Fly Fishing – The Feeding Behaviour of Trout

Fly fishing, in all it’s variations and sub-areas (casting, fly tying, etc), centres around a single goal – To successfully tempt a fish (Most commonly a trout) to take an artificial fly as a food item. Sighting, hooking, playing and landing the fish are also important parts of the successful fishing experience, not to mention being able to get the fly to the fish in the first place, by the unique casting methods utilized solely in fly fishing.

However, along with all that work, and the practice of the skills involved in bringing it all together at that crucial moment, comes that pivotal element of convincing the fish that what they are considering is indeed food-like in nature. Without this key element, we can forget the rest, and this is the one step of the exercise which is dependant upon the decision of the fish, rather than ourselves.

In this, fly fishermen spend untold amounts of time researching, studying, and imitating countless insect types in aid of presenting a believable decoy to their quarry. We tie our flies, the fish takes it, our efforts paid off, right?

But is everything as it seems? Did we deceive the fish for exactly the reasons we thought?

Although there are many factors involved in getting that fly to a timid fish, and fly fishing itself was obviously designed around overcoming all of those obstacles, considering it’s significance, understanding the ‘Feeding behaviour’ of the trout has probably taken somewhat of a back seat, compared to some of the other areas or skills of fly fishing, we fishermen often seem to focus our efforts on.

The feeding behaviour of trout is the sum of two main factors:

Firstly, through the fry and fingerling stages of development, the identification of specific ‘Food Recognition Keys’ are ingrained resulting from the repetitive feeding pattern of their natural survival instincts.

Secondly, as they get larger, they can manage larger diet articles. Supplementary behaviour is then learned out of a reactive response to the local fauna they find in the area where they are hatched or released. Local knowledge is naturally beneficial here and this is normally what we focus on when fly fishing.

The behavioural patterns of trout vary significantly between the species, the size and the circumstances in which they are found. Trout habits also change through different times of the day, and again depending on weather conditions. Feeding habits and behaviours also change between faster and slower waters, and so on.

As in most types of fishing, there is not just one single or simple answer. If there was, it would have been made common knowledge, a long time ago. What this does tell us, is that to increase our odds of convincing the trout of the validity of our fly, it’s going to be far more beneficial to concentrate on presenting specific ‘Recognition keys’, which remain consistent, rather than the far more subjective; ‘Circumstance-specific learned behaviour’ which will often vary greatly from fish to fish, and particularly from place to place.

There are many pieces to this puzzle. The more pieces you can find, understand and put together, the more it multiplies your fly fishing results. What this methodology does do for us especially, is simplify and sharpen our learning curve by quite an incredible degree.

Therefore, instead of studying dozens, even hundreds or more, of insects and the flies designed to imitate them, I’ve found that in nearly all circumstances, you need only a few fly patterns, each designed to do a specific job in the varying circumstances found on the stretch of water you’re fishing.

Trout Flies then induce fish ‘Takes’ by the use of food ‘Recognition Keys,’ rather than by intended imitation. For this method then, local knowledge becomes relatively irrelevant.

This means flies do not need to imitate anything to catch trout. What!?! Say that again.- Flies do not need to imitate anything to catch trout. Certainly nothing specific anyway.

Flies can then be tied to counter stream or water conditions, or to counter, and or take advantage of, various aspects of trout behaviour. This, then (Not being restricted by specific imitation), opens up possibilities for us to incorporate the use of innovative strategies, tactics and trout fly construction, to give ourselves a far greater edge than previously thought possible.

The more time we have spent fishing with incorrect or insufficient knowledge, the more time you have spent developing the mindset that the trout is a vastly superior, cunning and unpredictable adversary, and results like mine become seemingly unattainable, and without such knowledge becoming available, the practical reality remains precisely that.

Normally it takes years of studying these fish, trial and error with different fly patterns, different fishing techniques, different innovative designs and methods with the right focus to get to a place where you understand these creatures adequately for the outstanding results we normally only see the Pro’s achieving.

Fortunately, with the right focus, we can now be achieving much greater success in much shorter time frames by understanding and taking advantage of these ‘Recognition keys’, combined with other behavioural patterns of the trout species we are targeting and just some basic skills of fly fishing.

Wayne Smith, author of the acclaimed ‘Fly Fishing For Trout – A Quiet Revolution’ which can be found here:
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