Once you get to the river it’s not always apparent what the fish are eating. Sometimes it takes a bit of sleuthing. You can always ask your friendly local fly shop employee – that’s a given, but if you don’t have a local fly shop or you are just plain anti-social there are other ways of figuring out what lies beneath…or above…or in the grass.
Look Up, Look Down, Look Around
More often than not, the answer is right in front of you! Take a moment to look around before you storm into the water in search of that monster trout you’ve been waiting for. Check the willows, the grass and at the water’s edge. There may be a good hint waiting for you before you even set foot in the water. Hoppers, stoneflies, salmon flies and mayflies could be the most obvious but it’s the smaller bugs that may cause you to look a little harder. Have a seat, drink a beer and ponder life while looking for small winged creatures in the air and on the water.
Like a Rolling Stone…
Time to roll up your sleeves… or not, and start flipping rocks. No need to get all herculean, softball sized rocks are perfect to check for aquatic life. This is by far the best way to determine what bugs are swimming under the surface if fish aren’t readily taking flies off the top. This is where you are looking for larva, aquatic worms and cress bugs that make good fish food. Don’t get too crazy about exactly matching flies to bugs – good generalist patterns such as pheasant tails, hairs-ears, walt’s worms and midges could be your best bet.
Seen in the Seine
Seine nets are an often overlooked tool but can be rather useful to find out what bugs are in the water column. A seine is basically a small, fine net for the purpose of catching critters below the water’s surface. Just scoop and look, it’s that easy. Some of the larger seine nets used for aquatic research require gently disturbing the creek or river bed to kick up the critters from their hiding place and into the net downstream. Getting the little buggers in your hand will be super helpful in determining what size, color and pattern you should try.
Big River Collective is a tag-team duo, Ryan Michelle Scavo (@RyOutside) and Sam Scavo (@S_Scavo). They are content creators – photographers, writers, & more. – and lovers of Postfly & The Wade blog. They do a lot of playing outside including chasing trout and rambling around southern Colorado looking for the next adventure with their two kiddos and cattle dogs.