Student Paper on Dry Fly Fishing For Trout 5-7-17

One concern we often hear in the coldwater conservation community is that compared to previous generations, less kids are interested in fishing today.  Many conservationists fished when they were kids and grew up into conservationists later.  So the concern is that because there are less kids fishing today that there might less adults who practice conservation in the future.


Tom Kosar, son of RVTU member John Kosar, recently wrote a research paper on dry fly fishing for school.  We are happy to see papers like this being written because it shows youth interest in fishing.  This keeps hope going that enough youth fisherman are present today to grow into the next generation of conservationists.





Dry-Fly Fishing with a Detailed Analysis of Trout and Their Feeding Behaviors

    The familiar tightening of neoprene against my skin signifies a time of relaxation. As I step into the steady flow of water, I peel line off my reel and give a gentle flick upstream. As I settle in, I begin to become in tune with the world around me. In the stream, you lose your sense of time, place and thought, and become consumed with the pursuit. It is in this moment that you must be your very best because the foe is smarter and more experienced. In a seemingly lifeless stretch of water, comes a burst of life. With a sudden splash, the game of fly fishing changes. A trout is vulnerable to a fisherman because he eats. This act indicates to the fly fisherman that the fish may be rising to dry-flies, the hatched form of aquatic insects that live beneath the surface. Fly fishing is a pursuit, a pursuit to learn more about the world of the trout, and to understand more about the world beneath the surface. We cannot ever truly understand the nature of the trout, but we can understand the physical parameters which may influence a trout, and the impacts these have on fishing success. 


    In the water, the trout is subject to constant stress. Unlike humans, trout must continuously feed in order to survive. They do not eat bulk meals three times a day, but pick a small morsel every few seconds from a constantly moving dinner table. The trout rushes through the dining room, inspecting each piece of food it eats, spitting out some and eating others. In order to survive, the trout must be smart about what it chooses to eat and what it chooses to let pass by. It is in this way, that the fisherman must condense a vast amount of knowledge and skill to outsmart a trout with years of experience in selecting the proper meal. Through this, the fly fisherman must not only become an expert in trout knowledge, but also in insect activity. By studying insect activity, one can learn at what times of year, month and day trout feed on various types of insects. This knowledge allows for proper fly selection on the water, and will ultimately lead to more success. 


    While fly fishing can be successful year-round, the short period of time between March and June is the dry-fly fishing season, when bug activity is at peak. The reason behind this, is due to the fact that the insects can only hatch at particular stream conditions. The conditions are infinite, but the most important are water flow and temperature. Most insects can only hatch on streams where the temperature is between fifty-eight and seventy degrees Fahrenheit. In addition to this, the stream flow must be a moderate speed, which can vary depending on size of the stream. The spring provides excellent stream flow and temperature, thus producing the best insect hatches. Without any knowledge of insect activity, the trout fisherman has to essentially search for the needle in the haystack of possible fly choices. However, through experience and research the fly fisherman can better his odds by developing an understanding of insect activity in the aquatic environment. This understanding becomes the first step to developing a clear picture of the mysterious world beneath the surface. 


    The trout does not see as we do. He cannot simply look around and observe everything in his surroundings. Instead, a cone of vision is produced upward from the trout’s eyes, that can be increased or decreased with depth. The question raised from this observation is, “How do fish observe and feed from sources below the surface if all of their vision is projected upward?” The fish does not see the bottom directly, but rather a blurred picture that is directed from the surface. The surface and surroundings from the subsurface perspective act as a mirror which the trout can look through to observe its surrounding and potential food sources. This characteristic is arguably one of the most important pieces to understanding the behavior of trout, and what can increase fishing success. In addition, the elements of refraction and double imaging also impact what a trout sees and does not see. 


    Refraction is seen in all situations in which an observer looks into or out of a body of water. The classic example of refraction shows a pencil in a glass of water, but the pencil appears to be split at a specific point. This same concept applies to a fish observing a man on the bank. If the angle of refraction is increased, the fish is more easily able to recognize the man, but if the angle is altered to be almost nearly identical to the positon of the fish, the man is hidden. This concept is pivotal in understanding how fish see, what they see and what they do not see. A deep understanding of refraction and its effects on fish, will allow the dry-fly fisherman to be more successful. 


