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  • How to Pick the Right Fly (Part 4): Midges 101

    How to Pick the Right Fly (Part 4): Midges 101

    This is the fourth article in our series on how to pick the right fly for any fishing situation. To see all the posts in this series, click here

    By Spencer Durrant

    According to renowned guide Pat Dorsey, midges make up as much as 50% of a trout’s diet in certain watersheds – not unlike the percentage of my diet that’s made up of potato chips…

    Kidding aside, midges really are that abundant. They’re stacked in racks at every trout gas station and grocery store on the planet, in just about any flavor you can imagine.

    Dorsey has guided on Colorado’s South Platte River for decades now, and he’s an authority on midges. In an article for  Fly Fisherman Magazine, he says that anglers who are intimidated by fishing midges are often worried about using “spiderweb tippets and minuscule flies.”

    That’s a fair concern, but not all midge fishing has to be done with tiny patterns. As with any other aquatic insect, you’ll be successful at fishing midges once you understand and recognize their life cycle.

    This post will simplify some of the knowledge about midges, and give you the actionable info you need to hit the water and catch fish with these flies.

     

    What is a midge?

    Midges are small flies, related to the mosquito. Thankfully, midges don’t bite!

    Midge has become a bit of a catch-all term for any small fly, so it’s important to note here: midges are a distinct species of aquatic insect. Midges are small, yes, but not every small fly is a midge. Midges are a distinct insect, just like caddisflies, mayflies, and stoneflies.

    And as with caddisflies and mayflies, there are a ton of different types of midges. Like those bugs, though, you only need to understand the following before you’re ready to fish with midges:

    • Midge life cycle
    • What a midge looks like
    • Best patterns to imitate midges

    Even though midges are tiny bugs, they’re not all that tough to fish. Even midge dry flies are simple, and understanding these bugs gives you a tool you can use year-round. Just this past winter I caught a 22-inch cutthroat on a midge dry fly. So, don’t let the size of a midge prevent you from fishing one.

    Now – let’s move on to the need-to-know info about midges.

     

    Midge Life Cycle

    The midge life cycle is similar to that of mayflies. A midge starts life as a larvae, when it looks like a short, curved worm with a segmented body. If you overturn rocks to look for bugs in a trout river, you’ll almost certainly find a few midges wiggling around.

    The next stage is the pupal stage, when a midge gets ready to emerge as an adult. A midge pupa is shorter, fatter, and more heavily segmented than the larvae.

    Finally, a midge becomes an adult, which is characterized by a slim body, small head, small legs, and short, flat wings tucked against its side. This is when midges look similar to mosquitoes.

    Midges hatch year-round, even during winter. Their abundance makes them a constant food source for trout in virtually every river.

    Identifying Hatch Stages

    Midge hatches move along similarly to mayfly hatches. Larval midges cruise around the river bottom, where they’re easy prey for trout. Once a midge becomes a pupae, its behavior changes. According to Pat Dorsey, pupal midges become “fidgety” before emerging into adults. Instead of shooting straight toward the surface like mayflies or caddisflies, midge pupae move up and down several times throughout the water column before emerging as an adult. Dorsey notes that a midge emergence is a slower process, which makes them an easy target for hungry fish.

    An adult midge behaves much like other adult aquatic insects. Trout key in on crippled adults, or adults stuck in the surface film, throughout a hatch.

    So, knowing what the hatch stages are, how do you know when trout are eating emergers versus adults?

    By studying the rise forms trout create when eating bugs off, or near, the surface.

    Think of rise forms like old-school text messages. Rise forms are brief communiques that, at first glance, don’t make sense. With a practiced eye, though, you can decode a rise form as quickly as we all understand “l8r.”

    Emerger Rises

    Trout eating emergers create a unique rise form. Instead of seeing a fish’s head when it eats, you only see the back and tail fin. This happens because fish are eating bugs as they travel to the surface or are stuck in the surface film – emergers and cripples. In the case of midges, we can include pupae, too.

     

    So – if you know midges are hatching but only see a trout’s back when it rises, chances are it’s eating an emerger, cripple, or midge pupae.

    Dun Rises

    When trout eat duns, they create the classic dry fly rise form. Their head breaks the surface, leaving behind the “ring of the rise” we’re so familiar with.

     

     

    Since midges are so small, trout will eat clumps of them in a single rise (if the bugs are floating in clumps, of course).

    Matching the Midge Hatch

    Matching the midge hatch is like pairing the right chips with your sandwich – do you go for the classic plain potato chips, or opt for something spicy to give your meal a kick? The choices are just about endless.

    That’s how it can feel when you’re picking a fly to match a midge hatch. With so many options, where do you even start?

    Start by looking at the real midges on, or in, the water. Then, you want to pick a fly based on these characteristics:

    • Size: This is the most important factor when choosing a fly. Your fly needs to be the same size as all the real bugs you see in or on the water.
    • Shape: Midges all share generally the same shape, but this is still important when picking a fly.
    • Color: Color is the least important characteristic to match with your fly. Some fish on heavily pressured waters might get picky about color, but most don’t.

    Midges are generally between size 16 and 26. Most of my go-to midge patterns are a size 20. You’ll scale up and down based on the hatch, but if your collection of midge flies is between 16 and 26, you’ll have something that’s the right size for just about any midge hatch.

    As far as shape and color are concerned – make sure you have a wide variety here, too. The more flies you have in your box, the more chances you have to perfectly match whatever’s hatching.

    So, here are a few of my go-to midge patterns, and where they fit within each stage of the hatch:

    Midge Larvae

    • Zebra Midge – a time-tested, classic fly that works everywhere
    • WD40 – perfect for adding variety to your midge larvae patterns

    Midge Pupae

    • Shop Vac – a fun pattern for midges that are close to emerging
    • Rainbow Warrior – not really a midge pattern, but works well in some instances

    Midge Adults

    Go Fishing

    The great thing about midges is that they hatch year-round. Even in the dead of winter, you’ll find fish snacking on these flies. Some of my best fishing days each year are during January midge hatches. I look forward to fishing a midge hatch almost as much as some anglers anticipate a good BWO hatch.

    Take this knowledge, study it a bit, add some variety to your fly box, and go put the information we covered today to good use. Let us know if you catch anything on a midge!

  • How to Pick the Right Fly (Part 3): Caddisflies 101

    How to Pick the Right Fly (Part 3): Caddisflies 101

    This is the third post in our series on how to pick the right fly. To see all the posts in this series, click here

    By Spencer Durrant

    Caddisflies are the buffalo wings of fly fishing.

    Allow me to explain.

    Buffalo wings are one of the greatest foods on this planet, second only to pizza. Everyone loves wings. Some of us prefer them boneless, bone-in, spicy, or mild, but I have yet to meet a respectable person who turns their nose up at wings.

    That’s exactly how trout treat caddisflies.

