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Match the hatch question

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Ive got a question about matching the hatch, in particular dry fly hatches. For the last couple of weeks there has been an enormous midge hatch, the largest i have ever seen. They are swarming the air and covering the water. My question is, why do you match the hatch. I know it works and that you should, but why does it work. When there is a hatch on, such as this midge hatch, the water is going to be covered in midges. Midges that have perfect proportions, size, color, silhouette and movement. Why on earth would a fish go for a fly i toss at them when they can just slurp down actually midges? Honestly, what looks better, a small little lively midge wiggling around in the surface of the water; or an artificial fly that i just gave them? If i was a fish i would choose the live midge. Don't get me wrong, i know that matching the hatch is the way to go, and i do so as often as i can. Just why does it work so good.I hope that this question makes sense and that i don't just sound silly.

 

Thanks

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You have asked a question that we can't answer until we can communicate with the fish. The theory I subscribe to is one put forward by Dick Walker. He used a line drawn cartoon of a Chinaman, in reality it looked nothing like a Chinaman, but things like the wide face, eyes, and coolie hat lead us to instantly identify the the cartoon as being of a Chinaman. Mr Walker then explained that fish may identify their food using similar "keys". It is possible that the things we see as faults, are the things that exaggerate the keys the fish are using to identify an item as food.

 

A favourite author of mine, Terry Pratchet, summed up a creatures thought process when it comes across something new, in three questions and a statement.

  • Do I need to run away from this?
  • Can I eat this?
  • Can I have sex with this?
  • [All "no" answers mean] it's a stone.

In imitative fly fishing you have to overcome the first, without going as far as the third or fourth. Of course it is doubtful that the fish actually have that kind of internal dialogue. It serves, though, to help our understanding to phrase the fish's reactions that way.

 

In In the Rings of the Rise Vincent Mariano describes a fish behaviour that I have had happen myself. That of hanging below a dry fly for several yards, apparently inspecting the fly. When you see this you have overcome the fish's flight reaction and caught its attention, but not convinced it to eat. If you can maintain the drift for long enough, the fish will be tempted, and give in to the urge to feed. The only times I have failed to catch such a fish is when I have been unable to maintain good presentation (the drift) for long enough. It goes to show that imitative fly fishing consists of two parts, pattern and presentation. Usually presentation being the more important part. This explains the success of one of the best trout fishermen I've met who's flies resemble nothing so much as half a chicken lashed to a hook.

 

We have a hatch here, that I don't know if you have. It presents a similar situation to your midge hatch. Caenis (there are two distinct hatches the one I'm talking about here is the Evening Caenis, Morning Caenis is a different matter). When they hatch it is like mist rising from the water in great dense clouds. There are many patterns tied to imitate the Caenis, usually in sizes 20 to 22, but they are generally useless. The fish just swim through the ascending nymphs with their mouths open. By dropping your imitation among them it might get picked up. Fish will not target your fly.

 

One friend of mine has had some success with a size 8 long shank Woolly Bugger in florescent colours (often lime green) ripped through just under the surface. I usually just go home.

 

When a hatch becomes so intense that fish are not taking individual flies, imitative fly fishing hits one of its limits. Fly fishing could be defined as putting something the fish thinks it can eat in front of the fish. Imitative fly fishing is just one way of convincing the fish that your fly is something it can eat. It will often fail. When it does there are other options.

 

Cheers,

C.

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I am not a "match-the-hatch" follower, usually. I don't fish for trout, and I know things are a bit different with that fishery. That being said, there are similarities:

1. As Crackaig stated, there are fight, flight or eat instincts that have to be overcome.

2. Matching the hatch tends to defeat the fight and flight instincts because the fish are used to seeing that image.

3. Eat or don't eat is then the only consideration.

a. In a light hatch, your perfect match fly, presented close to the fish will get hit, there aren't enough food items to allow over "pickiness".

b. In a heavy hatch, a perfect match might get "lost in the crowd" and slight differences make the fly stand out in the crowd.

c. This might be the actual reason a hatch matching fly GETS bit ... it's not as perfect a match as we think, and the fish key in on the difference.

