Eye of the Guide

THE ZONE (part 2)

Tom Travis - Apr 3, 2016


Sysadmin Note
Part One can be found here

Throughout the ages fly anglers have endeavored to understand the feeding behavior of the trout. The early anglers noticed that trout would rise up and take flies off the surface. Soon it was discovered that the trout would take damp flies off the surface and wet flies beneath the surface.

It took centuries before the idea of the surface film were even verbalized even with the advances in tackle and pattern designs as the anglers were fixed on trout and grayling taking flies off the surface of the water and beneath the surface of the water and the idea of the surface film and the film zone received little attention. Now, this was due to the fact that the anglers were catching trout using the methods of the time and were satisfied with their results.

Then in the mid to late 19th century the popularity of the modern methods of the dry fly began to grow and then in 1886 Frederic M. Halford published Floating Flies and How to Dress Them and the popularity of the dry fly began to expand across the Chalk Streams of southern England and this rise in popularity would soar across the fly fishing world. Halford followed his first book with publication of Dry Fly Fishing in Theory and Practice, now there is no doubt that Halford contributed heavily to the advancement of the sport of fly fishing; however there was also a downside to Halford's tremendous contributions.

Due to the overwhelming popularity of the modern methods of the dry fly the fly fishing world, especially in Great Britain, was polarized between the wet fly anglers and the dry fly anglers.
This controversy, like all such altercations, would induce a period of iron willed close minded statements and beliefs and this controversy would hinder the acceptance of the new theories of emergers and fishing anywhere but on the surface with a dry fly or beneath the surface with wet flies.

Prior to Halford many anglers practiced the art of casting upstream to feeding trout or grayling and some used soft hackles or wet flies that were damp or being in, on or just beneath the surface of the water. Even Halford was aware of this and would spend time in his works discussing these methods and then dismissing them as an unethical method of fishing and not the practice of true gentlemen.

This was unfortunate as it would take years for the idea of the surface film and the film zone to be fully accepted in the world of fly fishing. Skues would begin to challenge the dominance of the dry fly with his Minor Tactics of the Chalk Stream published in 1910 witch was basically using wet flies at certain time period to visible feeding trout. Skues continued his work and published The Way of the Trout With a Fly in 1921 which fully explained his ideas on nymph and the feeding trout.

But if you think Skues ideas were readily accepted you only have to read his 1938 publication of Nymph Fishing on the Chalk Stream to learn that nymphing and the theories of minor tactics was in fact was in fact banned from several of the sections of the chalk streams of England. Halford had passed away in 1914 however his followers and the school of the upstream dry fly fishing school continued to be very popular and powerful.

Regardless, the times would change and fishing theories would move forward and so the theories dealing with the surface film and the film zone would be more thoroughly explained. When we look back at the events where hindsight is always 20-20 we could find it hard to understand why it took long for some anglers to understand and more open-minded.

Especially, knowing that they had the works of so many great angling minds pointing the way along with the accepted fly fishing practices of the time, yet our judgments of past events are colored by our overall knowledge of the tactics of the past and the present.

Regardless of all the advances in knowledge and tackle, fishing in the film zone continues to offer challenges that we are still trying to overcome today. In this section we will be covering the topic of fishing mayflies in the film zone. These challenges are often encountered and publicized on spring creeks or hatch rich waters like the Henry's Fork of the Snake, West Branch of the Delaware River or waters of this type. However these conditions can be found on any river that has reasonable hatches of mayflies.

The Bottom of the Film Zone

We will begin at the bottom of the film zone, which is up to six inches beneath the surface of the water. Now what mayfly's types might be encountered in the bottom zone of the surface film?

The angler could find trout feeding on emerging nymphs working towards the surface to emerge. You can also encounter trout feeding on duns (wet) that have hatched before reaching the surface and are swimming towards the surface to crawl out on the surface film. Now this bit of information is a scientific fact that isn't widely known, during almost every hatch of mayflies which rise and hatch on the surface, there is a percentage of the insects which hatch varying distances beneath the surface and this swim to the surface to crawl out on the surface.

