RISE ABOVE, BITE BELOW
I have become one of "regulars" at DePuy's Spring Creek (www.depuyspringcreek.com) with the Winter Pass. On our "Opening Day" (October 15th), we would greet, and celebrate our rendezvous, and wish the best for next 6 months of endeavor. As I have written in a previous series of articles for FAOL, the Fall Baetis (Blue Winged Olive) hatches and Fall-run trout (from Yellowstone River to creek) are what draw anglers during the fall. Of course I was expecting both events. However, this fall I encountered something new. It may not be really new, rather a surprise at the beginning. Eventually it became a special pleasure and addiction. It's THE midge hatch.
The past winter was really cold with lots of snow accumulation in Montana (perhaps all over the world!). Here in SW Montana, we had a really cool (even cold and wet) spring and summer. Thus the Yellowstone River flowed above average and remained cool all through summer to fall. Then, in October we had warm days. There were more than several days reaching 70F with bright sunny skies. Several days before Winter Pass opened, I visited the creek. My mentor and outfitter, Master Angler Tom Travis, was guiding one of his long-time clients on the creek so I would visit them and see what was going on with BWO hatch and fall-runners. We discussed that the fall-run of brown trout (followed by rainbow trout) might be late as trout would find it comfortable in the Yellowstone with these nice conditions. Warm sunny days wouldn't encourage the fall-run or BWO hatches either. The conditions remained the same when the Winter Pass started. (Don't worry folks, things picked up eventually and I have had great fishing for both BWO hatches and fall-runners!!) This was why I was walking along the creek, hoping to spot a few "strangers" (I mean, early fall-runners). Instead I spotted constant rises to midges on a certain stretch of the creek. In the morning of the Opening Day, I was armed with heavy artillery, i.e., nymphs and streamers. I wasn't sure if this midge action would be worth going back to my truck to grab my midge boxes.
On the next day, I went back to the same stretch with a slight wish of midge action along with midge flies, yet I still stuffed my vest with nymphs and streamers just in case. WOW!! The midge hatches and rise of trout were oh-so-constant!! I fished till I needed a bite of lunch. I went back to my truck, had a quick lunch, and came back to the spot. Now I stuffed my vest with expected BWO flies and left my entire collection of midge flies in my truck. Pardon an abbreviation used in modern communication but "OMG", midges were still hatching and trout were constantly rising! I fished for them with the midge patterns I had left on my vest patch! The action went on till almost all 3PM. The next day and many days after, I stuffed my vest with plenty of midge flies and carried my lunch and thermos of coffee. Once the sun was up above the Absarokee Mountains at around 9:30AM, midges would appear all over. Then trout would start rising and keep on till 2 to 3PM. The fact is that the action kept on even after I got exhausted!
Thank you for reading the prelude but I just had to explain the situation. Now I'd like to discuss the actual fishing. The majority of rises I observed day after day were "dorsal-tail" rises. Occasionally I did observe the upper-jaw and part of head were above the water surface. I was very positive the majority of the rises were caused by trout feeding on ascending pupae just below the surface. I rigged up a two-fly combination of dry (surface emerger) and pupae pattern (meant to target an inch or two below the surface). I caught many trout, and some were very impressive river-runners on pupae patterns. Then I did have some good actions on my dry-fly patterns. A few good trout came up every now and then but the rest of trout (netted or not) were relatively small individuals (10 to 12-inch).
When I landed a trout I conducted stomach pumping. If you have some experience in this procedure, you don't want trout that are too big. Trout from 12 to 15-inch are most easily handled and produce the best and quickest results. Then again, I have caught some impressive trout larger than 15-inches with pupa patterns. Here's a note: The Majority of the stomach contents from those small trout were pupae.
Two Important Keys:
These results lead me to discuss "the vulnerable stage of insect emergence" and "energy spent for feeding versus energy gain by doing so". Nymphs (all kinds of mayfly) or pupae (midge and caddis), are often the most abundant and most available trout food when they are ascending toward the water surface. Some may successfully break their shucks and the surface tension and fly away. While the majority of them are ascending the water column they are hoping the currents will be friendly and the trout wouldn't feed on them. Well, trout will indeed take advantage of the vulnerable stage of insect emergence in the water column. As my catching experiences prove, all sizes of trout feed on pupae slightly below the surface. Yet, smaller trout (12-inch, give or take), tend to rise on midge adults. Some may even try to jump over a foot in the air! Why? They don't have heavy body shape and weight to carry. Larger individuals almost never break the water surface as aggressively as their smaller cousins. Rather, they remain in the water column. Sometime they will cruise along the bottom of the creek, and then slightly change their position up or down in the water column. Yet, seldom break the surface. Apparently those large individuals almost never jump out of the water to capture one single insect. It's simply because of natural adaptation as trout grow large and heavy. To sustain their body weight and calorie consumption, trout will do what works for them in the easiest way. They wouldn't want to rise above the surface or leap over just to munch on one tiny insect. Meanwhile, the pupae are ascending the water column, hoping to fly away and mate. Large trout will take advantage of what is happening right in front of them in the water column.
Then, here's another discussion from the anglers' viewpoint that I'd like to clarify. Are those large trout getting wiser as they grow large? Do small trout have such small brains that they rise for tiny insects? In a word the answer is NO. Don't overpraise them as "trout are getting educated!" Trout are just doing, regardless of size and behavior, what they are supposed to do to maintain their own needs based on body size. But then again, there is and will be trout with some particular behavior and attitude, so be observant!!
So I saw rise-rings of trout and midge adults on the surface. However, trout were heavily feeding on ascending pupae slightly below the surface (1- to 2-inch). This is where the title comes from, which I have adapted as my new mantra. The other expression I use for this situation is "subsurface match the hatch". Discussion of fishing a dry-fly on the surface versus something slightly below the surface (wet-fly, nymph, or soft-hackle), involving history, is beyond the scope of this article. However, I'd like to point out one thing. Who has decided taking trout with dry-flies is superior to any other flies and methods? (I'm limiting this argument within match-the-hatch fishing.) It's what's called "dry-fly snobbery". Don't get me wrong. I like to catch trout with visible dry-flies too! My point is to observe what trout are doing and then approach them with the most efficient method. Indeed, "subsurface match-the-hatch" is as technical and challenging as dry-fly fishing. Often it's more technical and challenging, because an angler has to determine the depth where trout are feeding. Then he/she has to make a calculated dead-drift presentation so the subsurface fly will reach the target depth. The reward – larger trout!
In the next chapter, I will discuss fly patterns and how to rig them.
Satoshi Yamamoto, http://leftyangler.blogspot.com, is a guide and a fly-dresser based in Livingston, MT.
|Part 2 can be found here|