Welcome to Trout Fodder; your guide to Alberta hatches, aquatic entomology, and fly fishing.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Name Game

I had a few responses trickle in via e-mail (troutfodder[at]gmail.com) in response to this photo from a few weeks back:
Ameletus dun shortly after emerging, with nymphal exuvia to the lower left
Most people thought a Parachute Adams would be a good choice to imitate the newly emerged dun. While that fly would certainly be a good match for the slate gray dun, this is a good example of where moving beyond the simple formula of matching color and size has its advantages. Knowing that this hatch is the mayfly genus Ameletus provides the fly angler with an additional piece of information crucial to making the right fly selection.

Rather than emerging mid-stream like many other mayflies, Ameletus emerges by crawling out on stream side rocks - making the dun stage of the hatch unavailable to feeding trout. Dry flies and emergers are not the way to go during an Ameletus hatch.

Ameletus Dun waiting for wings to dry before it flies to stream side vegetation - along with
two nymphs making their way out of the water to emerge
Ameletus nymphs fall into the mayfly swimmer category - they have three tails with interlocking hairs that allow them to swim rather quickly in short bursts. Nymphs of this genus tend to occupy slower moving water, and for that reason many authors discount them as an important food source. But even though they have a propensity for slow water, they still can be found in good numbers in faster freestone streams - they just tend to occupy the margins where the current is slackened. During emergence migrations, as the nymphs dart around, some get themselves into trouble by getting caught in the faster current. A dark brown nymph in size 12 or 14 is just the ticket to imitate these nymphs.

Ameletus nymph crawling onto a stream side rock to emerge
(note the dark wingpads that are characteristic of a mature nymph)
Ameletus have two emergence periods on most waters in Alberta - one early in the spring, and one late in the fall. This puts them on the menu when little else is available. In fact, the only hatch that typically overshadows an Ameletus hatch on the waters I fish is a Baetis hatch. If Ameletus are hatching, and there are no Baetis to be seen, an Ameletus nymph is what I reach for first.

If you look at the nymph in the above picture and compare it to a Pheasant Tail nymph, it is almost a perfect match. Drifting a Pheasant Tail (size 12 in the spring, and size 14 in the fall) will usually connect you with a few fish on those cool slow days. And aggressive line mending makes the fly move in short spurts characteristic of Ameletus attempting to swim to safety.

So, why bother learning the names of the bugs that hatch on your local waters? Quite simply, knowing what genus or species you are dealing with open the door to a wealth of information that greatly narrows down fly selection and tactics. It's all part of the formula of matching the hatch.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What Fly Would You Use?

If you encountered this hatch on your favorite trout stream late in the season
what fly would you reach for first?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Season End Game

As the sun sinks low on a late autumn day 
a lone mayfly takes advantage of the warming rays 
to lay a final clutch of eggs
 while the last fish of the season swims for freedom 
and a deep winter lie

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Breaking the Ice

I managed to get out to some brown trout water this past weekend, and even managed to catch a few fish.

The day started out a little on the chilly side (-8C) but given the heavy snow-pack, that was probably a good thing. The frozen crust on top of the two to three foot deep drifts kept me afloat (most of the time). Regardless, when I wasn't stuck up to my waist, I was still sinking more than a few inches with each step – getting around proved to be quite the workout.

The creek was in good shape with about a foot or so of visibility, and with the air temperature edging up to just 6C by the afternoon visibility remained relatively constant. I expect that will change as the temperatures rise and the local runoff builds momentum.

Winter stonefly hatches seem to be a week or two behind schedule this year - Utacapnia trava would normally be winding down by now but they were still coming off quite heavy in the afternoon. Zapada cinctipes were also a part of the mix. I did not see any females returning to the water to lay eggs.

It’s always nice to get out and catch those first fish of the season.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Best Laid Plans

I went into the winter season with full intentions of re-designing my fly box system, and having all of my fly boxes fully stocked before the season starts. Well, once again I find myself on the doorstep of the open water trout season with a long way to go as far as fly tying goes. Yup, I can see myself now, frantically tying flies the night before each trip – business as usual I suppose.

If you’re like me you are likely anxious to get out on the water (or maybe you have already seen some action). The only fly fishing I managed to get in over the past few weeks was a trip to the Bahamas in search of bonefish. It was a successful DIY trip to the middle of nowhere.