 

So, matching the hatch might work.

Presenting something a little different might work.

What the fish sees is completely different than what we think the fish sees, so anything might work at any given time.

 

Fishing is a walk in the fog. Sometimes you bump into the right person and have the time of your life. Sometimes you walk forever and never see another person (even though they are all around you). Sometimes, you bump into the bully, and your fishing gear gets mangled in the battle that ensues.

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Midges tend to cluster.

 

I used to think that I had to use a small Griffith Gnat when the midges were small, trying to imitate individual midges. I've asked Gary Borger what his strategy is for these situations. His answer was a size 16 Griffith's Gnat. He said it does NOT matter that the midges are much smaller than a size 16, put on a size 16 GN.

 

We have dinner with our wives quite often so one evening, he gave me some GNs he tied for me. I refuse to use them and asked him to sign the container. I keep them on my tying desk.

 

Note the flies with a bit of trailing fibers on the right ice of the container.

 

P1020190A_zps3675bc50.jpg

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As a new fly fisherman I have the same question. I suspect that there is a difference between those fish who strike on instinct / aggression vs trout who are selective. Now I am still confused how something I have tied looks eatable compared to the real thing but think that in some ways a hand tied fly may just look to darn juicy to pass up (I will admit I have witnessed many trout inspecting my perfectly tied fly and turning away after flipping me a fin...).

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"I suspect that there is a difference between those fish who strike on instinct / aggression vs trout who are selective."

 

ALL fish can be either of these types. I stopped at a small pond yesterday after work, and watched schools of sunfish. They would rush to my fly, then gather around, as if they were discussing it. About once every ten seconds or so, one would swim close and try to pick pieces off the fly. Usually, they would just grab the marabou on it's back. This is a small fly, and the marabou is only about 1/2 inch long, but that's the only part they would try to eat. I fished for a little over an hour, and only got two bluegills take it deep enough to set a hook.

 

Trout are also eating on "instinct" and are no "smarter" than any other fish.

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I, also, am not much of a "match the hatch" guy. My outlook is that if there is a heavy hatch, show the fish something entirely different - that stands out from the crowd - and it will get their attention. If it looks and acts edible, they will most likely take it.

Fish are opportunists. In a stream with some current, their food is just passing through, so they better grab it while they can. In still water, they have a little more time to decide.

I'm always amused by how smart some folks think Trout are. They act out of pure instinct, nothing more. There is no thought process involved. If your fly is much bigger, acts differently, or the color is way off, than what they're used to, like Steven said, the red flag goes up and they're outa there. That's just how they survive. That's why you can usually get away with suggestive patterns. Trout can't count legs, eyes, wings, or anything else.

All that to say - I don't think you have to necessarily match the hatch in order to be successful.

 

While we're on this subject; I really don't think subtle differences in color make much difference, either. If you have green and light green, for example, I don't think the multitude of shades of green in between will make or break the decision (?) of the fish whether or not to strike. I expect there are many (including dubbing salesmen) who would nail me to the barn for that, but that's what I think.

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I'm always amused by how smart some folks think Trout are. They act out of pure instinct, nothing more. There is no thought process involved. If your fly is much bigger, acts differently, or the color is way off, than what they're used to, like Steven said, the red flag goes up and they're outa there. That's just how they survive. That's why you can usually get away with suggestive patterns. Trout can't count legs, eyes, wings, or anything else.

 

All that to say - I don't think you have to necessarily match the hatch in order to be successful.

 

 

 

Not quite true Chase.

 

Instinct is defined as

 

: a way of behaving, thinking, or feeling that is not learned : a natural desire or tendency that makes you want to act in a particular way

: something you know without learning it or thinking about it

: a natural ability

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/instinct

Fish have the ability to remember and they can be trained. This is a form of learning, although it is NOT a form of higher abstract thought like reasoning.

