Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Selective Trout, Selecting Flies

Selective trout fascinate and frustrate.

They fascinate partly because I have such limited experience with them. The Lake Erie steelhead I fish for are many things, but they're definitely not selective. These stocked fish will -- on the same day -- munch on everything and anything ranging from a tiny nymph to a six-inch leech pattern. In contrast, selective trout will feed (at least it appears this way) on one type of fly and one type only.

On Saturday, I sat on the grassy bank of the Frying Pan River and watched rainbow trout suspended just under the surface rise up and sip blue winged olives as they drifted downstream. The trouts' green backs helped them blend into their environment, but their rainbow pink stripes made them stand out. Evolution isn't perfect, I guess. The smaller ones simply poked their heads out of the water, opened their mouths and inhaled, barely disturbing the surface. The larger fish tipped up and would then tip back down, their broad tails breaking the surface as they returned to their holding spots. Sometimes the tail would appear more than a foot behind where the mouth broke the surface.

My quiet pool on the Frying Pan.
Trout seem to love blue winged olives, a tiny mayfly that come in multiple variations. The fine folks at Taylor Creek Fly Shop had set me up with a few variations of the most popular versions for the Frying Pan, and each version worked. However, they each only attracted a singular rise. Each rise resulted in a hook set and shortly thereafter a lost fish. No repeat business. I also struggled to spot the fly after it landed on the water -- inexperienced eyes and gusty winds were a killer combination. And it didn't help that the meadow pool I had chosen was home to multiple currents as the river pushed up against a downstream island. The 7x tippet would get caught up in the competing currents, dragging the mayfly imitation across the surface in the most unnatural of drifts. I chose the pool not because it was easy, but because a.) it was devoid of fishermen on a holiday weekend b.) fish were rising. I rarely get to cast to steadily rising fish. The fact that I couldn't get them to rise to my fly really wasn't that important. At least that's what I tried to tell myself as my frustration level kept rising along with the trout.

I have read all too many stories from better anglers about their struggles to identify the right fly for selective trout. These angler/authors write in fine detail about how they chose between the fly with a tuft of blue-green feather vs. one with a tuft of green-blue. But I rarely have more than a few versions of a particular fly in my box, so my selection process is rather simple; picking between a single style of emerger and a single style of a dun. But over the years I've accumulated a variety of blue winged olive patterns, and the guide I fished with on Thursday, Brandon Soucie, had encouraged me to give any of them a try if I encountered rising fish.

I picked out an emerger pattern that would ride low in the film, but could be spotted thanks to a small piece of yarn sticking up out of the fly's back. I'm not sure of the fly's origin. It may have been from Blue Ribbon Flies for a Yellowstone trip which featured few rising trout (and a lot of leftover flies) or it could have been from a fly shop in State College. I just know I didn't tie it -- my clumsy fingers cannot handle something so delicate.

I coated it with floatant, stripped out some line and cast it to the edge of the current on the near side of the pool. Nearly instantly a chunky rainbow rose up, inhaled the fly and returned below the surface. I set the hook and quickly landed the fish. I blew the fly dry, cast again and as soon as it landed another rainbow inhaled it. Another quickly followed, and then a few missed rises. And then a small brown trout. The fish made up for what it lacked in size with its colorful orange spots. Soon the mayflies stopped hatching. The fish stopped rising. But I really didn't mind. It was time for me to begin my journey back to Ohio. I remain fascinated by rising selective trout; but for once I didn't leave frustrated.

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