Surveying the endless flats on Mayaguana

Jacks provide a fun diversion when the bonefish aren't cooperating
A typical Mayaguana bonefish

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Now for Something Completely Different

Most of you who follow my blog know that I am a firm believer in matching the hatch. While I do feel that fishing flies that imitate the bugs the fish are feeding on, or at least have formed a search image for, is the best approach, there are times when the fun factor of working an aggressive attractor pattern is hard to resist. Often that involves working a streamer along under-cut banks and log jams - the takes can be arm jarring and it usually results in some good sized brown trout.

Another strategy I have adopted over the years is to work a frog pattern very tight those same edges. Yup, you read right - a frog pattern.

For this I use a floating line (usually 6 or 7 weight) and a 8 - 9' leader with 2X to 0X tippet depending on the conditions. This setup works well especially when the water is clear and the fish are less inclined to move far from their hidey hole, or late in the evening as the light fades. I make my cast as far up stream as possible and allow the frog to float down ahead of the line to where I think a fish might be holding (the closer to the structure the better). A few twitches of the frog usually results in a spectacular take. This approach allows you to get you fly into the zone with minimal disturbance.

My pattern of choice for this is a Phelps Frog.

Phelps Frog

This one is quick and easy to tie - takes about 2 minutes per fly. The bodies can be purchased at most tackle shops that sell walleye rigging. They come in a few different sizes and colors; I prefer the big green ones with the yellow belly but I'm sure color is not critical (although the glow in the dark ones seem to work best in low light). For the legs I use 3 strands of rubber hackle (SuperFly yellow/black, or color to match) and tie a knot near the transition to yellow at either end. Trim the yellow so just a centimeter or so is left for the feet. Center the black portion on the hook, tie in with a good number of figure eights (adjusting the leg positions as you add more wraps), and whip finish.

This kind of fishing is nothing but fun. Hang on to your rod tight and be prepared to turn the fish before it has a chance to head for cover.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Case for the Cased Caddis

When it comes to imitating the different life stages of the caddisfly there is no question that the pupa and the adult garner the most attention from both trout and fly anglers. We are certainly quick to notice the pupal shucks floating on the water, the many adults fluttering over the water’s surface, and the slashing rises of feeding trout. These two life stages seem to expose caddisflies to feeding trout more so than the larval stage. The cryptic larvae – those that build cases out of bits of vegetation or sand, and the trout that feed on them, often go unnoticed.

Although cased caddis larvae rely on camouflage and subterfuge to protect them from predators, trout learn to recognize which bits of apparent vegetation and debris are food and which bits are a waste of time. Many feeding studies have shown that trout do opportunistically consume cased caddis larvae – especially when populations are high enough that the trout develop a search image for them. I don’t carry a lot of cased caddis larva patterns but the ones I do carry have served me well over the years. Here are a few of the patterns I was working on this past week.

My top pick for lake fishing is my Phryganea larva. Many species in this genus build their cases out of a series of cut pieces of aquatic vegetation carefully arranged in a spiral pattern. The case is constantly being added to as the larva grows making the case varying shades of green. The larva and case can be ¾” - 1” long.

To tie this pattern I build up a slender under-body of yarn. Several sections of light and dark green turkey quill are tied in facing forward – these are then folded back and secured with fine silver wire. A ball of gray or cream dubbing at the front represents the larva as it reaches out of the case for something to grab hold of. The best way to fish this pattern is to suspend it under a strike indicator just above submerged weed shoals (especially late in the evening), or right along the weed edge adjacent to deeper water.

For caddis larva in streams that build their cases out of sand or small pebbles I like to use something like this:

Here I build up an under-body of yarn and then work in some 5 minute epoxy. Just as the glue becomes tacky (but not too stiff) I roll it in clean, coarse sand (usually darker sifted sand and pebbles from a trout stream). Gently "massage" the sand into the glue so it sticks well and maintains the desired shape. The head and legs of the larva are imitated with a ball of gray or light brown dubbing. As to size, ¾ of an inch long is about right. Drift this one just as you would any other nymph.

During a hatch feel free to reach for your favorite emerger or adult caddis pattern. But if there is no discernible hatch activity, and you are observant enough to note a good population of cased larvae on your favorite stream or lake, a cased caddis pattern can be the ticket to a great day on the water.