The need to feed is the driving force that makes trout willing to move away from the safety of protective cover. Feeding trout are constantly on the move seeking food. When there are no visual cues and you’re not getting hit, it can be a perplexing and frustrating puzzle to solve. But finding where trout are feeding is like hitting a hole in one. Trout feed along shore line edges early and late in the day or in the top 1-3 feet when aquatic insects are hatching. Remember if there are no visible water surface rings, that doesn’t mean the fish have necessary stopped feeding, they have moved to a different location or depth in the water column. Knowing how to adjust your angling approach is the key to being able to catch fish consistently.
Upon arrival at South Fork Reservoir in Nevada at 8:30 in the morning, the sky was partly cloudy and air temperature a wintry 23 degrees. Water temperature was a warmer 51 degrees, and the surface clear and glassy. Concentric rings appeared close to the shoreline edges indicating fish feeding on small aquatic nymphs near the surface. Seeing those rings made my rod hand itchy with anticipation. “OK,” I thought, “now I expect a potentially epic fishing adventure!” I grabbed my rod with a 7-foot intermediate sink tip line – my line of choice when I know that fish are feeding in the top few feet of the water column. The 7’ intermediate sink tip line maintains the fly up in the top feeding zone, extending the time fish may see the fly. The more fish see the fly, the greater the chance for hook-ups. The line also makes it possible to pick up the line and recast it anywhere during the retrieve causing minimal surface disturbance on the water.
In my SuperCat pontoon boat I kicked near the shoreline edges where visible rings were forming. The water depth was 4 feet. Casting toward the shore I selected a peacock callibaetis nymph fly which is an effective pupae pattern when fishing in the top two feet of water. I used quick, 4-6 inch retrieves which kept the fly high up in the water column. I continued moving, fishing parallel to the shoreline and landed ten fish by 10:30 am.
Then everything suddenly stopped. No strikes, no observable fish, no hook ups. What happened? In previous years I would remain in the same location on the lake since I knew it was productive and try changing flies. If that did not work I would have assumed that the bite was over, disappointedly packed up my gear, and left. Fortunately, I better understand fish feeding behavior now, and that has expanded my angling techniques and with it the possibility for continued fishing in such situations. Here is what had happened:
The clouds had dissipated and the sun moved higher in the sky. Since fish have no eyelids and are highly sensitive to light, either they had moved away from the shallows or into a deeper zone to feed. No visible rings on the surface indicated the trout had stopped feeding on pupae in the top two feet, and had moved into a deeper zone. This was because the clear sky and sunny conditions had removed the trout’s protective cover. Determining where they were feeding was now my goal. I kicked from the shallow four feet water over to a depth 7-9 feet. Still moving parallel to the shoreline, I cast to the left and the right of my pontoon boat.
As I moved through the water slowly casting to either side, I allowed the intermediate 7’ sink tip line to sink for a 10-second count before retrieving. Nothing happened. I expanded my count to 20 before the retrieve; still nothing. Now I raised the count to 30 and started the retrieve. Fish on! The motion and movement of the fly through the deeper feeding zone triggered a reactive bite. The fish which had been previously feeding in the upper 1-2 feet on pupae were now feeding in the 3-5 feet zone. A 30-second count put the fly 3 feet below the surface where the fish were holding. It was not necessarily the specific fly but the motion and movement of the fly that triggered a reactionary bite.
This approach was effective because the 30-second pause before stripping allowed the fly to sink three feet below the surface (intermediate sink tip lines sink approximately one foot for every 10 seconds). Probing the water with a 10, 20 and 30 count is an effective technique to discover where the feeding fish are cruising. If you don’t get hit with a count of 10, try a 20, and then expand to a 30 count. Once you start getting hit you know the depth in which the cruising fish are feeding. Hold onto your rod and await the action! I continued moving through the water while presenting the fly at three feet below the surface and landed eight more fish by noon.
By 3pm, I had landed a total of 39 fish (all catch and release), five of which were 26 inches. The day ended with my last cast hooking into a 26-inch behemoth which broke the tip of a new rod just out of its rod case. I landed two of the largest fish of the day without the upper third of the rod! It’s interesting to fish without a rod tip – it makes it hard to determine the size of the fish until you bring them in close enough to get look at them. The concern over the broken rod was offset by the delight of such a wonderful and productive day on the water.
Things to try:
- Trout feed along shoreline edges early and late in the day. I’ve caught some of my biggest trout along the shoreline in one foot of water.
- Trout feed in the top 1-3 feet of water when insects are hatching. You will see rings on the surface form when this is happening. Use emerging pupae patterns and keep your fly in the top two feet of water.
- The lack of observable rings on the surface means that trout have either moved to a different location or are feeding at a different depth.
- Changing location and/or probing the top 3 feet when insects are hatching, are effective techniques that can help locate those hungry trout.
Here’s my angler’s mantra: “You gotta keep on moving, baby!”
Information on fishing cold water conditions coming in December’s blog entry.