Beginner Guide

What Trout Eat – Fly Fisherman

Trout eat a number of aquatic bugs, terrestrial bugs, different fish, crustaceans, leeches, worms, and different meals. The meals gadgets which can be most necessary to trout and fly fishers are the aquatic bugs that spend most of their life cycles underwater in rivers, streams, and nonetheless waters. They develop to maturity underwater and remodel to flying, air-breathing adults that mate within the air above our favourite waters. 

The Japanese Inexperienced Drake hatch is among the most necessary mayfly occasions of the yr. The duns land on streamside vegetation, and the spinners—generally referred to as Coffin Flies—emerge and depart behind empty husks. Picture: Cathy & Barrt Beck

This motion from the water to the air exposes the bugs to predators similar to trout and birds, and sometimes causes a feeding frenzy. This occasion known as a “hatch” and is the state of affairs all fly fishers seek for.

Throughout a hatch, when bugs emerge en masse, trout turn into so centered on this one meals merchandise that they’ll usually eat nothing else. That is referred to as selective feeding.

“Matching the hatch—one other widespread time period you may hear in fly-fishing circles—is the artwork of selecting the best fly and presenting it within the appropriate method to idiot selectively feeding trout. To do that you should be capable to establish the insect, be acquainted with its conduct, measurement, form, and to a sure extent colour, so it is necessary to have a working information of crucial kinds of bugs: mayflies (Ephemeroptera), caddisflies (Trichoptera), midges (Diptera), and stoneflies (Plecoptera).

Don’t fret, you needn’t know the Latin names of every kind of insect, however it might assist in a while if you study to discern one kind of mayfly from one other and need to precisely describe the insect to fellow fly fishers. An excellent textual content on identification is Hatches II by Al Caucci and Bob Nastasi. A extra up-to-date information is, which might be higher named as as a result of the location is sort of fully dedicated to present freshwater insect identification and data.

Throughout your journey towards being an skilled fly fisher, you must make a behavior of choosing up rocks from the riverbed and inspecting close by bushes to establish the necessary bugs in that stream. Some fly fishers finally evolve into beginner entomologists and take and maintain samples of the bugs they discover with the concept of tying flies that extra precisely imitate them.


When fly fishers consider a hatch, they often consider a mayfly hatch as a result of mayflies create probably the most elegant fishing conditions, are necessary meals in all trout waters, and have been studied and written about by fly fishers for a whole lot of years.

For fly-fishing functions, the mayfly life cycle will be divided into 4 distinct life phases: nymphs, rising adults, duns, and spinners. Understanding how trout react to those phases helps you catch extra fish.

Mayflies start life as an egg, and hatch into an aquatic stage referred to as a nymph. Nymphs often dwell a couple of yr however might final two years or extra, or just some months, relying on the species. Some mayfly species have two broods per yr, making them necessary within the spring and once more within the fall when the following technology matures.

Mayfly nymphs vary in measurement from 4 mm to 40 mm and most frequently have three tails (generally two).

Mayfly nymphs are an necessary meals supply for subsurface feeding trout. Picture: Paul Weamer

Some mayfly nymphs are burrowers, others have tailored to cling to rocks in quick water, so every nymph species has a unique physique form and design. Most are darkish on high (mottled brown, tan, or darkish olive) with a lighter-colored underside.

There are refined fly patterns designed to precisely imitate particular mayfly nymph species on particular waters, however in most cases, general-purpose patterns similar to Hare’s-ear Nymphs, Copper Johns, or Pheasant-tail nymphs in sizes 8 by way of 18 are honest imitations of almost all necessary mayfly nymphs.

When a mayfly nymph rises towards the floor and splits its shuck, the insect that emerges known as a dun (technically a subimago or pre-adult). They’ve two giant, upright wings, two or three tails, and most have two very small hind wings. The wings are opaque, and their our bodies are sometimes drab-colored.

Duns are the mayflies that journey the water’s floor in an upright place whereas their wings dry earlier than retreating. It is a cliché, however fly fishers usually evaluate mayfly duns to miniature sailboats.

When duns are on the water, you’re within the hatch state of affairs fly fishers dwell for, and it is time to fish with dry flies, which float on the floor of the water.

