Trout Fishing For Dummies: Part 1 – The Fish
If you're reading this you either really want to know how to catch trout and haven't a clue how or where to start, or just want to be entertained. Either way, this article is worth reading and sharing. I'll start by dispelling a Trout-Myth that scares many would-be trout anglers from enjoying the rewarding endeavor of trout fishing.
MYTH: TROUT ARE SMART. Trout are slightly more intelligent than a bag of hammers. However, they DO have a very highly evolved set of instincts & senses, to which people who can't catch trout assign an IQ to somewhere between "brilliant" & "genius". It's these instincts & senses which make them seemingly difficult to apprehend.
"But Rob, how do I catch them and eat their vitamin-rich, toxin-free yumminess, if their instincts & senses are so highly developed and refined?"
Good question. The point of this whole article, really. Before trying to catch them, we must first have at least a fundamental knowledge of our prey's behaviors. THREE very important factors them through their simple lives; 1) food comes from upstream or from above, 2) energy needs to be conserved, and 3) DEATH comes from above! Let's break it down.
The only things that move UPstream in a trout-stream or small river are fish and sometimes other aquatic critters, very few of whom prey on trout, and trout rarely eat other fish. Dislodged aquatic invertebrates (bugs, larvae, pupae and worms & such) come from UPstream or land/fall onto the water's surface. That's why 90% of the time, trout hover facing upstream in a calm area waiting for their next meal.
Energy conservation; you're hungry. Your food is all gone. You have no transportation. You have very little money, and the only store open at this hour is too far to walk. You would burn up all the acquired nutrients from the can of tuna you can afford just walking back & forth to the store. Not only are you hungry...but your resources are limited (if you're morally obligated to refrain from eating your cat). This dilemma (except the moral one) is what each and every fish, particularly the larger ones, face every day; getting the most food they can by expending as little energy and putting themselves at as little risk as possible. Trout solve this dilemma by being an ambush-predator. Ambush predators find places with calm water either besides or surrounded by, faster water which usually carries food. Then they wait, watching, smelling and feeling for food-like disturbances. And wait. And wait. They conserve energy and resources by waiting for the grocery store to come to them.
Trout in trout-streams are rarely preyed upon by other aquatic inhabitants. Sure, they occasionally get gobbled by snapping-turtles, cormorant or perhaps fish-eating fish like walleye or pike that make their way from larger rivers a short distance up into trout-stream tributaries but for the most part, if you're a trout, you are food for things that either swoop down out of the sky, or reach in from the bank and grab you like herons, raccoons, bears, possums, egrets and raptors; Death From Above. All of a trout's wily "intelligence" that many people think could get the entire genus into John Hopkins or Harvard is just the culmination of millennia of not-getting-eaten.
That's why suspected trout habitat needs to be approached with ninja-like stealth; the impact of your footsteps transmit though the ground and are picked up by the trout's highly attuned vibration sensor; the lateral-line. The lateral-line also helps trout pick up minute vibrations like those made by their prey, which is why (whoops, almost gave away some of Part 4: Tactical Operations).
A trout's eyesight is excellent and will easily pick out something new, big, and wearing colors that are out of place such as your favorite black concert tee-shirt, in its above-water surroundings. But this eyesight has a limitation that you can exploit. Trout see to the sides of themselves and in front of themselves in approximately a 300 degree arc. They see ABOVE themselves and above the water's calm surface in this same near-circle, but only at a 45-degree angle, and only as far in radius as they are in depth below the surface. For example, a trout two-feet below the surface of a nearly calm & clear pool, can see up and out at a 45 degree angle, from the center of a four-foot diameter near-circle. If your Iowa Hawkeyes cap is above that sightline you will be seen as "something-that-ain't-quite-right-here". Everything outside that circle is reflected back down like a mirror under the water's surface, showing the trout only its extended underwater environment. This phenomenon allows trout to spot underwater prey moving farther off to their sides...in their down-view mirrors. Pretty cool, huh?
Trout also have an acute sense of "something-ain't-quite-right-here" and when they get that "something-ain't-quite-right-here" feeling they stop everything that isn't "don't-get-eaten" behavior (swim away, stay still, go deep, etc.) and they stop feeding in lieu of not getting eaten. "Something-ain't-quite-right-here" can be anything from a hard metal object in their food to a vibration from the bank to that Hawkeyes cap we spoke of earlier. That's usually when people who think that trout know the answers to everything that keeps Stephen Hawkings up at night encounter them; after they've been "spooked" and won't eat until they're either too hungry to care, or their environment has returned to its normal state.
Ultimately, the reason that trout are so "smart" is that their link in the food chain is closer to "prey", than "predator". Think of them as FinGill Rabbits and you'll improve your understanding of them, thereby improving your chances of catching them.
The "Trout Fishing For Dummies" series continues with Part 2: The Water.