success rate and enjoyment fly fishing lakes.