Mayfly spinners collect and mate in giant swarms over riffle areas. Once they fall to the water, their clear wings are sometimes outstretched. Fly fishers name this place “spent.” Picture: Paul Weamer

Hopefully you may discover trout rising to the floor to eat these mayflies, and if you will get the proper fly into the proper place, you may watch the trout rise to the floor and shut its mouth round your fly.

Your native fly store has bins stuffed with dry flies to mimic the dun stage of every native mayfly species, however for many trout you do not want an actual imitation. So long as you have got a fly that’s about the proper measurement and form, and also you ship it precisely, you’ll catch some fish.

A Parachute Adams is an effective fly to mimic all mayfly duns. It has the proper profile, the white wing publish is simple so that you can see on the water, and the grey physique fools many trout. You will want them in sizes 8 by way of 20 relying on the dimensions of mayflies in your native waters. Different good mayfly dun imitations embrace René Harrop’s Hair-wing Dun or Caucci and Nastasi’s Compara-dun.

After they hatch, mayfly duns fly to streamside vegetation, the place they molt or shed their skins and enter the grownup or imago part fly fishers name “spinners.” The change from dun to spinner usually ends in a unique physique colour, and spinner tails are longer than dun tails. Probably the most noticeable distinction is that the wings of mayfly duns are opaque or cloudy. Spinner wings are often clear.

You will know cicadas are an necessary meals merchandise for trout if you hear the bugs’ loud chirping coming from close by timber. Picture: Paul Weamer

A short while after molting into spinners—often inside 24 hours—the mayflies fly again to the water and collect in giant swarms over riffle areas, the place they mate. This most frequently occurs late within the night or early within the morning.

The females lay eggs after which die within the egg-laying course of. Males proceed to fertilize eggs till in addition they fall spent to the water, with their outstretched wings flush with the water’s floor.

Trout generally favor spinners over duns as a result of they’ve realized that spinners haven’t any probability to flee—they’re useless—and are simpler meals. Additionally, duns hatch over a comparatively lengthy time frame, whereas spinners fall to the water en masse, creating an irresistible feeding alternative.

As a result of spinners lie flush within the floor movie, chances are you’ll want a spinner sample such because the Rusty Spinner (or different physique colour) with outstretched wings. One of many causes we advised a Parachute Adams for the dun stage is that it additionally works effectively for the spinner stage. The parachute hackle leaves a footprint on the water that’s much like the outstretched wings of a mayfly spinner, and the trout usually ignore the upright parachute publish. Flush-floating mayfly spinner imitations are robust to see, and difficult to fish, so it is in all probability a good suggestion to offer the Parachutes a attempt first, and transfer to extra exacting patterns later if the fish refuse them.


In most streams there are at the least as many caddisflies as mayflies. As a result of caddisflies are extra tolerant of water air pollution, caddisflies are by far probably the most dominant stream-bottom bugs in some streams.

Caddisflies begin life as eggs and transfer by way of a full cycle of larva, pupa, and grownup. When caddis hatch, and likewise once they lay eggs, they usually skitter alongside the water’s floor. This motion can entice trout right into a feeding frenzy.

Caddisflies start life as an egg on the river backside and have three further life phases: larva, pupa, and grownup. The eggs hatch into small worms (larvae) which is the longest-lasting a part of the life cycle, and sometimes exists for a yr or extra.

There are greater than 1,000 totally different caddis species; however to start you want solely to acknowledge two normal sorts: one the place the larva builds a case from sticks or sand and pebbles on the stream backside, and one other free-ranging kind with no case. Cased caddis are usually cemented to the rocks, however they turn into necessary when there’s a dramatic flush of water that churns the river backside. George Anderson’s Peeking Caddis is the very best and most well-known cased caddis larva imitation.

Grownup caddisflies are sometimes mottled tan, grey, or brown. Picture: Paul Weamer

Free-ranging caddisflies—generally referred to as inexperienced rock worms—seem like tiny inchworms (about 1/8″ to 1/4″ lengthy) with black or darkish brown heads. They ceaselessly lose their grip on the underside, and are extra necessary to trout than the cased selection. Inexperienced Weenies, inexperienced Serendipities, or Inexperienced Rockworms (#12-18) are good flies to mimic these larvae.

