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Selectively Opportunistic

03/27/08 – Now there’s an Oxymoron for you “selectively opportunistic” but it gives you an idea how I look at feeding fish.  To my way of looking at them feeding fish fall into one of these two categories – like any good oxymoron they can’t be both.

Of course they can be off-the-feed and neither selective or opportunistic but for the most part unless they are frightened, injured or stressed by temperature and such they are selectively opportunistic. Fish eat to live and they seem to like living.

Breaking it down the question becomes which way are they feeding – selectively or opportunistically?  I hope for the selectively because that behavior happens when there is an abundance of food and feeding activity is often visual.  If I can see fish moving around close to the stream bed or in the surface film I’ve got some clues that help me.

First off I know they are feeding.  Secondly, whenever there’s an abundance of food if I poke and probe the surroundings a bit I can identify that food source –  or maybe several food sources.  Then it’s just a matter of trying them all until one works.

If there isn’t a hatch or period of behavioral drift taking place triggering the constant movement that often accompanies selective feeding I’ve lost one big advantage – I can’t spot the fish anywhere near as easily without movement.  That means I’ve got to fish likely looking spots with something I think the fish that should be in that likely looking spot would like to eat.  Lots of “I thinks” to that way of fishing.

I also don’t get a clue as to what might trigger a strike but all is not lost. During opportunistic feeding periods there are some clues and here are a few I look for and things I do.

Long ago I was told if the feeding is fast – fish fast and if feeding is slow – fish slow.  During the opportunistic times when fish are apt to grab at anything that makes them curious (Jim Thibodeau’s favorite saying “they got no hands you know – just make em curious” comes to mind) I fish slow.  I work likely looking sheltered runs, deep slots, riffle edges, scum lines and rips.  Give me a good attractor pattern (Royal Wulff, Humpy, Stimulator) and a dropper (soft hackle, LaFontaine Sparkle Pupa, Pheasant Tail) and turn me loose.  Chances are I’ll find a willing fish.

But if I don’t I re-rig and try a different set of tactics.  Out comes the Wooly Buggers, Black Nose Dace, Cone-head Muddlers, Brooks Stones and Caddis Larva and down I go.  Generally I switch to a sink-tip line and move to the riffles and then to the slower tail outs of pools or deep runs with prime lies and I search out those fish that are hanging out waiting for the current to bring them a meal.

I work the water systematically, taking my time, searching the water and hopefully giving some hidden fish a chance to see my fly and react to the impulse to OPPORTUNITISTICALLY strike at what might be a meal.  My movements are slow and careful and my concentration on water and currents could be called intense because I’m watching for a flash, a movement, a refusal any clue that a fish is around and can be induced to strike.

Yep, “selectively opportunistic” that’s what fish are.  And, when they’re actively feeding and being selective is when I’ve lots of clues to work with.  It’s those time of opportunistic feeding that are tough.  That’s when you’ve got to anticipate where the fish are and what might make them strike.  Give me those feeding selective fish anytime – even if I can’t figure them out I know I’m in the game.