Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How's Fishing?

Fishing continues to be terrific.  You are getting tired of hearing this, but this year has just been phenomenal.  Kansas City on to St. Louis, as well as fifty miles south of us, have been hammered with rain, while here at Bennett we have seen very little.  Knowing this, it's easier for you to understand why our stream levels have been setting records for lowest levels in the recorded history of the park. The water is clear and slow.
 The fish are averaging a much nicer size this year, as well.  
I found a short article about what fish can see that I would like to share with you.  It was written by Louis Cahill (great name for an angler, by the way) for the blog Gink & Gasoline. 


Ever watch a trout refuse your dry fly and wonder what he saw that he didn’t like? A trout’s eye serves the same purpose as ours but it functions in a very different way. The subject of how trout see the world is a complicated one but the basics are well worth your time. Understanding how the fish eye works can help you imagine the watery world they see, and it may give you some insight that will help you catch them. The following are some simple principals to keep in mind.


Water is a poor conductor of light at its best. It affects the way fish see color as well as their visual acuity. Water absorbs light at different rates depending on its wavelength or color. Long wavelength light, colors like red and orange, are absorbed quickly while short wavelengths like blue and violet are absorbed more slowly. This means that as light passes through more and more water, warm colors fade to black while cooler colors fade more slowly. Overall, as a fish moves into deeper water his environment becomes darker, at which point the biology of the fish’s eye affects his perception of color as well.

It is not necessary however for a fish to be in deep water for its vision to be affected by the absorption of light. The rules hold true for a fish in shallow water, viewing an object at a distance. A red streamer, for example, that is running at a depth of one foot, where there is plenty of red light, will appear black to a fish viewing it from fifteen feet away. As the fish closes on the fly, however, the red will become vivid. The same would not be true at a depth of fifteen feet. At that depth the fly would remain black to the fish, even at close range.

Ultraviolet light, which we do not see but trout do, is scattered in water. Colors like white and reflective materials like flash are visible to fish at long distances but may appear blurred by this effect. These flies will get a fish’s attention from a distance and become sharper as the fish draws near.

Color perception and visual acuity are both affected by the chemical composition of the water as well as what foreign matter is present. Tea stained water, which is present in many mountain streams, absorbs UV light quickly, changing the rules dramatically. In these conditions warmer colors become more important and while fish may see less color overall their visual acuity will improve. When water is dirty, light is scattered by foreign particles and the fish’s environment becomes darker with little visual acuity.


The biology of a trout’s eye is similar to ours in some ways and very different in others. Their eye has an iris, a lens and a retina with both cone cells and rod cells, much like our eyes, but each functions in a different manner. The human iris or pupil dilates and constricts to regulate the amount of light reaching the retina. The trout’s iris is fixed and the retina itself adapts to changing light levels. Human eyes focus by changing the shape of the lens. A trout’s eye focuses by moving the lens closer to, or further from, the retina. The trout’s vision is very sharp in its focus but its depth of field, to use a photographic term, is limited.

The function of the trout’s eye which is of most interest to anglers is the adaptation of the retina to changing light conditions. To understand how it works we must first understand the cone and rod cells themselves. Cone cells see color and require bright light. The trout has four different types of cone cells. Humans only have three. Each type of cone cell is sensitive to a different wavelength of light. The trout’s extra cone cells see the UV spectrum and in some species dwindle with age. The trout’s eye is also more sensitive to the red spectrum than the human’s. The color it has the least ability to discern is green and the color it sees best is blue. Rod cells are very sensitive in low light and give the trout excellent night vision. These cells do not see color. To the rod cell the world is black and white.

During times of bright light the trout’s retina is dominated by the cone cells giving it very precise color vision. Still, the fish’s ability to discern color and its visual acuity are governed by the physics of its watery environment. As the light becomes lower the retina adapts. The cone cells recede and the sensitive rod cells are exposed, engaging the trout’s night vision and turning the world slowly to black and white. This is a physical change and takes time. The trout, like almost all fish, experiences a brief period of diminished vision as conditions change.


The idea is simple. Under bright conditions trout see color very well and in dim conditions they do not. It becomes a bit trickier when we start to define bright and dim conditions. Obviously a sunny day is bright but not to a trout sitting at the bottom of a deep pool. At a depth of ten feet much of the light has been absorbed and all of the red spectrum is gone. A trout sitting in shallow water on a sunny day will discern color very well at close range but not when looking at a submerged object ten feet away.

When fishing deep water or stained water that bright pink worm will appear much duller to the trout. Fluorescent materials, which trap UV light and shift it to a longer wavelength creating intense color saturation, are great triggers for fish but not in stained water where the UV light is quickly scattered. In low light fish will respond more quickly to the contrast of a fly tied in black and white than to carefully blended colors. For this reason I tie black and white stonefly nymphs which are highly effective in dirty water. When you are fishing Yellow Sallies on a bright day a red egg sack will improve a fly’s productivity.