    And just like your first trip to a wing joint, the endless flavors and styles of caddisflies can feel overwhelming. Do I get the spicy habanero? How hot is the mild sauce? Do I want to eat real wings like a caveman, or boneless wings like a civilized person? 

    By the end of this post, you’ll have the knowledge you need to waltz into your nearest trout stream and offer up a steaming plate of perfectly sauced and tossed caddisflies.

    What is a caddisfly?

    Caddisflies are one of the most abundant aquatic insects on this planet. There are approximately 14,500 species of caddis throughout the world. That’s almost five times more caddis than the 3,000 species of mayflies that exist!

     

    The truly successful anglers memorize every caddis species by heart – scientific names and all. True angling mastery is only achieved if Latin flows from your lips like the water in a river.

    Okay, I’m kidding. In all seriousness, understanding caddisflies is dead simple. 

    All you need to know about caddisflies is:

    • What they look like
    • Their life cycle
    • Best patterns to imitate them

    Caddisflies are simpler than mayflies or stoneflies, in my opinion. Where you need to recognize individual hatches of mayflies (like PMDs or BWOs), you’re really only looking for one type of caddis. They’ll be different sizes and colors depending on where and when you fish, but that’s as complex as identifying caddisflies gets.

    So, stick with this post and you’ll be a caddisfly expert in no time.

    Caddisfly Life Cycle

    As I said earlier, the key to understanding caddisflies is understanding their life cycle.

     

    Unlike mayflies and stoneflies, caddisflies have both a larval and pupal stage. In layman’s terms, that means there are two stages of caddis nymphs. With mayflies, for example, there’s only one nymph stage.

    A caddis hatches from its egg and spends the first part of its life as a larvae. At this point, a caddis looks like a small worm with a heavily segmented body. Caddis are usually some interesting shade of green at this point in their life.

    After the larval stage, caddis grow into a pupa. A pupal caddis builds a cocoon in which it lives until it’s ready to hatch as an adult.

    Now, something important to note here: you’ve probably heard the phrase “cased caddis.” Caddis are pretty ingenious little bugs, and often build small cases out of rock and other river debris, in which they live as a larvae. Their cocoons look similar to these rock cases, too. A cased caddis pattern can be used to imitate both a larval or pupal caddisfly. Not all caddis larvae live in cases, however. Some are “free-swimming”

    So, back to the life cycle – once caddis are ready to hatch, they emerge quickly to the surface where they escape the water as quickly as possible. Unlike mayflies, caddisflies spend as little time as possible on the water. In fact, adult caddisflies almost never willingly drift along the water’s surface until it’s time to mate. If you see an adult caddis drifting on the water’s surface, it’s probably a crippled adult.

    Adult caddisflies are easy to spot – they look almost like moths. They have long, tent-like wings that fold against their body, which is usually slightly tapered and comes in a variety of colors. Caddisflies have long antennae facing forward off their head, and fly with a fluttering motion.

    Caddis hatch from late spring (usually around Mother’s Day) through fall. Some of the biggest hatches occur an hour or so before sunset, especially during summer.

    Identifying Hatch Sages

    The stages of a caddis hatch are very similar to that of a mayfly hatch. Caddis emerge from their pupal cocoons to become adults (duns), then return to the water to lay their eggs. As the hatch moves along, the trout key in on eating bugs at that certain stage of the hatch.

    What you need to pay attention to is how the fish are rising to eat off the surface. Trout create unique patterns when they rise to eat bugs – we call these rise forms. The rise form tells you whether the trout are eating emergers and cripples, or duns.

    Emerger Rises

    Trout eating emergers create a unique rise form. Instead of seeing a fish’s head when it eats, you only see the back and tail fin. This happens because fish are eating bugs as they travel to the surface or are stuck in the surface film – emergers and cripples.

    close up of a brown trout's dorsal fin breaking the surface of crystal clear water

    A crippled caddis is exactly what it sounds like. It’s either a dun or emerger that has some sort of crippling deformity that prevents it from leaving the water’s surface.

    Dun Rises

    When trout eat duns, they create the classic dry fly rise form. Their head breaks the surface, leaving behind the “ring of the rise” we’re so familiar with.

    Something else to note here: there’s a specific caddis pattern called the “egg laying caddis.” It’s a fly meant to imitate female caddis as they return to the water to lay their eggs. Trout will often eat them with the same dun rise they eat other adults.

    Matching the Caddis Hatch

    Now that we know what caddisflies are, their life cycle, and the rise forms trout create when eating caddis off the surface, we’re ready to dive into matching a caddis hatch.

    Really, matching just about any caddis hatch boils down to the following:

    • Match the size of the caddis on the water/in the air
    • Match the color of the caddis on the water/in the air
    • Match the hatch stage if trout are keyed in on something

    As with any hatch, you want to match the size of your fake bug to the real ones on the water. Size is the most important factor to consider when choosing a fly to imitate a real aquatic insect. Most caddis fall between a size 14 and 18. You’ll rarely need anything outside of that range.

    Caddis hatch with a wide variety of colors. From light tan to dark gray, you need to have a lot of colors of caddis in your box. Some fish, especially on heavily-pressured rivers like tailwaters, will get picky about the color of the caddis.

    The only caddis that sort of breaks this mold is the October Caddis. This bug is huge, has a bright orange body, and hatches in late fall – often in October. The October Caddis is usually the last big bug to hatch on any given trout river.

    Finally, you may find some trout that really only want an emerging or crippled caddis, instead of the adult. Trout tend to care a bit less about this than they do with mayflies, but it’s still a good idea to have a solid collection of emerging, crippled, and adult caddis patterns in your box.

    Speaking of patterns – these are the ones you absolutely need while on the water:

    Hit the Water

    If you feel like you just walked out of an all-you-can-eat wing joint, join the club. That was a TON of information we just covered.

    Thankfully, caddisflies are pretty simple – just like buffalo wings. They all share the same size and shape, differing really only in color. Learn to recognize what a caddis looks like, and how trout rise to eat them, and you’ll be in business.

    The next post in this series will focus on everyone’s favorite little fly – the midge. Until then, go hit the water and let us know if you catch anything!

     

     

  • How to Pick the Right Fly (Part 2): Mayflies 101

    How to Pick the Right Fly (Part 2): Mayflies 101

    This is the second post in our series on how to pick the right fly. To see all the posts in this series, click here

    By Spencer Durrant

    So, there I was – standing in a river in Oregon with blue-winged olives hatching so thick it looked like it was snowing.

    My buddy Ryan and I stared upstream at this huge fish that kept rising, with regularity, to eat a few bugs off the surface with each gulp. The fish was tight up against a chunk of moss, and the current was pushing away from the fish’s lie.

    In other words, getting a good drift in such a tight window looked to be as impossible as driving through rush hour traffic without losing a bit of hope for humanity.

    Ryan coached me through the cast, then handed me his rod. I was nervous – I didn’t want to screw up this up.