When it matures, the larva makes an underwater cocoon the place it adjustments right into a pupa. The pupa is the transition stage. When it’s prepared, it emerges from the cocoon and rises to the floor. The pupa drifts within the floor movie whereas its again splits open, the grownup insect crawls out onto the floor, and finally flies away. Throughout this transition time, you may usually want a caddis pupa imitation similar to Gary LaFontaine’s Sparkle Pupa or Mike Mercer’s Z-Wing Caddis (#10-16).

Grownup caddisflies seem like small moths once they fly by way of the air. At relaxation on a department or the water’s floor, they fold their wings again right into a horizontal place that appears very similar to the pup tent you had if you had been a child. They’re often mottled tan, grey, or brown, however some have vivid inexperienced coloured our bodies, and there are necessary Black Caddis species on some rivers.

Caddis larvae dwell alongside the stream backside. Some species construct circumstances fabricated from rocks and sticks. Others (like this one) are free ranging, and are sometimes referred to as Inexperienced Rock Worms. Picture: Paul Weamer

When caddis hatch—and likewise once they lay eggs—they usually skitter alongside the floor of the water. This causes the trout to slash at them and causes a splash, reasonably than the sluggish, regular feeding you see with mayfly duns and spinners. If you see trout making splashy rises in the midst of the river, you’ll be able to guess caddis are hatching.

In riffle water, Al Troth’s Elk-hair Caddis (#10-16) is a decades-old favourite, however in slower currents you may in all probability do higher with a lower-riding sample similar to Craig Mathews’s X-Caddis or a CDC & Elk (#10-16).

Grownup caddis dwell longer than mayflies—usually many days or per week earlier than they mate and die. When the females return to the water to put their eggs, they most frequently both dip their abdomens into the water, utilizing water stress to launch the eggs, or else they dive into the water, swim to the underside, and launch their eggs immediately onto rocks and particles.

These egg-laying females die in or on the water and create one other glorious feeding alternative for trout. Mike Lawson’s Spent Partridge Caddis (#10-16) is an effective fly in these conditions.


Midges are from the household Chironomidae, generally referred to as “true flies” as a result of like widespread houseflies they’ve two wings shorter than the physique, they usually do not have tails. Because the title implies, most midges are small, measurement 22 to twenty-eight or smaller.

The midge life cycle has 4 distinct phases: egg, larva, pupa, and grownup.

The midge life cycle has 4 distinct phases: egg, larva, pupa, and grownup. Adults lay their eggs over or within the water, and the larvae emerge and thrive in lots of water sorts, however particularly in sluggish water with a muddy backside lined in aquatic vegetation.

Grownup midges lay their eggs over the water, and the larvae emerge and thrive in lots of water sorts, however particularly in sluggish water with a silty, muddy backside lined with particles and aquatic vegetation.

Absolutely developed midge larvae are small and might vary from 1/2″ (#10) all the way down to 1/8″ (#22) or smaller. The most important species are largely present in lakes and different stillwaters. Most midges in flowing waters are #20 and smaller. They arrive in a wide range of colours, however cream, brown, black, olive, and pink are the commonest.

Midge adults seem like mosquitoes and are sometimes tiny (#18-26). Picture: Brian Chan

Midges are particularly necessary on spring creeks (the place the water circulate comes primarily from underground springs and never snowmelt or rain) and on tailwaters, the place the water circulate comes from a dam and reservoir. In case your native trout water is a spring creek or tailwater, you must turn into acquainted with midges, midge imitations, and easy methods to fish them, as they are going to be a very necessary meals merchandise on your native trout.

Midge larvae look very similar to skinny, helpless worms with distinct segmentation however no noticeable physique taper. A head and tiny legs at every finish are often obvious solely underneath magnification. The pink colour in some species comes from an inside retailer of oxygen-rich hemoglobin, a reserve that permits them to outlive at the least quickly in polluted environments or in littoral areas which can be often dewatered.

Some larvae are free-swimming. Different species connect themselves to the underside however periodically let go of their anchors and drift downstream to populate new feeding grounds. Wading anglers and water-level fluctuations continually dislodge larvae, making them an necessary year-round meals supply for trout.

The most effective midge larva imitations are fabricated from barely stretchy artificial supplies wrapped on a curved hook. John Barr’s Pure Midge Larva and the Jujubee Midge are good examples of these kinds of patterns.