Several scientific experiments have shown fish including trout have memory and the ability to be trained.

http://www.howfishbehave.ca/pdf/Long-term%20memory.pdf

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/4158477/Fishs-memories-last-for-months-say-scientists.html

http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/memory-like-a-fish

Without memory, there would be no selective feeding. Selectivity develops as a result of memory and operant conditioning as discovered by BF Skinnner.

BF Skinner demonstrated years ago that changing behavior does not require reasoning but positive or negative reinforcement. This is called operant conditioning.

http://www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html

We see it every day when we fly fish. How does a fish "learn" to avoid a dragging fly? How does a fish become selective to a hatch? It is not by reasoning it or by "instinct". If it were by instinct, it would be innate and there would be no need for operant conditioning to make them more difficult to catch.

It is operant conditioning, in the first case by negative reinforcement (being caught or by not being rewarded with food), and in the second case by being rewarded by food.

So how does a fish "learn" to avoid the visible sheen of a floating tippet? The same way it "learns" to avoid a dragging fly. If negative consequences occur often enough, operant conditioning occurs so the fish does not reason the tippet is attached to a fly, it associates the tippet with a negative event.

A second form of condition is classical conditioning. We see it when fish that are fed with food pellets become arouse when we throw pebbles instead of food.

These fish have been trained by this technique. Both types of conditioning require no reasoning. These fish have been trained by this classical conditioning.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8283701.stm

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Pavlov's dog. Conditioned responses. It's not intelligence. It is barely distinguishable from actual instinct as soon as the fish reacts the same way to similar stimuli.

But this type of learning requires constant reinforcement, which rarely happened in nature ... until we came along. Catch and release has "trained" fish to avoid certain negative stimuli. By "matching the hatch", we try to overcome negative stimuli of "difference". If you put a perfect imitation in front of a fish, it will eat it, having been rewarded by eating "it" before. But if you put something the fish has never seen before, it is just as likely to eat it to, since there's been no negative conditioning for that.

 

Still boils down to the same thing. Matching the hatch can catch fish ... not matching the hatch can catch fish. If you catch fish, you're doing the right thing.

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Pavlov's dog. Conditioned responses. It's not intelligence. It is barely distinguishable from actual instinct as soon as the fish reacts the same way to similar stimuli.

But this type of learning requires constant reinforcement, which rarely happened in nature ... until we came along. Catch and release has "trained" fish to avoid certain negative stimuli. By "matching the hatch", we try to overcome negative stimuli of "difference". If you put a perfect imitation in front of a fish, it will eat it, having been rewarded by eating "it" before. But if you put something the fish has never seen before, it is just as likely to eat it to, since there's been no negative conditioning for that.

 

Still boils down to the same thing. Matching the hatch can catch fish ... not matching the hatch can catch fish. If you catch fish, you're doing the right thing.

 

Both classical conditions and operant conditioning are very different from instinct.

 

Pavlov's dog is classic conditioning and classic conditioning is different from how selectivity develops.

 

Classical conditioning is when you throw pebbles into a pod of hatchery raised trout and they get excited because they associate the pebbles hitting the water with food pellets hitting the water. It is an INVOLUNTARY response just as salivation in Pavlov's dog.

 

Operant conditioning results in a learned response. It is the result of the voluntary action of the fish and the fish is either rewarded or punished as a result of it's action. It then learns what to avoid and what to eat.

 

In the Pavlovian dog experiment, a bell is run and then food is given to the dog. When conditioned, the dog salivates involuntarily to the bell in the absence of the food that stimulates salivation.

 

Read further and you will find dogs and higher species than fish learn the same way, and the same principles of operant conditions are applied to children, to get them to learn by positive reinforcement. This is exactly what parents do when they praise their children. That is operant conditioning. It is the same way that fish become selective feeders. If you believe that that selective feeding behavior is instinct, then what you learned as a child by operant condition is also what you call "instinct". Neither case meets the definition or criteria of how instinct is defined.