    By a stroke of luck, I made a perfect cast. The fly drifted right into the fish’s kitchen. The trout rose, I set the hook, and a few minutes later I let a 22 inch brown swim back to its home.

    close up shot of a brown trout half in and out of the water in an angler's hand.

    Making that cast was lucky, but fishing with Ryan that day was even luckier. He spent all of that epic blue-winged olive hatch teaching me about mayflies. By the day’s end, I felt confident enough to go fish a mayfly hatch all on my own.

    That’s what I want to give you in this post – the actionable knowledge you need to feel as confident as I did, so you can go have success fishing with mayflies. From identifying mayflies at their individual stages, to picking flies to match any phase of the hatch in which you find yourself, this post is a crash course on all things mayflies.

    What is a mayfly?

    Mayflies are aquatic insects, found in just about every trout river in the world. All told, there are over 3,000 species of mayflies.

    Thankfully, we don’t need to memorize every species. As anglers, we’re concerned with just a few of them:

    Now, that might feel like a lot – like I’m asking you to find a polite driver from Utah – but I promise it’s not. Stick with this post and you’ll be able to spot a blue-winged olive as easily as you can spot a tourist on your home water.

    Mayfly Life Cycle

    Before we get into the details of the bugs themselves, we need to learn about the life cycle of a mayfly.

    Even with the huge diversity of species, mayflies all follow the same general life cycle. They begin as a nymph, become an emerger, hatching into the adult – or dun – version of the aquatic insect, before mating and falling, spent-winged, back to the water.

    mayfly life cycle graphic that depicts a mayfly going from an egg to an adult.

    Now, the ability to tell if fish are eating the emerger or the dun can make or break your success during a mayfly hatch. This skill is absolutely vital, but fairly easy to master. We will cover that more in a minute.

    graphic of a mayfly nymph and mayfly adult, with bullet points describing important aspects of each insect.

    Adult mayflies are characterized by their long, slender segmented bodies, upright wings, and forked tails. The nymph versions of mayflies are short, dark bugs with three pairs of legs, a segmented body, and clearly forked tail. They come in a variety of sizes and colors, all the way from a size 8 down to a size 26.

    Identifying Hatch Stages

    As mayflies emerge from nymph to dun (adult), their movements attract trout. Trout key in on the stage of the hatch that’s the easiest for them to eat while expending the least amount of energy. Often, even when it appears that there are only duns on the water, trout are picking off straggling emergers or cripples. Emerging and crippled bugs are easier to eat, since they can’t escape as quickly as a dun can. That makes them a high-value food target for trout.

    The key to knowing what stage of the hatch trout are keyed in on is knowing what rise forms look like.

    A rise form is the disturbance a fish makes when it rises to eat a dry fly. Depending on what they’re eating, trout create different rise forms.

    Learning to recognize these rise forms will tell you, within just a few minutes, what fish are keyed in on.

    graphic depicting how a trout looks when it breaks the water to eat an emerging insect vs an adult insect.

    Emerger Rises

    Trout eating emergers create a unique rise form. Instead of seeing a fish’s head when it eats, you only see the back and tail fin. This happens because fish are eating bugs as they travel to the surface or are stuck in the surface film – emergers and cripples.

    close up shot of a brown trout rising to eat a mayfly off the river's surface

    A crippled mayfly is exactly what it sounds like. It’s either a dun or emerger that has some sort of crippling deformity that prevents it from leaving the water’s surface.

    Dun Rises

    When trout eat duns, they create the classic dry fly rise form. Their head breaks the surface, leaving behind the “ring of the rise” we’re so familiar with.

    close up shot of a brown trout rising to eat a mayfly off the top of a river

    Trout also eat spinners or spent-wings with a rise that looks like a dun rise. Spinners and spent-wings are two names for the same fly – the dead or dying mayfly that’s finished mating and “spins” back down to the water’s surface.

    Major Mayfly Types

    With over 3,000 mayfly species on the planet, learning to recognize them all is an impossible task. On top of that, there are over 150 species of blue-winged olives! Thankfully, we don’t have to memorize each species of each type of mayfly. The old joke about a guy on a river in a tweed jacket, smoking a pipe, and calling mayflies by their Latin names exists for a reason – anglers like that are real. I’ve met them.

    You don’t need to be that angler. Thank goodness.

    You do need enough actionable information, though, to identify bugs and pick a fly that matches what fish are eating. To that end, you should focus on knowing these mayflies in particular:

    • Blue-winged olives (BWOs)
    • Pale morning duns (PMDs)
    • Drakes
    • Tricos
    • Callibaetis

    Let’s take a look at these bugs in greater detail.

    Blue-winged Olives (BWOs)

    Blue-winged olives (BWOs) are one of the most easily recognizable mayflies. Anglers look forward to the fall and spring hatches of BWOs because these bugs hatch thick enough to bring trout of all sizes to the surface – even big ones.

    Recognizing BWOs

    close up shot of a blue winged olive mayfly on a black background

    Blue-winged olives are the first and last mayflies to hatch each year. Early spring and late fall are typically when BWOs hatch in earnest. Spring BWOs come off from April through May, and fall BWOs hatch during September and October.

    However, some mayflies hatch during the same time as BWOs. To tell them apart, remember that BWOs have the following features:

    • Dark to light olive colored bodies
    • Smaller in size, around 16 for a dun. Occasionally as large as a size 14
    • Light blue wings

    blue-winged olive mayfly hatch chart that depicts when these bugs are most active for anglers

    The patterns I’d recommend most for fishing a BWO hatch include:

    We have multiple BWO patterns in our BWO Baker’s Dozen pack.

    Pale Morning Duns (PMDs)

    Pale morning duns are, for me, the sign that summer is officially here. They begin hatching in earnest in June, and continue throughout the summer. Some of my best fishing is during PMD hatches on tailwaters.

    Recognizing PMDs

    close up of a pale morning dun mayfly on a black background

    The PMD hatch overlaps with brown and green Drakes, so you’ll likely see some PMDs mixing with those bugs. Luckily, PMDs are easy to identify. They have the following features:

    • Light-yellow colored body
    • Usually larger than BWOs, often a 14
    • Clear, gray wings

    graphic of a pale morning dun hatch chart

    The patterns I’d most recommend for a PMD hatch are:

    You can find some of our favorite PMD patterns in our PMD Baker’s Dozen pack.

    Drakes

    Drakes are among the biggest mayflies, which makes them a special treat for trout. Some of the biggest fish you’ll catch all year will likely come during a Drake hatch. Drakes are among the first big flies to hatch, and they come off right before, or during, runoff. That combines to make them an easy, must-have meal for trout just waking up from a long winter. Drakes come in two general varieties, for angling purposes – green and brown. Green Drakes hatch in mid-May through June, and Brown Drakes hatch immediately after the Green Drakes.

    Recognizing Drakes

    close up of two images side by side of a green drake and brown drake mayfly

    Since Drakes are such large flies, they’re easier to spot and identify. Green Drakes, as their name implies, have a vibrant green body, while Brown Drakes have an earthy brown body.

