My first memory of bringing a trout to hand with a fly rod took place back in the spring of 1990, on a seasonal trout stream, located 45 minutes north of Atlanta, GA. It was a far cry from a trophy trout at 10-inches, but that freshly stocked rainbow trout, touched my eleven year old fishing soul to the core. I’ll never forget the excitement I felt watching that stocker chase down and eat my olive woolly bugger at my feet. It felt really good for a change, not relying on that plastic blue can of worms to get the job done. From that day forward, I never looked back, and I’ve moved on to become a respectable trout guide in my area and I’ve fly fished for trout all over the world.
A lot of fly fisherman would laugh at me if I brought that fishing memory up in conversation. Many wouldn’t be able to look past the fact that I was fly fishing for stocked trout that weren’t naturally born in a stream or river. If you happen to be reading this post and you’re one of those fly anglers that I’m referring to, just remember that we aren’t all blessed to have easy access to wild trout. For many of us, wild trout populations are so low (because of poor conservation and land management), it’s not even feasible for us to strategically target them, and if it wasn’t for stocked trout, we’d have no trout at all. If you’re fortunate to be blessed with wild trout populations where you live, don’t forget how that special that is, and please don’t make fun or belittle others who take pride in catching stocked trout. You just make yourself look ungrateful and worthy of having wild trout.
Before I get into my fly fishing tips for stocked trout, I’d like to take a moment to mention a couple of reasons I feel stocked fisheries can be good for the sport. For one, they’re a great place to introduce kids and newcomers to fly fishing for trout. Timed correctly, an angler with zero experience can have great success catching trout. Secondly, put and take trout waters provide great locations for anglers who like to harvest trout, to do so without having to illegally poach on special regulation or wild trout fisheries.
Fly Fishing Tips for Stocked Trout
Tip 1: Big flies and bright flies are generally the best choice for freshly stocked trout
If I knew I was going to be targeting freshly stocked trout (within a week or less of being stocked) I should really only need three types of patterns. The first would be a big Stimulator dry fly. Since stocked fish are conditioned to eating fish food pellets on the surface in the hatcheries, anglers can regularly take them on the surface with big dry flies. A dead drifted dry works really good, but sometimes, twitching or skating it at the end of the drift will also work. If the stocked trout aren’t liking your dry flies, I’d next try stripping a black or olive woolly bugger. A large profiled fly with an erratic action will really get the attention of freshly stocked trout, so much in fact, that they often will swim several feet to eat a big fly like a woolly bugger. And if the woolly bugger isn’t working I’d next rig up a tandem nymph rig and tie on a bright san juan worm or egg pattern off the back. Fluorescent colored flies are very hard for stocked trout to pass up, and they’re usually the ticket until most of the stocked trout have been landed on them multiple times. Try these tactics above for freshly stocked trout.
Tip 2: Don’t move, change your flies first
Don’t always think the fun is over after a few fish. Many anglers move on to new water when all they need to do is change out their flies to something different to continue to catch stocked trout. This works really well when you’ve got crowded water and equally well when you’ve got kids that aren’t very mobile.
Tip 3: Search out the slower moving water like pools and deeper runs
When trout are first stocked they often search out slower moving water. I think most of the time this is because they’re trying to match the slow moving water that they grew up in at the hatcheries and it’s more comfortable to them. If you know the DNR recently stocked you should first check out the pools and deeper slow moving runs and bypass the fast moving pocket water. These places you should find pods of trout hanging out and easy to catch.
Tip 4: Go natural with fly choice after the trout have been around for a while
Eventually stocked trout will get conditioned to seeing those big woolly buggers and bright attractor nymphs, and you’ll find it much harder to get them to eat them. When that happens, anglers should start fishing fly patterns that are more natural looking and less gaudy and flashy. This is the time that soft-hackles and your traditional nymph patterns (prince nymph, hares ear nymph and pheasant-tail nymphs) really shine. I often will tie on a fast sinking copper john and drop one of the traditional nymphs off the back.
Tip 5: Hit the pocket water and riffles
The longer the stocked trout have been in the stream or river, the more they will start to spread out and move around. This is when I’ll leave the big pools and runs for other anglers and focus my attention fly fishing the pocket water and seams of riffles. You’ll find the trout here less pressured, easier to catch and you should also be able to find some water to yourself.
Tip 6: Swing your flies
If you’re on the water and you can’t get the stocked trout to eat your dead drifted flies, try repositioning yourself so you can swing your fly patterns in front of them towards the end of your drift. Sometimes, this can be the most effective way to catch stocked trout that have been in the water for a while.
Tip 7: Go tiny and downsize your tippet
Over the years, I’ve witnessed and fly fished to stocked trout that were unbelievably difficult to catch. Some of these stocked streams get pounded daily with anglers, and eventually the trout get super spooky and selective. When I see this on the water, it makes me want to round up all those stocked trout haters that think all stockers are a joke to catch and watch each one of them get their egos checked. If you’re going to be fly fishing for stocked trout late in the season after they’ve had lots of education, you should be ready to downsize your tippet, micro-nymph, and fish tiny dry flies if you want to consistently catch trout. Yes, I’m talking about 6x-7X tippet and fly patterns down to size 24.
That’s some of my tips for fly fishing to stocked trout. Please drop me a comment if you have any to add.
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