Something with a bead or with a pronounced thorax has the mistaken profile. Take a seine or internet with you and match your sample to the specimens within the stream.

The pink colour of midge larvae comes from inside shops of oxygen-rich hemoglobin, a reserve that permits them to outlive in oxygen-poor environments. Picture: Brian Chan[

When they’re absolutely developed, midge larvae remodel into pupae. Some species construct cocoons on the river backside, others change inside a hardened pores and skin of the final larval stage, and a few are free-swimming as pupae. In contrast to midge larvae, that are skinny and stringlike, midge pupae are comparatively brief and squat with a segmented, tapered stomach and a pronounced thorax.

Suppose lengthy and slender for midge larvae, brief and squat for midge pupae. A pupa’s thick thorax comprises the grownup’s growing wings. Pat Dorsey’s Black Magnificence, the Miracle Nymph, or Brassie (#18-24) are good midge pupa imitations for flowing waters.

When absolutely fashioned, midge pupae rise to the floor to hatch. Peak emergences change with the seasons however usually happen throughout noon within the spring, fall, and winter, and close to darkish on scorching summer time days.

When midges start to emerge, their budding wings turn into distinguished, they usually generally carry gasoline bubbles that set off trout to feed.

Most midges in flowing waters are #20 and smaller. They arrive in a wide range of colours, however cream, brown, black, olive, and pink are the commonest. Picture: Brian Chan

This part of the transformation has been studied extensively by some skilled anglers, who’ve developed lethal imitations. Rim Chung’s RS2 sample was created for finicky South Platte trout and has been broadly tailored on the San Juan and elsewhere.

When a pupa reaches the floor, the grownup escapes from its sheath, pushes by way of the meniscus, and rides the floor currents till its wings dry and it flies away to mate, die, and begin the cycle over once more.

Grownup midges look one thing like a mosquito with out the proboscis. They’ve six lengthy legs; brief, stubby clear or off-white wings that lie flat again alongside their our bodies; and fluffy antennae.

When trout rise to grownup midges on the floor, you’ll be able to fish a tiny dry fly that imitates a single grownup midge, and on some robust waters, that is the one dry that works. Fortunately, some trout take greater patterns, and if you’re simply getting began fishing midge dry flies, begin with a small (#18-22) Parachute Adams or a Griffith’s Gnat. Midges usually clump up into clusters, and these flies are about the identical measurement and form.

Midge fishing is usually thought of the last word problem in fly fishing for trout, as a result of the flies are extraordinarily small, and consequently the tippet finish of the chief is mild. If you’re simply getting began in fly fishing, you must keep away from locations which can be well-known for his or her midge hatches, and search out rivers recognized to have good populations of bigger mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies. Midges could make even skilled anglers need to pull their hair out.

Stonefly nymphs dwell in unpolluted, extremely oxygenated water. Picture: Paul Weamer


Caddisflies, mayflies, and midges embrace a whole lot of various insect species. Stoneflies (Plecoptera) are a comparatively small order of bugs however as a result of they’re comparatively giant as people, and populate clear, chilly, fast-flowing, and generally infertile streams, they’re necessary to trout.

Stoneflies vary in measurement from #4 to #18. Adults have 4 lengthy, shiny wings, which lie flat over the again when at relaxation. The life cycle is egg, nymph, grownup. As with mayflies, there isn’t any larva or pupa stage.

Stonefly nymphs dwell in fast-flowing water and consequently have flat our bodies with sturdy legs for clinging to rocks. They’ve two stubby tails, lengthy antennae, and, not like mayfly nymphs, they haven’t any gills on the stomach. When the nymphs mature, they crawl to shore and emerge. Subsequently the “emergence” part is just not as necessary to fly fishers as it’s with some aquatic bugs. Nevertheless, within the interval when the nymphs

migrate towards shore, they’re usually washed into the present, and trout collect within the shallows to feed on them. Verify underneath streamside rocks to match your fly to probably the most prevalent nymphs.

Stonefly adults dwell for days or even weeks in streamside vegetation and are poor fliers. They usually fall or are blown into the water and trout feed on them ravenously. They mate on land and later, egg-laying females drag their abdomens on the water’s floor to launch their eggs.

