Every fly angler has been in this exact situation hundreds of times. You've found a slow-moving pool with a pod of trout visibly rising to feed. The trout are rising consistently and you've been watching carefully. Rather than taking insects sitting on the top, they look to be stopping short of taking anything on the surface.
These trout are, in fact, taking larvae just below the surface. It's an easy meal for them and, during these circumstances, they usually aren't willing to make the extra effort to take a dry fly or dive down for a weighted nymph pattern. They swim a few inches below the surface and let the struggling larvae drift right to them. It just goes to show that trout are masters of conserving energy while actively feeding.
So, how do you catch these trout without spooking them?
A great option is to use a dry-dropper rig and suspend a more natural nymph or emerger imitation a few inches below the surface. In other words, this isn't your typical dry-dropper rig. Rather than using a foamy grasshopper pattern, we will use a small parachute dry fly such as an Adams Parachute. When this dry fly hits the surface, it won't deter or push them away with its large splat. This lightweight dry fly serves as an indicator -- if they take it, good, but the main goal is to have a small visible indicator that won't spook them. Next, substitute that flashy 'dropper' nymph for a more realistic fly like a beadless Pheasant Tail nymph or a Jujubee Midge.
Attach a small 6-inch section of 5X or 6X tippet to your dry fly of choice and drop the unweighted nymph or emerger off the back. When you cast this dry dropper rig out the dry fly will suspend the nymph just a few inches below the surface, right where the trout are feeding.
- 6-inch section of 5x or 6x tippet.
- Tied off the eye or back of the dry fly.
- Small emerger pattern combined with a visible dry fly.
Because these trout are extremely sensitive to vibrations in the water and are keeping a close eye on predators from above, make an effort to position yourself carefully so that you won't be seen, your steps aren't heavy, and your casts are drag-free; this also includes your shadow and the shadow of your rod. If you need to, make a wide and distanced approach so that you're casting 20 to 30-feet downstream at an angle or upstream at an angle.
I strongly believe that in almost every situation you can serve a perfect presentation just by choosing your position carefully. Take advantage of what is provided.
Your ability to position yourself in the stream such that the presentation is drag-free and naturally drifts with the current is of the utmost importance. In fact, I strongly believe that in almost every situation you can serve a perfect presentation just by choosing your position carefully. Take advantage of what is provided. For example, leveraging the direction of the current to your advantage or even the wind. When it comes to fly fishing successfully, presentation is king. It's not always your choice of pattern, color, size, or time of day -- it's how you present what you have. Almost every time I fail to hook into any fish, it's because my presentation was lacking.
With that being said, present your fly gently so that it just softly lands on the surface. A great way to achieve a soft cast is to shoot your line a few feet above the water and let gravity do the rest. Now, keep an eye on your dry fly, mend when needed, and watch for it to suddenly get pulled under the surface. After that, lift your rod and happy fishing!