As I went through my fly boxes the other day, pondering the fishing season ahead, I realized just how many fish I’ve caught and eaten that were taken on shrimp patterns. When it comes to freshwater shrimp, there are two things that you can count on. One, trout like to eat shrimp, and two, fish in lakes where there are healthy shrimp populations will be fairly plump and heavy for their length. When and if you do plan on eating a fish you catch in such lakes, you will also notice that fish which have been feeding on shrimp seem to taste better.
Shrimp are a calorie-rich and preferred food source for trout. This is especially true in early spring and late fall. Trout can become somewhat dependent on shrimp for their calorie intake in the spring, prior to chironomid hatches coming off, and in the fall, when most insect hatches are all but over.
Freshwater shrimp or scuds, as they are sometimes referred to, are actually crustaceans. They can range considerably in size and colour according to the nutrient levels and chemical composition of the water in which they live. Shrimp require high levels of calcium to form the hard plastic-like shell along their back. Shrimp seldom venture far from the shelter of the sub-aquatic flora growing on the shoals.
Gammarus shrimp are the most common species of shrimp in B.C.’s lakes and are the most commonly imitated by fly tyers. There are literally hundreds of different shrimp patterns tied with a multitude of materials in light to almost transparent shades of green, grey, yellow, tan, pink, and orange on hook sizes ranging from #8’s to as small as #16’s and #18’s. Most naturals are closer to a size #12 hook. Many shrimp patterns are lake-specific. One of my favourite patterns is a pale olive pregnant shrimp. Fish are essentially visual feeders and I think the bright orange egg sack underneath along the abdomen, gives the fish something to hone in on.
It is important to work a shrimp pattern close to the bottom, in amongst the real thing. Depending on the depth, a 10- to 12-foot leader with appropriate tippet is usually sufficient.
In past seasons. I have most often used one of the Rio ‘Streamer Tip’ lines which is essentially a fluorescent yellow floating line with a 9.5-foot clear intermediate sinking tip, to which I add a slightly shorter eight- foot fluorocarbon leader and a couple of feet of regular monofilament tippet. The sinking tip and fluorocarbon leader are almost invisible in the water and will take a fly down quickly into the feeding zone. Having said that, this year I am tempted to try one of Rio’s new InTouch Camolux intermediate sink lines. They are supposed to be a pleasure to cast.
Although shrimp can swim relatively fast for their size, they only swim in short bursts. They swim in an elongated position and curl when resting. Many newer shrimp patterns are tied on curved shank ‘shrimp’ hooks while other more traditional patterns are tied on standard straight shank hooks. A slow retrieve of approximately six-to eight- inch strips, with a pause and interspersed with occasional quick pulls, will simulate the swimming motion of the natural shrimp in the water.
Shrimp patterns are too often overlooked when choosing a fly pattern, especially when some sort of insect hatch is coming off. However, freshwater shrimps are seldom overlooked by feeding trout. They may be small in size, but they make up a very important part of a trout’s diet at certain times of the year. I will certainly be making a point of replacing all the shrimp patterns that I managed to lose over the past seasons.
I might even take some real shrimp along with me when I go fishing. Shrimp on fresh spring greens and kale in a salad with a cranberry-jalapeno dressing and a nice trout cooked on the barbecue out on the porch of the cabin – I can hardly wait to go fishing.