    Double imaging is the phenomena that occurs in mirrors when the actual object is depicted as an inverse of itself. In the underwater ecosystem, the trout observes a double image of a fly just beneath the surface as the real object and its inverse caused by the mirror effect. How then is the trout able to detect the correct fly? By placing the fly on the outside edge of its frame of reference, the mirror effect is reduced in the moving environment of the stream, and instead of seeing two flies the trout only observes one. At the center of its reference frame, the forces of refraction and mirroring are nonexistent. So why then does the trout not place the fly at this point? The answer is fairly self-explanatory. Just as a hunter follows a moving target and “leads” it to a common meeting point, the trout must do the same. The constant motion of the steam forces the trout to lead his target in order to intercept it correctly. Trout will often follow their target over a vast distance before actually intercepting it. However, when observed from an outside perspective, the trout will always keep this fly the same fixed distance from itself, and on the outside of its field of vision. This concept is important to success in fly fishing because you will never catch a fish by placing the fly directly on top of him, but rather he must be led over a great distance in order to allow the fish to follow the fly. 


    The relationship between fisherman and trout is an interesting one. On streams where fisherman visit frequently, the trout may be more adjusted to the presence of man, and would continue feeding undisturbed, but on streams where fish live almost undisturbed the trout are more susceptible to being spooked. It is this relationship that makes trout fishing, more specifically dry-fly fishing so difficult. If a fly does not exactly replicate the natural insect, the line creates drag across the surface or if the angler places a cast too close to the fish, the trout can be spooked and the hopes of catching a fish lost. “Not only must the angler’s presence be concealed from the fish, those referred to above being alone expected, but his purpose must likewise always and everywhere be unsuspected.” These trout who live in virtually undisturbed wilderness are referred to as wild trout. The pursuit of wild trout is the ultimate test of a fly fisherman’s skills and knowledge. In order to be successful, he must make use of various and vast amounts of knowledge. Ranging from knowledge of insect activity to casting techniques and trout stalking. The ability to approach a feeding trout is one that a fly fisherman must master in order to be successful. 


    In approaching trout, a long believed and proved theory was that the trout is blind to its back. This is true, but only to a certain extent. A trout cannot see directly behind itself within an angle of approximately sixty degrees. This “zone of invisibility” is the ideal position an angler attempts to approach from, in order to create the best odds of not being seen by a feeding trout. However, at times it appears that even when approaching from the rear, the angler still manages to spook a fish out from its feeding position. This phenomenon cannot be explained solely by direct vision of the fish. Instead, a variety of factors such as sound and other disturbances made by the fisherman can lead to spooking a fish, despite being hidden within the “zone of invisibility.” By understanding how to approach a trout, the fly fisherman can now begin to understand how to cast to the “ring of the rise.” 


    As in most other aspects of fly fishing, careful observation is important. The rise, identified by rings at the surface and a splash of varying sound, is often hard to locate. An active fisherman may hear a splash at the surface or see a ring appear, but even these clues do not confirm the source to be a feeding trout. Instead, the source could be water flowing over a submerged rock, or an acorn falling from an overhanging oak tree. Nevertheless, if a rise is identified to be a fish, impatience often kills a fisherman’s efforts. When on the stream and a rise is observed, most fly fisherman frantically tie on a fly they believe to be an adequate representation and begin casting. This strategy almost always leads to not catching fish. In understanding trout feeding, it is important to also understand that fish may drift long ways, sometimes drifting upwards of thirty yards, observing and inspecting a potential food source. Therefore, the best way to catch more fish is to be patient and observant. The process should be as follows: locate a feeding fish, retreat to a positon-on the bank or any other concealed area (where the fish can be observed without you yourself being detected), watch carefully as to where the fish first approaches a fly (this is its observation post), after carefully observing the observation post make a cast above this position. Often times, a fish cannot be directly observed due to unclear water conditions or other environmental factors, and this is when an understanding of riseforms becomes important. 


    A riseform is the process a fish takes to observe and select a fly from the surface. The four main riseforms are, the simple rise, the compound rise, the complex rise and the sipping rise. The simple rise occurs when a fish is certain of the food source, usually during a major hatch. In this rise, the trout begins an upward and downstream drift, until intercepting the fly, where it will either take or refuse the fly. Following this, the trout will return to its observation post. The compound rise is, more or less, a continuation of the simple rise with a lengthened inspection process, and usually occurs when a fish is unsure of the true identity of a food source. It is important to note that the trout will stay with the fly during the entire process of inspection, and does not allow it to pass him. The complex rise occurs when a fish is extremely doubtful that the object observed is a food source. Unlike following the fly just as in the compound rise, he instead allows the fly to pass over him, but continues following and now facing downstream, but still doubtful the trout follows If at a point, he decides to take the believed food source he will advance downstream to catch up to the now drifting away fly. It is important to note that once deciding to chase after a fly behind him, the trout will never refuse this fly. The sipping rise is one of the most commonly imposed riseforms by trout. In the sipping rise, a trout will rise in a similar manner to the simple rise, but instead of breaking the water’s surface the trout will halt, only a fraction of an inch from the fly, and inhale it into its mouth. The sipping rise is the hardest rise to detect because it is virtually soundless, producing very subtle rings. An important characteristic to understanding trout riseforms also lies in the swivel. The swivel is the act in which a trout realigns himself with the current after making a downstream or cross-stream rise. It involves a subtle turn of the fish’s tail, sometimes producing a flash, but repositioning the fish to face upstream. This point is important because a rise alone is often misleading in that it does not adequately represent the positon of the trout. By understanding riseforms and the characteristics associated with them, a fly fisherman can understand where and how to place casts.  


