Category Archives: Angling Technique

Why trout take artificial flies

You cast your fly, let it sink and begin retrieving. A trout takes, and the rest is history. But why did the trout take the fly into its mouth in the first place? Anglers have pondered the question for a long time.

Why trout take artificial flies

Most exact-style fly tyers are the first to tell you that their patterns are meant for viewing only.

But if you want to catch fish it is more important to match the appropriate colour and size of the insect – as with this natural damsel fly, for example.

imitation of a natural damsel

Is this artificial an imitation of a natural damsel, or is it an attractor? The answer is probably a bit of both. The exaggerated marabou tail adds movement. Pearl or chain-link eyes make the fly look alive, and the body is ribbed to give it a segmented effect.

Fish it with short strips to imitate the swimming action of the natural.


45cm (18in) wild river brown trout

This impressive 45cm (18in) wild river brown trout fell for a dark green Cul de Canard Buzzer during a hatch of small dark olives.

Trout may reject a fly not because it didn’t look edible but because it was presented badly. “One day,” says Stan, “trout were feeding heavily on olives. I tied a brownish green imitative pattern, but it failed to catch. Later I learned that when an olive is hatching, the light shining through its body makes the fly appear golden-orange.”

Imitators and attractors

There are two general categories of artificial flies — the imitative and the attractor. The imitative pattern Most trout flies were originally designed to imitate aquatic insects, crustaceans and small fish. Notable examples are such flies as the Grenadier, Greenwell’s Glory, Black Pennell and the Muddler Minnow.

When trout are feeding selectively on a particular item, a close imitation proves most successful. Indeed, sometimes you simply can’t catch trout on anything but an imitation.

However, matching number of legs, the veining in the wings and number of body segments isn’t necessary to make a good fish-catching fly. If the fly looks good at arm’s length, it can usually be relied on to fool the most fastidious trout.

But to catch a selective-feeding trout with an imitative fly requires more than visual resemblance – you must also fish (or move) the fly in a manner that mimics the natural movement of what you are imitating. If rainbows are taking insects as they hatch in the surface film, for example, it makes no sense to present the imitative flies on a sinking line – use a floating line. The attractor pattern What of the non-imitative patterns? Such flies as Vivas, Soldier Palmers and Dunkelds are equally effective trout-catching patterns, even though they resemble nothing natural. Remember the phrase ‘take the fly into its mouth’. This, Stan believes, is the heart of the whole matter.

A trout investigates a potentially edible object by taking it into its mouth. If you watch an aquarium fish feed, it approaches a food item, visually inspects it first and then, if it looks vaguely edible, sucks it into its mouth. If the item is indeed food, that’s the last you’ll see of it. But if the fish isn’t convinced, or the item is inedible, the fish blows it out.

Though a trout may follow a fly out of curiosity, the final test of edibility takes place in the mouth, and simply because a trout takes a fly into its mouth does not prove anything other than that the fly was worth investigating.

Trout are not capable of realizing that inanimate objects can be moved by external forces. The angler moving the imitative or attractor-type fly in a likely fashion and presenting it where the trout expects to find food won’t make the fish suspicious.

Imitative flies can catch fish even when their role models are absent from the water. When trout are feeding normally – taking a wide range of food items as they come upon them — a fly which gives the impression of life and edibility is usually acceptable.

A simple solution?

Some anglers rarely use imitative flies, while others scorn attractor patterns. Both groups catch their fair share of fish. To fish both imitators and non-imitators will consistently catch trout.

But knowing just when to use imitative or attractor flies comes from experience and is something that is rather more difficult to predict – it depends on many variables such as the water you are fishing, the time of year and the weather, to name a few. Also, never forget to check the stomach contents of caught fish.

Livebaiting at sea

There are many situations when a live-bait will catch fish that won’t look at other baits. The trouble is that you have to catch your bait before you can go after big fish. In many ways it’s easier to buy frozen sandeel, worms or artificials from a shop and get on with it. There’s noContinue Reading

Fishing off the coast of Lancashire

After many weeks of lengthy deliberations about the weather and angling prospects, we finally meet Mick early on a very cold January morning along the beach at Fleetwood, Lancashire. Today, the weather is acceptable – cloudy and somewhat windy. We’re hoping the gales will abate long enough for us, and other members of Mick’s seaContinue Reading

Match tactics for big fish from canals

Big fish often play a big part in deciding the individual outcome of a canal match. Chub, carp, bream and even big perch are often needed to boost a catch of smaller fish and get you into the frame. But you must use the right tackle. Bream aren’t hard-fighting fish and generally can be landedContinue Reading

Tying deer-hair flies

Deer-hair flies come in myriad styles and shapes and can be used to catch many species of fish throughout the world. Examples include the G & H Sedge and the Muddler Minnow for trout, the Water-Walker for steelhead, the Dalberg Diver for pike and largemouth bass and the Canadian Bomber series of dry flies forContinue Reading

Crafty downtiding

Downtide fishing is the conventional method of boat fishing, used by anglers since boat fishing became popular. It has seen described as the most basic form of boat angling, but in fact it is far from basic if you approach it in a thinking manner. First principles [n theory it is simplicity itself. Anchor overContinue Reading

8 Effective Flies for fry-feeding trout

Large lures, though they may seem rather crude to imitative purists, are essential for late season action. If trout are taking 10cm (4in) long roach, there is no point trying to fish with a team of size 16 Buzzers, for example. Fry patterns in sizes 2-8 account for more specimen brown and rainbow trout inContinue Reading

Fishing on the upper Witham

Jim used an 11m pole to fish a bait close to the far bank ‘cover’, and was rewarded with a few small chub on a very cold day. The Bottesford AC stretch of the upper Witham is at Westborough in Lincolnshire, near the A1 between Grantham and Newark. From the A1, turn off for LongContinue Reading

Fish signs: more than meets the eye

Not all fish signs are as obvious as this mirror feeding at the surface. For example, you might only recognize a dimple caused by a carp by the sucking sound – a distinctive ‘cloop’l A fish actually breaking the surface, often with just the tip of the dorsal fin, causing ww waves, is a pointerContinue Reading

Smooth-stalking Smith at Shipton-on-Cherwell

How to get there By car From Oxford, take the Banbury Road (A4165) which becomes the A4260 after crossing the A40. Follow this road through Kidlington, and once you have passed the Thrupp turn off, the turning to Shipton is on the right. By train Oxford is the nearest BR station. A bus runs fromContinue Reading