Fifty Tips

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #22 — Find Feeding Fish

December 25, 2017

Trout have a strange way of all doing the same things at once. Although they rarely pod up like a school of suckers, they tend to function as a collective order, especially during feeding periods.

Trout fishing is unpredictable, and sometimes it can be maddening, but that’s what makes it wonderful too. We sense that it’s a fair game. We find trends. And while they’re not a sure thing, we start to say “usually this” and “mostly that” with some confidence. The more time we spend learning our waters, studying the habits of trout, the more predictable some of those patterns become. Where and when trout feed is likely the most important pattern to a fisherman.

— — — — — —

My uncle first taught me this lesson as a young boy. I was knee-deep in a perfect grey-green pool, firing one cast after another into the depths. I’d been there alone for an hour when my fishing hero walked toward me from downstream. Five feet above the creek, on the bankside trail, my uncle approached as I looked over my shoulder.

“There’s a bunch of them in there,” I said. “I’ve tried everything, and I cast from different angles like you told me, but they won’t take it.”

“Those trout aren’t feeding,” he chuckled, waving his hand toward the pool. “Let’s go upstream into the woods and find some fish that want to eat.”

The rest of our morning was spent fooling trout in the pocket water, mostly in current a foot deep and always near structure.

Find one, find another

It’s not always easy to locate feeding fish. Sure, rising trout are a dead giveaway, but even at that, it helps to notice exactly what water type your risers are using. If you find them in a tailout, you’ll eventually catch or spook all the rising fish. So walk up to the next tailout, and if the hatch or spinner fall is still on, you’ll likely find another group of trout that are willing to take a well-placed fly.

Discovering underwater feeding patterns is tougher, by the mere fact that most of it goes unseen to our eyes. But that’s alright. When fishing nymphs, wets or streamers, take note of where the takes happen. If you hook a trout, put the fly right back in the same spot, and catch another. Then look for nearby water that is identical to where you caught the first fish.

Learn the trends

Over time, feeding patterns emerge. You come to expect actively feeding trout in the riffles before a mayfly hatch, and you find them in the soft, almost foamy backwater at the end of a spinner fall. You learn that larger fish are bolder in low light, and you might target shallow water in the morning hours.

Seasonally, you follow feeding fish into the fast, oxygen rich, broken water of summertime and come back to the gentler, deeper glides for the slow feeders of winter.

These patterns are found everywhere, and you’ll find them by fishing thoughtfully and being observant. They’re unique to your own stream, year after year, season to season and day to day. The habits of trout are unpredictable by the minute and yet reliable within a larger frame of time. And good fishing follows the patterns of feeding trout.

Enjoy the day
Domenick Swentosky


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When it comes to surface feeding, in addition to observing the water type, it is even more critical to pattern the types of rise forms, timing/rhythm, and feeding positions. If you fish dry flies exclusively on bug rich rivers, this type of pattern fishing will make or break your season.

Great info and a very well-written piece. Rick’s comments was also helpful to me as I learn how to identify the feeding patterns of trout near my home.

Domenick Swentosky

Hi. I'm a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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