Updated: Apr 1, 2020
A scattering of trout are sipping something off the water’s surface, but there’s no telling for sure what they’re eating. There are no insects visible on the water, but three or four different species flutter in the air – problem is, there aren’t enough of any particular insect to say that’s what the trout are keying on. More often than not, even if a bunch of size 14 Sulphurs are present, very few trout will actually take one if drifted over them. It’s always the insects you don’t see that have them up and feeding.
I’ve fished this section of stream for almost 30 years, and this has been a common scenario. In the back of my mind, I believe that if I find that “one” fly that I would absolutely kill the trout. But I never find it. Nobody does, in fact. Up and down the stream, dozens of fishermen just like me scour their fly boxes for some lightning in a bottle.
I tie on a size 18 black midge and hook a trout on the second cast. Thinking I’ve found some magic at last, I use it another 25 minutes without so much as a sniff from a fish. So I switch to a size 16 Parachute Adams…bingo, another trout within the first five casts. And then nothing after that.
A Light Cahill produces one fish, as does an olive-colored emerger shortly thereafter. That’s four trout in almost two hours, and I consider myself lucky. But still. Literally dozens of fish are rising. I should be able to do better than one here, one there.
I experiment with longer leaders, finer tippets.
Upstream, a trout thrashes near the surface as the fisherman who just hooked it glances left and right, making sure everyone sees his success. That fish shakes off halfway in and the guy frowns. Almost immediately he hooks another and brings this one all the way in. It seems like the very next cast, and maybe it is, he catches yet another trout. This guy is on a roll! Finally, someone has it figured out.
A fellow across the stream asks what he’s using. All I can make out is the word “small.” Probably a midge or some other type of no-see-um fly.
The guy doesn’t catch another fish the rest of the evening.
So it goes into the night.
By the time it’s too dark to see, I’ve spent four hours on the stream and caught seven trout, each one on a different fly. That’s how it is sometimes. There are no clear-cut answers, no magic bullets. You keep trying new things until you find something that works, and when that stops working, you try something else.
I don’t know if I’ll ever figure out exactly what the fish in that stretch are feeding on every evening. I hope not. The mystery is the fun part. It can be frustrating, but I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be or anything else I’d rather do than spend my time trying to figure it all out.