Neil Travis - Dec 7, 2015

Fly fishing for trout is considered by many people to be the pinnacle of the sport, especially dry fly fishing for visually feeding fish. Fish feeding in this manner can be challenging and especially under certain situations that are often encountered later in the season. Read the following scenario to understand the problem which makes this situation one of the biggest challenges that most anglers will encounter while fly fishing for trout.

It is a beautiful late summer day with a few fluffy cumulus clouds floating in an otherwise clear blue sky. There's a very light wind blowing out of the south and the air temperature is hovering in the mid-70s. It's about 9 o'clock in the morning when we arrive on the stream and a few fish are rising as we drive up and parked our car. This section of the stream runs through a meadow with a few large trees scattered along the banks. We gear up and move down to the stream and settle down to observe what is happening before we begin to fish.

The meadow section of this stream is a mixture of long pools and short gentle riffles. The stream meanders through the meadow with several long bends with deep undercut banks providing great habitat for the larger brown trout that inhabit this stream. The stream varies in depth from knee deep flats and waist deep pools. The bottom is a mix of fine gravels and soft mud in some of the pools with a solid bottom just beneath. The weed growth is ample but not overwhelming.

As we sit on the bank we notice that the number of rising fish is increasing so we begin to scan the water to see what is causing the fish to rise. Staring at the water it is difficult to see anything so we use a small aquarium net to see if we can catch whatever it is that the fish are eating. After a few minutes we lift the net and discover a mix of several small midges, some small light colored spinners, a couple small beetles, an ant, a couple small mayfly duns and a few small mayfly nymphs. Everything in the net is a size 20 or smaller. The stage is set for a day of challenging fishing.

Just upstream from our position a trout is rising sporadically just off the end of a submerged weed bed. After watching the trout for several minutes it is obvious that it occasionally is eating something just below the surface but then it will rise and take something off the surface. Perhaps a small spinner with a small nymph on a short piece of mono dropped off the hook bend will do the trick. No success after several good drifts. The trout continues to feed; something just under the surface then another and then a surface rise, but no consistency. I lengthen the dropper, change the dry fly, tried a small beetle, get an inspection refusal and then the trout slips back under the weeds.

You have entered the water just upstream from my position and are working on a very good trout feeding along the undercut bank. This fish seems to be feeding on something on the surface but it's not feeding in just one position but is moving up along the bank then out into the main current before dropping back to its original position. Sometimes it moved several feet along the bank feeding sporadically and sometimes it just moved a few feet before dropping back to its feeding station. The big brown moved along; its large snout pushing an impressive bow wave each time it fed. You start the routine of trying to see if you can get him to rise. A small spinner, nope, a beetle and then an ant, perhaps an emerger, a midge, another small dry all without a single take. I watch you change positions, try a different angle, shorten up the drift and all to no avail. Finally the trout appears to rise to your fly and you set the hook. The fish thrashes and turns downstream, you apply judicious pressure but the fish seems unfazed but makes a determined run downstream. As it approaches my position I can see the hook is firmly set in the trout's dorsal fin! Foul hooked. The battle, such as it was, is short as the fish rolled on the leader and the line went slack.

During the rest of the morning the same scene played out over and over again. When we finally got lucky and managed to get a fish to feed when we pumped their stomach each fish had a mixture of all the various insects that we caught in our net. Nothing seemed to be predominate and each fish we caught was taken on a different fly. Each fish required many casts and several fly changes before we could be successful and on most occasions we were unable to get the fish to feed.

The previous scenario is a compilation of many similar days that I have experienced over the last several decades that I have fished for trout. This scenario is common during that period of time when the major spring and summer hatches are over and the fall hatches have not started yet. The fish are all well fed and there is no urgency in their feeding rhythm. Without any specific hatch to motivate the trout each fish is sporadically feeding opportunistically. The fish are feeding but each fish is feeding on something different. In my years of fly fishing for trout situations like this presents some of the most challenging situations that a fly fisher can encounter. However, I always find these circumstances to be the most rewarding when a trout finally accepts my offering.

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