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Catching Sub-Surface Trout  at Cabela's

Catching Sub-Surface Trout

Author: Kevin G. Wilson

July and August mark the months of plenty on trout waters. Insect hatches are in full swing, and fish have ample food sources to choose from.

Another beauty goes back into the water to fight another day.
Even still, trout are notoriously selective feeders. I suppose that's one of the reasons fly anglers pride themselves in knowing what to use, and when.

When hatch activity seems slow, or more likely the fish just aren't paying attention to surface flies, savvy anglers go deep. Sure, it's more enjoyable to observe a magnificent brown take a well-placed dry fly off the film. Despite best efforts, sometimes fish simply refuse to feed on top. When this happens, chances are you'll increase your catch rate by adapting your presentation to either a streamer or nymph resembling natural aquatic insects.

On a recent float tube trip to a small lake, which shall remain unnamed, I became intimately reacquainted with the importance of determining precisely what the rainbow trout were gorging themselves on. When I first visited this lush body of water, I tried many standard patterns. I caught fish, but I had to work hard for every bite.

A friend had invested lots of time determining precisely what the trout were feeding on. After catching a few fish, he gently inserted a stomach pump and removed the contents. He discovered everything from snails to water fleas, sticklebacks, damselfly and dragonfly nymphs. Subsequently, he spent an afternoon exploring the water's edge. For his efforts, he was rewarded with a variety of specimens, the most important of which included dragonfly and damselfly nymphs. Over the next few days, he tied a variety of fly patterns remarkably similar to those he'd captured. Down to the finest detail of legs and eyes, his patterns emulated the real deal.

Prior to our outing, he assisted me in tying a damsel pattern that would eventually prove very effective. And, to test the validity of his deductions, I selected a few patterns from my own repertoire that somewhat resembled his. In a matter of three mid-day hours, I hooked into 10 healthy rainbows, the largest of which weighed in at just over four pounds. My partner effectively out-fished me, netting 17 fish, the largest of which weighed in at just under five pounds.

My point - by emulating natural forage as closely as possible, he effectively enticed the trout to take his offering more often. This much is true; however, it's not always enough just to drop the right fly in the water. Following are a few suggestions to tip the odds in your favor when angling with streamers and nymphs.

Mimic indigenous food - This doesn't just mean the type of food available, but also the size and color as well. As illustrated above, giving the fish precisely what they are accustomed to eating will serve you well. While a stickleback streamer may have triggered strikes, through trial and error, it was determined that dragonfly and damselfly patterns in size 6 or 8 best resembled the most abundant forage. By using a combination of dark and light olive colored patterns, we experienced lots of action, bringing plenty of feisty fish to the net.

Carry a variety of patterns - When you don't have the time to research water in detail, it helps to maintain a good variety of standby streamer and nymph patterns in a range of sizes and colors. Some of my favorites include Doc Spratleys in red, green and black; Buggers in black, olive, and purple; minnow patterns, and; Stonefly, Caddisfly, Dragonfly and Damselfly nymphs in browns and olives.

Determine the strike zone - This involves finding the depth at which most of the trout will see and attack your offering. Fly line selection plays an important role here. The type of line, leader and tippet selected plays an important role in how deep your fly will sink. Many different lines are available on the market today. Cortland and Fenwick for example, offer a huge selection of wet and dry lines. Some have a sinking tip, others are designed to accommodate long-distance casting, while still others are steady sinking lines in a variety of sizes. Some are fast sinking and others are slow sinking. I like to carry a selection that I can choose from relative to any given circumstance. If you are limited by just a floating line, you can vary your depth by adding split shot approximately 24 inches up from the fly.

Vary your retrieve - Whether trolling from a belly boat, angling from shore or wading, the speed at which the fly moves through the water will make all the difference in the world. Some days on the water can make even the greenest rookie look like a hero. On other days, the fish are so picky, you'd swear they all went on vacation. When the bite is slow and you're offering them exactly what they should be eating, try varying your presentation. Chances are once you get a strike, if you repeat the routine again, fish will continue to bite. Case in point, during our day on the water, in those few short hours, trout were aggressively hitting the fly on a quick troll early in the afternoon when a breeze caused a riffle on the surface. Later on, they seemed to prefer a much slower troll with a subtle jerking motion. Many of my strikes occurred as I stripped line in to check for weed snags.

Learn when to set the hook - Setting a hook isn't an art form, but it's a technique that can be improved upon with practice. In most stream fishing, our reaction should be to raise the rod at the first visible take. That said, when trolling streamers or nymphs, it's common to get lots of bumps or missed strikes. In these instances, depending on what you're using and how aggressive the fish are, you will often be better off keeping your rod in place until you've confirmed a fish on the line. When confirmed, raise your arm to sustain tension and let the games begin!

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