In contrast to mayfly, caddis, and midge hatches—the place you’re more likely to observe trout feeding steadily on the floor—you do not usually see a trout eat a stonefly. Nevertheless, if you recognize there are stoneflies round, you’ll be able to fish a giant stonefly imitation with generally startling outcomes.

Salmonflies (grownup, above) are the most important, most well-known members of the stonefly household. Picture: Ross Purnell

Salmonflies are the most important and most well-known member of the stonefly household. For nymphs, use black Kaufmann’s Stones, or Yuk Bugs (#4-8). For adults, use orange Stimulators or Couch Pillows (#4-8).

Golden Stones are barely smaller and lighter coloured with yellow or tan highlights and mottled brown our bodies. Use Mercer’s Biot Epoxy Stones or 20-Inchers (#6-10) for the nymphs and yellow or orange Stimulators (#6-10) for the adults.

Different domestically necessary stoneflies embrace Skwalas (#8-12), Little Black Stones (#12-14), and Yellow Sallies (#12-16). Inquire at your native store about the very best regional patterns.


Trout, bass, and different fish eat largely bugs which can be aquatic. Nevertheless, aquatic insect hatches are seasonal—with a lot of the feeding alternatives concentrated within the spring. In the summertime and early fall, trout rely closely on different meals sources similar to terrestrial (land-based) bugs that fall or fly into the water.

Grasshoppers could also be crucial terrestrial bugs, largely as a result of they’re giant meals gadgets and famously poor fliers. Picture: Paul Weamer

Grasshoppers could also be crucial terrestrial bugs, largely as a result of they’re giant meals gadgets and notoriously poor fliers. They love the lengthy inexperienced grass alongside riverbanks, and are generally pushed to the riverside in swarms when farmers reduce their hay.

Hoppers are available all sizes from small (#12-16) within the early summer time to giant (#4-10) within the late summer time. Observe the hoppers alongside your river and attempt to match the dimensions and (much less necessary) colour as carefully as attainable. The Whitlock Hopper, Letort Hopper, and normal attractors such because the Chernobyl Ant are all good throughout hopper season.

Trout love hoppers, but when your river is closely fished, and the trout are caught and launched ceaselessly, they’ll turn into extraordinarily cautious. In these circumstances, you’ll ceaselessly see trout rise to the fly, give it an in depth inspection, after which disappear again into the depths.

Legs will be necessary on hopper patterns. In some circumstances the trout pluck along with the fly as if eager to submerge it first, after which devour it. On slow-water Slough Creek in Yellowstone Nationwide Park, trout generally seize a grasshopper by a single leg, pull it underneath, then swallow the fly in a secondary movement.

Beetles generally idiot trout when nothing else appears to work. They’re a should for summer time and fall fishing. Picture: Paul Weamer

Fish that exhibit these finicky feeding behaviors are tough, if not unattainable to catch on hoppers. The excellent news is, they’ve proven you their location, they’ve proven you they’re hungry, they usually’ve proven you they’re acquainted with land-based bugs. Strive following up with an ant or beetle imitation.

Beetles are available many dimensions and shapes, from giant emerald Japanese beetles to tiny black beetles. It is unattainable to match all the colour and measurement mixture of this huge insect household, however fortunately easy black Foam Beetles (#8-14) are not often refused.

Beetles float low within the water and with no high-profile wing to identify, even comparatively giant beetle imitations will be frustratingly tough to see on the water. Buy beetle imitations with a bright-colored indicator on high that sticks up so you’ll be able to see it. A painted dot on high does little that will help you see in low-light circumstances.

Ants could appear an insignificant meals supply, however trout relish them. Flying ant “hatches” could cause trout to selectively give attention to the ant physique form. Picture: Paul Weamer

Trout love ants and at instances eat them in the midst of a heavy mayfly hatch. In contrast to beetles and hoppers, which largely fall within the water as people, ants are inclined to act as a gaggle. Flying ants mate and migrate in swarms, and pink, black, and cinnamon-colored ants usually march one after one other off a log or rock into the water. Use foam and fur ant patterns with two distinctive physique lobes—trout appear to key on this physique silhouette. A hackled ant (#14-18) sits on high of the floor—not down in it—and is less complicated to see than a big beetle, so chances are you’ll not want a parachute publish for visibility. Discover what works for you. It is usually efficient to fish a grasshopper sample as an indicator fly and fish a beetle or an ant as a trailer fly 12 to 18 inches off the bend of the hopper hook. Watch the hopper. Should you see a splash close to the hopper, or the hopper strikes or jerks unexpectedly, set the hook.

