Reading Riseforms - Part 1

Exerpted from the book Fly Fishing the Solitude–Montana

Many thanks to my good friend and illustrator Mark Lewis. If you'd like to contract Mark to do illustrations, contact him at (719) 471-9400 or

Riseform 1

Riseform 2

Riseform 3


Few novice or even intermediate dry fly anglers understand trout behavior and how trout routinely feed because they mostly fixate on their fly and their casting instead of taking a moment to observe the fish itself. The area of the stream that a trout can see as it searches for food is referred to as a window. The size of that window depends on several factors, including the clarity of water, structure, and the depth of the water. The clarity is determined by the percentage of dirt or detritus that is in the water. Structure such as wood debris or boulders may block the trout's view of the surface. The depth of the water where trout are holding is a huge factor. The deeper the water the larger visual angle they have to the surface, but clarity and structure may negate this advantage. Also, if the water is too deep and too fast for the fish to hold near the surface, the trout will continue to feed on subsurface fare that is closer and more efficient to obtain.

Illustration One – Visual Contact

As the current hits the rock just upstream of this trout, it is slowed, creating a mini-eddy just downstream of the rock. The trout will wait in this slower water because it requires less energy. The trout will move into these areas when a hatch begins because aquatic insects are concentrated along current lanes, like the one where the current is squeezed between the two rocks. As the insects struggle to emerge from their nymphal or pupal stages, they are vulnerable to predation. If there are several fish present, the larger ones will dominate, often running the smaller fish out or away from the prime feeding areas. Sometimes a smaller fish will dart in and steal a fly before the larger fish can take it.

Illustration Two – Pursuit

The trout identifies the insect as possible food and begins its pursuit, using the current as it moves out of the shelter of the rock. Approaching the fly, the trout raises its head for a closer inspection. This move also exposes more of the fish's body to the push of the current, allowing it to match the speed of the prey with minimal energy. The trout need only make minor adjustments as it nears the fly. If the insect lifts off the surface, the fish will drop its head and return to its original holding spot.

Illustration Three – Identification

The trout hangs just below the fly, looking for an identification trigger, while matching the insect's speed as both move downstream in harmony. If the trout finds that particular stimulus, it will take the fly; if not, it will refuse it. Refusals are the subject of countless magazine articles. Making on-stream corrections are necessary to get the fish to accept your fly.

All photos and text Trapper Badovinac. Any use without written permission from the author is illegal.
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