For this post, we’re going to focus primarily on number 2, eat, eat, and eat some more. Fish do not take the time for a hobby or a pastime, if they’re not hiding from a careless fisherman or a errant shadow, they are spending their time munching on anything that comes down stream to them. What your trout are eating is also dependent on various factors, the largest being, what is most readily available, followed by, do the benefits outweigh the cost.
Conventional fly-fishing wisdom would dictate that the most available food source is sub-surface, i.e., nymphs and the possible leech, sculpin, or other baitfish. Unless there is a hatch happening, you’re going to catch fish by fishing under the surface, either using nymphs or streamers. This is because that’s where to food is, below the surface, and necessarily, that’s where the trout’s attention is.
This conventional wisdom has led many to throw out the dries, unless a hatch is happening. And for the most part that is the smartest move, but it’s not for the reason that we think though. We need to get over the idea that trout, and other fish, are geniuses. If they were, they would notice the monofilament come from the head of their next meal! But, they are efficient at what they do. When there is a smorgasbord of nymphs coming down the stream, why would a fish look up at a lonely caddisfly floating on the surface?
During a hatch, though, there is an influx of bugs on or near the surface, to turn the fish’s attention to the surface and they quickly forget about the bottom. Once again, the energy gained from the surface now outweighs the energy output to eat at the surface.
Now, this is all conventional wisdom, and as with most rules, they are meant to be broken. Have you ever been on a river, no hatch happening at all, and there are a few strikes on the surface? Of course you have. It happens and that’s why throwing a dry works sometimes, because fish happen to be in the right place that the dry makes enough energy smart sense.
But, we’re going to throw conventional wisdom out the window when we start to fish small rivers and streams. For the most part, small streams, creeks, and rivers change the feeding lanes and times for the water inhabitants.
Small streams mean small feeding lanes. In larger rivers and streams, the distance between subsurface and surface feeding lanes can be feet. However, in a small stream it can 8 inches. Now the energy output is less and perhaps that caddisfly can make up for the expenditure. Fish can now feed in multiple lanes because those feeding lanes have effectively merged into one.
Small stream fishing has thrown out conventional wisdom and when we look at the reasons why, we come up with a compelling reason to fish with dries, and why they’re effective. First, food choice is lessened on a small stream, nymphs are not rolling down the river like a smorgasbord but more like a random treat, and second, it’s a lot easier to make it to the surface to get to those bugs. This is why we always use a dry, even when we’re using a nymph.
As always, Good Luck and Guid Luck!