    One of the most daunting tasks that a new fly fisherman faces is learning where to locate fish. Walking up to the stream for the first time, it can seem like an endless stretch of water that could hold fish anywhere. In many ways this is still true, but with experience the angler will learn which regions hold more fish than others. Any area of slow backwater, foamy still water, deep pools or the slower portions on either side and just after the main swift portion are prime areas to catch fish. If fishing the foamy section, the angler should lightly place a dry fly on top of the foam, allowing it to sit there until it gets swept into the current. Similarly, if placing a fly into the slow water, the cast must be placed well above the intended target area, allowing it to drift down well past the same area. These two points are important to allowing the fish to spot and follow a fly. 


    The fight to reduce and eliminate drag is a constant struggle for all fly fisherman. Drag is the term that refers to the source of unnatural movement of a fly when attached to a fly line and leader. A leader is the clear monofilament section attached to the head of a fly line aimed at allowing the fisherman to place a more natural looking fly in front of a fish. Drag can cause a fly to move unnaturally fast downstream, or to hang motionless in a fast-moving stretch of water, and much more. All of these different motions are resultant of the leader traveling at a different rate or direction than the fly. The simple fact is that drag is unavoidable. Small amounts of movement and thus drag will always be present, no matter the circumstance. The study of drag and how it impacts the fly fisherman’s experience and success is largely a study of presentation, or the manner in which a fly is drifted across the surface to be placed before a trout. The study of presentation involves numerous casting techniques, all aimed at reducing the effects of drag. However, ultimately drag will take over, sending the fisherman back to start a new cast. The key in casting effectively is to place a cast over the target region of a rising fish with enough distance before it that it does not spook the fish, but also allowing it to drift, relatively drag free, over the fish and several feet beyond. The creation of a drag free drift is one of the most challenging aspects of fly fishing, but is essential for success. 


    Fly fishing is more than a pastime or a hobby, it is a constant learning process. The fly fisherman who has been fishing since he was eighteen, and seems to know everything about the sport, is still not an expert. The simple reason for this is that it is impossible. The fly fisherman can never know everything about fly fishing. From casting techniques, stalking, fly choice, fly identification, water reading, and so much more, no one can possibly say that they know all there is to know about fly fishing. Although presenting an immense amount of knowledge about trout activity and behavior, we have only merely scratched the surface into these fields. The truth is that no one will ever know all that there is to know about trout fishing. We are handicapped in that we are unable to view the trout in its natural habitat without disrupting him. We must instead rely on observation from above the surface to identify facts about the trout. In this observation, we are extremely limited. This mysterious realm of the trout is what attracts many to the sport. Some come for adventure or fun, but what they all learn is that fly fishing is truly an addiction. Anglers set out day after day in an effort to claim their latest fix of the pursuit. We are shadow hunters, observing the slightest changes in the water in hopes of maybe identifying a fish. Still that doubt persists. It is important to understand that by entering the stream, the fly fisherman does not hold the advantage and never will. The trout is an experienced and cautious predator, and to trick him into taking an imitated food source is an extremely difficult task for even the most experienced fisherman. The trout is vulnerable to us because he eats. It is this fact that allows the sport of fly fishing to exist and thrive. Throughout my life, I am constantly called to the stream to again make attempts at pursing a strategic foe. It is this characteristic that separates fisherman from others. While the ordinary may give up, the angler is persistent in his efforts, and thus he has not only learned how to be a successful fisherman, but how to be a successful person. As I step into the water again and the familiar tightening of neoprene to skin sinks in, I fall into a state of relaxation. It is in this moment that I am able to focus most and that I am able to forget about all the problems of the world. Time will go on, but fly fishing is forever.