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.

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.

Cress Bug

I have been placing fly pattern photos and recipes here in the past, ever since I started this blog in March 2010. I plan to continue this effort, adding to the number and diversity of fly patterns here, creating what will eventually become a Fly Pattern Dictionary. This Dictionary will contain of course classic wet fly patterns, (it already does), but I will also be adding drys, nymphs, streamers, and other fly patterns. Most of these will be flies that I tied, and there may occasionally be some flies from other tiers. I will be placing my original patterns here as well; they will be placed intermittently. I may do an occasional photographic step-by-step tying tutorial, but for the most part, this Fly Pattern Dictionary will contain fly patterns and recipes, and maybe a few fishing tips. I know, there’s already lots of that stuff like this on the internet already, but I think I have something to offer or I wouldn’t be doing this.

Most intermediate and advanced tiers can get the pattern by looking at a good photo, reading the recipe, and maybe asking a question or two. The comments / questions here are intended for my readers to use to their advantage. I shall endeavor to maintain and expand this project as time permits.

I will also be adding new Categories to facilitate the use of finding the information you want. Don’t forget to use the Search Tab!

The Cress Bug is my first “official” post in the Don Bastian Wet Flies Fly Pattern Dictionary.

Cress Bug, also known as an Isopod, though not to be confused with fresh water scuds. Scuds and Cress Bugs are different animals. This is a profile view. Note the heavily picked dubbing; this simulates the legs.

Cress Bug, view No. 2, slightly elevated camera angle. Here you can see the smooth top / back of the bug, an imitative effort to mimic the shape, appearance, and silhouette of the naturals. Doesn’t that 6/0 Uni-thread rib look like hawser cable? The benefit of macro-photography.

Cress Bug – top view. Size #14 Montana Fly Company Hook, #7026 – #14, 1x long, 2x heavy wire. The heavily-picked dubbing imitates both the legs and the natural wide body shape of the cress bugs.

Cress Bug

The ingredients are listed in the order in which they are tied in. This is basically a Cress Bug pattern of my friend, Dave Rothrock, but I added the scud back on top to make the pattern look a bit more realistic. It does make the fly look “more realistic” but for fishing effectiveness it’s not necessary. Sometimes we tiers add extra stuff to our patterns just to make the fly look better, whether the fish care or not. Come on, now, you know it’s true. 😉

Hook: Standard wet fly or 1x long nymph hook, sizes #14 to #22. I have also dressed this Cress Bug pattern (omitting the shellback) on size #20 and #22 scud hooks with successful results, especially in summer when the water is low and clear.

Thread: Danville Flymaster 6/0, #60 Olive

Median Stripe: Dark Brown Uni-thread 6/0

Rib: Dark Brown Uni-thread 6/0

Shellback: Scud back, 1/8″. I tied this fly with tan but you could use clear.

Body: Haretron Dubbing – this is a mix I blended myself by hand for the current order of a dozen mixed sizes I’m tying. I used #3 Gray, #5 Light Olive, #16 dark Brown, and #18 Ginger. There is no official ratio for this mix; I’m not that technical. I just took a pinch of this ‘n’ that and blended it together to get what you see as a darker olive-brown-gray. It’s mostly olive and gray with less of the other colors.

Head: Tying thread

This is a staple fly on any limestone stream where Cress Bugs naturally occur. There would be some benefit to its use on freestone water as well, but I’ve never tried it because other patterns usually work.

Tying the Cress Bug:

Step 1: Start the tying thread at hook eye, wind and stop at the hook point. Attach the two strands of ribbing and median stripe thread. Wrap slightly past the barb.

Step 2: Wing the thread forward to the hook point, attach the scud back for the shell. After securing the scudback, wind back to the end of the body, stretching the scud back in the process.

Step3: Apply dubbing, heavily. You are making a robust body, football shaped. Wind the dubbing, almost to the hook eye, making the body larger in the middle half. Haretron dubbing as opposed to rabbit fur produces better density of the picked-out effect. The addition of the Antron essentially increases the underfur component of rabbit fur.

Step 4: Using a .30 caliber bore brush (available at your friendly local gun shop), brush from the top center of the body toward each side on a slight downward angle. This makes a body as if you used a dubbing loop, but in a fraction of the time. Cool, eh? :mrgreen:  Barry Beck demonstrated this tool in a fly tying class where I was assistant instructor in 1990 when I used to work for he and Cathy. This effort will produce a full spread of dense, picked-out dubbing.

Step 5: Trim the edges of the dubbing with scissors, cutting parallel to the body. This is where you find out if your scissors need to be sharpened. You want a body almost 3/8″ wide on a No. 14 hook.

Step 6: Pull the scud back forward, secure it with three wraps. Stretch the scud back and cut the excess.

Step 7: Pull the thread median stripe forward, keeping it top-center on the scud back. Don’t forget. A common mistake when I’ve taught this fly in classes is to either forget to attach it, or forget to bring it forward. Trim excess.

Step 8: Wind the rib, trim excess, and whip finish the head. Imitatively speaking you could make lots of wraps, but this makes it difficult to pick the dubbing out. Five ribs are best. Pick the dubbing between the ribs, then you’ll need to trim the sides once more.

I could tell lots of cress bug stories, but I’ll just tell my favorite one. One day while fishing in late June on Spring Creek, Pennsylvania, I spotted a feeding – nymphing trout in a shallow seam near the bank, along the edge of a riff. It was about 10:00 AM. The trout was about 18″. So I wanted to catch this fish. I was using a Cress Bug. I cast over there, made a few drifts, hooked the fish for about one second…and the hook pulled out. In less than five minutes that trout started feeding again. I tried the Cress Bug again, but he was suddenly smarter. I tried a number of other flies, casting not only to that trout but to other areas. I caught several fish in this time but couldn’t get that big brown to take again. I remember noting on my watch that exactly one hour had passed since I started fishing. I figured why not, he was still feeding, so I tied the Cress Bug on again. Same one he hit before. I guess his memory faded because he ate that Cress Bug again, but the story ended differently this time because I netted the fish.

One of the most important factors in Cress Bug imitations is to obtain a wide-from-the-top, flat-from-the-side profile of the fly. Unlike scuds, which are more akin to fresh water shrimp, cress bugs have no mobility of their own when adrift. Consequently the best method of fishing a cress bug pattern is with standard dead-drift nymph tactics. I use some type of indicator, which type depends on the level, clarity, and water type I’m fishing. Because of the heavily-picked dubbing, this fly has an almost neutral buoyancy in the water and needs at least one small split-shot even with the shallowest water in your target zone to get the fly submerged. This is also one fly that exemplifies one of my nymphing mantras: Not all nymphing is bottom-bouncing. Trout will often take cress bugs when they are suspended in the water column, so drifting at various depths can be productive.

Customer order of a dozen Cress Bugs to go. Assorted #14, #16, #18 – 1x long hooks. Ready for trout!