 

http://www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html

 

Fish do have some aspects of intelligence such as memory and learning as illustrated by learning from positive and negative outcomes. So intelligence is "relative". Are fish as smart as a dog? No. But they are smarter than algae and amoeba.

 

You can read about how selective develops in this post I wrote for another forum. In it I explain why even during selective feeding by the majority of trout, you may still catch some fish who are feeding opportunistically and will take a non hatch matching fly.

 

So you are correct that you may catch some opportunistic non selective fish even during the times when the majority of fish are feeding selectively.

 

http://www.theflyfishingforum.com/forums/general-discussion/334575-selectivity-why-how-do-trout-become-selective-feeders.html

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For trout, feeding is a formula of energy expended vs energy gained. In order to survive they must intake more energy than they expend to get it.

 

To try and over simplify a very complex subject, trout (basically) target the food source that is easiest to capture as it floats by in their feeding lanes.

 

It is a combination of learned behavior and instinct that is defined by availability and behavior of the current food source -- in that from bug to bug, how they feed will change.

 

Why would they eat your midge vs a real one?

 

Midges are small and hatches are prolific. Sipping a single-bug and taking time to scrutinize an offering would violate the rule of "eat more move less."

 

Studies show that size, shape/silhoutte, presentation (position in water column compared to natural) are more important than color in triggering a strike (but varies on water where fishing pressure is higher and learned behavior plays a greater role in scrutiny).

 

For a fish that is sitting in a feeding lane with an open mouth and letting midges flow into it by the dozens before it swallows, your fly is just another well presented clump, or black dot of energy.

 

Just because your first few casts didn't immediately hook a fish or put it down -- present, present present -- eventually your fly will be in the right place at the right time and provide a strike.

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Something I've always wondered about is why I can come along (in the past of course wink wink) and throw a small spinner and catch trout right behind the "match the hatch" guys. I am convinced that a small spinner will take fish, especially recently stocked fish, when matching the hatch is a great guessing game. I also just did a swap with pistol pete's, basically a small streamer with a little prop blade in front. I've also done wooly buggers with a prop blade and they will catch fish when you can't them on almost anything else, and when they hit you seldom miss them because they attack with a vengeance.

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Something I've always wondered about is why I can come along (in the past of course wink wink) and throw a small spinner and catch trout right behind the "match the hatch" guys. I am convinced that a small spinner will take fish, especially recently stocked fish, when matching the hatch is a great guessing game. I also just did a swap with pistol pete's, basically a small streamer with a little prop blade in front. I've also done wooly buggers with a prop blade and they will catch fish when you can't them on almost anything else, and when they hit you seldom miss them because they attack with a vengeance.

 

Because the fish you caught were NOT feeding SELECTIVELY.

 

Even during a hatch, fish populations exhibit variance in behavior due to individual differences in the fish as well as the differences in the micro environment that they inhabit. For example a fish at the head of a pool may be feeding on a different item that the fish in the middle of a pool.

 

Even more confounding is the fact that fish at deferent depths in the same location, in the middle of a pool, may be feeding on a different food item.

 

Jack Dennis has an underwater video that shows this phenomena. Fish have a feeding hierarchy. The largest fish most of the time will occupy the best feeding station and the second largest, the second best and so on. The small fish have to fend for themselves and will often be feeding opportunistically because they have less need to feed selectively. They expend less energy feeding and get relatively more calories per body mass for each item eaten.

 

As zOnk said above, the need to feed selectively is a formula of energy expended vs energy gained. Smaller fisn expend less energy to feed and they get more relatively energy per gram of their body mass than larger fish.

 

Although matching the hatch may be a guessing game, the reward is that during hatches in which there is selective feeding, the odds favor the larger fish feeding selectively. You will need to match the hatch to catch those larger fish who are selectively feeding. Selective feeling is a biologic necessity for these large fish.

 

Again, I refer you to this thread:

 

http://www.theflyfishingforum.com/forums/general-discussion/334575-selectivity-why-how-do-trout-become-selective-feeders.html

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