Different seasonal or regionally necessary terrestrials embrace cicadas, crickets, inchworms, and spruce moths. Uncover how necessary these bugs are by taking time to look in streamside bushes. You possibly can hear the thrill of cicadas as you stroll by way of the forest, and if inchworms are reducing themselves onto your head and shoulders, they’re definitely stepping into the water.

Crayfish will be imitated with brown, tan, and blonde Conehead Woolly Buggers or Meat Whistles. Picture: Paul Weamer


Shrimp, scuds, sow bugs, and crayfish usually are not bugs like most different trout meals: They’re crustaceans. Mysis shrimp are an launched meals supply that thrive in some Western reservoirs. When these white “fairy shrimp” flush into the river under they are often necessary to trout.

These shrimp migrate from one lake depth to a different by way of the seasons, and are solely necessary downstream when their day by day or seasonal migrations put them near the dam outflow.

Some fly fishers mistakenly confer with scuds as shrimp however they’re distinctly totally different. Scuds have a segmented exoskeleton and 7 pairs of legs (plus antennae). They arrive in colours usually matching the stream vegetation the place they dwell: mottled rust, tan, olive, or different colours.

Scuds usually are not necessary on chilly, clear mountain freestone streams however thrive in fertile lakes, spring creeks, and weed-bottomed tailwaters.

A relative of scuds are cress bugs, generally referred to as sow bugs by fly fishers. They arrive in related sizes and colours.

In contrast to scuds, sow bugs don’t swim freely within the water column; they crawl like a tablet bug alongside the stream backside, avoiding mild by staying underneath rocks and particles or transferring and feeding solely within the low-light hours. They thrive in cress beds, elodea, and different aquatic vegetation in spring creeks and tailwaters particularly.

Crayfish—additionally referred to as crawfish or crawdads—thrive in fertile warmer-water environments.

You will not discover crayfish in glacier-fed streams, mountain headwaters, or Montana spring creeks, however you will discover them in giant lakes (additionally the Nice Lakes), large tailwater streams, and different main Japanese, Midwestern, and Western watersheds.

Large trout in these environments search for molted crayfish or immature crayfish, as do smallmouth and largemouth bass, carp, and different giant predators. In lots of locations, a tan or rust-colored conehead Woolly Bugger (#4-8) or Slumpbuster makes a high quality crayfish imitation.

Leeches dwell in all water sorts. Trout, bass, and different fish readily devour them. Picture: Brian Chan


Leeches dwell in all water sorts and trout, bass, and different fish love them as a result of they transfer slowly and supply a excessive calorie rely.

Some giant fish make a behavior of feeding virtually completely on leeches. On a number of events, I’ve caught giant brown trout (22+ inches) on darkish Woolly Buggers, and the fish threw up a handful of undigested leeches into my internet or hand, proving that “matching the hatch” isn’t just a dry-fly idea.

A black Woolly Bugger is a high quality leech imitation—particularly in quick water on large rivers—however leeches are available all sizes and colours, so additionally carry rust and olive Woolly buggers (#4-10).

Different Fish

Virtually each gamefish eats different fish as an everyday a part of its weight-reduction plan—the larger the fish will get, the extra piscivorous (habituated to feeding on different fish) it turns into.

Sculpins are finest imitated utilizing Muddler Minnows or Zoo Cougars. Picture: Paul Weamer

In contemporary water, trout and bass feed on minnows and small bottom-dwelling prey species similar to bullheads and sculpins. Woolly Buggers and Zonkers work effectively to mimic many kinds of small minnows, however the Clouser Minnow could also be the very best general-purpose minnow imitation for fly fishers as a result of it’s straightforward to forged and shortly will get to the underside the place the fish are.

For bullheads and significantly sculpins, you want a fly sample with a bulbous head so carry Muddler Minnows, Zoo Cougars, or Bow River Buggers.

Different much less necessary aquatic meals trout eat embrace snails, craneflies, dragonflies, and damselflies—that are necessary in lots of stillwaters in spring/summer time. What Trout Eat

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