Winter is dragging… Ice forces you to new waters. Instead of blindly grabbing your favorite nymph from your box and fishing an entire reach without as much as a look, you are actually lifting rocks, digging through mud and vege, and collecting insects you eagerly hope to identify.The day is young, steam rises as the sun creeps over the ridge into the canyon. Fishy noses are likely going to be non-existent, but you assume they are eating something subsurface. You pull another freezing, slippery rock from the streambed crawling with tiny buglets you don’t recognize… Not a big deal. Really.
I remember those days.
Since those moments of uncertainty and psychosis, I have concluded that fundamental and basic principles that can be simplified are key to understanding aquatic ecology and ultimately lead to more fish in the net. Not that I don’t want to teach everything I know, but rather, I have prioritized some tips and entomology basics that will help you make leaps and bounds in a buggy-bug world as opposed to tiny, baby steps. The first step of entomology and ultimately catching more fish is determining GENERALLY what type of bugs are in the drift … Get it? The drift?
Here’s a few generalizations that are fundamental to understanding why drift is so important.
- Fish in a stream aren’t constantly moving around, actively searching for food items (in a general sense). They let the food DRIFT to them. As fish feed on items that they see often, they begin to key on those items making it harder to catch them on less recognizable entrées. Like when you throw a seemingly giant, delicious stonefly when fish are eating midges. You are like, “come one Eugene! Just eat it!” It’s exactly like you eating burgers everyday then some dude throws you a pile of Blanquette de veau, and you are like, “what the heck is that?” So…..
- Ask yourself, what are the most abundant items in this stream? Depends on the stream, but there are usually some assumptions that can be made. Making a general synopsis of relative abundance of the bugs in a particular stream can make fly selection much easier. Think simple and you will be rewarded. Even if you don’t know the genus and species of an abundant bug in the river, look at it generally. Most of the bugs are light? Go light. Most of the bugs are BIG and DARK? Go big and dark. You have all heard the saying, “Size, then profile, then color.” = FACT
For you experts out there, here’s a couple more random, bonus, interesting, and yes, applicable facts and tips:
- Many mayfly nymphs (baetis especially) drift behaviorally (that is, they let go of their rocks on purpose to distribute, find food, space, etc). They do so more often just before dark, and throughout the night to avoid predation by trout. Mayflies can detect/smell if fish are present in a stream. If the stream is fishless, mayflies will drift more during the day. No kidding…
- Use a stomach pump!. (See Brian Chan’s video posted in comments for last entomology post HERE). I will forever continue to stress the usefulness of this. Just Friday, I was on a local river curious about what the fish were eating. I pumped the first fish I caught which produced a handful of 30+ sowbugs. Game over………. 35+ fish in a few hours. (Remember the rollie pollies, potatoe bugs, and pill bugs as a kid? Here’s the aquatic version). NOTE* These are NOT scuds!