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Fly Selection and the Educated Guess

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The six million dollar question.

Hi Paul,

I have an interesting question for you and I suspect it is the 'six million dollar one'!

After stalking a feeding fishing and taking note of the rise form, which for argument sake is a below the surface 'take', the fish becomes visible to you as does the distance between what is being inspected before being eaten. However, you just cannot see what the food is, and despite attempting to match what is hatching with its respective nymph form simply does not excite interest.

So what do you do? Theoretically, an exact match presented realistically to the fish as it is feeding would probably result in success. What is your methodology and approach to such a scenario?

Mark Huntsman

The six million dollar answer

Hi Mark,

This is an interesting question. The first thing to is to identify whether the fish is actually feeding on your identified insect according to it's rise form. It may well be that the fish is not actually feeding on the flies which you first identify as hatching. Often several different species hatch at the same time and the trout locks on to one of them. When this happens it is usually the smaller unnoticed insect which is being taken (no surprises there then).

If you are close enough and have sufficient water clarity to actually see the fish (which is what you are saying) then you should be able to see the reaction of the fish to your fly. If the presented fly is completely ignored (and the fish doesn't suspect your presence - if their fins bristle when they see the fly then they 'know' and you might as well move on) then try twitching it once to draw attention. This is certainly not the first approach, because a twitched fly can spook an educated fish.

What will probably happen is that the fish will go up to the fly and inspect it. If it rejects the fly then we have to start to think. My first thought isn't pattern; it's presentation.

Is the fish rejecting the fly due to unnatural movement, such as drag, or some artifically induced movement from the angler? Static presentations on lakes, and drag-free presentations on rivers are the most natural imitations of most food forms.

The next question is whether the fish is rejecting the fly due to the leader? Next to unnatural movement the most common cause of fly rejection in clear water conditions is, I believe, a floating leader. Sink the leader with some compound such as Fullers Earth and washing-up liquid.

Next I'll question the type of fly. I'm particularly interested in surface or sub-surface here. A sub-surface pattern is far more intrusive to a fish and therefore more of a threat. With sighted fish, unless I know otherwise, I will present a dry fly first. If the fish is exclusively feeding on sub-surface food (no air bubble left in rise, or can be seen feeding below the surface) then I'll go under to get him.

Next to type of fly, is size of fly. Generally, although not always, it is better to go smaller than larger. Smaller flies require finer leaders (not because the fish can see the leader, but because the diameter of leaders affects the presentation of the fly. A small fly on a thick leader lacks movement. A large fly on a thin leader lacks stability.

Then comes silhouette. Then colour.

And only then do I start to think of fly selection. Now if after all of this we still are not catching fish then we are dealing with a selective feeder! Choosing the correct fly is a result of seasonal knowledge of what is likely to be hatching at that moment, combined with what the fish looks like it might be taking. It's also a matter of elimination. There's no point in chucking out a sedge pupa, for example, if the fish is moving leisurely around: sedge pupa move quicky and so the fish will have to do the same. So an educated guess ts the correct approach

If this still fails then there is another option. To 'knock' him out. You could try throwing rocks at him, and perhaps feel like doing so, but a slightly better approach would be to throw out a lure. The correct lure to throw out is an interesting decision. But with a black lure, white lure, orange lure and a muddler you have all the choices. If you are killing fish, one fish caught this way and subsequently spooned will reveal all. Otherwise look in the fishes mouth, a hooked fish often regurgitates it's food when hooked (or chased by another fish).

Sometimes the lure is actually the answer (Daphnia and Caenis spring to mind).

It should be noted that exactly the same process is used for blind fishing. It just takes longer to be certain that the fish has seen your fly and rejected it. This is the TRUE benefit of accurate casting BTW; you can be pretty certain that the fish has seen your fly, only if you put it in the right place. I reckon on two refusals and a change of fly/approach.

Lastly: changing fish is often quicker than changing fly!

Hope this helps!


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