You might also encounter trout feeding on sunken spinners or drowned adult duns; for the angler to figure out the problem encountered requires acute observation and of course a passionate curiosity to solve the issue requires patience. However, this is not as hard as it seems, if you begin prior to the hatch, noticing when the trout begins to feed on the nymphs as they leave the bottom of the stream and begin their journey towards the surface.

You can follow the trout as they rise up in the water column to feed on the nymphs in the bottom part of the surface zone. Now, how do you get your nymph to hang in the film zone at the proper depth? You can sight fish a single nymph that is properly constructed and grease the leader down to within six inches of the fly or you might add a very light and small indicator to the leader. However, in my opinion the easiest and most effective method is to use a floating fly, either an emerger or dry fly which matches the naturals that the trout will encounter and use a nymph on a dropper.

Now the tricky part is figuring out the length of the dropper strand, as this can vary, depending on the type of water such as riffle, run or pool and the speed of the current and the weight of the nymphs being used.

Here again this is not as difficult as it seems and you can use a stomach pump to check the contents of the trout that you capture. If they are feeding on mature nymphs then this will show in the stomach contents and verify the method you are using.

However, if you observe that the trout feeding are ignoring your nymph then try a wet adult dun imitation. Not all of the trout will key on these wet adults but some will and remember that these wet adults will be moving towards the surface and therefore slight twitches are recommend. This technique was used by James Leisenring during the 1930's and 1940's while using his flymphs.

Once again the trout will be a sure indication that you are on the right track!

During and just after the hatch you may also encounter trout feeding on drowned adult duns in this area of the film zone, earlier you fished these imitations as living organism but now you will be fishing them in dead drift manner as they are now drowned. Normally the trout are easier to spot and observe as the sheer number of feeding trout will begin to subside.

During the spinner falls you may once again find trout feeding at the bottom of the feeding zone. Now you could design a wet spinner, and I do have a few patterns for this time period, however I normally use one of the soft hackles that I have constructed to match the naturals found on the water I fish the most.

Of course the trout will be the final judge of your efforts.

Fishing Just Beneath the Film

As the hatch progresses the nymphs move closer to the surface film but still are not in or on the surface film. During this time period, observation and the thought process is the keys to the angler's success. Many of the trout will be feeding just beneath the surface picking off the very vulnerable nymphs and a quick check with a stomach pump on the captured trout will validate your methods.

Now the trout may also be eating the occasional dun or wet adult duns struggling to reach the surface and will even the odd early emergers. During this period I will continue with the dry emerger or dun coupled with a nymph on a dropper and I have used droppers as short as three inches with success.

Point of fact, we authors write about where and how the trout will feed during a hatch and we often write using the normal or perfect conditions and we explain what we believe to be the triggers that cause the trout to feed and we state how they well feed. However the pronouncements are nothing more than guesses base on what we have observed during certain conditions. Now let us be real, the conditions often vary and trout often react in a manner that defies our descriptions. This is because trout are individual creatures and do not always act in unison and that is why observation is so critical to the angler's ability to solve the problems encountered on a daily basis. That is why the angler must be observant and open-minded and willing to react to the situation that is encountered.

Now, I will get back to fishing just beneath the surface film. As I stated earlier I will normally still be using a wet/dry combination, employing an imitation of the natural duns or a floating emerger that could be found on the water and used with the appropriate nymph. Simply shorten the dropper to keep the nymph in the area where the trout are feeding.

Again quick checks with the stomach pump used on captured trout will confirm you are correct. Now the trout will occasionally take the floating imitation or the natural dun and anglers often switch to dry fly way to early. That is why you need to watch the trout feed very carefully, remembering not all of the trout will be doing the same thing at the same time.

The reason that observation is so critical is that the rise form can appear to break the surface and often the anglers mistakes these rise forms as trout taking adults or emergers on or in the surface film. But careful observations will show that very few adults are actually being eaten on the surface and the stomach samples from captured trout will confirm this.

