How to Tell What Trout Are Feeding On

Ever wonder how to tell what fish are feeding on when they’re rising? Here are a few quick tips that will help you determine what they are eating.

When you spot a trout rising, it is important to first determine whether the fish are eating bugs on the surface, or just below. If you see just the dorsal and the tail break the surface, the odds are they are eating emergers – aquatic insects that are making their way to the surface to metamorphose into flying insects. If you see the head come up, then the fish is eating bugs on the surface – either duns that are drying their wings before they fly off, or spinners that have completed their life cycle and make for an easy meal.

A beautiful brown trout being held in a net

Here’s How to Tell What Trout Are Feeding On

  • Determine if the fish is eating on the surface or just below it.
  • Study the water to see what bugs are hatching. Find one and study it up close so you can match the size and color.
  • When you see a fish that is rising consistently and you’ve determined that it is eating on the surface, try to locate bugs that are floating down through its feeding lane. Follow the insects as they float over the rising fish and see if the fish reacts to it.
  • It is common to see a variety of bugs hatching at the same time. When this happens, it’s important to spend some time observing the river to determine which bugs the fish are keying in on. It’s better to let the fish rise naturally while you figure out what it is feeding on than casting at it with every fly in your box.
  • If the trout is eating emergers, then they are chowing whatever is hatching – if there are multiple hatches occurring it can be difficult to determine what they are eating without floating a few emerger patterns over it.
  • If nothing is working, trying flies that imitate a variety of species, such as an Adams, may solicit a rise.
Angler casting dry flies to rising trout

How to Choose the Best Fly to Use for Trout

If you can see exactly what bugs the fish are feeding on, then it will be a lot easier for you to select the right fly. If you are unable to determine what the trout are eating following these recommendations will help!

  • Start with a fly that matches the most prolific hatch happening.
  • If a fish reacts to your fly (whether it just moves on your fly and refuses it or you miss the hook set), let the fish be and wait until it rises again before continuing to cast at it.
  • If the trout isn’t interested in your fly, don’t keep beating the water with it – switch it to a different size, color variation, or match a different hatch that is happening. 
  • Every situation is different, but when the fish aren’t eating the fly that matches the most prolific hatch happening – trying smaller, more subtle flies next is wiser as it is less likely to spook the fish.

Best Time of Day for Trout Fishing

The best time of day to catch trout will vary depending upon the time of year, temperature, and river conditions. However, typically the best time of day for trout fishing is usually the first 3-4 hours of daylight and the last 3-4 hours of daylight.

What Are the Best Rods For Trout?

Every rod weight, length, and action are designed for a specific fishing application. Whether it be streamer fishing, dry fly, or nymphing ­– each rod is created for a particular technique.

There are a few rods that bridge the gap and are more versatile – providing multi-use capabilities. These rods are designed to perform when fishing a variety of techniques. For the average angler fishing for trout on any given day you may need to change your technique to adapt to the river and conditions. This is when multi-purpose rods come in handy.

A 9’ 5 weight fly rod or 9’ 6 weight fly rod are the go-to rods for most anglers looking for a solid multi-use option.

The Douglas SKY G fly rods are some of the best multi-purpose rods on the market. A high-performance rod that won best 5 weight fly rod and best 6 weight fly rod in Yellowstone Angler’s famous 5 & 6 Weight Shootouts. The 9’ 6 weight DXF fly rod won best mid-priced rod on the market

Ready to Try a Douglas Fly Rod?

Visit a local fly shop to cast and purchase a Douglas fly rod, or shop online to get it delivered to your home.