Selective Feeding Trout
Selective feeding is one
of those terms that you will often hear crop up in the
conversations of anglers. It's also a topic that has
generated untold pages of magazine articles and scholarly
chapters in libraries of fishing literature. Put simply
it's used to describe those occasions when trout exclusively
feed on a particular insect or bug to the exclusion
of all others on the water.
It's a concept deeply entrenched
in the mystique of fly fishing and the stuff that great
angling tales are made of. You know the one; the angler
hero finally succeeds after great trials and tribulations
when confronted with a wily selectively feeding trout.
I'm not saying that trout never selectively feed, it
does happen and its interesting and challenging fishing
when it does, but I'd maintain that it's the exception
rather than the rule. Lets face it, trout are simple
creatures and most of the time they will happily grab
anything that looks edible that comes their way. It's
also true that anglers are complex creatures that are
infinitely creative when it comes to justifying why
they weren't able to outwit a creature with a brain
not much larger than a kidney bean.
From time to time, if a
sufficient quantity of a particular insect is in or
on the water trout will 'focus' on that food source
to maximise their harvest efficiency.
You can see this occasionally
during an evening rise, large juicy looking duns sail
by unmolested whilst the fish actively feed on their
smaller brethren. If you get down and look carefully
at the water you can see why this occurs, the smaller
duns outnumber the larger ones by several orders of
magnitude and the fish focus on this more plentiful
resource. The blue winged olive hatches of autumn, the
morning midge hatches and the termite swarms on the
Goulburn are examples that spring to mind, but these
are hardly the norm. The thing to keep in mind is though
'selective' feeding does happen it is the exception
rather than the rule and that during a typical 'rise'
fish will feed on whatever drifts down their 'line'.
Now when a fish is actively
feeding up on the surface during a 'rise' that 'line'
can be very narrow and if you don't get a good drag
free drift down that line at the right time the lack
of response from the fish is due to 'presentation' rather
than selective feeding. This is particularly true of
fish feeding on the edges of those boiling, rolling,
chaotic current seams. Fish on these seams can move
about laterally quite a considerable distance as they
ride the currents and a drag free drift can be hard
to achieve in the complex of boils and eddies that make
up these seams. On smoothly gliding water the feeding
rhythm of the fish can be critical, if your fly is drifting
through as the fish is heading back to its position
after taking a natural the chances are it wont be seen.
Watch the feeding patterns of the fish carefully and
time your drift.
My point is don't automatically
leap to the conclusion that the fish are selectively
feeding and start changing flies to find that magic
pattern, good presentation of a bad fly is better than
poor presentation of a good one. Fish are simple creatures
and fishing for them is essentially a simple exercise.
Apply the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle when
you're on the water and save the philosophic ruminations
for later. Often on an evening rise when I know I'll
be fishing right up till dark my last fly change is
up to a larger fly.
For example if the fish
are feeding on a small mayfly, say size 18-16's I'll
tie on a size 14, this change up is purely to help me
see the fly in the failing light so that I can achieve
a better presentation, the fish have no trouble seeing
the small duns. I resist the urge to change flies and
concentrate on getting a good drag free presentation.
Does it work every time? Of course not, but it works
often enough for me to have confidence in this strategy
and persist with it. I'm sure that a large part of its
effectiveness is due to the fact that I spend more time
with a fly on the water rather than hunting for the
ideal pattern and changing flies.
Now before people start
getting their crippled emerges in a twist, I'm not saying
that there is no point in trying to 'match the hatch'.
Fishing a hopper pattern in the middle of a mayfly hatch
is perhaps taking optimism beyond all reasonable limits,
by all means give it a go if that's your inclination
but its not what I'm advocating here.
Consider the lakes of the
Tasmanian central highlands when those huge dun hatches
are on; one insect dominates the available food resource
available. Are these fish selectively feeding? Take
a look at the range of successful fly patterns being
used everything from cunningly wrought para duns, red
tags, woolly buggers and almost anything else you can
think of in between.
Yeah sure, selective feeding
does happen, and it's an interesting and challenging
aspect of fly-fishing but lets keep a bit of perspective
its fishing we're doing not neurosurgery.