The best advice that could be given to an angler would be to spend more time watching fish and less time trying to perfect a long distance cast. Anyone who wants to get proficient at hunting fish needs to begin by observing them. Open your eyes and understand what the fish is doing before you make your first cast. Observation is key.
Tonight’s presentation focusses on a condition that all winged insects face from time to time. When an insect is on the water’s surface and can’t leave the water’s surface, it is said that the insect is crippled. A cripple can be defined as any insect that is unable to fly away from the water. This includes trapped emergers, blown-down duns and crippled spinners. Even land-born insects that land on the water can be considered cripples because they do not have the ability to escape once one of their wings are stuck in the surface film.
Fishermen who fly fish for trout overlook cripples more often than any other food source. That’s unfortunate, because cripples are likely to be the most keyed-on of all aquatic foods. To become a better angler and increase the number of fish you hook, learn everything you can about cripples.
If you were to open up most fly fishermen’s fly boxes, chances are there are no cripple patterns present. Most people are trying to match the hatch with popular nymphal, emerger and dry fly patterns. But often times when surface activity is present, a cripple pattern if presented to the fish, would likely bring on a strike.
Trout are opportunistic predators. A crippled insect is an easy meal, trapped and unable to fly away. Trout will take advantage to eating cripples because they use less energy as opposed to going after an insect that is capable of flying away: the trout has to act more quickly to get the fly as opposed to eating the crippled fly in a more casual and relaxed fashion. Fishing a fly that appears to be easy prey can be devastatingly effective.
An insect can become injured in many ways. It can fail to complete a transitional stage, lack of robustness of the insect, the emerging insect may be too weak to fight through the water’s surface film tension, its wings can be forced into the surface film by wind or rain, or it can be attacked by a predator. Trout, like all predators are instinctively programed to eat weak or injured prey and will focus on them over healthy insects. Even trout that are not actively feeding are always on the lookout for an easy meal and few are easier than cripples. Trout feeding on cripples will often pass up healthy duns, but trout feeding on duns will seldom pass on cripples.
Some insects can be stuck in their nymphal shuck and as such are crippled in the film. . These are sometimes referred to as stillborn. Sometimes the insects are blown over on their sides due to wind or rain. Once their wings are caught in the water, they become crippled and can’t fly away. When mayfly and midges get blown over, they basically show one wing in the film which is what the trout focus on. Caddis flies emerge more quickly and are stronger flies than mayflies. This does not mean, however, that they are immune to the effects of wind or rain. Short-winged caddis emergers with trailing pupal shucks mimic natural insects struggling to overcome wind/rain-produced resistance to emergence. Drowned adult caddis lie inert on the surface with water-soaked wings that failed to lift them away.
Other insects like ants, bees, grasshoppers, etc.: once their wings get wet and get caught in the film, they also cannot free themselves and therefore become crippled and cannot fly away.
There are very few true cripple mayfly patterns on the market. Most cripple patterns that you find are actually emerger flies. Flies like the Bob Quigley and Rene Harrop patterns with their straight bodies and the ones developed by Kelly Galloup with curved bodies are true Mayfly cripple flies patterns.
Traditional Japanese Tenkara flies with their hackle pointing forward over the eye make great cripple patterns.
Cripple flies are patterns that float in, and often extend below the water’s surface film. Soft hackles have made use of this principal since the beginning of fly fishing. Soft hackles can be used to represent a sunken insect that has drowned or an emerging insect stuck in the shuck.
At the start of a hatch, it’s often a good idea to put on a cripple pattern. Fish may refuse a dun but they will always eat a cripple, as long as it is the correct size, colour and shape. This is especially true on waters that are heavily fished. The reason for this is that the fish know that a dun can fly away but a cripple is not able to escape.