It seems odd that we anglers get excited about trying to outsmart fish that have a fraction of our brain capacity; but we do. Even worse is that more often than we would care to admit it, the fish are triumphant in that battle of wits.

In my case, I have had days where I changed flies, probably 20 times, in search of something that would fool any of a slew of trout that continued to ignore my offerings. On other days, it really didn’t seem to matter what I tied on, the fish were happy to grab it.

Fishing at Woods Canyon and Willow Springs lakes in the fall can be a feast or famine situation. There have been years that Woods Canyon is the lake to fish, other years it is Willow Springs, and then there are years that both lakes are productive.

This year, I have been catching mostly tiger trout in the 10- to 14-inch range with an occasional tiger pushing 17 inches. A real bonus this fall is catching some beautiful, large rainbows that were stocked as super-catchable by AZGFD. They will certainly pound a woolly bugger stripped under the surface, but are a special thrill on a tiny dry fly.

Most years, the first fly I tie on is a woolly bugger. Often black, green, or brown are the preferred colors, but there have been many trips where a white woolly bugger is what the trout wants. There are other times that a bead-head or a small midge four or five feet under an indicator works best.

Sometimes a large stimulator dry fly with a small midge trailer is the combination that is the ticket. The point is, I am always ready to change flies if I feel that I have given a fly enough time to produce, and it hasn’t.

Recently, I had the great fortune to not only have the fun of casting 40 feet out to rising trout, but also had several fish rise within 15 feet of my position. While I couldn’t see the rejections to my fly 40 feet out, the nearby fish allowed me to watch as they came up and swiped at my fly, or simply gave it a look from a foot or more before swimming away.

Fish can miss grabbing a fly as it is floating downstream, but that is not really what usually happens. It certainly doesn’t explain a miss of a fly floating on the surface of a lake. I think what really happened is that the trout might have been initially fooled as they rose to take my fly, but when they got closer, there was something odd about my artificial fly that caused them to stop short of grabbing it.

It is also important to interpret the rise of the fish to the fly. Is the trout really grabbing a fly from the surface? Or is what you are seeing, actually the fish breaking the surface with its back and grabbing an emerging midge just under the surface? Sometimes fish will target the bugs that are swimming toward the surface and have become exhausted from their swim from the bottom, or pick off bugs struggling to break through the surface film while they are trying to emerge and become adults. These bugs are often easier targets for fish than the adult bugs that might drop eggs on the surface or getting ready to fly off.

Having trout close enough to observe, that continued to feed on naturals around me was a perfect opportunity to get it right, at least on this day and time. I put on a two fly rig which is permitted in Arizona, and had one fly as an unweighted emerger, while the other was my rather large dry fly on the surface. The fish nearby preferred my small fly, that was just below the surface.

Large dry flies like stimulators are often effective at both Woods Canyon and Willow Springs lakes. The advantage of a stimulator is that it is buoyant enough to handle a weighted midge trailer so that you can provide a topwater offering as well as a fly a few feet below the surface.

If your big dry fly is being rejected, while the trout continue to feed on the surface, give a smaller dry fly a try. I use stimulators in the 10-12 size range, but if they are not working, I will often switch to a different pattern in about a size 16. If that doesn’t work, and especially if I can’t see what they are feeding on, I will go even smaller, or add an emerger fly.

Lately, small dry flies about size 16 have been working well. The great thing about fishing is that will soon change, and the battle of wits will begin again.

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