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The Other Foodstuffs

By Bill Luscombe , 🕔Mon, Mar 21st, 2011


There are many other things that live in or fall on the water that trout eat as food besides the "big four" hatches (midges, mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies) and the dragonflies and damselflies; some of them are staples that the fish rely on to survive throughout most of the year. These include the crustaceans (scuds, crayfish), leeches, waterboatmen (Corixa), forage fish (fry, stickleback, sculpins) and terrestrials (grasshoppers, beetles, ants).

By far the most common foods of trout are scuds and leeches. They are available to the trout year 'round in just about any lake or piece of slow water in the world, especially the leeches. The best leech imitation I know of is the Black Woolly Bugger. It combines the flowing movement of marabou feather and hen hackle to imitate the swimming motion of the natural leech. There are many variations of this pattern, some very excellent such as the egg sucking leech, but the basic bugger still produces tons of trout every season.


Fly Tying Instructions:

  1. Wrap on tying thread and secure to the butt a clump of black marabou feather about hook shank in length.
  2. Tie in one black saddle hackle by the tip and then the chenille.
  3. Wrap the thread, and then the chenille, forward to the hook eye forming a cylindrical body.
  4. Trim off the excess.
  5. Palmer the hackle forward and tie off.
  6. Trim excess.
  7. Whip finish and cement the head.

To fish the woolly bugger effectively in still water you should utilise the hand-twist retrieve and the count down method for finding the right depth. A strip retrieve is too fast and erratic to accurately imitate the natural flowing motion of a swimming leech. The hand-twist brings the fly in at a steady pace, just like the real creature.

The leech is most effectively fished near the bottom of the lake or at the tops of the weeds, whichever comes first. To find this depth use the countdown method.

Scuds make up the other staple of trout in slow water and lakes. These little crustaceans are often referred to as freshwater shrimp, but they are not really shrimp. There are two distinct species of scuds: the tiny Hyallela and the more robust Gammarus. Hyallela occur in both coastal and interior lakes, but the big Gammarus prefer alkaline waters and don't occur much on the raincoast. Either way, the scud is a very important food staple of trout and while there are many excellent imitations of it, the Crystal Scud is one of the easiest and best patterns I know.

Crystal Scud:

Fly Tying Instructions:

  1. Wrap on tying thread and secure to the butt a length of crystal chenille.
  2. Wind thread to the head and wrap chenille to just behind the hook eye.
  3. Tie off the chenille and whip finish the head.
  4. Clip the top and sides tight to form the body/carapace/shellback.
  5. Leave the underside as is for the shaggy legs.

Another great scud patttern is the Olive Scud.

Fish the scud in exactly the same way you would fish the woolly bugger leech pattern. Both creatures dwell at the same level in the lake and move at a slow, steady pace; so should your imitation. Waterboatmen and backswimmers belong to different families of insects, since they behave similarly however, we deal with them in the same way.

Waterboatmen occur in just about all slow water situations and do not have a "hatch" as such, rather they have an annual mating flight around September. During the flight the insects swim to the surface, fly into the air to mate and then return to the water. When they hit the water they make a little splash, usually hesitate a second, and then quickly swim downwards. The splash attracts the fish and brings about a rise. A good imitation of the waterboatmen is as follows:


Fly Tying Instructions:

  1. Wrap on tying thread and secure to the butt a wide clump of turkey primary feather fibres.
  2. Tie in a strand of flat silver tinsel to the underside of the butt.
  3. Form a dubbing loop with the thread, dub on the yellow body material, and wrap to just behind the hook eye.Make it slightly fat.
  4. Trim off excess and trim to cigar shape.
  5. Pull the tinsel forward flat along the belly of the fly to the eye.
  6. Tie off and trim excess.
  7. Pull the turkey feather fibres over the back to form a broad shellback.
  8. Tie off at the hook eye and trim excess.
  9. Tie in a small clump of turkey feather fibres on either side of the head to form the swimmerets.
  10. Clip at about body length.
  11. Whip finish and cement the head.

The waterboatman pattern is best fished with a standard full sinking line, a long leader (12 - 15 feet), and a strip retrieve. Cast the line out and allow it to sink until just before the leader is pulled under. Then start a strip retrieve using short strips to imitate the natural's pumping action as it swims toward bottom.

