Bugs, Birds, and You
Bugs and Birds; two of my favorite subjects that have
consumed many hours of my time in my 60+ years and
both of them still have a tremendous fascination for me.
If you are a fly angler I presume that they have a certain
fascination for you, but perhaps I can encourage you to
develop an even greater interest since I am certain that it will
increase your enjoyment and success when you're fly-fishing.
By Neil M. Travis, Montana/Arizona
Several years ago I wrote a series of articles entitled 'Streamside
Companions' that focused on some of the creatures that one might
encounter while spending time afield pursuing our favorite sport.
Since I am a firm believer that fly-fishing is really less about the
fishing and more about the experience of being outdoors I wrote
those articles to encourage my fellow anglers to take time to stop
and smell the roses. Life is short and it behooves all of us to make
the most of every opportunity that God gives us. In addition,
attention to these things may just enable you to increase your
ability to fool a few more fish.
A body of water; whether it is fresh, salt, or brackish, whether
it is a stream, pond, lake or ocean, is a potential source of food
for many creatures. For fish it is their environment; the place
where they live, breed, and die. Aquatic environments are some
of the most biologically diverse habitats on the planet, and they
support a dazzling array of plant and animal species. This provides
food for many forms of life, including man.
For the angler observation is the key to success, and the most
observant anglers are usually the most successful. When keen
observation is combined with experience and knowledge the
combination is true poetry.
For the trout angler the most important birds are fly catchers,
especially swallows. There are several species of swallows,
and they are found throughout North America, even as far
north as Alaska. Depending on your location swallows can
be found skimming over your favorite trout water starting in
early April and by mid-May they will be found in abundance
over their extensive range.
Swallows consume insects on the wing, and by watching these
birds it is often possible to predict if there are insects that are
hatching or have hatched. Swallows are social birds and
normally they congregate in large flocks when feeding. They
like to sit on electric lines and fences when not feeding, and
if you see most of the swallows just sitting around it is unlikely
that there is much insect activity. If the birds are skimming low
over the water or even occasionally striking the surface it is likely
that insects are hatching. If you are unable to detect any insects
it is likely that the hatch consists of small mayflies, caddis, or midges
that you cannot see unless you get right down on the surface.
Many times swallows have tipped me off to a hatch that I could
not see. This is particularly true when midges are hatching,
especially if they are very small or light colored.
When waiting for a spinner fall observing swallows is very
helpful. Many species of mayfly spinners have mating flights
that start high up and gradually drop down toward the stream.
Unless the insects are quite large it is nearly impossible to see
the mating swarms until the insects start hitting the water. By
watching the swallows the knowledgeable angler will know
that the mating flight is happening long before they actually begin
to hit the water. This will allow ample time for you to get in position
so that when the flies begin to fall to the surface you are ready to
take part in the action.
There is one other benefit in watching the swallows when
waiting for a spinner fall. While you may believe that
conditions are perfect for a great spinner fall the insects
may have other ideas. On more than one occasion I have
waited for a spinner fall that never occurred, and by watching
the swallows I have been able to either change my location
or simply call it a day. Sometimes when I think a spinner fall
should occur I may visit several different locations to check
on the activity of the swallows. A spinner flight may not form
over one area but carpet the water just a short distance away.
If I know the area has lots of swallows but I don't see any
activity where I am I go looking until I find them. More than
once this has allowed me to fish a spinner fall after everyone
else has left the stream.
Although not as reliable as swallows, in areas where there are
lots of bats they can perform a similar function. Being strictly
insectivorous and feeding exclusively on the wing they quickly
take advantage of dense swarms of insects. Bats flying back
and forth in a specific area may provide the angler with a clue
as to where a late spinner fall may be occurring.
For the salt water angler a different type of bird is often helpful
in finding feeding fish. Gulls, terns, cormorants and pelicans are
just a few of the birds that feed on small bait fish. Often these
small fish are forced to the surface by larger game fish and this
attracts the birds. Gulls and terns are especially noisy, and when
the angler observers a flock of these noisy seabirds circling and
diving into the water it often indicates that game fish are pushing
bait fish toward the surface. By dropping an appropriate bait fish
imitation into the area near this activity the angler is almost
assured of action.
Birds provide the angler with one other benefit that is not directly
associated with fishing. Birds are fascinating members of the animal
kingdom, and observing them as they gracefully dip and glide through
the air is one of the great benefits of being on or near the water. To
be privileged to see an osprey suddenly plunge into the water and
come up with a fish, or watch a heron gracefully spearing minnows,
or a chattering kingfisher smacking his prey and then swallowing it
is a fringe benefit few other sports offer. If you have not done so in
the past it might benefit you this season to take some time to observe
the creatures that share the water with you. Who knows, it might just
be the start of a new hobby, and it certainly will make the angling
experience more enjoyable. ~ The Chronicler
From A Journal Archives