    • Green body for Green Drakes, brown body for Brown Drakes
    • Long, segmented body
    • Large – up to a size 8

    graphic of a green drake hatch chart

    graphic of a brown drake hatch chart

    The flies I’d recommend most for fishing either a brown or green Drake hatch are:

    You can view the Drake Baker’s Dozen pack here.

    Tricos

    A trico is an extremely small mayfly that hatches in huge numbers. They’re common on tailwaters, and trout love them because tricos can’t escape as quickly as other, larger mayflies can. Tricos hatch later in the summer, starting in July and going through August.

    Recognizing Tricos

    Tricos can come in a variety of colors, but they’re always small, and always have three tails. While small, they still maintain the classic mayfly body shape. Remember that tricos hatch in July through August. This is outside the window of other mayflies, and most midges. So, if you see small flies buzzing around the water’s surface that time of year – and you observe trout eating them – it’s a safe bet those flies are tricos.

    • Dark colored body, usually black, brown, or green
    • Extremely small – size 18 to 26
    • Classic mayfly shape

    graphic of a trico hatch chart

    Some flies I’d recommend to have along during a trico hatch:

    We have parachute tricos in this Baker’s Dozen pack of flies.

    Callibaetis

    This mayfly hatches in stillwater environments (lakes and ponds), and is one of the most exciting hatches you’ll ever fish. Callibaetis mayflies hatch in large blankets, which causes the trout to eat without any care in the world. They’ll often rise for callibaetis flies in a straight line, making casting for these hungry fish an easy task of placing your fly just ahead of the trout. This hatch occurs during May all the way through August.

    Recognizing callibaetis

    close up shot of a callibaetis mayfly on a black background

    These are larger mayflies with pale, earth-tone bodies. They have exceptionally thin bodies, but otherwise have the classic mayfly profile.

    • Larger, sizes 12 – 16
    • Earth-tone color
    • Thin, slender bodies

    graphic of a callibaetis mayfly hatch chart

    The flies I’d recommend you have along for a callibaetis hatch include:

    • Parachute Adams – a classic fly that still slays today
    • Light Cahill – great for the smaller, lighter callibaetis hatches later in the summer

    You can find all of our callibaetis patterns in this Baker’s Dozen pack.

     

    Here are all the hatch charts put together. Take a screenshot to use as a tool during mayfly season.

    blue-winged olive mayfly hatch chart that depicts when these bugs are most active for anglers

     

    Keep on Learning

    So, that was a lot of information. If your brain hurts, that’s totally normal. Grab your favorite beverage, bookmark this page, and return to it as often as you need until you feel you’ve grasped the info.

    Oh, and keep tabs here on the VFC blog, too. Our next post in this series on choosing flies is all about caddisflies – the buffalo wings of the aquatic insect world. All the trout love ’em, but some really want the boneless garlic parmesan instead of the atomic ghost pepper. In other words, there’s some variety to caddisflies, and we’ll cover all that in the next post in this series!

    Until then – get out on the water and catch some fish.

  • How to Pick The Right Fly (Without Any Bug Knowledge!)

    How to Pick The Right Fly (Without Any Bug Knowledge!)
    By Spencer Durrant

    What question has every angler asked for as long as mankind has gone fishing?

    What are the fish eating?

    Answer this question correctly and you’ll put fish in the net. Get it wrong, and you’ll spend more time staring frustrated at your fly box than you will fishing.

    So, how do you answer this question correctly? Especially if you’ve just started fly fishing?

    It all boils down to observation. Pay attention to your surroundings – what the water and fish are telling you – and you’ll have all the information you need to make an informed, educated decision on which fly to use, even if you don’t know the first thing about aquatic insects.

    Of course, the end goal is learning to identify major aquatic insects immediately, but that takes time. You can stare at pictures of blue-winged olives online all day, but identifying one out on the water permanently cements that lesson.

    In this post, we’ll focus on a few of the observational skills you need to make an educated fly choice, even if you’re still learning the difference between a caddis, mayfly, and stonefly.

    Observational Skills

    To make the right fly choice – even without intimate knowledge of aquatic insects – you need to observe three things:

    • What’s on the water
    • What’s in the water
    • What’s near the water

    Let’s dive into each of these in more detail.

    close up shot of a brown trout rising to eat a mayfly off the river's surface

    What’s on the water?

    When you first pull up to the river, leave your fly rod in the case and just spend a few minutes observing the river’s surface. You’ll learn a ton from just five minutes of observing the water.

    What bugs are on the water’s surface? What’s buzzing in the air? Are fish eating off the river’s surface? If bugs and fish are active on the water’s surface, then your fly choice is a no-brainer – you need a dry fly. If not, let’s see whats happening underwater.

    What’s in the water?

    Even if you see some bugs on the water’s surface, it’s always a good idea to check out what bugs are swimming beneath. The vast majority of a trout’s diet is nymphs, so fishing a nymph is almost always a good bet.

    Turn over some rocks and pay attention to the bugs you see. Simply observing what bugs are crawling around beneath the water’s surface can help you make an educated fly choice. Take note of what you see, too – are the bugs small, or big? Do they have segmented bodies, tons of legs, and large tails? These details are key to picking the right fly.

    What’s near the water?

    Lastly, pay attention to any bugs you see and hear in the grass or trees near the river. Cicadas make an awful racket, and grasshoppers can, too. Watch and listen to see if there are any terrestrial (land-based) insects that fish might be snacking on. Wind can knock these bugs into the water, and they’re an insanely high-protein food source for fish that are always on the hunt for their next meal. Trout chase terrestrial insects with the kind of reckless abandon of kids running after an ice cream truck.

    As you observe what’s on, in, or near the water, you’ll gather plenty of clues to help you make a good fly choice. So, let’s go through how you use all this information to pick the right fly.

    Now you match the hatch

    You’ve probably heard the phrase “match the hatch” before. In simplest terms, it refers to the practice of matching your fly choice to what bugs are actively hatching (often, “match the hatch” is used when discussing dry fly fishing).

    Now that you’ve observed what bugs are on, in, or near the water, you have the information you need to pick the right fly from your box. But how exactly should you choose? Does color matter more, or does the shape of the fly?

    Those are great questions. Let’s answer them.

    Size matters

    Some bugs are inherently bigger than others. Scuds – a popular nymph – are usually a lot bigger than midge nymphs. Stoneflies are often larger than mayflies, in both nymph and dry fly forms. So, the first step to picking the right fly is to settle on a pattern that’s close in size to what you’ve observed on, in, or near the water.

    If you see fish actively rising and eating bugs on the surface, you should turn to your dry flies. If there’s not much surface action happening but you find plenty of bugs under some rocks, start sorting through your nymphs. At this stage, only look for flies that are similar in size to the real bugs you just observed.

