Finding the Fish
One of the highlights of mid to late summer is the possibility of stalking visible trout. It is likely at this time that trout will be used to eating smaller nymphs, duns, spinners, emergers, and terrestrials. They often supplement the diminished summer hatches by picking off cased caddis and snails. One can move slowly, sneaking up on likely riffles, dropoffs, pools, and eddies, spending a little "Polaroid time," and looking for fish before doing any blind casting. The gravel glows under the midday sun. The shapes and movement of trout reward the patient. Much can be learned of trout behavior by dividing time between watching and blind casting.
The heads of swift runs and the bellies of pools contain summer trout escaping the heat of midday. These fish can be harder to see if you can't get an elevated position. It is here that deep nymphing will prove most worthwhile.
Foam-covered eddies, cut banks, and spring seepages will all house trout. One should not be in a hurry here. Sneak slowly along and stop often. The reward of discovering a trout's probing nose and casting to fish that can be seen is worth the effort. It builds trout savvy.
If trout cannot be seen, fish the water blind, quickly and efficiently, before moving on. Those who effectively cover the most water usually catch the most fish. A small Humpy with a Hare's Ear dropper would be a good generic blind-fishing rig. When trout are spotted, try the same rig on them. If you are refused, try going smaller. Simply scaling down versions of the same patterns is often enough. Where trout boldly took #12 Royal Wulffs a generation ago, they look now with suspicion at most offerings so large. A size #16 to #20 of that same pattern often brings the desired results today, even on heavily fished waters. Other trout will be pickier.
I like small black crickets as drys to fish I can see, and A. P. Black Nymphs underneath. Mini-Wulffs, Trudes, Humpies, and Stimulators are great attractor drys for freestoners. Parachute Adamses are excellent, too. Precision casts to the slow-water slicks, eddies, and pocket water are what connect you with the fish.
I remember a lunchtime incident on Montana's South Fork of the Flathead River, where the big native westslope cutthroat are often reputed to be pushovers. We sat up on a low cliff eating lunch and watched a row of cutts feeding below, along the edge of a deep sloping pool. They fed at a lazy but steady gait, taking something underneath that was too small for us to see. I cast the usual Humpy over them from my elevated perch to no avail. On many days these cutts will greedily take most any fly. Next I tried a #14 Hare's Ear. No interest. All casts were within easy view of angler and trout. Finally, I hung a #20 midge pupa from the Hare's Ear. The biggest and leading cutthroat leaned over to suck it in on the first drift, just as it had been doing with the naturals. It was a beautiful fish of 19 inches and typical of these waters. On this same trip we found cutts focused on flying ants that refused larger imitations.
Now, this was on one of the most remote fisheries in the lower 48, where cutts are supposed to be dumb as nails. It is always detrimental to an angler's success when he goes about depending on such generalities and doesn't prepare himself for streamside realities. All trout focus on small flies at times, especially when waters are low and clear. It only takes a couple compartments of your fly box to carry a handful of midge pupae, small mayfly and caddis nymphs, emergers, duns, and spinners. Add some miniattractors, a beetle or two, ants, and Griffith's Gnats, and these add up to good on-stream insurance wherever you go.
I have mentioned cased caddis larvae a few times and have had just enough sight-fishing experiences with them to value their worth. I took an afternoon stroll one hot August day up a little swift and spring-fed stream in my area. Large trout move up this creek to spawn, and many end up getting stuck there through the endless beaver activity. By midsummer the creek is very low and clear but runs with pure spring water, keeping the trout in good shape. Where I was fishing, the trout, many in the 14- to 20-inch range, were highly visible and edgy in the shallow water. I snuck through the willows, trying the usual upstream presentations, which spooked most of the intended targets. Only then did I sit down and watch, as I should have done in the first place. Soon it became obvious that the trout that were feeding were picking off cased caddis, which covered the bottom in the riffle areas. I had tied up some simple but effective patterns and tried one on the fish from directly upstream. Casting down to the fish I had sighted, I dropped the fly with a big tuck cast and fed out a bunch of slack. Since the trout were occasionally swinging widely from side to side, I ran my fly off to the midstream side of one of them by two feet, fishing with a long 5X leader. The first drift of the tumbling cased caddis brought an immediate response. The brown leaned over, flashed its amber flanks, and inhaled the nymph. Downstream he ran, with me following, but he was duly landed in the colorful graveled and weed-laced streambed.
Another time found me in New Zealand on a midsummer farm-country river of reputethe Mataura. On many occasions I had seen these plump browns nose down and tail up, vacuuming the bottom of nymphs. It was cased caddis they were after. Noted Kiwi angling writer Norman Marsh relates a story in one of his books of taking stomach samples of Mataura trout, one of which had over 800 cased caddis naturals in it. Yankee trout love them, too. Since many New Zealand rivers are ultra-clear, and trout can usually be seen, lessons in trout behavior present themselves to observant anglers every day, and painfully at times!
I have found that trout focused on the bottom and cased caddis often lose sight of everything else going on around them. Once I was on a bridge and easily visible to any wary trout, casting to a cased-caddis snuffler just below. He never saw me, so intent was his nose-down posture, and he ended up rushing over to inhale my fly. Downstream a bit, I again found myself on a height, where any conscientious trout would have seen me and fled. Here again were three trout, nose-down and hunting cased caddis. They'd move out into the current, then back over a gravel bar and into a deep, slow backwater near my bank. Back and forth they travel all day, feeding on nymph or hatch as conditions warrant, all visible to the watchful angler. I caught two of these on cased-caddis patterns, reinforcing their worthiness in my mind. Since most streams have more caddis than either mayflies or stoneflies, this is a good addition to your arsenal.
Nymph, emerger, dun, and spentwing; mayfly, caddis, stonefly, beetle, ant, and midgeall come in the smallest varieties come the low-water seasons of a freestone stream. The angler thus prepared will have his most memorable encounters with fish he can see. This is the real reward of small-fly fishing, when all the cards are on the table.
© Article copyright Pruett Publishing
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication