Cutthroat Trout

Guest blogger:  Mike Cline, Bozeman, MT

Years ago when I was fishing northern Minnesota every summer, I think I had a map of Lake Kabetogama in  Voyageurs National Park  from the  Fishing Hot Spots map company . I couldn’t find the map when I looked recently but remember them as showing all the spots on the lake where the different species of fish should be found. I generally found fish in the spots they recommended but found them as well other spots. They still sell these maps and I guess they are useful in unfamiliar waters. They don’t make any of these maps for Montana so I guess there are no “Hot Spots” out here. But even without the maps, hot spots are an important part of fly fishing for trout no matter where you fish. I don’t know what the criteria are for recommending any particular location on a lake or stream as a hotspot, but I do know trout are smart enough to recognize a hot spot when they see one.

Of course I am not talking about hot spots marked on maps but those hot spots we add to our flies, those little bits of fluorescent thread, yarn, and floss or dubbing that somehow standout over the other parts of the fly. I’ve been incorporating “hot spots” in some of my ties for a while now, but wanted to learn more about where they originated and why they work. (Yes, they do work).

There’s a very good article on the topic in the Spring 2013 issue of Fly Tyer magazine. Hot Spots Make Flies Sizzle by Aaron Jasper gives a bit of history as well as contemporary knowledge on hot spots. Apparently originated by lake anglers in England in the 1970s there are debates about where the idea of hot spots actually came from. But there’s no debate as to why they are effective.

First, florescent colors reflect and hold their color much longer as flies descend the water column. Subtle and muted tones of black, olives and browns tend to wash out into a uniform gray as things get darker down deep. Whereas a brown fly might look gray at 10 feet, a florescent orange hotspot will still look orange (at least to the trout). This was the primary rationale behind the addition of hotspots—better fly visibility at depth.

The second and most useful part of the hotspot question comes from the nature of aquatic insects, crustaceans and baitfish themselves and the way fish feed on them. Many living, if not most, living aquatic nymphs, pupae, emerging adults as well as baitfish have portions of their bodies that are sharply contrasted. Typically reproductive organs of female stoneflies often become bright red or orange before egg laying. Egg sacs of mayflies, caddis, etc. can be of color distinctly in contrast to overall body color. Internal organs may be of a distinctly different color than the exterior skin and show through segmentation or transparent parts of a body. This is especially prevalent in young baitfish fry.  Leeches  can display bright red, yellow, or orange spots or lines on their bodies. Molting crayfish have very translucent skins revealing contrasting internal organs. Reds and orange can be naturally found in  midge  pupae as blood is pumped to the wings prior to emergence.

What’s really important here are the theories as to why fish, especially trout in flowing water, react well to hot spots on our flies? Feeding fish are presented with a steady stream of drifting materials and potential food. Bits of wood, moss, vegetation, and other inert organic and non-organic materials are mixed in with all those living things—nymphs, pupae, emerging insects and baitfish. In other words, the trout has a choice. It is believed that instinctively, given the choice, the trout will choose things in the drift that most resemble food. Bits of wood, moss, vegetation, and other inert organic and non-organic materials generally don’t display any sharp contrasts in color, whereas living food does. Thus, so goes the theory, the addition of a hot spot to a fly influences the trout to at least examine the fly as potential food. It makes good sense, and as far as I can tell from my experiences, the addition of hotspots to flies does not detract from their appeal to trout.

If we look at this from an historical perspective, even though florescent materials weren’t really available until the late 20 th century, anglers have been incorporating hotspots, at least in concept, to flies since the 19 th century.

Even 19 th century flies incorporated many bright colors and areas of sharp contrasts. The 1882 Orvis creation—The Triumph—was a highly successful bass fly. How many hotspots does it have?

A great many of the fancy wet flies of the late 19 th century and early 20 th century incorporated sharp color contrasts and bright or shiny tags of red, gold or silver that might be considered hotspots in their day.

Even modern classics such as the Woolly worm included a bright red tail or hotspot. The classic Royal Coachman is recognizable and probably so successful because of the red “hotspot” waist in all versions of the fly.

Today we incorporate hotspots into our flies with florescent beads, dubbing, threads and such. And the one thing that has become obvious to me is this—there are no rules here, no precise patterns or dictums that say the hotspot should go here or there. Just about any fly, especially subsurface flies, can incorporate a “hotspot”–an element of high visibility and sharp contrast. Of course florescent beads are the easiest method, but subtle hotspots can be created with dubbing and/or thread. The great majority of my Woolly Buggers, regardless of color, are now tied with florescent orange thread which creates a small hotspot at the head of the fly. If trout are smart enough to choose between a small piece of moss and a bright green caddis pupae, then there’s no reason to make them think. Play on their instincts and give a “hot spot” to chew on.

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