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Goulburn Valley Fly Fishing Centre

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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.

- Michael McBrien



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