Autumn treat. A fishing report.

With Easter falling quite early this year, we planned a trip to the mountains for a short break. Autumn arrives in March and it can be a tricky time of year. As summer wanes the terrestrial numbers diminish, but the Autumn mayflies often are yet to appear. The water is low and clear and the trout cautious and less numerous and are not actively feeding in numbers. We were expecting typical cool Autumn days, but we were fortunate to catch a some un-seasonal almost summer-like weather.

Arriving early Friday morning our plan was to enjoy at least one day’s fishing on a small mountain stream, before the regular Easter campers arrived late that day.  As we checked in to our accommodation, we discovered, according to our host Graham, the stream had recently seen quite a lot of traffic.  Apparently it had been fishing well and good sized fish caught.

As we geared up, hoping that the angler numbers had been exaggerated, but the size of the fish had not.  The sun was already beginning to warm up as walked along the bank and there were hoppers aplenty leaping left and right to avoid being crunched by our wading boots. We hoped this augured well, as we had already tied on hopper patterns.

We took it in turns to fish a short stretch at a time.  The first few looked promising, but yielded nothing.  As I rounded the third bend, I saw a rise in a back eddy beneath a low hanging branch against the far bank.  I snuck into position staying low, measured out some line, and watched and waited.  There was another swirl.  I flicked out a back cast  and snagged the tip of a bush behind me.  Cursing I crawled back and retrieved my fly. I returned and anxiously waited, another swirl. Phew! I made my cast.  The hopper sailed beneath the branch and plopped down on the edge of the back eddy.  It drifted deliciously along the seam, right by the fading ring of the rise, untouched.  Then,  just as the fly was about to drag and I about to recast, the water shimmered unnaturally and in a shaft of light a spotted flank gleamed below the surface.  It followed, then was lost in a shadow, and the fly dragged and sank.  But before I could move there was a spotted flash again as the trout turned where the fly had disappeared, so I lifted and the line came tight. My 3wt bent deeply, and water erupted as the trout felt the pull of the hook. The brief tug of war ended a few minutes later with a “good sized” trout resting in my submerged net.

We found a few more of these stunning browns, but none made it to the net , and they did provide some excitement: like plopping my hopper heavily on a long grass lined glide and seeing a bow wave rise on the glassy surface, and accelerate towards it from 15 feet up stream.  A big head surfacing and engulfing the hopper,  waiting for the tell-tale swirl to signal the fish turning away.  Lifting and feeling the weight of a good fish put a deep bend in my rod only to have the hook pull on the first heavy head shake.

We fished on to early afternoon, and while the catching proved a little slower than hoped, it was nonetheless rewarding with a handful of healthy browns making it back to the stream after a brief rest in the net.  We returned to camp to reflect on the day and enjoy the sunset across the valley.

The next day we tried our luck on nearby streams, dodging the Easter campers. Unfortunately all places we fished bore the fresh boot marks of yesterday’s anglers, but whilst there were no greedy smash and grabs, with persistent well placed casts we still managed to coax the odd trout to reluctantly take the dry fly.  Of those few takes we  felt the weight of fewer than half, and landed perhaps half of those again, nonetheless we really enjoyed messing about on the river surrounded by the amber clad landscape that seems to glow in the Autumn light.

 

 

 

Six flies: all you need for small streams.

Six flies is all you need for small stream fishing. However, there must be a million of flies you could choose from, and most fly fishers have vests bursting with boxes and boxes of them. However, ask any angler which flies they use regularly, they will probably name six flies or less. Those six will differ between anglers, due to personal preference, and local insect life, but it will be no more than six. They’ll also tell you that sometimes (<2%) , they need something special: hence the extra boxes.

This post is aimed at answering a question posed to me by one of the attendees at a recent introductory course. They wanted to know more about fly selection.  How many flies did they need ? Which ones ? When to use them?

How many flies?

Six flies is all you need for small stream fishing. However, there must be a million of flies you could choose from, and most fly fishers have vests bursting with boxes and boxes of them. However, ask any angler which flies they use regularly, they will probably name six flies or less. Those six will differ between anglers, due to personal preference, and local insect life, but it will be no more than six. They’ll also tell you that sometimes (<2%) , they need something special: hence the extra boxes.

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Which six?

The six you need will vary depending on which water you fish and the food that is available there.  The six I selected are ideal for our small streams in Victoria Australia, and they cover the majority of common insects found in trout streams.  They are not the only possible selection, just my current favourites; I could easily swap each one for another fly, and still cover most situations.

Size and Colour

Trout in small streams trout are ambush predators, they sit in a slow current where they can watch what drifts towards them on the current.  If something takes their fancy, they will swing out and suck it in as it goes past.  Trout brains aren’t too complicated, they make a food/not food decision, which they base on the size, colour and behaviour of the passing morsel.  If the trout brain says food, it will take the fly, and we have a good chance of hooking it.

Now all we need to know now is what are the trout eating, when are they eating it, and which fly matches size and colour. (How to make the fly behave correctly is a big topic that deserves its own post.)

What do trout eat?

In small streams, trout are opportunistic feeders and mostly eat insects that live in, or fall on, the water. Some float, some sink, some swim.  The following insects form the major part of a trout’s diet in and around the streams of Victoria.

