How often have you watched trout rising and rummaged through your fly box only to think “I don’t have what they are taking”? For me, it’s more times than I wish to say. Many times it’s not a recognizable hatch of a given insect, like caddis or mayflies that trout are feeding on but instead, it is an emerger. But what is an emerger? Let’s get acquainted with the “4 Things to Know to Fly Fishing Emergers Effectively” by looking at the what, why, when, and how to fish them.
4 Things to Know to Fly Fishing Emergers Effectively.
- What are emergers
- Why fish emergers
- When to fish emergers
- How to fish emergers
Emergers are insects that are transitioning from a larva to an adult. Trout feed on emergers throughout the water column and especially during a hatch or when bugs are laying eggs. Fishing an emerger in or near the surface film is often the norm as many emergers get trapped in an attempt to break through the surface film.
In order to be successful at fly fishing emergers effectively, knowing what they are and how to best represent them is obviously important. The inherent problem though is the inability to see these guys as most of the action is happening below the water surface. Because we can’t see them we can only go by the clues that are present in and around the stream and perform the usual trial and error process to hone in on what is working best. But even before we can do that we need to know a few basics about emergers and how to apply that knowledge if we are to be successful at fly fishing emergers effectively. The what, why, when, and how are the 4 key things to know to fly fishing emergers effectively or better known as the basics of fishing emergers.
What Are Emergers?
I often resort back to our school days and science class. If you remember, unless you skipped class, we learned about a caterpillar changing into a butterfly. This easy to picture concept is what an emerger is all about. Midges, Mayflies, and Caddis are the main diet of insect-eating trout. All of these insects have to go through changing from a nymphal stage to the adult stage in order to reproduce. Similar to the caterpillar that breaks out of a cocoon, Mayflies, Caddis, and Midges break out of a shuck as they move towards adulthood.
When these insects “hatch” they move from the stream bed to the surface as they transition from a nymph to an adult. Typically still covered by a shuck, these insects have to travel to the surface whereby they break out of the shuck and into winged insects. Once on the water surface, they wait for their wings to stiffen or “dry” and then fly off up into the trees to find a mate. Learn more about Trout Fishing Entomology here
Most Midges and Mayflies, once they reach the surface, drift along waiting for their wings to stiffen to the point where they can fly off. Caddis on the other hand are “catapulted” to the surface by a gas bubble that they form during the transition phase. This bubble helps them break the surface and they fly away almost instantly once they reach the surface.
Stoneflies are different in that they crawl out of the water onto nearby grasses, shrubs, or stones to break from their casing as they also go through this change. For the fly fisherman, becoming acquainted with this process and having a few flies that imitate emerging insects adds to the repertoire of offerings and puts one more feather in the quiver.
The Water Surface Is A Problem
The water surface is a real barrier for insects. It’s like a membrane. It has a tension to it that needs to be broken in order to get through it. If you can imagine for a minute an ant that has fallen from above landing on the water. It floats upon arrival because it didn’t break the water surface. Now think about what it must take for an insect to breakthrough this film.
For an emerging bug, it’s a real problem. The surface to a Mayfly or Midge, for example, is like a thick plastic membrane that impedes their ascent into the air. It is a major obstacle they need to overcome in order to survive.
Sometimes an insect may take up to 30 minutes struggling to break through the surface barrier. During this time it becomes extremely vulnerable, not only to a feeding trout but to survival itself. Many insects never make it through the surface and die. For the fly angler, understanding this concept provides a great opportunity for catching trout.
Why Fish Emerger Patterns
Nymph fishermen or streamer fishermen can easily fish only those patterns each time they head out and do very well. In fact, they may never need to fish any other way. But, for me, I enjoy fishing for trout by trying to match what seems to be what it is they are feeding on. Some days it’s all about nymphs and other days it’s fun to use dry flies when a hatch is happening.
Emerger patterns fit into the realm of trout feeding near or on the surface. All too often we think trout are taking dry flies when in reality they are actually feeding on insects that have not broken free of the surface. As emergers raise to the surface they attract the attention of trout who often seem to chase them and grab them just before the insect breaks the surface.
Many of these insects are trapped just below the surface as they struggle to free themselves not only from their shuck but the surface film as well. Trout position themselves to take advantage of this situation by hovering just below the water surface.
Ever notice a trout sitting below the surface and shifting from side to side. He is probably feeding on emergers drifting into his position. The second of the 4 things to know to fly fishing emergers effectively is the “why” part. Why fish emergers? Take into consideration what I just described. If a trout is hovering he is not feeding on nymphs or dries. He is feeding on something in the water. Something we can’t see very well, if at all. He won’t take anything else because he is focused on that selection of insects. Presenting an emerger takes advantage of this situation and often is the only solution to catching finicky trout.
The “When” To Fly Fishing Emergers Effectively
When I first arrive on a stream my tendency is to see what’s going on. I like to watch the water for a while to see if any bug activity is present or if fish are rising. Bugs in the air, even if there are only a few, could indicate that something is hatching and a rise or two is always a good sign. Any action on top of the water like this is a good time to fish an emerger. Number three on the list of “4 things to know to fly fishing emergers effectively” is when.
Hatches of course have to have emerging insects and therefore you could use an emerger pattern even when trout are taking floating flies off the surface. Trout feed on both adults and emergers at the same time, but actually more often on the emerger. Many insects never break the surface and many others are caught or trapped in their shuck trying to get out. These “cripples” trapped in the surface film are gobbled up by trout because they are so vulnerable.