    This is why you need a good variety of size among the fly patterns in your box. I like to carry nymphs and dry flies in sizes 12 – 18, because those tend to cover most of my fishing situations. The more you fish, the more you’ll get a feel for the variety of size you need for your specific waters.

    Shape is next

    After size, shape is the next most important factor to base your fly choice on.

    Take a long look at the fly you’re trying to imitate. For the sake of argument, let’s say you found a bunch of bugs under a submerged rock, so you decide to tie on a nymph. The insects look like they’re about a size 16. They look something like this:

    This bug has a slender, segmented body, no real legs, and no real tail. Based on those characteristics, you decide that the zebra midge in your box most closely matches this bug. A zebra midge looks like this:

    While the zebra midge fly doesn’t look exactly like the bug you found under a rock, it’s a pretty close match. That’s what you’re trying to do here – make a match to your flies that’s as close as possible to what you found in the water. Most flies don’t look exactly like a real insect, either, so don’t expect an exact match.

    If you decided to match a dry fly, you might have found a bug that looks like this, floating down the river’s surface:

    Let’s say this fly looks like it’s about a size 14, so you look through your dry flies to find some that match that size. Then, you start looking at this bug’s characteristics. It has long, slender tails, a segmented body, and big wings.

    Again you’re not looking for an exact match in your box. Get as close as you can. In this instance, a Parachute Adams (see picture below) is a good match for the bug you found floating on the water.

    Match color if you can

    The least important factor to match is color. Trout care far more about the size and shape of your flies than they do the color. If you have a fly in your box that’s a perfect size, shape, and color match – awesome! If it matches size and shape, but it’s the wrong color, don’t be afraid to use it. The fish will usually ignore the color, so long as you get the size and shape correct.

    Color becomes more important if you’re fishing heavily pressured tailwaters. Fish that see a ton of flies from hundreds of anglers grow more discerning, and key in on certain colors. So, while color doesn’t matter as much in a high mountain stream, it can impact your success on tailwaters. This shows why it’s so important to have such a wide variety of flies in your box. The more flies you have, the better chance you have to find a match, and start putting fish in the net.

    You need these flies in your box

    You don’t need an exact scientific knowledge of aquatic insects to match the hatch. It’s entirely possible to be a successful angler just by observing what the fish are eating, and doing your best to imitate that food source. Picking the right fly depends far more on your observational skills than it does your ability to differentiate tricos from midges.

    We’ve discussed how important it is to have a big variety of flies in your box. The only problem is that there are thousands of flies out there, so knowing where to start gets tough.

    That’s why we’ve put together our Fly Collections. We built them to include all the major fly types, in all the sizes, shapes, and colors needed to catch some fish. We’ve done our best to eliminate the guesswork and provide a strong foundation to match the hatch, no matter where you’re fishing. Check them out here.

    Now, this isn’t the last post about choosing flies. This is part 1 in a series of articles about each specific bug type, to help you quickly and easily identify what bugs the fish are eating. While you wait for the next post in this series (Mayflies!), head out to the water and put the tips we discussed today into practice.

  • Bamboo vs. Glass vs. Graphite Fly Rods

    Bamboo vs. Glass vs. Graphite Fly Rods
    By Spencer Durrant

    The fly rod market can be tough to navigate for new anglers. Not only do you have to wade through dozens of options from tons of different manufacturers, but more and more frequently these days, you’ll run into fly rods made of different materials.

    Today, we’ll take a look at the three different materials fly rods are built from and the differences between them, so you can be more informed when you’re shopping for a fly rod.

    Bamboo

    bamboo fly rod laying on a background of rocksBamboo is the OG material for building fly rods. It’s what Brad Pitt used in A River Runs Through It. For those of us with grandfathers who fly fished, they likely used bamboo at some point. It’s sometimes referred to as “split cane.” Bamboo is the heaviest material that fly rods are built from, which is why you’ll often see these rods built in shorter lengths, and for lighter line weights.

    Bamboo fly rods are revered for their craftsmanship and quality. Good ones usually take upwards of 80 hours to build, and it’s done by hand. However, that means bamboo is very expensive. High-quality bamboo rods today start around $2,000. Classic rods from revered makers like Everett Garrison can sometimes sell for over $10,000.

    How does bamboo fish?

    Bamboo rods are slow. They don’t generate the same high line speed and tight, crisp loops that you’re accustomed to seeing from modern graphite rods. This slower action makes bamboo rods ideal for fishing situations that demand delicate presentations, which is why bamboo fly rods are so often associated with dry flies.

    The slow, methodical action of bamboo makes it a pleasure to use for those who enjoy fly casting. Getting much distance with a bamboo rod requires precise casting, so if you’re new to fly fishing, using bamboo might be a bit frustrating. The slower action also means that it’s harder to cast bamboo in the wind than graphite.

    Glass

    fiberglass fly rod laying on a background of rocksBamboo was the material-of-choice for fly rods up until the 1950s, when an embargo with China forced fly rod builders to pivot to a new material. Their choice was fiberglass, and it’s still a well-loved material all these years later.

    A top-tier glass rod is cheaper than a top-tier graphite rod, but glass is far more similar to bamboo in terms of action. Fiberglass has undergone a big resurgence in popularity lately, and has even branched out to use in saltwater fly fishing. Glass rods are lighter than bamboo, but heavier than graphite.

    How does fiberglass fish?

    Fiberglass rods are slow and flex deep into the cork. And just like with bamboo, glass rods are excellent to use when fishing dry flies, emergers, or smaller nymphs.

    Glass rods stretch more than graphite or bamboo, which gives them a unique feel while on the water. That stretch also makes glass rods more durable than graphite or bamboo.

    Graphite

    graphite fly rod laying on a background of rocksGraphite fly rods are the most popular in today’s market, and probably will be for the foreseeable future. Graphite is crystallized carbon that’s incredibly strong, yet has some flexibility, and a fantastic ability to transfer energy. That makes it an ideal material to use for fly fishing.

    The vast majority of fly rods available today are built from graphite. It’s relatively cheap to use in manufacturing fly rods, although high-end graphite fly rods are more expensive than anything except bamboo. It’s a versatile material, used in all fishing applications.

    How does graphite fish?

    Graphite fly rods are what you’ve more than likely fished with, and will continue fishing with. They’re generally faster-action rods that generate high line speeds and tight loops. The power that graphite generates makes it ideal to use in all fishing situations. Graphite rods are generally considered the easiest to learn to fly fish with because their stiff action demands less precision when fly casting than bamboo or fiberglass.

    Because graphite is such a versatile material, it’s able to handle everything from fishing small dry flies to trout, to landing marlin and sailfish in the Pacific Ocean.

    Here at VFC, we’ve developed our own graphite fly rod— The Fly Flinger. Check it out here!

