Specific Imitations Versus Attractor and Generic Trout
Flies
When there's no hatch occurring, which is about 98% of the time, anglers tend to
think they are better off using an attractor or generic trout fly as opposed to a fly
that's intended to be a specific imitation of an insect or other trout food. The
generic and attractor types of trout flies represents the great majority of trout
flies that are available from fly shops. Although that's the general approach used
by many anglers, it is actually a very poor one.

A fly that imitates no specific insect, rather a variety of them works best when
environmental conditions (water temp, oxygen, stream levels, etc) are near
perfect and lots of insects are readily available for the trout to eat. In other
words, when anyone that can cast a Royal Humphy twenty feet upstream in a run
can catch trout. During those times when you can hit the trout over the head with
the fly line and they still will eat the fly, a Royal Wulff usually works pretty good. In
fact, when there's little challenge in catching trout, most anything made of
feathers and hair with a hook in it will often produce decent results.  

One reason this big misconception came about is because book after book about
trout fishing lumped things into one of only two categories - selective feeding or
opportunistic feeding. Quite frankly, other than actually knowing much about what
they were writing about, many authors of fly fishing publications just copied other
authors. It caused most anglers to think that trout are feeding either one way or
the other. In streams with fast pocket water this misconception has caused most
anglers as well as those that teach fly fishing to think that if trout are not feeding
exclusively on one insect, they are feeding opportunistically. By strict definition,
that would be correct. In other words, this caused many to assume that if trout
feed opportunistically, it isn't that important what you imitate or what fly you use.

Most fly shop salesmen and fly fishing guides are quick to tell anglers that trout
feed opportunistically. Most likely, it's the biggest word they know. Few of them
know one mayfly from another and some can't recognize a mayfly from a
caddisfly. You won't ever hear anyone with a good knowledge of the food trout
rely on to survive preaching the particular fly you use isn't important. Saying that
trout feed opportunistically is fine as far as technically categorizing their feeding
habits is concerned, but it has little to do with what is really takes place, and it is
of absolutely no importance when it comes to catching trout.  

For example, lets suppose that there are lots of Little Yellow Stonefly nymphs
crawling to the banks to hatch. When that happens, don’t think the trout don’t
know it. They view their underwater world 24 hours a day and they know and see
exactly what is going on. Since these nymphs crawl across the bottom to get to
the banks, they are easy prey for the trout. Naturally, the trout will focus on
feeding on the easy prey; however, if the trout are eating these nymphs
migrating to the banks and a stray mayfly nymph happened to come along, the
trout may or may not eat it. If the trout doesn't have to go out of its way to eat the
mayfly nymph, it may well eat it. Common sense tells me that If it takes more
effort for the trout to catch the mayfly nymph than the stonefly nymphs crawling
to the bank, the they wouldn't go to the extra trouble to eat it.

Lets suppose the mayfly nymph almost hit the trout in the nose and it did eat it.
By strict definition you would have to categorize the trout as feeding
opportunistically. That's why marine fishery biologist classifies all trout as
opportunistically feeders. It makes sense from a scientific standpoint but little
sense from a practical standpoint of catching fish. A particular trout may be
feeding selectively at the same time another one a few feet away may be feeding
opportunistically. One run or riffle may have several trout that are feeding
selectively at the same moment another run or riffle a few yards upstream
doesn't.

Call it whatever you prefer to call it. Under these conditions I just described,
would you rather be fishing an imitation of a stonefly nymph or a mayfly
nymph? I think most anglers would agree that your odds would be greater if you
were fishing the best imitation of a Little Yellow Stonefly nymph you could get
your hands on. By the way, that would be a "Perfect Fly" Little Yellow Stonefly
Nymph.   
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