Insects and other foods the trout may be eating:
1. Blue-winged Olives
2. Cinnamon Sedges (Caddisflies) (Abrams Creek)
3. Green Sedges (Caddisflies)
4. Little Sister Caddisflies (Abrams Creek)
5. Eastern Pale Evening Duns
7. Little Yellow Stoneflies -Yellow Sallies
8. Slate Drakes
9. Light Cahills
10. Little Green Stoneflies
11. Golden Stoneflies
12. Cream Cahills
19. Sculpin, baitfish and small crayfish (Imitate with streamers)
New Series on Fly Selection and Presentation
Last week I received a call from a gentlemen from Ohio who was planning a week's
fishing trip to the Smokies for himself and some of his friends. He was requesting
information on where to fish and what to use, etc. During the discussion he revealed
that he and his friends didn't mind long hikes but wouldn't be camping. He had
reviewed and was highly complimentary of this website along with our Perfect Fly
When the subject got around to flies, he said he was a little confused because he
was finding lots of information indicating that all he really needed was what amounts
to generic flies or non-specific imitations. He referred to them as standard
Parachute Adams and nymphs. The guy obviously had fished for trout before. In
response to looking at our Perfect Fly pages, he asked, "isn't a nymph a nymph"
and "Do I really need the specialized nymphs for the Smokies" you show on your
recommended fly list? Before I could answer, another phone started ringing and he
had to excuse himself for a couple of minutes.
When he returned, he apologised and explained he was at the hospital working.
When I asked what he did, he replied that he was a brain surgeon, except he said it
using the correct name. That told me he wasn't exactly unfamiliar with biology or
bugs, even though they were not the aquatic type. With that in mind, I answered his
question by asking him a question. I asked, "Which do you think a trout can see the
best, a nymph under the water or a dun floating on the surface of the water"? He
quickly replied that the trout could see the nymph the best because the only thing it
could see about a fly on the surface would be the parts that protruded below the
He is correct, of course, unless the fly happened to be within the trout's window of
vision. Now I don't want to get technical, at least not for now, but basically, if the fly
isn't very close to and directly above the trout, the only thing the fish could see
would be the body parts of the dun that extended below the surface of the water.
The doctor was correct. A trout can see a nymph under the water far better
than a dun on the surface of the water. This is true even if the dun is within the
trout's small window of vision.
A trout can see a nymph underwater at a far greater distance than a dun on the
surface of the water. Again, the dun must be almost directly overhead for it to see
any part of the dun that is above the surface. In addition, the water's surface must
to smooth within that small window. I'll get into exactly how the trout views both in the
near future but for now, I think anyone with common sense would have to agree that
a trout can see a nymph far better than a dun floating on the surface. That is a fact,
not speculation. They see the nymphs far better.
Now consider this. Most of the time, a dun is only floating on the surface of the water
for a few seconds. Depending on how fast the current is, the trout usually only has a
split second to get a glimpse of the dun, or your fly that is suppose to imitate a dun.
A trout can see a nymph from several feet away if the water is clear, although not in
clear focus. If it is relatively close to the trout, the trout can see it in great detail.
Their vision of an object underwater that is close, say within a foot of the trout, is
generally better than a our own vision. By the way, they can also see almost all the
way around themselves, both horizontally and vertically.
Now back to the doctor, I asked next, which fly he thought should more closely
imitate the real insect - a fly imitating the nymph or a dun? He quickly responded
with the correct answer - the nymph. He then said, I have never thought about it that
Now, if he and I are correct, then why do almost all fly anglers pay very
close attention to their dun imitations or dry flies, and very little attention
to their nymphs? They tend to think just any old nymph is fine. They will quickly
say a Hare's Ear Nymphs imitates them all well, even though a Blue-winged Olive
nymphs looks as much like a Slate Drake Nymphs as a Billy Goat looks like a
Monkey. When it comes to dry fly imitations, they want a selection of dozens and
dozens. They will discuss the details of the wings for hours.
Smoky Mountain anglers will purchase or tie a close imitation of a Quill Gordon dry
fly, but if they ever attempted to imitate a Quill Gordon nymph, any old nymph is just
They will closely select a Yellow Sally dry fly and then imitate the nymph with any
generic nymph, most all of which are a completely different color than the real
Yellow Sally nymphs.
When it comes to the Blue Quill, for example, they want a dry fly that is fairly close to
the real thing, yet none of them have any idea what a Blue Quill Nymph looks like.
Why are there dozens of commercially available "Blue Quill" dry flies, but not one
"Blue Quill nymph"?
Why do fly shops have Light Cahill dry flies but not the first "Light Cahill Nymph?
Why do they have Elk Hair Caddisflies in all colors but often not the first Caddis
larvae or pupa imitation even though the trout probably eat hundreds of pupa and
larva for every adult they eat. Even though the pupa of a Great Autumn Brown
Sedge doesn't resemble the pupa of a Cinnamon Caddis any more than a buffalo
resembles a mule, at best a typical fly shop may have one or two generic caddis
Every fly shop in the East has Light Hendrickson dry flies and a Dark Hendrickson
dry flies, but not the first Hendrickson nymph.
Every fly shop in the West has several versions of Green Drake Duns, but not the
first Green Drake Nymph. It's the same thing with their PMDs, or Pale Morning Duns.
Go in a fly shop and ask for a PMD nymph and notice the funny look you get.
I haven't answered the question for you yet, but in case you don't already
know, even though a trout can see a nymph far better than a dun, anglers give the
utmost attention to their dun imitations and little attention to their nymph imitations
for one simple reason. They, the anglers themselves, are impressed with the
looks of their dry flies. They don't think in terms of what the trout can and cannot
see. They think, "isn't that a pretty fly, or doesn't he tie beautiful flies"?
A close friend of mine of forty years, Tom Mann, told me years ago that fishing lures
were designed more for fishermen than fish. "You design lures to impress anglers,
more than the fish", he used to say. He should very well know. Over a billion of his
lures have been sold.
I have know that regarding lures for years and I quickly determined that most trout
flies were created for anglers, not trout. In fact, that's why we spent hundreds of
days over a span of eight years, capturing/photoing/videoing every important insect
and other trout food in the nation. We wanted to show anglers what the fish ate and
we wanted flies that imitated their looks and behavior as closely as possible. Ten
years after starting that undertaking, we are very close to having done just that.
We don't care if our flies are pretty or ugly. We want them to look and act like the
real things the trout see and eat day in and day out. You may can fool them with a
kinda, sorta, looking fly, but the more your fly looks and acts like the real things, the
higher your odds of fooling the trout. Even in fast pocket water such as exist in the
Smokies, it makes a difference - sometimes all the difference. In slower, smoother
water it makes a huge difference.
If you are completely satisfied with just being out in the great outdoors and watching
the water, not really caring what you catch or don't catch, then none of this matters.
If you think everything is based on luck, none of this matters. If you are satisfied in
being a mediocre angler, using the "fishing is good, fishing is bad" delusion of a
bi-polar person, it doesn't matter.
If you enjoy being successful at being able to consistently catch trout as a matter of
knowing what you are doing, rather than a matter of luck, it should be a very
important part of your overall strategy.
To be continued