    Wrapping Up

    The three materials from which fly rods are built are very different. Bamboo is an all-natural material that has a truly organic feel to it. Fiberglass is slow, like bamboo, but has its own intangible qualities. Graphite takes the best features of both bamboo and glass and adds stiffness and strength, allowing anglers to cast farther and with greater accuracy. The material that’s best for you depends on your budget and the fishing you plan on doing.

  • The Dos and Don’ts of Fishing the Spawn

    The Dos and Don’ts of Fishing the Spawn
    By Spencer Durrant

    If there’s one thing that can rile folks up, it’s the topic of fishing the spawn. For some, fishing during the spawn is tantamount to murdering trout. For others, it’s the best chance of the year to land a really big fish. Post a picture of a fish that’s clearly been pulled from a redd, and you’ll quickly get run off social media by the morality police.

    I’m not here to cast judgement or start a fight. Instead, I want to lay out the facts about spawning fish and ethical fishing practices, to help clear up any misconceptions that exist about fishing the spawn.

    What’s the spawn?

    When folks talk about fishing the spawn, they’re usually referring to the fall, when brown trout (and some strains of rainbow trout) mate. Brook trout are fall-spawning fish, so this conversation applies to them, too.

    Redds

    When trout spawn, they dig a shallow depression into the river bottom. This bowl-shaped depression is called a redd. Trout deposit eggs and milt on the redds, and the eggs will incubate and hatch in a redd.

    Redds are pretty easy to identify. For starters, they’re dug in areas of the river that have a gravelly bottom. Fish also clean the redds, getting rid of any moss or algae on the rocks. Redds show up as bright, clean areas of gravel along the river bottom, a bit like this.

    close up shot of a redd in a river

    If you’re out fishing during the fall, and you see a redd, don’t step in it. Walking through redds is a quick way to destroy the eggs, and thus destroy future generations of trout. In a world where we’re increasingly losing wild populations of fish, preserving every one we can is imperative.

    Again, I’m not out to shame anyone here. Before I knew any better, I walked through a few redds. I’m also guilty of not handling fish well during catch-and-release as a new fly angler, too. One aspect of fly fishing that’s so attractive to so many different people is that it’s impossible to master. You’re always becoming a better angler, which means you’ll inevitably make some mistakes. That’s all part of the process, as is learning.

    I’d also recommend you watch this excellent video about identifying and avoiding redds, from Devin Olsen.

    Should I even fish during the spawn?

    So, after learning about redds and why it’s important to leave them alone, you’re probably wondering if it’s even worth fishing during the spawn?

    It certainly is. Fall is my favorite time of the year to fish. I love the crisp air, the changing leaves, the vaguely upset weather, and the thinning crowds. It’s also when fish get more aggressive as they feed incessantly to pack on the pounds before a long winter.

    To fish successfully during the spawn, you need to avoid stepping in or near redds. Give those redds a wide berth so you don’t disturb the spawning process.

    You should also leave any actively spawning trout alone. I get it – seeing big fish sitting on a redd is mighty tempting. I’d be a liar if I said I haven’t given into that temptation before. Fish on redds are at their most vulnerable, though, and it’s up to us anglers to protect them. Let the fish do their thing, and catch them later on in the year.

    underwater shot of a redd

    Where to fish during the spawn

    Fall brings the last of the major dry fly hatches, with blue-winged olives and October caddis comprising most of the bugs fish are looking for. Even when fish are spawning, the ones that haven’t had their turn on a redd, or aren’t old enough to reproduce, will be looking up for food. Some of the best dry fly fishing all year comes during fall hatches. Target pools, eddies, and slower water for these hatches.

    You can also fish behind redds. Obviously, make sure there aren’t any other redds behind the one you’re fishing. Fish stack up behind redds to eat the eggs that naturally drift downriver during the spawning process. Eggs are a high-value food source, and you’ll stick a lot of big fish drifting eggs through riffles where trout aren’t actively spawning. I like pairing an egg pattern with a larger nymph, like a Prince, beneath an indicator. Drifting them without any split-shot is a solid combination that consistently produces fish.

    It’s about preservation

    You can still get out and fish during the spawn. The key is to leave actively spawning fish alone, and to avoid their redds. Do that, and you’re golden.

    It’s important to learn about redds and spawning fish, because with that knowledge comes the opportunity to preserve our fisheries for as long as possible. They’re not making new trout streams anymore, and with drought gripping most of the West, it’s perhaps more important now than ever before to preserve the trout fisheries we have left. The better stewards we are of our resources, the longer they’ll last. That’s what this post is really about.

    Get out there and fish this fall. Some of the best dry fly fishing you’ll have all year comes during a chilly autumn afternoon. And who knows – you just might stick a really big fish on a drifted egg pattern!

  • Buying Wading Boots for Beginners

    Buying Wading Boots for Beginners
    By Spencer Durrant

    The right pair of wading boots can make or break your day on the water. Good boots provide stability and confidence while wading – two key features you need if you’re serious about getting into fish. Great boots are also comfortable, and don’t break the bank.

    For beginners, though, choosing that first pair of wading boots can be tricky. Today, we’ll go over the different features of wading boots to help you become more familiar with what you need when looking for your next pair.

    Wading Boots for Beginners

    If you’re looking to buy your first pair of wading boots, or you’re upgrading from a cheap pair, you need to focus on buying boots that have good soles, laces, fit you well, and are comfortable. Those are the four key features to look for if you want a pair of boots that’ll give you the best performance while on the water.

    Soles

    Wading boots are designed to give you the ultimate in traction and stability when in the water. Different types of soles are built to perform better in certain environments as well.

    Rubber soles are the most common, because they’re the most versatile. They’re great for use on days when you’re walking or hiking to get to the water (like fishing streams in the backcountry) and most boots with rubber soles have the option to add metal spikes for additional traction support.

    close up of wading boot soles as an angler is sitting on a rock

    Felt soles are the unbeaten king of traction on extremely slippery surfaces. They grip moss-covered rocks exceptionally well. However, they’re not as durable as rubber, nor are they what you want to wear if you’re putting serious walking miles on your boots. It’s also worth noting that felt soles can carry and transmit aquatic insects and diseases, like New Zealand mud snails or whirling disease. Alaska has banned felt soles in all of its rivers to combat invasive species and disease spread.

    You’ll also find that certain wading boot manufacturers tout different sole designs or new materials added to help the rubber be more slip-resistant. All of those details are worth taking into account.

    If your budget allows for it, you really shouldn’t look to buy new wading boots that don’t allow you to add metal studs or bars for additional traction. Rubber soles with metal spikes are a favorite for traction, stability, and comfort among guides and anglers alike, so that’s the route you should probably go.

    Remember, wading boots are designed to provide traction and stability in the water. It’s not worth skimping out on staying upright just to save a few bucks.

    Laces

    Laces gets a mention thanks to the popularity of the BOA lacing system. BOA laces are superior to traditional laces in just about every way, the only exception coming in boots designed for long hikes and fishing. Traditional laces lock in your heel more effectively than BOA laces do.

