Published April 25, 2006
What to do when fish torture you
All anglers have days where the fish are right there, are eating something but they treat your fly, lure or bait like it is radioactive.Those are the days when the fish torture us. Sometimes we figure it out, and sometimes we don't. I usually figure it out on the drive home.That's good, but I often forget what I learned before I set off on the next fishing trip. This is the value of the week-long road trip. You have time to puzzle out what those mysterious fish are doing --- and then you pepper them.I think reader Gary Montgomery is in that situation right now. The trout season opens on Saturday, and the fish are already torturing him. Here's his e-mail message:Hi Chester. I live on Long Lake. The brown trout over here are jumping straight up out of the water this month. Some of them look absolutely huge. I know some are carryovers and some are probably recent plants. Anyway, I have caught plenty of planted rainbows but how do I catch some of these big brownies? I have never had any luck. I understand that at one time Long Lake held the state record for brown trout. I believe it. Same goes for carp, which I have never caught, but seen often during the hot months.Well Gary, I haven't stood in you backyard -- hint, hint -- but I do know that those brown trout are feeding on something. I do love to fish for big brown trout -- they are nasty, picky fish. Anyway, some people think jumping trout are playing, but they usually pop out of the water when they're rocketing after something on or just below the surface.Trouble is, these big browns could be chasing small fish, caddis flies that are hatching into adults, mayflies or other bugs. So, I'd look for these clues:Are there a lot of little minnows noodling around? If so, the trout may be gulping them down. Brown trout love minnows. I'd cast a good streamer fly, such as a Zonker, Clouser Minnow or Chum Baby in the size and color of the little fish. If you're a spin angler, I'd throw a Rapala plug out there.Are some fish leaving rings on the water? And are they leaving a bubble in the ring? Do you see little bugs that look like sailboats? If all this is true, the fish are probably eating callibaetis mayflies. I'd get some Sparkle Dun dry flies that match the size and color of the bugs and just cast them out there and let a fish find them. You could also cast a Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear or Pheasant Tail nymph and strip them in slowly.Or, do you see rings and jumping fish -- but no bugs on the surface? This may be a caddis hatch. I'd tie on a Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear or a Sparkle pupa and bring it in with short, three-inch-long strips. Caddis hatches are wierd because adults are hatching out of the water, but the fish often key into the pupa that are swimming up from the bottom to hatch into adults at the surface. These pupa swim like crazy, and the fish often finally catch up to them at the surface. That's why you'll see splashes and fish popping out of the water into the air.One reason why I love fly fishing so much is that it allows you to match exactly what the fish are eating. It is very difficult to imitate insects with spinning gear. Some anglers use clear plastic bubbles and dry flies with good success.Then again, maybe those fish are doing something completely different. They're torturing us, and that's how it goes sometimes. We just keep trying new things until we figure out what they want.If there are browns about, you will eventually catch a whopper if you cast streamer flies or Rapala plugs at dawn or dusk. That's when the big minnow-eaters come out to wreak havoc.As for the carp, I'm pretty clueless. I know lots of fly anglers fish for carp these days, but they do it on shallow mud flats where you can see the fish and make a cast in its path. I've done a bit of this, and it is addictive.Luckily, you live right on the lake, so you can keep trying new things. You'll eventually figure all this out. Just don't try anything until Saturday morning!