Spring Journal: What the Trout Sees

What a human sees

What a human sees

For the previous week or more I’d been anxiously awaiting a good Hendrickson hatch, the mayfly whose appearance on Eastern streams and rivers has a tendency to produce good dry fly action on the surface of the water. Although the air temperature has been warm, and the water temperatures have been comfortable enough for trout, the sky has been bright throughout most of my waking hours, and the mayfly’s appearance has been minimal. Undaunted, however, by the lack of dry fly action, I sought the trout at a deeper level of the water column.

What a trout sees, maybe

What a trout sees, maybe

I’m not a dry fly purist and I’m not afraid to run a streamer through the deeper waters of a trout lair. Since I don’t presume to know exactly what a  trout can see (half the time I can’t be sure what it is that I am seeing, even when sober), I can only speculate on the nature of another creature’s vision. When the sky is blue and the water filled with sunshine, it’s a reasonable assumption that a trout, not blessed with an eye-lid that can block the light, would rather not search for insects hatching directly overhead. Although large brown trout tend to feed mostly after night-fall, that is not to say they’re always napping during daylight hours.

A juicy-looking bucktail or a streamer drifted enticingly through the depths might spur a strike, as long as the fish doesn’t need to leave its lair of safety for long. In other words, if the angler can present a lure convincingly within the safety zone, there’s a good chance for a strike when other signs for decent angling are about as scarce as honest politicians.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn several occasions during the previous week I kept an eye out for hatching caddis flies or mayflies like the Hendrickson or March Brown while also fishing deeper. If I didn’t see the surface action, I attached a heavier leader to the 5-weight line and then applied a weighted streamer, in particular the Muddler Minnow. The famous Muddler, first tied by Don Gapen, of Minnesota, in 1937, but popularized by Montana fisherman and tier, Dan Bailey, would be cast along the seams of heavy water, or worked along deep banks and log jams. An alternative might be to cast into the head of a pool where the fly could sink and then be stripped in slowly through the deepest sections of the stream. Doing this, I could hope that my sculpin imitation might pass a  fish at the level of its eyes.

We can state, with reasonable accuracy, that what a trout sees in the water is a far cry OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfrom what we ourselves might see under similar conditions. Instead of worrying about specific views, however, we might do well with considering generalities. When conditions don’t favor a specific strategy (like the one we had hoped to employ) we shouldn’t hesitate to try another approach that’s recommended by good sense and judgement.

When I approached a series of tressel pools at the mid-section of Dyke Creek in the Genesee River watershed, and found little hatch activity under the bright May Day sky, I switched my leaders and tied on a weighted Muddler. Within minutes of allowing the streamer to drift and twitch along the unfathomed pool, I was on to my heaviest brown trout of the season so far. The fish was a dogger, a tough one to net, despite its modest size.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy friend, Tim, was catching and releasing much larger browns on the Conhocton River with the help of streamers whose hook sizes still seem unbelieveable. Whereas the weeks of early spring each year have usually found me casting relatively small nymphs and wets and streamers, Tim’s success with super-flies had got me interested in larger patterns cast later into the season.

Soon the March Browns, a mayfly possibly more significant to the angler than the Hendrickson, would be hatching from Mid-Atlantic streams and have me focused on the surface area of the flow. I’d be looking for them in a day or so, although the forecast was, again, for warm days and clear blue skies. If I don’t see the hatches that I hope to find, no matter. To be out in the beautiful month of May will suffice. I’ll have several larger flies with me, too, of course– in case I have to tap some deeper water where the mysteries reside.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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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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4 Responses to Spring Journal: What the Trout Sees

  1. leigh says:

    Great post – working on a trip to NW PA. Maybe we can fish together.

    • Thanks Leigh, send itinerary and maybe we can share a stream or two.

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      • Bob Stanton says:

        Hey Walt, that is a nice lookin’ fish. And congrats, too, I see you’ve reached the fifty follower milestone. More folks getting some of that Rivertop Rambles goodness!

      • Bob, Thanks my friend. Yup the “Big 5-0” mark. I wish I could thank every one of them individually. It’s a real slow climb, especially without the help of FB or Twitter & the Ilk. Enjoy the Smokies this next week!

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