    Other than that, BOA laces are the way to go. They’re extremely convenient, especially in colder weather. And they wear out at a much slower rate than traditional laces, too. Again, if it’s in your budget, your wading boots should have BOA laces.

    Fit and Comfort

    Fit and comfort are individual preferences, so we won’t spend a ton of time here. But it’s important to try on wading boots before buying them. If possible, wear your waders while trying on the boots to get a feel for how everything fits. Pay attention to how the boot feels through and above your ankle. Good ankle support is key to wading comfortably, and for hiking, if you plan to wear your wading boots while trekking to your favorite fishing spot.

    Your feet should feel locked in and secure in the boots, but they also need some room to slide around a bit. Allowing your feet to move inside the boot can help you better grip and get your balance on slippery surfaces.

    close up of wading boots as an angler is walking through a river.

    Pricing, Warranties, and Wear and Tear

    Good boots run anywhere from about $170 to north of $300. If you want uncompromising performance on the water, you’ll need to be prepared to spend that much money. With that being said, you don’t have to spend $300 or more to get a great pair of boots. My personal favorite pair retails for $200, and I’ve had them for almost six years.

    Most boots from major manufacturers come with a decent warranty that protects against the product failing or wearing out prematurely. A few years ago, the soles on one of my boots almost detached completely from the rest of the boot. I called the company, sent them some pictures, and had a new set within a week. For big failures like that, the warranty comes in handy. All the major manufacturers are generally good to deal with when it comes to warranty and repairs.

    Remember, though, that you’re buying terminal tackle here. Boots will wear out, no matter how well you take care of them. Wading boots, in particular, don’t have an extremely long lifespan. If you fish 30 or so days a year, your boots will probably last the better part of a decade. Expect at least four years of solid performance from any pair of higher-end boots you buy.

    Wrapping Up

    Wading boots are arguably one of the most important pieces of gear you’ll ever buy. They’re literally the foundation for a great day on the water. Without good boots, wading becomes tough and dangerous. Take the time to research your options, find a sole that works for your fishing environments, and spend the money to get yourself a decent pair. You won’t be sorry that you did.

  • BWO Hatches 101

    BWO Hatches 101
    By Spencer Durrant

    Understanding blue-winged olive (BWO) hatches is a huge key to becoming an angler who can succeed on the water year-round. BWO hatches are the first bug to hatch in spring – aside from midges – and they’re often the final hatch before winter sets in and trout shut down. BWOs are vital to trout, and if you want to be a great angler, understanding these little bugs should be vital to you, as well.

    So, let’s get started with a crash course in BWO hatches.

    close up of blue-winged olive mayfly on a dark background

    What is a BWO?

    A blue-winged olive is a mayfly. You’ve probably heard the term “baetis” used before when folks talk about mayflies. Baetis is a genus of mayfly, and tons of different mayfly species will hatch with olive or dark brown bodies, and blue wings. The term “blue-winged olive” is a collective phrase us fly anglers use to refer to any mayfly with an olive or dark brown body, and blue wings.

    The BWO Life Cycle

    graphic of a blue-winged olive mayfly life cycle depicting all life stages of this aquatic insect.

    The BWO life cycle is pretty simple. These bugs hatch from an egg and form their nymph stage. These nymphs are easy to spot when turning over rocks in a river, and mayfly nymphs are one of the most commonly-imitated bugs by different fly patterns.

    After the nymph stage is the emerger, where the BWO is getting ready to unfurl its wings and fly off to make more BWOs. This is the key stage of the hatch when BWOs are in a vulnerable position. Emergers don’t have quite the dexterity that nymphs or duns do, and since they live in the surface film, they’re an easy target for trout.

    If a blue-wing survives to become an adult, or dun, they’ll fly off to mate and start the entire process over again.

    When fish are keyed in on BWO hatches, they’re usually snacking on emergers or crippled adults that aren’t able to quickly leave the river.

    When BWOs Hatch

    Mayflies hatch year-round, including the little ones we collectively refer to as blue-winged olives. But the biggest hatches of BWOs occurs twice a year – in the spring, then again in the fall. The spring hatches tend to start in early April and go through May. Fall hatches occur in September and go through November, depending on your exact location.

    graphic that shows when blue-winged olive hatches are at their peak, highlighting the periods of april to may and september to october

    Where BWOs Hatch

    BWOs hatch on just about every trout river in the world. Per the National Wildlife Federation, most BWO “nymphs develop in streams and rivers that are relatively clean.”

    So, that means you’re likely to find BWOs hatching in your local river if that river has a healthy population of trout.

    As far as where specifically you’re likely to see them in a river – they’ll hatch in just about any water type where you typically see bugs on the surface. Riffles, pools, and eddies are places to really look out for when searching for trout rising to BWOs. Some of the best BWO hatches I’ve ever fished were in shin-deep riffles. Obviously, you shouldn’t expect to see them hatching in rapids.

    Why Trout Love BWOs

    Blue-wings are such an integral food source because they’re such a prevalent aquatic insect. The big BWO hatches in the spring and fall are thick enough on some rivers that the bugs form a floating mass that almost looks like carpet. Trout are known to gulp mouthfuls of dozens of bugs at the height of a BWO hatch, instead of picking them off one-by-one.

    Think of BWOs like pumpkin spice lattes. They’re only around once a year for a few months, but during that time, it’s impossible to not start craving something pumpkin spice flavored. Once BWOs start popping up, trout are going to key in on them specifically.

    close-up of a trout eating blue-winged olive mayflies

    Best Flies for BWO Hatches

    While BWOs hatch on virtually every trout river in the world, the patterns we use to imitate these bugs at various life stages don’t change all that much. To be successful in a blue-wing hatch, you need to have a few different flies in your box.

    Emergers

    Hatching bugs that are emerging from their larval stage into a dun are aptly named emergers. These are must-have patterns, because they’re an easy food source for trout. Emergers often get stuck in the surface film, making them an easy target for fish to snack on. You’ll generally want to fish emerger patterns at the beginning of a hatch.

    Sparkle duns, Barr’s emergers, and a good ol’ BWO emerger are great options to use during the first stage of a BWO hatch.

    Both the Barr’s Emerger & BWO Emerger are included in the Emerger Baker’s Dozen Pack.

    Duns

    An adult mayfly is called a dun, and these bugs have the classic silhouette you probably associate with blue-winged olives. While there are a ton of different dun patterns out there for BWOs, I’ve found that a parachute is often the best choice. It sits right on the water’s surface, but has the right shape and color to blend into just about any BWO hatch.

    Both Blue Wing Olive patterns are included in the Blue Wing Olive Baker’s Dozen Pack.

    Cripples (or Spent Spinners)

    Crippled mayflies are just that – duns that have deformed wings, or other defects which present them from taking flight and mating. Crippled bugs are an ideal food source for trout because they can’t escape a hungry fish. Often, even if there are a ton of duns on the water, fish will opt to eat a crippled mayfly instead. In fact, I usually fish through a BWO hatch with a cripple pattern instead of a dun, because it tends to be more effective.

