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High-Water Caution

The Durango Herald - News - Durango, CO


March 19, 2004


Fly Fishing Durango - by L. David Grooms


Bugs on the Animas trout menu


Many fly fishers fish the Animas with big flies (size 16 and larger), as they do on most un-dammed Freestone rivers -- no doubt because of presumption and not being entomologists.


Entomology and its ridiculously complex Latin nomenclature associated with trout foods can be a traumatizing experience for fly fishers!


Many of us would rather spend our time fishing or doing almost anything rather than learning to "match the hatch" with a repertoire of such words as trico (tricorythodes), PMD (ephemerellidae) and midge (dipteral). So, not being an entomology expert is very understandable. Fly fishers usually buy and fish with flies that are suggested to be appropriate for the water at a given time.


Learning about the primary aquatic insect food groups that trout eat (stoneflies, mayflies, caddis flies and midges) and their life cycles does not have to become a complicated academic exercise. But knowing the basics is a key component of fly fishing.


You do not even have to know what the thing is called -- if you can select an artificial that looks like it. Leave the verbosity of entomological taxonomy to others.

If you can find a bug on, near or in the water -- or by pumping a fish -- you should examine it closely. Go to your fly box or area fly shop and find close approximations.


The two paramount aspects of fly fishing are selection and presentation.

The colder months usually result in hatches of smaller mayflies and midges. Currently in the Animas, the diet is predominately those species in sizes 18 (up to almost inch), down to size 32 (scarcely 1/8 inch). Larger midges as well as smaller midges in both emergent and adult phases represent the primary food source for most trout.


Most mayflies on the menu are small, pale green semi-translucent nymphs that are drifting in currents. Baetis hatches have been reported in certain areas of the Animas, which means that emerger patterns with a wing case and adult patterns may be effective.


Certain fish will feed predominately on specific phases like adult midges or small mayflies on the surface, depending on their holding lies (type of water zones). Also, be aware that trout that share the same zones of water may have significantly different diets.

If you can catch, pump, release a trout and examine the bugs, this is logically the most fool-proof method of making the correct fly choice.


If Animas trout won't accept your offering, then they are either not eating (unlikely), do not identify with what you are trying to feed them or just don't like the way you are presenting the fly. Numerous experienced fly fishers have told me they can catch trout on about any water in America -- but Animas trout frequently will just "not cooperate."


Our trout are frequently not tuned-in on big stuff. Periodic stomach pumping of 14- to 20-inch fish throughout the year often reveals a diet of extremely small bugs in sizes 18 to 26 and even smaller. Imitating the little bugs on the current menu with such midge and mayfly patterns as Brassies, Barr's Emergers, Zebra Midges, Griffith Gnats, RS-2s, WD 40s, Flash Wing Johnnies and small adult Duns can payoff with big trout. Most importantly, always be mindful of universal fly selection criterion, which is size, shape/silhouette and color -- in that order.


Is the Animas really a midge or tiny fly fishery? Surprise -- sometimes it is!


L. David Grooms is senior partner of

He can be reached at 385-9048.






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