Sight Fishing with Dries and Nymphs

Photo caption:  The splashy rise

A fun way to catch trout.

Sight fishing for trout is a fun way to catch them. It can also be an easy way, since what you are seeing is trout actively feeding. The two easiest ways to sight fish are to look for rises and to look for trout visibly feeding on the bottom of the stream.

Without getting overly complicated, there are mainly three types of rises. These are the sip rise, head-to-tail rise and splashy rise. These three types are the ones trout use to take a floating insect from the surface, from just underneath the surface and above the surface.

The sip and head-to-tail rises form dimple rings on the surface as long as the current isn’t too strong. Dimple rings are left behind where the trout slightly broke the surface to sip an insect. You might not see the trout at all, but the rings are left as evidence. The head-to-tail rise is when the trout breaks the surface with its head first, and you might see its dorsal fin and then finally the tail. This rise is a little more forceful, and many times will leave a greater disturbance than the sip rise. Lastly, the splashy rise is when the trout completely clears the water and is usually catching an insect that is depositing eggs on the water.

The sip rise means trout are probably surface feeding on mayflies or stoneflies. The head to tail rise means trout are probably feeding on insects in the surface film like a mayfly, ant or grasshopper or maybe a nymph struggling toward the surface. The splashy rise means trout are feeding on insects above the surface, like a caddis laying its eggs.

With a good pair of polarized sunglasses, spotting trout feeding on the bottom of a stream is a matter of watching for a silver flash or possibly tailing. When trout take nymphs off the bottom, they turn sideways to take the insect. The flash you see is their silver side or white belly. Tailing is when a trout’s tail protrudes toward the surface. They do this to dig or root the bottom for immature insects, grubs, etc.

Some common mistakes to avoid:

Do not cast to the rise. Trout will leave their lie to examine an insect (your fly) and actually float downstream with the insect before the rise. They may examine the insect for the distance of a foot or five feet. After the trout rises, it moves back upstream to its lie. If you cast to the rise, there’s a good chance that trout has already moved upstream and will never see your offering.

Do not cast to a trout displaying a silver side unless you have your fly at the correct depth. That fish is looking down at the bottom. If your fly isn’t on the bottom, it will never be seen.

By James Bradley

James Bradley is an Orvis-endorsed fly fishing guide in north Georgia’s. Reel Em In Guide Service has permits for guiding in Georgia and North Carolina, offers over 6 miles of private trophy waters, and operates drift boat trips on the Toccoa and Tuckasegee rivers. Contact them at or (706) 273-0764.

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