As the hatch begins to fade and the intensity of the feeding trout begins to diminish you can find trout that are feeding just beneath the surface film on drowned adult duns or drowned emergers. Also trout can be found taking wet spinners just beneath the surface film during a spinner fall.

Fishing in the Surface Film

As the insects begin to emerge the trout will move to on the very vulnerable insects struggling to emerge. When the trout are feeding in the film I use single flies as a general rule and under these conditions I am placing myself as close as practical to the feeding trout. This allows for greater accuracy and fast reaction to the take of the trout and I always figure in the proper presentation angle to achieve the presentation I want and maintain visual observation of the trout.

Now the patterns that I will use will be CDC styles, Floating Nymph types, Para-style Emerger and furthermore it is very important that the imitation is dressed properly and by this I mean how the imitation is dressed with floatant so that the pattern sits in the film.

Sometimes I use soft hackles or flymphs fished in film and another pattern which I find very useful is a spent adult dun fished in the film. During windy or breezy days spent adult duns are especially effective, also during the time period when the hatch is fading and even after the hatch a spent adult dun are excellent searching flies to used on those opportunistic feeders that didn't seem to eat enough during the hatch.

During a spinner fall the angler will again be able to present a pattern that is in the surface film. Under these conditions flush floating patterns are preferred and this would preclude the use of conventional standard full hackled spinner patterns.

Dry Flies in the Film

Dry flies are often considered to be flies that ride on top of the surface film. When in fact many dry flies actually ride in the surface film, these included styles like No Hackles, Sparkle Duns, Compara-Duns and Parachute Duns all ride in the film.

Riding on the top of the film is more of an angler's fantasy rather than a trout's reality, even with standard full hackled conventional dry Mayfly imitations will also have certain portions of their anatomy that will sit in the film.

I always take the time to learn what my imitations look like from the trout's point of view on the surface film by using a slant tank, and this will also assist me in understanding the light pattern that the trout will see.

Therefore I consider that fishing in the film and on the film are really too close to separate and the methods, casting angles and the like are one in the same.

Further Tips on Fishing Dry Flies in the Film

There are many occasion when dry fly imitations fished in and on the surface film are very effective, however sometimes while fishing these types of flies the angler is too close-minded and locked into traditional beliefs of the dead drift presentation methods.

One day while guiding on the spring creeks I was watching the hatch; it was a normal warm day but the newly hatched Pale Morning Duns were floating for a distance before lifting off the surface.

Then I noticed that the trout were ignoring the natural duns that were floating motionless over them and I observed that the trout that were rising were doing so in a very aggressive manner. I observed that the trout were feeding on duns but these duns that were being selected by the trout were actually active on the surface of the water. Just prior to lifting off, the natural duns would flex their wings and perform a little hop skip flutter on the water and that motion would attract the trout which then rose to take the adult off the surface of the water in a very aggressive manner.

As soon as we began to twitch the dun we were using our success rate improved dramatically while those around us were still fishless. I took the time to explain what we were doing and the response was "Hey dry flies are fished dead-drift."

The mayflies that we imitate and that the trout feed upon are not stick creatures that lack movement, they are living organism!

On cool days or moist days the duns will actually spend more time on the water, floating for long periods of time, flexing their wings prior to take off and at certain times the trout will really key in on the duns.

In conclusion there are many methods and patterns used in fishing mayflies in the film zone. However it is all based on the angler's willingness to be observant and the knowledge of the insects and the trout.

Now the information on the trout and the insects can be found in many books or articles or can be obtained through on-stream exploration and observation. The pattern styles I favor will be covered in Part two A which will be published in the next issue.

However I will leave you with on question to contemplate, as the mayfly nymphs begin to drift towards the surface to emerge, we know that they travel downstream with the currents but the question is; which way is the body of the mayfly nymph facing, upstream or downstream, do you know?

Enjoy & Good Fishin'

Sysadmin Note
Part Three can be found here


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