Another important thing to remember is the fish’s point of view. A fish sees a submerged object with greater clarity and color than an object on the surface. The refractive index of its cornea is almost exactly that of water, meaning a fish sees much more clearly through water than air. In addition, objects on the surface are backlight from the fish’s perspective, appearing mostly as silhouette. This makes it hard for a fish to see the color of a dry fly.

Color that is not opaque, like the translucent body of a mayfly, is much easier the fish to see. This is why dry flies with loose dubbing, translucent wing material or flash underwings work so well. It is also one of the reasons that flies which sit in the film, like parachute patterns, are effective.

What trout respond to primarily in surface patterns is the impression of the fly on the surface film. The dimples on the surface caused by the weight of the fly resting on the water are a powerful trigger and their profile tells the trout that the object is likely to be food. These impressions focus the light, causing bright spots. The translucent color of a Thingamabobber combined with the way it focuses light often makes it irritable to hungry fish.

Flies and indicators are not the only tackle that create these impressions. It is often the bright dimples from curly tippet that give it away to fish. This is why I fish dry flies on fluorocarbon tippet. It sinks and vanishes. (There will no doubt be comments on this. I will write a separate article on the subject)

The important thing is to understand how the fish sees in a variety of conditions and what the triggers are that make him eat. Armed with this information you can make smart choices both on the stream and at the vise. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Trust your gut and see what works. Just try to see it his way.

What's Working?

                               Fly Box

zebra midge - black or olive
RGN's - olive, brown
olive scud
crane fly

                               Zones 1 & 2
Brassies, assorted 
Marabou -black & yellow, shell & white, red & white, moss, tequila sunrise (yellow & orange), gingersnap
rooster tail: brown sparkle body, bumble bee, tiger stripe, bright pink
John Deere and gray deere
peach floss, white floss
mini ghost, green, black & yellow, 
woolies with spinner, olive, brown, brown with orange hackle
brown roach
glo- balls - white, flame with cheese dot, 
peacock mini jig
                                      Zone 2
spoon - kastmaster trout pattern 
super duper, trout pattern

                                      Zone 3  
orange worms with scent
yellow power bait
mouse tail, orange with white.

Water Conditions

Bennett Spring:
Color is gin clear and flowing slowly
August 12, 2014
minimum 77 in 1036
25th percentile is 103
current level is 82
Median is 131
Mean is 143
75th percentile is 160
Max was 479 in 2013
Gage house level is 1.85 feet

Niangua River:

August 14, 2007
Gage House reading is 1.38
minimum was 14 in 2007 
25th percentile is 28
Today's (August 14) reading is 33
Median is 52
75th percentile is 79
Mean is 98
Max was 655 in 2013

Lunker Club

Milt Barr from Jefferson City, MO 
12-1/2 pounds on a brown jig in zone 2

Jack Buchschacher from Crestwood, MO
10 pounds on a red & white worm in zone 3

Dennis Stuart form Perry MO
2 pounds on a home tied mini carcass in zone 2

Beth Kemper from O'Fallon, MO
4 lbs 9 oz on a gray grizzley in zone 2

Jeff Zarinelli from St. Louis, MO
2 pounds on a bedspread in zone 2

James E. Ross from Effingham, IL
2 pounds on a blue holographic crackleback

Calendar of Events

August 19-20 moss cutting

August 19 - Fly tying forum at Weaver's Tackle store.  Open to all.  Learn to tie the Mr. Rapidan

September 16-17 moss cutting

October 14-15 moss cutting

August 26 - Fly tying forum at Weaver's Tackle store.  Open to all.  Learn to tie the Ostego Ant
        Last one for 2014

October 11 - Holland Derby

October 31 - last day of regular trout season

November 14 first day of Catch & Release Season

February 9, 2015 - Catch and Release season ends

Weather Forecast

Thursday: Sunny, with a high near 86. South wind 3 to 6 mph. 

Friday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 86.

Saturday: A chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly sunny, with a high near 87.

Sunday: A chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly sunny, with a high near 89

Monday: A chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly sunny, with a high near 91.

Tuesday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 91.

Quote of the Week

Fish are, of course, indispensable to the angler. They give him an excuse for fishing and justify the fly rod without which he would be a mere vagrant. But the average fisherman's average catch doesn't even begin to justify, as fish, its cost in work, time, and money. The true worth of fishing, as the experienced, sophisticated angler comes to realize, lies in the memorable contacts with people and other living creatures, scenes and places, and living waters great and small which it provides

Author:  Sparse Grey Hackle (Alfred W. Miller)

Thanks for reading!  Lucy

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