Last time I explored the subsurface world of aquatic insects and how to identify what insects are prevalent in any given river. This week I’m going to cover surface fishing, and identifying hatched insects. In my opinion there is nothing better than catching a trout on a dry fly. Nothing can compare with the thrill of seeing that splash and setting the hook. But knowing what dry fly is most likely to induce a rise is critical to your success.
The easiest thing you can do to pick a good dry fly is simply look at what’s flying around you. At any given moment there are likely to be several different types of insects flying around. You don’t need to be an entomologist or know the scientific names of every species but the ability to differentiate an adult midge from a caddis or a mayfly will be quite helpful. Once you know what’s flying around, you can try to find a fly in your box that matches. The same guides I set forth in my last post about subsurface flies will still apply here; size, shape, and color. Tying on something very similar to what you see flying around is a great place to start.
If you’re lucky enough to find yourself on a river or stream where fish are actively feeding at the surface, watch their rises. Fish rise differently based on the type of insect they’re feeding on. Knowing which rise correlates with which insect will help you narrow down your options and give you the best chance of successfully “matching the hatch” as fly anglers like to say.
There are essentially four different types of rises; the sip, the slurp, the splash, and the boil. Let’s start with the sip.
The sip is a very subtle rise. You’ll only see a very slight disturbance on the water’s surface and if you see any part of the trout it will only be the very tip of its noise. If you see this type of rise the trout are likely feeding on midges or spent mayfly spinners. Midges are tiny insects similar in appearance to mosquitoes. A mayfly spinner is the body of an adult mayfly that has recently laid its eggs and died. Any spinner pattern, a Griffith Gnat, or a Parachute Adams are good options if you spot a sip.
The slurp is a bit more pronounced than the sip. You will see more of the fish’s noise and mouth break the surface of the water than you will with a sip. If you see this rise the trout are likely feeding on hatching mayflies. There are a million different mayfly patterns, so if you see a slurp pay attention to what you see flying around and pick your mayfly imitation based on what you see in the air. An Adams or a BWO (Blue Winged Olive) are good options to try if you can’t see exactly what’s hatching
The splash is exciting to see. The trout are aggressively rising to the surface often jumping out of the water. The splash is so named because there will be a pronounced splash on the surface when the trout are feeding this way. You’ll see splashes when trout are feeding on moving targets. A caddis fly hatch is likely to induce this type of feeding. Again, there are dozens of caddis imitations so try to identify what’s flying around. If you can’t be sure what you’re seeing start with an Elk Hair Caddis, it’ll imitate most caddis flies quite well.
Finally, the boil. A boil will show up on the surface as ripples but the trout won’t actually break the surface with their body. The disturbance you see is actually caused by the fish’s tail or dorsal fin. This indicates that the fish are feeding on emerging insects just below the surface of the water. Again, there are a million emerger patterns but a good place to start is with a Barr Emerger.
So there you have it, the four types of rises and what they mean. Try to remember that your imitation doesn’t have to be perfect but the closer you can get to the actual insects the fish are eating the better luck you will have. This can be a lot to remember for the beginner and if that’s the case for you I recommend this handy pocket guide. It not only illustrates these rises and what they mean but also shows you helpful knots to know as well as other hints to guide you as you start out. Now get out there and catch some fish! Until next time, happy fishing!
– A. Egli