The major feeding time for a trout in a high mountain lake is only three-and-a-half to four months out of the year, and in that short amount of time, we can observe the behaviors of trout exponentially. The confidence I have in the behaviors I will share with you, can change your perception of fishing the toughest mountain lakes. Your ability to recognize these behaviors, along with your willingness to adapt, will help you to be successful in catching alpine lake trout.
Gulping Fish: The term “gulping” refers to the distinct way a fish is feeding repeatedly on the surface of the water. The behavior is like a toddler carelessly picking up a trail of treats you have laid out in a row. The toddler does not stop and look up to recognize where the trail leads, they just focus on the next treat to pick up and eat. Fish behave in the same manner if there is a food source scattered on the surface of the water. Trout cruise in a particular direction picking off the food sources along the way, leaving a trail of riffles to indicate their direction. If you witness this behavior, you better be ready to get your fly in front of the fish. The speed of the gulping fish will only allow you to get one or two casts in before it swims away.
Cruising fish: The cruising fish is the most opportunistic of feeders, and their behavior is more along the lines of “seek and destroy”. Cruising fish are looking for a food source that has fallen or has been blown into the water. The splat of the insect will trigger the opportunistic mindset of the fish, causing it to charge at the food source. This mentality of feeding is why we go to mountain lakes. The opportunistic fish will cruise a lake and only rise when it comes across a food source worthy of its energy. Slapping a terrestrial on the water will attract a fish with a cruising mindset. Even if it lands behind the fish, the trout will turn around to eat your fly. To really entice the fish, give your fly a few small twitches before recasting. Small twitches will bring life to your fly and drive the fish crazy.
Cruising fish do not always feed on the surface. If you fish a lake with an aquatic insect inhabiting it, the fish will key onto that aquatic hatch as a food source. This means that the food source for this fish is not limited to a bug that falls onto the water. Cruising at a safe depth and finding its aquatic food source there will detour the fish from swimming up to eat your fly. Due to the nature of the clear alpine lake, you will see this fish, present to it, and watch as it looks up but continues on without a second thought of taking your fly. Consider a wet fly or a sink tip addition to your floating line to reach this particular cruising fish.
A fish on a path: A fish on a path is almost a gulping fish because you can see it feeding on the surface, but the direction is far less distinguishable. Whereas a typical gulping fish will simply take advantage of the helpless food source on a mindless path, a fish on a path will only eat the food source in a specific path and feeding lane that it continues on…over and over. Sounds simple enough, but the path is typically large and abstract, like the shape of an odd clover. This behavior will test your patience, and throw you off as an angler unless you know what to look for.
You see a rise near so you pitch out a fly, but no fish eats it. The same thing happens again in a small amount of time, somewhere different, and again you pitch out a fly with no luck. Now you see a rise at the first spot you attempted to entice a fish, and again you don’t get a strike. Well, the fish is not there anymore because it has swum away, but it will be back! What you may be experiencing is a fish on a path. It will stay on that path and only eat if something is directly in its feeding lane. The feeding lane of a fish on a path can be anywhere between one foot to three feet wide, and if your fly is not in front of the fish in that lane, then forget it taking your fly. The rising fish you see will give you a good idea of the path it is taking, and unknowingly tell you when it will be back. It is unlikely that this fish will detour, so presenting your fly in the path of the fish is the way to catch it.
The behavior of this fish happens late in the day and is almost zombie-like, meaning it will not detour from its path. Even if it hears the splat of your fly directly behind it, it will not turn and eat it. So to catch this fish you need to first discover the path and present your fly in the fish’s feeding lane, and then leave it there until it returns. The fish will show up and take your fly without hesitation as it swims by.
Adaptability to any given situation will be the key to your success, and the knowledge you have just acquired will help in your quest to catch fish. Let me end this article with a quote from Socrates: “The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing”. In other words, no matter what your level of knowledge is when it comes to fishing, strive to always be a learner of the sport. The fish may act or react in a way that is unlike anything written in articles or books, and we do not always know why. It is always worth trying something out of the ordinary when fishing, even though it is “not suppose to work”. Take mental notes on these experiences, and apply them in all your fishing exploits. You may be surprised where else they may work. Happy fishing!
Erik Moncada is a still water trout guru who’s passion is underwater trout photography!
Be sure to check out his other shots @underwatertrout on Instagram!