Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Drinkin' in the Drift

At left, a jug of corn liquor from Weston Missouri as photographed by Ken444444 on wikicommons and allowed for use here by way of attribution.

Thanks Ken.

One of my buddies from another state saw our little bog here and wired me in response to my limited fly box assertions. (here)

After reminding me that it didn't matter because I don't catch many fish anyway,  he called me "crazy drunk" for a limited box this year.

He said I should just go whole hog and use only one fly if I felt that I could do well enough to avoid selling my gear on Ebay fishing with a limited box.

I'm not worried that will happen. I have more gear now than when we last fished together. Too much trouble to sell it.

I did want to briefly bring forward a few facts related to the limited box I'll push this year.

(1) My presentation matters most of all. If you've seen my dragging flies, you'd know that. Clean up the presentation and start adding up the fish.

We're all going to fix that technique before we start spending money on guides in remote places.

(2) I picked my flies with some care. I cheat. I hedge. I have all winter to read.

Tom Rosenbauer in The Orvis Guide to Prospecting for Trout has a section (p. 88-89.) where he relates a little statistical background on trout and feeding. He uses this as a transition section after discussing the daily behavioral drift during the night.

Behavioral Drift: For those who did not take Invertebrate Biology (I was a physiology track guy and never took it myself), the drift is a phenomenon of freshwater streams where certain invertebrates "let go" during the night allowing the current to seed them down the river to a new habitat.

It's a bug's version of cows moving around that pasture.

The bugs drift with the prospect of landing in fertile fields for whatever it is they eat and thus avoid "eating themselves out of house and home" if they were to stay in one place. They use the current and drift probably because they move relatively poorly on their own.

Trout feed during the drift. Usually it begins late at night (driven by ph changes in the water chemistry) and ends just before dawn.

Two types of insects have however been found to have daytime behavioral drift: Caddis pupae and larvae; and Baetis larvae.

You know the Baetis as a type of mayfly. You know it as the Blue-Winged Olive.

In Michigan, the pre-adults of these species are among the most numerous in our streams. 

Finally, The Pheasant Tail (Soft-Hackled Pheasant Tail for me, thank you) is a dead ringer for the BWO nymph.

Ann Miller's excellent Hatch Guide for Upper Midwest Streams which  I believe all of the Amber Anglers have as an autographed copy (Thanks Ann!) shows on page 28 a Blue-Winged Olive nymph.

Ann however photographed the insect against an opaque background.

As trout see them in the drift, they're a little translucent against the hard sun and it is here where the Pheasant Tail is a dead ringer.

Ann shows flies to use: the 80's Baetis, the Peek-a-boo baetis, and the BWO bead head the first two tied by Mike Schmidt and the last by Tim Scott.

I say the pheasant tail does a damn fine job, too. Tom makes this point in an illustration and he's way better at this than I will ever be.

I'm not a trout.

I'm also not an aquatic biologist and Ann is.

If you don't have her book, ask in your local fly shop. They need to have it on hand. I've read it twice this winter which is to say I've been entranced by the wonderful photography and sharp "punchy" prose all winter.

We need local fly shops. They sell service and knowledge. Buy from them. Please.

(3) Trout eat some flies more than others even when all food sources are available.

Tom Rosenbauser cites two studies to support this claim.

In Wisconsin, a study of autopsied trout stomachs and compared that to same-time drift samples. The ratio of 1 indicates that an insect was as prevalent in the stream as it was in the trout. A ratio of 2 shows trout ate twice as many insects of a type proportionally to how many were in the stream sample.


Caddis fly larvae has a ratio of 2.1

Mayflies ... 0.5

Tiny midge larvae? 6.4

Are you fishing small enough? I must not be.

He goes on to clarify that in a New York study conducted in the 1930's, caddis were the first food choice of trout but for the months of May, August and December when mayfly nymphs were a first choice.

Hare's Ear is a great caddis.

I'm not a fellow to play fair. In this game, the trout has the upper hand. I'm not above using science to gain an edge.

An indicator over a nymph?  I'm not that desperate. I'll go all tight-lines, please.

One has to draw the line somewhere. Bobbers and live bait are kissing cousins.

Not all the Amber Liquid Anglers feel this way.

I'll laugh at their bobbers. I'll curse the fish they catch with them.

Then I'll offer them Scotch from my flask.



  1. The jug looks real nice. Be good to have a drink from that.

    Pheasant Tail Nymph famously covers PMD's too. They're everywhere.

    Careful, applying science to trouting. Tends to frame. Data really only applicable to stream segments sampled. And then, doesn't factor the bazillion nuances.

    PTN, #14-#20, cuts through the confusion though, bottom to top.

    You might like the Turkey & Starling too.

  2. Turkey and Starling. I think I had an uncle who drank that - but only during the holidays.

    Louis the foxhound and I jumped 50+ turkey this morning in the preserve next to my house. Biggest group of combined rafters I've seen. I'll be able to get some fresh turkey feather from the dust basin this weekend and do the wash-and-sanitize business.

    If I can get Earl and his family to part with a few (Earl is the buzzard who dries his wings on my roof every morning), I'll have some fine turkey buzzard quills also.

  3. Growing free-range turkeys on our place too. Them & the gorgeous pine squirrels. Can't bring myself to plug the squirrels, but the kitty brings me one now & then, so I have tails. Those fortunate to live where they can pee off their front porch no doubt have useful critters grazing the back yard. I once went through an 'indigenous' fly stage & went three years without buying any fly-tying supplies except hooks & thread. The Turkey & Starling, & also a soft-hackle Hares Ear tied with grouse hackle came out of that. I'm out of hand on materials now, fun at the vise, but I'm not doing any better on the water, really.