    There are a lot of ways to tie crippled BWO patterns, but the most productive one I’ve found is the Last Chance Cripple. Developed in Last Chance, Idaho, for use on the Henry’s Fork, the Last Chance Cripple isn’t a fly you should leave home without.

    Here is a video on how to tie this pattern.

    Wrapping Up

    BWOs are a hugely important food source for trout across the world. They’re an abundant aquatic insect, which is why understanding their hatches is key to becoming a successful, well-rounded angler. Once you understand their life cycle, it’s easy to pick a fly pattern based on what fish are likely eating at the time.

    Now, it’s just a matter of getting out on the water and putting this knowledge to use.

  • The Truth About “Magic Flies”

    The Truth About “Magic Flies”
    By Spencer Durrant

    The idea of “magic flies” is one that’s somehow wormed its way into the greater angling consciousness. There is something alluring about the notion that using a certain fly all but guarantees success.

    But that idea is flat-out wrong.

    Magic flies don’t exist.

    Let’s examine why that is.

    Fly Choice Does Matter

    Now, I’m not arguing that your choice of flies doesn’t matter. Of course fly choice makes a huge difference in how successful you’ll be during any given day of fishing.

    For example – a few years ago I was in Oregon, fishing an early-season blue-winged olive hatch. The fish were keyed in on emergers, and resolutely refused any of my dun offerings. My two buddies who were fishing with flies that rode lower in the surface film caught a ton of fish. I didn’t catch anything until I switched to a similar fly.

    In that instance, it felt like the little emerger pattern was the proverbial silver bullet. In reality, all I did was my part as an angler. I fished the right fly in the right situation, and was rewarded with some trout in the net. Some days on the water call for specific flies, or specific fly presentations. That’s part of fly fishing, and is largely why us anglers have so many different flies. A single all-purpose, catch-fish-everywhere fly just can’t exist, due to the very nature of fishing itself. What works on one river on Monday won’t necessarily work on a different one on Tuesday. It might not even work on the same river a day later, either. The chances are high that it will, but there’s absolutely no guarantee.

    Your fly choice should be influenced by what you see on or in the water and where you think trout are likely to be feeding (in some cases, you can see the trout feed, but that’s more the exception than the rule). Again, this is why fly anglers have so many different flies in their boxes. Matching your flies to what trout are likely to eat is one of the best ways to ensure a successful day on the water.

    Why Do Some Flies Work So Well?

    So, with the myth of magic flies well and truly busted, why does it feel like they exist? Why are some flies so deadly, even on different rivers, all across the country?

    Some flies are designed better than others. Some flies are more perfect imitations of common trout food than what’s in the bins at your local fly shops. In particular, patterns that imitate small midges or caddis nymphs are effective in so many rivers because almost every trout river is home to a sizable population of those bugs.

    But since every river – and every fish, for that matter – is different, it’s impossible to create a fly that works 100% of the time. Fishing would sure be a lot easier if something like that existed, but it just doesn’t. I also don’t think fishing would be as fun if we could put fish in the net with a ruthless efficiency, either. Part of the appeal of the sport is that we don’t always come out on top.

    Wrapping Up

    While it might seem like a magic fly exists, especially in trout fishing, the truth is that there’s no such thing. There are tons of great, highly-effective flies, but there is no one-size-fits-all magic-bullet type fly.

    What is your go-to fly in tough fishing situations? Let us know in the comments.

  • Tips for Fishing Alpine Lakes

    Tips for Fishing Alpine Lakes
    By Spencer Durrant

    Alpine lakes – those tucked away in the high country, preferably a few miles away from a major trailhead – offer some of the best fly fishing you’ll find all year long.

    Since they’re only accessible for a few months out of the year, however, knowing how to effectively fish them can be challenging, especially for newer anglers. Today, we’ll go over a few different tips to use so you can catch plenty of trout the next time you visit an alpine lake.

    Look for Structure

    One simple thing you can do to improve your success while fishing alpine lakes is to identify structure that’s likely to attract trout. By finding structure that can be a trout’s hidey-hole, you eliminate the daunting task of blind casting and hoping for good luck.

    The structure you’re looking for in a lake environment is pretty similar to structure you’d search out in a moving body of water. Rocks, submerged logs, undercut banks, or drop-offs all offer protection from predators while still allowing trout to hunt for a steady diet of aquatic insects.

    You should also look for points where the shore juts out into the water. These spots are often shallower, and shallow water grows more vegetation and bugs than deep water, which means there’s more food available in these areas. Trout will move around points as they cruise the lake looking for food, too, which means they’re bound to find your flies eventually.

    golden trout

    Go Big

    When you go to fish a stream in the high country, which flies do you usually have in your box? Some stimulators, elk hair caddis, or other big dry flies, and some similarly-sized nymphs. Trout in the high country are generally more receptive to big bugs since the fish have such a short growing season. The same logic applies to fish in alpine lakes.

    Fishing big dry flies is a solid approach for alpine lakes, even if there’s nothing really hatching at the moment. A big calorie meal like a grasshopper will draw fish off the bottom to investigate, if nothing else. Usually, though, that much protein packed into a single fly will draw a strike from a hungry trout.

    In the same vein, don’t be afraid to fish larger-than-average nymphs. Chironomids in size 10, or even 8, shouldn’t be too big for most high-country lakes. Even if the water’s home to mostly stunted brook trout, they’ll more often take a big bug than a smaller one.

    The only time this advice doesn’t always hold water is when fishing streamers. While it’s true that fishing bigger flies will often give you a better chance to catch bigger fish, there’s a limit to how big you should go in most high-country settings. Fish rarely grow as big in an alpine lake as they would in a tailwater; as such, you should tailor your streamer presentation to the size of fish in the water. Size 6, 8, and 10 buggers are a great option for most any lake fishing.

    Watch Yourself

    When you spot a big fish actively feeding in a river, how do you go about casting to it? Do you rush in and start casting, or do you watch the fish for a few minutes and figure out the best way to approach the trout without spooking it? You probably try to accomplish the latter, although that’s not always easy to do. The same lesson applies when fishing lakes.

    fishing alpine lakes

    Trout can still see us in lakes, especially if we’re silhouetted on the shore. If you see fish rising in a lake – or feeding on nymphs – don’t just rush over as close as possible and start casting. You’ll almost always scare the fish away. Instead, look for an approach that keeps you somewhat concealed. Especially on small lakes and ponds, minimizing the impact of your presence on the lake will go a long ways to helping you catch more fish.

    Wrapping Up

    The fishing you’ll experience in alpine lakes can be some of the best you’ll have all year. It’s hard to beat the solitude and peace of fishing in these landscapes, which is part of what makes them so alluring. These tips should help you catch more fish the next time you visit your favorite high-country lake.

    Do you have any other tips for fishing alpine lakes that you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!

     

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