Fly Fishing Tips

The Natural Food Chain

The experienced fly fisher recognizes productive fishing water by the food chain he or she observes. Waters lacking a good food chain will provide poor fishing or no fishing.

Knowing fish food sources, imitating them with flies and fishing them to fool and catch fish are the signs of a good fly fisher. A basic knowledge of streams, lakes, marshes, estuaries, oceans and the fish foods they hold is important.

Unpolluted freshwater streams and lakes usually produce abundant fish foods. The major fish foods are aquatic insects, smaller fish, crustaceans, terrestrial insects and other invertebrates and aquatic plants.

Aquatic Insects

Aquatic insects live a major part of their life cycles underwater. These insects provide fish with a year-round opportunity to feed on the immature nymph forms and the adults. Because of their abundance and vulnerability, they are often favored by fish such as trout, bass or panfish, and are important for the freshwater fly fisher to imitate.

Table of Plenty The most abundant aquatic insects are mayflies, caddis flies, stone flies, midges, damselflies and dragonflies. By far the largest number of standard fly designs are imitations of these and other aquatic insects.

Life CyclesThe life cycle for these insects includes an aquatic nymph stage, in which they emerge on the water's surface and hatch into a winged adult insect. (The lucky fly fisher who happens upon one of these hatches will usually find the fish "rising" vigorously to feed.) The adult insects, which live only a few hours or days, then mate and lay their eggs on the water before dying.

Fly Fishing Is Born It was the desire to imitate these aquatic insects that initially inspired the sport of fly fishing. Today, matching and fishing aquatic insects is still the most thrilling method of fly fishing for trout, grayling, char, bass and panfish.

Terrestrial Insects

Terrestrial insects those that are born and spend their immature and mature stages on land are a second major insect food source for many freshwater fish. This is especially so in warmer latitudes and, through the summer months, in colder parts of North America.

Floaters and Sinkers Fish feed on terrestrial insects that accidentally fall on the water during flight, during mating swarms or from overhanging plants. Some sink slowly, but most will float low in the water's surface film to be taken by hungry fish. It's for this reason that most terrestrial fly imitations are floating designs.

Gifts from Earth The important terrestrial insects to imitate are ants, beetles, grasshoppers, leafhoppers, crickets, caterpillars (worms), wasps, moths, bees and spiders. Terrestrial insects usually become more abundant and larger when aquatic insects decline in numbers and slow down in activity.

Fly Fishing Is Born It was the desire to imitate these aquatic insects that initially inspired the sport of fly fishing. Today, matching and fishing aquatic insects is still the most thrilling method of fly fishing for trout, grayling, char, bass and panfish.

Crustaceans

This is an important large group of natural aquatic fish food that is similar to both aquatic insects and fish in movements, shapes and habits. The most important crustaceans for the freshwater fly fisher to imitate are scuds (freshwater shrimp), sow bugs and crayfish. All three of these crawl along the bottom structures of lakes and streams. Saltwater crustaceans important to imitate are crabs, shrimp, scuds and crayfish.

Activity and Abundance Crustaceans are most active and most abundant during the milder seasons. They are imitated by nymphs, wet flies and modified streamer designs.

* From the L.L.Bean® Fly-Fishing Handbook, written and illustrated by Dave Whitlock.

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