The full sinking line will belly as it sinks and this belly will pull the fly down towards the bottom when you start your retrieve, just like the natural. This method will not work if you use the new level sink lines as a belly will not form as the line sinks towards bottom. The forage fish are made up mostly of fry and sculpins. Cutthroats, browns, and larger rainbows will all chase a minnow for food since it offers a big meal in one bite. Fry imitations are so profuse you could not possibly pick one as the best, however, there is an unparalleled imitation of the sculpin and that is the Muddler Minnow.

Muddler Minnow:

Fly Tying Instructions:

  1. Tie in a tail of mottled turkey quill.
  2. Tie in the gold tinsel, wrap the thread forward and then wrap the tinsel forward to form the body.
  3. Tie in the underwing of brown calf tail and trim excess.
  4. Tie in the overwing of mottled turkey quill and trim excess.
  5. Tie in deer hair as a collar.
  6. Tightly spin on deer hair for the head.
  7. Whip finish.
  8. Clip deer hair head to shape.

Fish the muddler as close to bottom of the stream as you can. Cast across-stream and down and allow the fly to tumble until it sinks to the bottom. Then stop the drift and allow the fly to swing across the current. Strikes often occur at the start of the swing. With each ensuing cast simply swing the fly across a bit further down the run. Last but not least are the terrestrials. These land-born insects only become available to the trout during a major hatch, such as the ant hatch, or on windy days.

Black carpenter ants are the best known of the terrestrial insects that fish key in on. There are lots of ant patterns, but it is always a problem keeping them afloat. The foam ant pattern does this fairly well:

Black Foam Ant:

Fly Tying Instructions:

  1. Tie in the thread at the bend in the hook.
  2. Cut a 2 centimetres (approx. 1') narrow section of craft foam, a width of 2 millimetres (less than 1/10 of an inch) is fine.
  3. Tie in the foam centrally on the hook shank and tie it down almost the full shank length.
  4. Prepare three bristles for legs.
  5. Tie the three bristles perpendicular to the shank, equally distributed along the middle third of the shank. Cross them in tightly.
  6. Fold back the foam at the front of the hook to form a small head.
  7. Tie it down, pressing out all the air.
  8. Fold the rear of the foam back to the centre forming a larger abdomen behind the last set of legs.
  9. Trim off excess.
  10. Whip finish and cement.
  11. Bend the legs as shown in the photo.

Trout also eat grasshoppers and beetles when they happen to fall onto the water. In areas where the waterways pass through grassy fields the hoppers can almost produce a "hatch" at times, and on windy days beetles can be blown off overhanging foliage and down to the waiting trout. If you live near such areas you should pack along a few flies that imitate each of these insects as well.

Terrestrial patterns are all fished the same way . . . dead drift on a dry line with almost no motion. A slight twitch now and then can attract the attention of a trout as well.

Fly patterns that imitate the staples of a trout's diet are good patterns to start with in any stream or lake. They are always present and so the fish recognise them as food all year 'round. You should carry a stock of these patterns with you whenever you go fishing. They will often make up the flies that are your first and last resort.

Bill Luscombe has been hunting and fishing for most of his 42 years. He has been flyfishing for 20 years. He instructs flyfishing, and has done so for the past 12 years. He also instructs the federal FSET firearms course and the BC CORE hunter training course. He is an award-winning outdoor writer and has been writing freelance since 1987. He has been published in BC Sport Fishing Magazine, Outdoor Edge, BC Outdoors, Western Sportsman, Island Fish Finder, and the BC Hunting Guide.

Bill Luscombe was born an army brat and raised in Ladner (Delta, BC) where he was raised hunting waterfowl and pheasants. He presently resides in North Cowichan on southern Vancouver Island where he has lived and worked full time as a professional forester since 1982.

He presently works in Nanaimo for the BC Forest Service and continue to write the fly-fishing column for BC Sport Fishing Magazine as well as contributing articles freelance to various outdoor magazines in western Canada. Bill Luscombe is also a BC Director of the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association.

"Catching fish is not hard. You simply need to understand what makes them tick. If you think like a fish, you will catch fish. It´s as simple as that."- Bill Luscombe



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