Peninsula Fly Fishers

A Trout Fisher's Strategy
In Only Eight Words

by  Dennis Kellet

boy fishing from rock in river

February 2003

Prepare. Observe. Fish systematically. Be attuned to changes.

Some Tactics

Learn which bugs will be active, or are about to be.

  • Consult hatch charts.
  • Consult entomology books and web pages.
  • Inquire at local fly shops.

Know how those bugs look and behave. Study basic bug morphology as a key to general behavior.

Have a method to figure out what the trout are eating. helpful gear

  • Check water-side vegetation for adults.
  • Check water surface and air for adults.
  • Seine the water.
  • Pump fish stomachs.
  • Consult hatch charts.
  • Inquire at fly shops.
  • Politely question others on the water.

Using your best guess / advice:

  • Start fishing a dry. infertile water
  • Go to an emerger.
  • Go to a mature nymph.
  • Fish the nymph from top to bottom, one layer at a time.
  • (Or reverse the tactic: start from bottom.)
  • If you are fishing with others, all should fish different flies until the fish declare their preference.

If that doesn't work:

  • Change fly size, especially if you get refusals.
  • Maybe change color if you changed size and are still getting refusals.
  • Imitate another species, i.e. stonefly, caddis fly, mayfly, diptera, leech, crawfish, baitfish, etc.
  • If you can see fish feeding, watch their activity; it gives strong clues to what they are eating.
    • Are they staying well below the surface?
    • If rising, what is their riseform?

Have a strategy to figure out where the fish are.

  • Look for places that provide protection from predators, shelter from current, and nearness to food streaming by in the current. The better each of these qualities are, the more likely that the place will hold a good fish.
  • Look for signs that fish are feedingundefined surface disturbances, flashes underwater, the pale wink of a mouth opening.
  • Watch for movement and shadows (sometimes easier to spot than the fish itself).

Stay tuned in to the fish and bug behavior.

  • Hatches move through stages. You must change fly and presentation to match.
  • Fish constantly calculate an equation that factors risk, energy expended, and food intakeundefinedin other words, they move to where they'll best thrive in everchanging conditions.
  • Weather changes affect bug and fish behavior. (A slight breeze may ripple the surface enough for fish to feel safe from flying predators; that could be just the thing to make a dry fly successful. An overcast day with intermittent light drizzle could cycle a baetis hatch on and off. )

Recommended reading

  • Fly Fishing Simple To Sophisticated  by Al Kyte, Leisure Press
  • Anatomy of a Trout Stream  by Rick Hafele, video (in club library)
  • The Orvis Guide To Reading Trout Streams  by Tom Rosenbauer
  • Reading The Water  by Dave Hughes


The strategy detailed in this article was conceived for a fly fisher wading in running water. Some tactics might be different for fishing from a drift boat, or float-tubing a lake, or salt-water fishing, etc., but the four tenets should prove universal.

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