Hey You Flyfishing! When you get right down to it, trout psychology may not be all that different from human psychology. Take the psychology of advertising, for instance. Advertising’s first rule, of course, is to grab the attention of the potential customer. A short trip down any major highway lined with billboards will prove this. Bright colors, huge lettering and larger-than-life photos of automobiles, hamburgers, jewelry and politicians are designed to divert our eyes from traffic, at least momentarily. And if the initial “look” is successful, we might even be lured to buy whatever the sign is trying to sell us.
Regardless of their opinion of billboards, savvy flyfishers can learn something from the advertising trade. Trout, like humans, are highly visual creatures, and simply getting their attention may be the most important thing an angler can do on days when the fish just don’t seem interested in what you’re throwing their direction. We can call this tactic “Hey You” flyfishing, and there are days in which it works wonders on the stream.
Whether they have known it or not, generations of dry fly anglers have been practicing the “Hey You” approach every time they have tied on a Royal Wulff, or its predecessor, the Royal Coachman. These and similar dry flies are called attractor patterns for good reason. Usually tied with white wings and bodies featuring red, yellow, chartreuse or a dash of sparkle or rubber legs, attractor patterns may resemble the shape of a real insect, but certainly not its coloration. The theory is that they simply cry out for attention, much like a flashing neon sign on a busy street.
Attractor dries won’t always catch trout, of course, but many anglers have had them save the day when nothing else seems to work. They can be especially effective when hatches are sparse, such as in the fall, or late in the evening when visibility is fading. A counterintuitively great time to try an attractor dry is also in the midst of very heavy hatches, such as “blizzard” caddis hatches when a more natural imitation can easily get lost in the crowd. Attractor dries also make good searching patterns when fishing unfamiliar water. Usually a few fish are willing to come up for at least a look at that oddball fly drifting over their head.
Great attractor dries to have in your box, in addition to Royal Wulffs, include Rio Grande Kings, Hair-winged Variants (House and Lots), Royal Stimulators, Turks Tarantulas, PMXs and Humpies in Red, Yellow and Chartreuse varieties. Slightly larger sizes, 12s and 14s are preferred for most of these patterns.
The “Hey You” approach works for nymphing as well. When the water has a tinge of color in it, flashy, bright nymphs often out-produce blander patterns. These conditions cry out for larger Beadhead Princes, Red or Chartreuse Copper Johns or patterns with white rubber legs, like Bitch Creek Specials or Girdle Bugs. San Juan Worms in Red or Pink are also excellent choices when the water runs the color of a strong latte.
Combining the “Hey You” approach with using two flies is also a deadly tactic. Tying on an attractor nymph in front trailed by a more natural pattern is a trick that can pay off when the fish are picky. The first fly attracts the trout’s attention, then the trailer fly gets the take. Tie the second fly directly off of the bend of the hook, and about 18 inches behind for the best results.
Dry and dropper fishing can be a form of “Hey You” fishing as well. A Royal Wulff will bring the trout up, and when the fish is in the vicinity, it sees the small dropper nymph (sizes 16 to 20) that it deems to be an easy meal. Finally, a similar “one-two punch” can be dynamite with streamers, with a large Woolly Bugger, Muddler or Zonker in the lead, trailing a size 16 or 18 Flashback Pheasant Tail or Micro Mayfly Nymph one to two feet behind. You’ll be surprised how many fish take the tiny trailer instead of the giant bite up front.
So the next time you notice a billboard, think trout. If “Hey You” worked to get your attention, it’ll work on the trout, too!