Last week we ran a post asking you, our readers, what you’d like to read about on our blog. We received a bunch of great comments and questions, one of which is the topic for today’s post: “When things (flies, techniques) aren’t working, how do you solve the riddle?“
There are an uncountable number of variables present on any trout stream, far more than any one angler could ever experience. Therefore, rather than randomly cycling through numerous flies to determine what the fish are feeding on, when the going gets tough, its important to stick to a systematic approach to help rule out as many variables as possible, as efficiently as possible.
So, lets assume there are no present clues as to which fly (dry, wet, nymph, etc.) to choose; rising fish, local knowledge, etc. You’ve stumbled onto a fishy looking piece of water that you’re not familiar with, and they’re not taking your fly, what now? When it comes to fly selection, we like to keep it as simple as possible using a top-to-bottom approach, like so:
- Start on the surface. Most trout anglers would prefer to catch fish on the surface whenever possible. That alone makes a dry fly a good pattern to start with. Plus, a well presented dry fly does the least to stir up a lie, making it a good idea to start with and work from. Start on top.
- Go subsurface. If the dry isn’t producing, then its time to go subsurface. Think emergers sitting low (or just beneath) the surface film, ‘drowned’ dries, and wet flies representative of the available adult.
- Dig deep. If they haven’t responded to either the dry or the wet fly in the top two thirds of the water column, then its time to dig deep with nymphs. Trout spend the vast majority of their time feeding on or near the bottom, making nymphs extremely effective. Nymph rigs (or flesh and egg rigs in our neck of the woods) are typically the most obtrusive method to a trout lie as well; heavy flies, loud split shot, long leaders slicing through the water column. Therefore, they’re generally a good idea to try after other options have been exhausted.
- Get nasty. If they still haven’t shown any interest to the methods above, a great option to try before moving on is a streamer. Streamers have the tendency to elicit aggressive ‘territorial’ responses from trout that might otherwise have become lethargic. Although choosing them as a last option doesn’t exactly fit into our ‘top-to-bottom’ approach, because they generally result in the loudest presentation, we find they work best after all other methods have failed to produce.
Notice that when selecting flies, much of our decision is determined by how ‘subtle’ or ‘aggressive’ the required presentation is to deliver the fly. The same reasoning can be employed when applying different techniques as well. When trying different techniques, always start with the most subtle presentation first (dead drift, slow swing, etc.) and progress to a more aggressive presentation or retrieve (jigging, skittering, erratic strips, etc.) to elicit a strike without spooking fish.