Rainbow Trout, by Choice or Design

I fished for rainbow trout because they were there. The season was open; the fish are funOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA to catch with flies. Clearly, I chose to fish for them in early April, and I went for them because they were my easiest casting option for the day. In other words, my need to fly-fish coincided with the state’s design to populate the river’s Delayed Harvest section with the cheapest hatchery fish that it can raise.

There are wild fish in the river, too, but wild trout, the fish I love to be challenged by above all others in my rivertop country, were elsewhere for the afternoon. The stocked trout, on the other hand, were up to something different. They were active in the mild midday, with clouds subduing the sky, and with water flowing heavily and chill at 46 degrees. Although the wind was a nuisance for casting, the stream conditions were good, and the rainbows were hungry.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs I worked the long riffle on this headwater stream, the trout responded to my two-fly rig, the first five of them taking the soft-hackle pattern while ignoring the stonefly nymph. Just when I started thinking that selective feeding habits were the rule for the day (the trout apparently favoring an emergent mayfly nymph as opposed to the long-hatching stonefly), a switch occurred.

Obviously nature doesn’t care for simple answers to its mysteries; it doesn’t care or not-OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcare for the efforts of a questing mind. That’s right,  the next three trout all took the stonefly nymph, defying my attempt to decipher a feeding pattern for the afternoon.

Conclusion? None whatsoever, none from me. An objective observer might conclude that “food” is the answer, that both of my tested patterns, though imitating different orders of aquatic bugs, suggested food to my rainbows, and that’s all that mattered.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMaybe, but as any veteran fly-caster will tell you, there are times of the year or of the day, especially during a major hatch, when feeding trout will key on one specific species of insect, and if Luck shall be your mistress or your master, you had better have something similar in size and profile, if not to specific color. And your casting then had better be decent also. If your imitation on a hook rides smoothly on the water then suddenly acts like your brother-in-law tipping drunkenly from a bar stool, you’ll be shocking every wild trout sensibility in the pool.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALuckily I didn’t need much finesse on the river today. Beginners could have stood in these haunts today, and with a modicum of care, could have caught some trout. Tomorrow will be different, for better or worse. All the mystery, doubt, certainty, and action, now and then, add up to the pleasure of fly-fishing.

The beauty of fish, the charm of water, and the grandeur of earth’s small lives surrounding you are the great design of some indescribable creator. Here’s hoping you enjoy the spring season, too, that your senses stay open to the daily gifts, and that you choose to be outdoors when chance allows.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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10 Responses to Rainbow Trout, by Choice or Design

  1. stevegalea6953 says:

    Excellent post. Fantastic photos too. We’re getting snow upon right now, so it’s really nice to read that someone is standing in a river and loving it.

    • Steve, Thanks! The weather is frustrating for anglers, isn’t it? Even here, south of you, it’s chill for mid-April, but it’s better than hot-as-hell, like we had last year at this time. Hang in there; the river’s coming soon.


  2. stevegalea6953 says:

    snowed… sorry.

  3. Leigh says:

    Sounds like it was a great day to enjoy the beautiful outdoors.

    • Leigh, Hope you’ve had a few nice days on the stream this spring. More of them coming this week, maybe.


      • Bob Stanton says:

        Hi Walt, nice post. You echo my sentiments. A wild rainbow, especially in its historic range, is a beautiful creature…stockies, not so much. On catching stocked ‘bows, I console myself by bearing in mind the notion that a stocked ‘bow is better than no trout at all. I’d rather prowl the hemlock bottoms for little char. Speaking of hemlocks, I just read that the wooly adelgid has been found in Cook Forest State Park, noted for the old growth stands contained therein. I can’t put into words how disheartened I am by this news.

      • Bob, And as you know, stocked rainbows can still retain a hell of a lot of energy. Witness them flying two feet from the water with a streamer in the lip! I, too, heard the sad, disturbing news about adelgid at the PA old-growth stands. I don’t know where it ends, but those big trees may be doomed, and the banks of our trout streams may be next. Today I fished the East Branch Genesee and crunched through fallen jungles of last year’s Japanese knotweed– rapidly replacing native growth along the home waters. What’s next?


  4. Dear Anonymous,
    Thank you! And I appreciate your comment.

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