The remaining portion of a trout’s diet consists of a potpourri of other aquatic insects, terrestrial insects, minnows, crayfish and even an occasional baby mouse.
Mayflies are usually tiny and delicate. They cannot tolerate warm temperatures or even the slightest pollution. Consequently, mayflies are becoming less and less important as a trout food source. However, when a specific species of mayfly is hatching, trout can become very selective and eat only that species. When you hear fly fishers talk of “matching the hatch,” they are trying to find an artificial fly that sufficiently resembles the natural insect to fool the fish. It can be extremely frustrating when you see fish feeding all around you and you can’t catch them.
Caddis flies are similar to mayflies but are much hardier and can tolerate greater temperature extremes and more pollution. Caddis nymphs are case builders, and you can often see their cases in the bottom of the stream. They build their cases from natural materials, such as grains of sand or pine needle fragments, and are usually less than an inch long. lf you break open a caddis case, you’ll find a white-bodied nymph with a dark head. Caddis nymphs make great bait with or without their cases. Good bait fishers have known about caddis nymphs all along, but fly fishers are finally catching on, and a fly called a latex caddis fly is currently the rage.
Finally, here in the west, there are the stoneflies. While mayflies and caddis flies are like hors d’oeuvres and dessert to trout, stoneflies are their meat and potatoes. They grow larger, live longer and are much more tolerant of adverse conditions. Stoneflies prefer the faster, tumbling waters commonly found here in the west. The granddaddy of all stoneflies is even named after California (Pteronarcys californica), although it is commonly called a salmonfly or a giant black stonefly. They grow as large as 3 inches and are loaded with protein.
Because they are continuously present in most streams, stonefly nymphs are consistently great fish producers. Bait fishers use the live nymphs, while fly fishers use assorted fur and feather imitations. Whichever you choose, fish it right on the bottom and keep it moving, because that’s what the natural does.
As the spring sun begins to warm a trout river, the salmonflies start to hatch into adults and trout go on an incredible feeding binge. The trout seem to know that the egg-laden females are their most nutritious meal of the year. The hatch moves upstream each day and the fish follow right along, gorging themselves in a feeding frenzy. You can see giant trout rising all around you, slashing salmonflies off the surface.
Huge trout are taken by anglers every year at the peak of the hatch. The salmonfly hatch usually occurs at elevations from 500 to 3,000 feet during the last two weeks of March and the first two weeks of April. The hatch ends as quickly as it begins; one day there are fish rising everywhere, and the next day they’re gone.
What do you do when there’s no insect hatch going on? Why, hoppers, of course. Jack Sawyer was a businessman who owned our local Texaco station until he decided to switch careers and become a successful insurance salesman. Jack was also a pretty darned good bait fisher for trout. As kids, we’d earn extra money in the summertime by selling live grasshoppers to Jack for bait. We’d stalk the local vacant lots with a fly swatter and a Mason jar with holes punched in the lid. As I recall it, Jack would pay us 5 cents each for live hoppers. Unfortunately, commercial bait and tackle shops never seem to carry grasshoppers for sale.
One solution to the hopper shortage problem is to use hopper flies with a fly rod. In mid- to late summertime, grassy mountain meadows are loaded with grasshoppers. Fortunately for the trout and other fish, errant hoppers often get blown by the breeze out onto the water. For a fish, a floating grasshopper is like manna from heaven. Using a hopper fly, you can work the grassy undercut banks to take some dandy fish. There’s no need to be delicate, either; you can whack a hopper fly onto the surface with a resounding whack and it’s like ringing a dinner bell for the unsuspecting trout and bass. With the drought going on, grasshoppers, either real or artificial, might just save the day for you.
Until next time, tight lines.
• Don Moyer, author and outdoors columnist for the Tracy Press, began writing Tight Lines more than three decades ago. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.