How Big of an Ask?

by | Jun 30, 2024 | 4 comments

Are trout opportunistic feeders? Sure, but it depends on the opportunity. We choose the fly and decide how to present it. We then pick what water will receive the cast. And to inform those decisions, it’s critical to understand what we’re asking the trout to do.

How big of an ask is it?

And how opportunistic do we expect the trout to be?

Here are a few examples . . .

Ants, Beetles, Hoppers, More

My first choice on the water right now is a Perfect Parachute Ant. It’s summertime. The main hatches are over, but there are still enough bugs hatching to keep trout looking up. Mix that in with the sheer number of terrestrial insects crawling around, and the odds of unlucky ants falling in the creek is pretty high.

READ – VIDEO: Troutbitten | The Perfect Parachute Ant

The water is at summertime low. It’s clear. The days are long and the sun is high in a blue sky most days. Some of the larger trout also visit these same areas at night to pick on baitfish. So wild brown trout are in the habit of sliding over to the shade lines at the brushy edges of creeks and streams.

The water at these edges is often just ankle-to-calf deep, and the stuff with some riffle to it adds more oxygen in warmer water, with more breakup for cover against overhead predators. It’s an ideal setup, and it’s predictable.

PODCAST: Troutbitten | Prospecting for Trout S11, Ep10

So with an ant or another common terrestrial punched under the branches and laid to the surface with a good dead drift, what am I asking of the trout?

Not much.

They should eat my fly, because I’m meeting them with a familiar look. I’m taking the fly to them and making an offer that should bring agreement.

It’s not too big of an ask.

But I would never expect the same agreement in the winter . . .

Cold Eggs and Midges

Six months ago, the habits of trout were flipped. They held in deeper and slower water. A lower metabolism in winter had them sitting tighter than ever near the riverbed. But they were still willing to eat if I brought egg patterns to them, often accompanied by a small nymph. I presented the flies very close to the trout, with a one-lane dead drift at the slowest rate that I’d fished all season.

There’s simply no way I would expect the summer prospecting strategy, with an ant near thin-water bank structure to produce.

Could a trout slide over a few feet to grab a terrestrial off the surface in January?

Sure. But it’s too big of an ask, so it’s a mostly fruitless strategy.

A Little More

When fishing dry flies at any time of the year, I’d rather target trout in one or two feet of water instead of three or four. Water speed and surrounding structure matters too, but the trout has to move a lot less for flies in shallower water. It’s an easier ask.

When streamer fishing, I think about this constantly. What am I asking of the trout? Even a smaller streamer of size #8 is still twenty times the size of a #16 Pheasant Tail, so it’s reasonable to expect a trout to move further for the streamer. And they do.

But not always.

Where am I casting? Let’s say I tuck a Half Pint upstream of a hay bale–sized rock and let it slide into the crease before I slow strip it away from cover. On the next cast, maybe I hit the same target and jerk—strip quickly, as soon as the fly lands. With the first presentations, I’m asking a lot less of the trout that’s hiding in the downstream stall of the rock and ready to ambush.

Will he chase the faster presentation? Absolutely. On a good day, an aggressive trout might move for just about anything. But the first presentation, being more available to the trout, asks less, and it’s more consistent over time.

On the other hand, our fish commission recently stocked rainbow trout fingerlings over a good population of wild brown trout. (Please ask them to stop this.) And after a few days, a twitchy strip across the middle of the river drew a lot of hookups from larger brown trout. I wasn’t asking much of the trout, because I was showing them something common, something expected, for that moment in time.

Do It

Where are the trout holding, and how am I asking them to move? What is the calorie return? Trout move further for bigger flies than smaller ones. They eat nymphs low in the strike zone more readily than they eat random dry flies in three feet of moving water.

What are you asking the trout to do? How big of an ask is it?

If you’re out there fishing but not catching, consider these questions. Then try to ask less of the trout.

Fish hard, friends.

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Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

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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  1. Hey Now! Thank you Dom. A perfect commentary for early summer. The water here is as clear as my evening martini and flowing at a polite 70cfs, almost knee deep in most spots. The rises I have been observing have been more frequent in the late afternoon and centered around Japanese beetles and grasshopper nymphs getting too close the the water. The sips have been soft, and yet deliberate, like a gentle kiss. Yet, I will forgo my stream-side rod time and just sit with a cold one, taking more notes and get ready for my evening attack just prior to sunset. Have a good holiday week and thank you and the TB faculty for providing such a valuable and welcome wealth of information and inspiration. Fish Hard!

  2. This is a good instructional writing and a refresher course for all. It all makes good sense. Thanks

  3. I enjoyed your blog on “How Big of an Ask”.

    I fly fished for 20 years in Alaska and now reside in Montana, where I am learning the local streams, access and suitability to wade fishing. I am finding I need to ditch my 6wt rod and get a 4wt rod.

    Trout in Alaska aren’t particular. Anything that looks like eggs, bright in color is a hit. Simple colors of salmon and white mix of cotton tyed to a streamer (cotton candy)was always a guaranteed a hit even with the dolly varden and grayling.

    I am finding here in Montana the trout are more picky and won’t strike at an unfamiliar or poorly
    tyed pattern. Tracking the hatch is something I’ve never had to do.

    For sanity sake, I will pick spring and fall fishing and tye for those occasions.

  4. Nice when someone reinforces a technique/strategy you have used on PA limestoners–Dropping ants & plopping beetles close to the bank has led to many beauties on hot, humid, summer days. Per my fathers fishing logs, pay attention to last week of August as this is when many colonies of flying ants hatch and trout “summer sip”–his words.
    Scotty W


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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

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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