Thursday, September 16, 2021
Thursday, September 16, 2021
Fly fishing for trout is an ever-changing game. As anglers, we are always learning, adapting and changing our approaches based on a multitude of external factors. Every day is different, and even two seemingly similar days can still produce a vast difference in feeding patterns and behaviour from a trout.
One of the great aspects of our sport is that however long or short we have spent pursuing these fish with a fly, we are unable to know everything. There is a 50/50 relationship between the angler and the fish. As much as we might try, we can never fully anticipate everything that occurs within a trout’s brain. Now despite this inevitability, there are certain things we can do to both improve our odds and even turn the tables more consistently in our favour.
My competition angling ‘career’ began at a small level during my teenage years. I would compete in a national UK competition, called “Troutmasters”, alongside other well known competitions, such as the “Scierra Pairs”, where my teammate and I were the youngest ever competitors to place in a final.
Having competed for a few years and with growing success, my focus turned to new heights, representing my country at the international level. I competed three times at the international level,
winning an international gold and silver medal, along with individual achievements. Those achievements included the “Rose Bowl” for best individual international performance. I have also been involved in coaching teams within the England competitive setup. In parallel with my competition activities, I was working at the renowned Farlows of Pall Mall fly store in London. That served as a great experience, allowing me to rub shoulders with many of the fly fishing greats from all aspects of our sport, both fresh and saltwater. It also gave me a chance to bounce ideas off people and further grow my knowledge.
During my years spent in the international fly fishing circuit, I noticed a wide range of differences in how teams would prepare for competition. A crucial part of competition angling is to maintain consistency and catch rates. I observed varying degrees of success based on teams perceptions of trout behaviour in reference to the prevailing conditions. Generally, before competition day, teams are given 3-4 days to practice or ‘pre-fish’ the venue in an attempt to work out the best method to catch fish consistently. Several factors come into play, from line density, to fly selection, retrieval speed and overall rigging of your leader. There are also a set of rules in place for all teams to adhere. These rules set a level playing field within the competition.
At an international level, the angling skills of the competitors are generally comparable as most of the field has similar experience and have competed before. The result then becomes less about any individual or team brilliance and more about finding small advantages and exploiting them. One of these exploitable advantages is understanding the feeding patterns of the trout that you are trying to catch.
I believe there is a difference between trout behaviour, which is complex and ever-changing, and trout feeding patterns. The latter is admittedly changeable, however, as it is a pattern, it is more of an
adaptable quality which may slowly change over a few days or weeks. This fact gives the observant angler enough time to work out this pattern and capitalise.
Now to understand how these feeding patterns form, it is important to understand a few different factors. These factors usually are water temperature, time of year and lastly what is currently hatching. Water temperature is essential as this can determine the depth at which the fish are sitting and also what may be hatching. For example, if you were to approach a venue in late November or February/March, generally the water will be very cold, and the amount of fly life is limited. This would lead me to think that a sunk line is the best option to start with, as the colder temperatures will have fish sitting deeper in the water column, where water temperature should be slightly warmer.
Moving on to fly choice. If you are aware of the other species present in that lake or river, then you may have noticed that these particular times of the year are critical spawning times for species like Perch, Roach or any silverfish. Knowing this would then lead me down the path of choosing a fry based imitation to present to the fish as this would be a predominant and accessible food source at that time of the year. Having adopted your approach, then the last piece of the puzzle is your retrieve.
Another example of this is in the summertime. You may find that the water is consistently warm, and fly life is abundant. If fish are rising to a particular fly that is hatching, then it is a good bet to start with a fly representing the insect they appear to be feeding on. For example, May/June is typically associated with strong Mayfly hatches. If however, there are no signs of feeding fish, then it becomes a game of working out which depth the fish are sitting and what they are feeding on, based on the prevalent invertebrates and fly life. Often you may see large numbers of Caddis skittering around yet the fish can be preoccupied with feeding on chironomids or bloodworms.
These factors above are generally well known in the competition scene. As a result, it becomes essential to have a plan A, B, C and D. If you know the general insect cycles in the area you are fishing, then you can generate a better idea of what approach, to begin with before narrowing down. Trout will generally feed in the same manner for long periods if they are undisturbed and conditions remain similar. I have noticed that if conditions brighten up, then the fish will generally go deeper and overcast conditions will bring fish up in the water column. It is also important to note that trout prefer typically to feed higher in the water column.
I would say that around 75% of the trout we would catch would sit in the top 3-5 feet of water depth. This is a factor that can vary depending on lake depth for example, but on the whole, trout will have a comfortable depth they sit at or let’s say are ‘caught at’ more frequently than other depths.
My point about where trout sit is why it becomes so important to have a range of fly lines that cover all water levels effectively. Most serious competition anglers will carry over 20 lines, from full float,
intermediate and full sink line, to midge tip, hover and sweep lines. All these lines offer a difference in presentation and allow you to effectively work the water column and keep your flies fishing consistently with any retrieve. I would say that for most anglers out there, 20 lines isn’t necessary, but having a range of 5-7 is very useful.
Having the option to change presentation by switching from a floating line to a fast intermediate and fishing a few feet deeper, or covering the same layers as the intermediate, but at a faster speed is very useful and will yield more hookups. Experimenting with different lines will allow you to work out the average depth of your fish. Also, you can try different presentations to help further generate a picture of what is happening out there on any given day. Over a period of time, you will undoubtedly build up your mental picture of your home waters and how the fish behave throughout the year. I hope this article has given you a different perspective on competition trout fishing, and provided a few nuggets that you can take into your fishing to give you more success the next time you hit the water.