Close Enounters of the Trout Kind

This article developed into a bit of a larger piece, based on my personal years of experience and observations, as a result of my reply to a recent post on Gink and Gasoline. The article has a really long title so I’ll just post the link. I suggest you read this post before continuing here, it will help build my case. http://www.ginkandgasoline.com/fly-fishing/fly-fishing-is-there-a-time-when-anglers-should-admit-defeat-and-move-on/

My personal experience bears out the fact that, as long as a trout keeps feeding, he is not spooked and can be caught. That is where the challenge and appeal to keep trying comes in. Because many trout under the surface of the water cannot be seen from above, most anglers do not realize that a nymphing trout or a trout feeding off the bottom anywhere in the water column will do the exact same thing to your fly that a surface feeding trout does – which we can visually verify because we see it happen. They will look at your fly as it drifts by without taking it, or they swim over, look at it, and refuse it at the last moment. Trout will and do eat our subsurface flies, and many times, of course, we don’t “see” the take, regardless of what type of indicator system used. There is no such thing as the perfect strike indicator or indicator system. Too many variables. But, trout take our nymphs enough of the time, and give us an indication of that so that we have the instant reaction to set the hook and land the fish. This causes us to deem nymphing for trout to be a relatively successful method.  It is the best idea we angler’s have come up with so far, when presenting subsurface imitations at a natural drift.

Of course, you keep casting if you can see the trout feeding, along with his reactions to your offerings. Then maybe after five or eleven or nineteen or thirty-two drifts, the trout suddenly takes, or may never take, but again, if the fish remains in place and continues feeding, then we as angler / predator, are naturally tempted and motivated to continue fishing for that particular trout.

 When a fish takes your fly without your awareness and reaction, they merely spit the fly and continue feeding, and in 99% of the cases, they will not take the same “fake” again. They might look at it; I have in fact seen trout do that plenty of times, but as a rule, a fish will not take the same fly again, that they know from previous experience is not a food item, or if they were previously hooked on or just “stung” with a certain fly. However, there are variables to this assumption. Change the pattern size or switch to a different fly, possibly. It’s like pushing the reset button and the game starts all over again. Any fly the fish has not seen can potentially be taken, so each time we change patterns, we need to be sharpen our concentration a bit more to be prepared for the possibility that we have suddenly picked the fly that the trout will eat. However, sometimes a trout will eat the same fly after being hooked on it.

To follow up my comments above about trout never taking the same fly twice after being hooked, I have two true stories to share. These incidents both took place on Pennsylvania’s Spring Creek in Centre County.

One year in mid-June after the sulfur hatch was over I was nymph fishing one morning using a Cress Bug pattern. Things were going well; I had taken several trout in the first half-hour. Then I came across one of those trout you want to catch; he was a large brown, lying in a narrow current trough about three feet wide. I estimated his size at nineteen inches. He was actively feeding, all sub-surface. I made a couple casts, and on the second or third one, the drift and timing meshed perfectly with his feeding movements, and he took my Cress Bug. I hooked him, he flopped once in the shallow water, and the hook pulled free. To my surprise, he remained right where he was. I watched and waited for just a couple minutes, and he resumed feeding. I thought, “What the heck?” I cast the same fly over him again, and he looked at it several times, but he never took it again. So, I changed flies. During the next full hour, and I know because I kept glancing at my watch, I continued to work that trout. I tried at least a dozen different flies. He looked at almost all of them, took a couple, but ejected them before I reacted. Finally, at the one hour mark, more or less in desperation, I tied on the exact same Cress Bug fly that he had initially eaten, and I guess his memory had lapsed. He ate the fly; I set the hook, and eventually netted him – at nineteen-and-a-half inches, and released him.

A second incident took place that has a longer beginning to it, but I’ll just give the short version. I was with a couple friends one night on Spring Creek above Fisherman’s Paradise, and the Sulfurs were on, and very heavy. This particular night was one of those with tons of insects about, but few trout rising. Will we ever figure that one out? On a previous afternoon a few days earlier, I had located a freely-rising brown trout. The time was mid-afternoon, and not much was happening, but this trout was a steady riser. He was seventeen inches as a matter of fact, because one of my guide clients hooked him, and I netted and measured that fish.

I was not far from that pool as my friends and I despaired over the lack of rising trout. I announced to them, “I know where I might find a rising fish,” and off I went. When I got to the location, there he was, gulping sulfur spinners and / or duns off the surface, rising at a steady pace of sixty to seventy times per minute. Bear in mind the water was covered with bugs, few trout rising, but this guy was aggressively feeding. I had on the usual #14 Sulfur Spinner on 5x tippet. As rapidly as this trout was rising, my cast and subsequent drift over the fish had to be timed to the rhythm of his feeding. The number of necessary casts made to a fish feeding at a fast pace increases accordingly to the rapidity of the rises. I had made about fifteen casts, when I finally worked the time and place of the imitation to his liking. He took my fly, and I hooked him. I played the trout for about a minute or so, and then figured, he’s not that big, I can bring him in pretty quick. When I lowered my rod tip to increase pressure with the horizontal rod angle, the leader parted. I discovered that my leader had severed on the 4x section, above the 5x tippet. There had obviously been a bad spot in the leader. It was about 8:45 PM, and the light was fading. I had to replace both the 4x section and my 5x tippet, plus tie on a new fly. I chose the same exact pattern and size. My first attempt at tying the fly failed, the knot pulled loose when I tightened it up. So I had to tie the clinch knot twice. About five minutes had passed from when I initially hooked that trout.