  • Mayflies – adults and larvae (Emphemeroptera),
  • Caddis flies – adults and Larvae (Trichoptera),
  • Beetles (Coleoptera)
  • Termites (Isoptera Termitoidae)
  • Grasshoppers (Orthoptera)

Mayflies and Caddis are available all year round, especially the larvae (often called nymphs) that live under rocks in the stream bed.  Some estimates suggest that these nymphs form 70-80% of a trout’s diet.  At certain times of the year, the larvae undergo a mass metamorphosis, leaving the water to become flying adults to mate and continue the cycle of life.  During this mass metamorphosis (often called a hatch), the trout become keyed into these insects and will eat them to the exclusion of all others.

Grasshoppers  live in grasslands and paddocks and in the summer months, are in abundance. It is not uncommon for the trout to sit under overhanging grassy banks  waiting for the plop of a hapless fallen hopper to signal meal time.

Termites usually appear on mass on thundery evenings, with swarms of them flying low overhead.  You will see many trout devouring these nutritious morsels, if you wait by a slow pool on a humid evening.

Beetles inhabit the forests and pastures surrounding our streams, and appear in numbers in Summer, especially in December.  Many fall accidentally in the stream, to be come a meal for a waiting trout.

When?

The table below outlines which months the various insects are on the menu for our finny friends.

Month Insects (sub-surface) Insects (surface)
September N c, m
October N b, C, M
November b, N b, C, M
December B, n B, C, h, M, T
January B, n B, C, H, M, T
February b, n b, C, H, M, t
March  N b, C, M
April N b, c, M
May  N c, m
June  N

Letter legend (lower case = insect available, upper case = insect abundant) 

Letter Insect Class
n, N Nymphs (caddis and mayfly)
b, B Beetles
c, C Caddis moths(adult)
h, H Hoppers (grass)
m, M Mayfly (adults)
t, T Termites

The following table lists some common flies that match these insects, some of which appear in the slideshow images:

Insect Flies (Wet) Flies (Dry)
Beetle Brown nymph, Wet beetle, Black and Peacock Humpy, Royal Wulff, Stimulator, Foam Beetle
Caddis Hare and Copper, Stick Caddis, Brown nymph Deer/Elk Hair Caddis, Stimulator, Yellow Sally.
Hopper N/A Foam Hopper, Dave’s Hopper, Knobby Hopper, Stimulator, Madame X.
Mayfly Brown nymph, Black Nymph, Olive Nymph, Copper John, Soft hackle flies (var), Wee Wet flies (var) Shaving Brush, Grey Wulff, Adams, Orange Spinner, Black Spinner, Klinkhamer, Parachute Emerger, Monkey Bum, March Brown.
Termite Brown Nymph, Black Nymph Black Ant, Termite, Parachute Spinner (black, brown, grey),

Conclusion:

Mostly you need to match size and colour. Most things trout eat are small and brown or small and black.

The six flies I recommend for our local streams are :

  • a brown nymph,
  • a bead head brown nymph,
  • a Royal Wulff,
  • a Stimulator,
  • a parachute black spinner, and
  • a small deer hair caddis.

With these flies I can be confident I’ll be able to fool any feeding trout on my favourite small streams. As for the other 999,995 flies we all need, you can work that out on your own!

Feel free to leave your six favourite flies in the comments section.

Tying a simple hopper

Over the next few weeks, the hopper numbers will explode, and the trout will feast, so last night I restocked my fly boxes.

Last weekend, as we waded the field of long grass to reach the stream, swarms of juvenile hoppers leapt left and right to avoid being crushed underfoot.  You can guess what we tried fishing first.

In my fly box , I had a solitary tan foam hopper left from last season (I had a quick look for more before I left home, but couldn’t find the reserves).  The trout rose eagerly to this pattern throughout the afternoon, until an errant back cast left it dangling forlornly out of reach on a dead branch.

The tan hopper matched the natural in size and colour but couldn’t find another in any fly-box, only a few green ones of the same pattern. Unfortunately they were not as effective, and were difficult to see on the shadowed water. So last night I restocked my fly boxes and  I took a few photos to give you an idea of the tying sequence.

 

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I am no great tier, as you will see from the photos, but be encouraged, they are pretty easy to tie, and the fish don’t seem to mind the rough edges. Give it a go!.

Over the next few weeks, the hopper numbers will explode, and the trout will feast.

If you are a bit lazy, and would like some, you can contact me and I may be able to tie a you a few to order!

Hopper Fishing

February and March is one of my favourite times to fish in the meadow streams.  The hoppers are about, and they are a juicy high energy meal for a trout.  The trout hang close to the grassy banks an overhangs, waiting for the wind to blow a wayward hopper on to the water.

It is a dry fly fisher’s fantasy. The fish are looking up and a hopper plopping on the water is like the ringing of the dinner bell.  The trout slips quietly out from under the dark under cut, noses up under the struggling Orthoptera.

It is a great time for beginners and experts alike to be on the water. For the beginner it offers exciting visual fishing with plenty of opportunities to try to hook a trout.  Not too much finesse is needed with the presentation, in fact it is better to plop the fly down hard. For the expert, there is a chance to bag a big one, as the larger trout, usually more circumspect by day, are willing participants in the sport when hoppers are about.  To fool a trophy, demands accurate casts within inches of the bank, or under an undercut.

However it is only the most natural drift that will fool the wiley older ones, so you need to get a drag free drift.  Many missed hookups, and refusals are as a result of drag, or micro drag, where the fly slips across the surface, instead of eddying and drifting with the micro-currents.

Hoppers come in many sizes and colours, it is good to have a few different patterns in your box, so you can match size and colour. I like simple foam hoppers in tan or green, with some rubber legs.

Sadly hopper fishing is fast coming to an end as I write this post, but soon the Autumn may fly hatches will begin.