If trout are coming to the surface I look to see how they are coming to the surface. I concentrate to see if the fishes nose or back breaks the surface. Normally noses indicate above surface feeding. That is taking insects that are floating on the water. Seeing the backs of a trout is typical of feeding just below the surface. This “purposing” effect is a dead give away to me that emergers are the meal of the day.
Consider This For A Second
Emergers are generally considered an insect breaking out of its shuck and therefore often fished near the surface of the creek. But emergers can be fished anywhere in the water column. If you think about it, they are coming from the bottom of the stream to the surface to literally leave the water and head to the trees for mating. As they make their way to the surface they are picked off by feeding trout and this can happen anywhere along their journey to the water surface.
Wet flies are often fished deeper in the water column to represent an emerger as it first leaves the bottom. The Sparkle pupa is a good example of a wet fly that mimics a Caddis ascending to the surface. It is an effective fly pattern that can also be fished near the surface.
Most emerger patterns are designed to be fished near or just under the surface. This is because the surface film is an extremely important aspect that can’t be ignored. I spoke of this earlier and can’t stress it enough. The tension of the water surface is a real problem for an insect to breakthrough.
Fishing a pattern that is just below or partially through the surface is what most emerger fishing is about. A Parachute Adams, which is a popular dry fly, represents a mayfly that is near the end of the emergence stage. This fly pattern doesn’t float high on the water like a mayfly dun but lays on the water. A typical emerger pattern sinks just below the surface and “hangs” from the water surface. These flies are generally tied using CDC material near the hook’s eye to help it float while the hook itself suspends below the surface.
How To Fly Fish Using Emergers
The biggest obstacle to fishing emergers is their size and inability to see them. Because they are fished just below the surface or partially through the surface it’s a struggle to see them. Many times an emerger is fished as a “dropper” attached to a dry fly. This helps the angler as he is able to concentrate on the dry fly much like a nymph fisherman watches an indicator.
Otherwise, you have to pay close attention to your cast to see where the fly lands and try to track it from there. Many emerger patterns use CDC or poly yarn that sticks out above the surface for you to see them. Some guys will use a little Strike Putty a few feet up the line from the fly to follow its progress through the water and to detect strikes.
Much like dry fly fishing a dead drift with no drag is what you are trying to accomplish. Although from time to time a little drag won’t hurt as many Caddis flies often “skidder” across the water’s surface. I often use a tippet of fluorocarbon rather than monofilament because fluoro has a tendency to sink. Also, it is much more transparent than nylon, and very effective when fishing emergers. This, of course, lets the fly sink slightly but still keeps the fly near the surface.
Another thing I find helpful is using a long leader. Generally, for me, a long leader is 9-10 feet. Some guys will increase it to 12 and there is nothing wrong with either way. It is more about what you are comfortable handling. Why Use A Tapered Leader?
Pale Morning Dun. This pattern represents Mayflies and can be fished throughout spring, summer, and into September. It is one of the most important mayflies in North America due to its numbers, distribution throughout America, and hatch duration.
CDC Mayfly Emerger. This pattern is tied in a number of colors and sizes. It is designed to sit in the film with the body of the fly hanging down below the surface film. It replicates the adult emerger and is a great springtime pattern but can be fished throughout the summer as well.
The F Fly
This is a simple fly made of dubbing or thread and a basic wing made from CDC feathers. The feathers are the “secret” ingredient. Natural oils hold the fly up and float while the structure or body hangs. It’s very enticing to a trout, to say the least.
CDC Midge Emerger
This fly works the same as the other flies above but is tied to resemble a midge’s tight slender body. This fly can be fished almost anytime.
Gary Lafontaine’s Caddis Pupa.
Caddis form a gas bubble when they hatch that propels them to the surface. Gary’s fly is designed to trap air bubbles in the material to mimic the gas bubble. It is a deadly Caddis emerger pattern.
Emergers are one of the most effective patterns and are often overlooked by many a fly fisherman. When it comes to trout these are a favorite. I’d propose, one of the easiest foods for trout to catch. These guys, emergers, get caught in the surface film, as noted, and spend a good deal of time there while escaping their shuck and the surface film. Easy pickings for trout and also readily available during most of the spring through fall.
For the angler, they can be very productive especially when dry fly fishing gets tough trying to match a hatch. During hatches, emergers are often taken more frequently by trout than the adult riding the surface. In my opinion, the combination of wet flies and emergers can be some of the most product trout fishing to be had. Between the two patterns, a fly fisherman can cover the entire water column bottom to top and use an array of very productive patterns while doing so.
But most importantly, when trout get really finicky and seem to be attracted to nothing you offer, then try an emerger. You may be very surprised by the outcome. Fish On!
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How to fish emergers and soft hackle in spring?
Fly fishing using emergers and soft hackles during the spring months is an incredibly effective way to trick trout. These patterns are designed to suspend in the top half of the water column and imitate nymphs rising to the surface to hatch
What do wet flies imitate?
Typical wet flies can imitate drowned insects, small baitfish, and other forms of sub-aquatic life. But most appealing to hungry, and aggressive trout they imitate emerging insects. When fished during emerging and egg-laying activates of insects they can be a deadly choice.