By this time, among occasional glances, I noticed there was another trout feeding in the spot where the first one had been. Or so I thought. I made about eight casts, the fish took the fly, and I soon noted he wasn’t fighting very hard. I worked him in closer and netted him – along with my #14 Sulfur Spinner in his jaw still trailing the tippet and broken section of leader. I believe that was a case of the trout being stimulated by the abundance of food. Plus he had been caught before.

Fishing a single nymph rather than a tandem rig, and making accurate casts to have the fly, not the tippet, present to the front or slightly off to the near-side of the trout will help to minimize flossing, which was referred to in the Gink and Gasoline article.

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12 comments on “Close Enounters of the Trout Kind

  1. Jack Tokach says:

    Don, good post. Reminds me of a time on the Roach River in Maine when I was having a particularly good day, landing over 20 trout and landlocks. In fact, I was leading the usual top rod guy in our party (some cat from Cogan Station, Pa). I ran into my top rod friend later in the afternoon and told him a nice fish had broken me off earlier in a run called “Split Rock”. Later at dinner in our cabin this dude handed me my two fly rig with leader attached. Not only that, he managed to outnumber me by the time he quit (we have a friendly daily competition). Showoff!!! NaNaNaNa!!!. As you probably surmised, that guy was Don Bastian.

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi Jack!
      Reading this made me laugh harder than I have yet all day! :mrgreen: Thanks! I remember that time, and it was interesting that you pointed out that I caught one of “your” fish and was able to give you back your two flies, leader, even the split shot was still attached as I recall. I did the same thing for Truman once, only with his flies, I just managed to snag them on the bottom and get them back.
      Thanks for your comment and for lifting my spirits!

  2. Bill says:

    This is the first time I have seen that “Comment” story in print, but I’ve heard it verbally probably
    a dozen times ;=)

  3. Mary Kuss says:

    Re the issue of “flossing” trout when nymphing: If the trout is hooked in the angle of the jaw on the outside of the mouth, I’d say it’s highly likely he was “flossed.” A fish hooked inside the mouth in the corner is harder to judge; it is possible the hook missed catching flesh on the way in but caught in the corner of the mouth on the way out. Either way, unless you’re doing it intentionally, it’s not within the angler’s control and I can’t see getting all full of angst over it. Flogging a fish endlessly is another matter. No law against it, but it seems to me that when taken to extremes this behavior reflects badly on the angler and disrespects the fish.

    • Don Bastian says:

      Hi Mary;
      I did not write about flossing because of the Gink and Gasoline article that detailed it. And I’ve never heard of flogging, and I doubt I have ever disrespected a trout in any way. The story I wrote about casting to the same fish for an hour, he kept feeding and was not bothered in any way. While this is my human perspective supplanting emotion to a trout, I’d say he felt no disrespect from me. 😉 And it seldom takes me that long to catch a trout I can see. I normally give up before too long. Course, trout have disrespected me many times! But I take it as part of the game. :mrgreen: Thanks for your comments!

  4. Kelly L says:

    Very interesting story today Donnie. Thank you for sharing this. I don’t get to trout fish much, but this info will surely come in handy. The same principle should work for my species here though.

  5. Don Bastian says:

    Reblogged this on Don Bastian Wet Flies and commented:

    From three years ago today, but well worth sharing again. There is some good stuff here, if I may say so myself. 😉
    Also in the comments, my dear departed friend, Jack Tokach, shared an amusing story about one of our personal experiences related to this topic. Enjoy again!

  6. Frank Hampton says:

    Don,

    Nice post and an interesting read. That story about 4x Tippet breaking and still catching that fish again is one for the books for sure. Loving the unusual warm up this deep into January. Frozen river at the midpoint of the week and now open water everywhere. Time to go set a few traps and then go fishing. Take care.

    Frank

  7. Ken Elliott says:

    Great story Don. Always enjoy reading and seeing what you do. Most of all love looking at your flies and streamers you have done. Thanks for the info. that will be a back help here where I live. Now its time to get back to tying some more.

    Best Regards, Ken

  8. Lance says:

    This spring I caught the same Brookie 3 times in 1 hr.
    I know it was the same.fish because it had a distinct Mark on its gill plate. Same fly!!
    Immediately after landing/releasing the first time it started feeding again. I cast again, and it took. Crazy!! 15 min later..same thing. I quit at that point.
    Tan cdc caddis.

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