One of the more frequently asked questions I’m asked is, “which bug should I use?” It’s a fair question considering the multitude of naturals on the water and the bazillion options you have in the fly bins at your local fly shop. My favorite answer of course would be “the fly that’s working! “, so which fly is that? Do you look to see what bugs are flying around in the air? Or landing in the trees along the bank?! Since fish have no hands it’s hard for them to hang on to the branches. How about turning over rocks in the stream? That works well, and it tells you what bugs are in the water. Or if it is legal in your area you can shuffle your feet on the bottom, while someone holds a net downstream to collect what you have kicked up.
There are many different methods you can use to tell what bugs are in the area and they all work well in helping you identify the types of bugs in the water you are fishing. That’s where it stops because it has told you everything but the most important thing. What is the fish eating? And is what they are eating in a stage of its life that makes it available to the fish?
So how do you find out just which bug fish are fixating on? Even though you think it is one magical bug, more than likely it’s not. I have never seen in my time as a guide and angler where just one species of bug was the only one available to the fish. Sure, when the hatch is in full swing it may seam like there is just one bug on the water but really that’s not the case.
So, let me fill you in on a method I use that allows me to take bug samples at different water depths.
I take a large aquarium net and attach a small line through the handle. Then I punch a small hole in the base of the net, so I can get a small key ring around the bottom bar of the net. Then I attach a small weight to the ring. The speed of the current dictates the amount of weight you need. You will need to play with it to get the weight you need to be able to drop the net without it spinning. Hopefully you are getting where I am going with this. That said this system works well from a boat on lakes and waters like Fall River. I have never used it on the Lower Sac so I don’t know how it would work there. I have used it on the McCloud River, Pit River and the Upper Sac. It takes a little playing with on wading rivers, and you may want to use a smaller net for those types of waters.
I like to lower the net over the side of the boat and let it hang there for a while. I will check the samples at different levels until I reach bottom. If I am wading I will lean over a big rock to drop the net on the other side. This way I can keep it away from where I am standing. Remember bugs drift so you don’t have to be exact on your location on where you drop it. One of the nice things about using this system from the boat is that you can lower it down until the net is right on the top of the weeds.
So now that the bug’s you are collecting in the net are the ones that are available to the fish, how do you process the information you just collected. You may have many different bugs in the net, I like to start with the species with the highest number of representatives in the net. This system takes a little playing with before you get the kinks worked out of it. Now the question some of you are thinking, why don’t you just use a stomach pump? Because your results will be the same, with no damage to the fish.