Proper presentation and the art of imitation
The single most difficult aspect of fly fishing is figuring out what fish are feeding on and then trying to duplicate it. By replicating a fish’s food source, the fish gets fooled into thinking that your imitation is actually the natural and eats it. In this article, the focus will be on the “Big Three” families of aquatic insects – mayflies, caddis flies and stoneflies. I will explain their various life cycles, and the correct ways to present the imitations of these insects in the water. It’s one thing to have the correct fly tied to the end of your line. The way you present that fly, however, is what will be the determining factor in whether you actually hook a trout. The life cycle stages of the different insect families act certain ways, and we need to manipulate our imitations as closely to the natural actions in order to be productive. This is presentation. The one standard characteristic of all the stages of all the different insect families is the importance of a natural drag-free drift that moves at the same speed as the water. This can be achieved by many different mending techniques – either in the air during the cast, or by manipulating your fly line once the cast has been made.
Mayflies are aquatic insects that are available for us to fish with all year long and have a life cycle composed of five stages that any angler needs to be able to imitate. For simplicity, we will only focus on the nymph, emerger, and adult stages. Stage one is the nymph. Presentation of the nymphal imitations such as Pheasant Tails or Copper Bobs can be quartered upstream, allowed to sink, and then tumbled along the bottom with a drag-free drift. To become an adult, the natural nymph rolls and bounces along the river bed attempting to reach the surface of the water before getting eaten. Stage two is the emerger. The nymph swims to the surface on its way to becoming an adult. Presentation of the emergers, such as Barrs BWO emergers or PMD Loopwing emergers, can be upstream or across and slightly downstream. Emergers may be eaten in all levels of the water column. Add weight accordingly and remember to mend, trying to get that fly to float freely without any drag from the river.
Stage three is the adult. Mayflies during these stages will rest on the surface, fly away to mate, then return to the river to deposit eggs and die. Imitations like the GT Adult BWO, Lawson’s Green Drake or the Para Wulff PMD are presented up, across, or downstream with little to no movement and a drag-free drift. Adult mayflies try to move as little as possible, staying still in the hopes that a trout will not see them. Adult mayfly presentation must resemble this. The less movement, the better. Also be aware that when you mend your fly line, it may drag or disturb the fly. Make your cast so that the fly lands above or beyond the target. Then, execute your mend before it floats over the target area. Caddis flies are a family of aquatic insects that show themselves typically from the month of May, (Mother’s Day Hatch) into the fall. The caddis life cycle has three stages that can be imitated:
Stage one is the larva. The larval stage imitators – such as Z-Wing caddis or Electric caddis – can be presented sub-surface, weighted with a dead drift close to the bottom, or non-weighted and fished just under the surface in slower moving water with a slow retrieve. Stage two is the pupa. You can use imitators like Gut Instinct or Bread and Butter. The proper technique for these imitators is similar to the emerger stage of the mayfly. Non-weighted dead drifting with constant mending will be the most effective way to fish these patterns. Stage three is the adult caddis. Correct presentation of the adult, using imitators such as Elk Hair caddis or Etha Wing caddis, is a dead drift in faster-moving water. In slower water, use a mended drift with a twitching retrieve. Trout love to eat caddis and have been spotted leaping a few feet out of the water to eat these tasty morsels.
Stoneflies are the last family of aquatic insects that we will focus on. Stoneflies thrive on highly oxygenated water and are an abundant food source for trout, even during the winter months. The life cycle of the stonefly consists of only two stages – the nymph and the adult. The nymphal stage can last upward of three years before the hatch of the adult. Some species of the stonefly can grow up to three inches long and provide quite the meal for a hungry trout. Stonefly nymphs at emergence crawl to the shore and find a dry rock or piece of vegetation on which to molt and transform into adults. Presentation of the nymph imitators – such as 20 Inchers, Micro stones or Wired stones should be close to the bottom of the river, adjusting depth with assorted weight. Presentation of the adult – Sofa Pillows or Gorilla atones – should be cast towards the bank and also at structures like rocks, trees, cliffs, etc. Twitching the imitation and also dead drifting are both effective ways to fish the adult.The choices we make while on the river can greatly enhance our experience. Identification and proper presentation of the aquatic insect imitations is so important. Fly shops offer classes which I would highly recommend for anyone at any level. You can never have enough information. Get outside and take advantage of what the valley has to offer.
Participate in The Longevity Project
The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.
Editors note: The weekly fly-fishing column usually runs on Fridays. The column will run in its regular spot next week.