What Is A Trout?

What Is A Trout?

Plus, the lowdown on leader dynamics; where to find jungle cock

  • By: Paul Guernsey
  • and Buzz Bryson
Everyone knows that the brook trout is not really a trout at all, but a char (genus Salvelinus). And during the past few decades we have learned that both rainbow trout and cutthroats are actually Pacific salmon (genus Oncorhynchus). Yet people continue to falsely honor these fish with the name "trout." Isn't it time we began reserving this exalted title for the One True Trout-the European brown trout-and calling all lesser species by their proper names?

We don't agree that browns are somehow superior to the other trouts. And notice that we said, "trouts." When we referred your question to Dr. Robert J. Behnke, the world's foremost scientific authority on trout and salmon, he suggested that you were getting way too hung up on the common names of fishes.

According to Dr. Behnke, the fact that Salmo trutta was the first fish to be called a trout doesn't necessarily make it more worthy of the name than a cutthroat, a rainbow or even a speckled seatrout. Why? Because a common name is just that: The name that most people use when they're talking about something. Dr. Behnke further points out that no less an authority than the American Fisheries Society continues to list "trout" as part of the common name of many of our non-Salmo salmonids, including that of our favorite char, the brook trout.

To quote Dr. Behnke: "A trout is a trout is a trout." If you want real precision in your nomenclature, Dr. Behnke suggests using the scientific names of fish, and dropping the word trout from your vocabulary altogether. Or, you could just go fishing… -P.G.

I'm an Eastern brook trout angler, and this winter I'd like to tie up a bunch of Hornbergs using real jungle-cock nails rather than the fake-looking artificial ones. Is it now legal to buy jungle cock, and if so, do you know where I can get some?

For a few years now it has been legal to buy farm-raised jungle fowl-a south Asian kissing cousin of the domestic chicken that was loved almost to the point of extinction by fly tiers. In fact, the wild jungle cock is still on the international list of endangered birds.

There aren't a lot of US sources for this stuff; the only one we know of is Castle Arms Fishermen's Furs&Feathers, 800-525-4866; www.castlearms.com. Phil Castleman also carries quite a few other exotic feathers and other materials for traditional and experimental fly tiers. For more on the Hornberg pattern, see page 40. -P.G.

What can you tell me about the physics of leader design, specifically short leaders vs. long leaders and skinny leaders vs. fat? How do the variables of length and thickness change the way the fly acts when it is cast?

Leader performance pretty much follows that of lines: The energy used to turn over the line and subsequently the leader comes from power applied by the angler through the casting motion of the arm and rod. That energy, being a function of mass and velocity, is transferred down the belly of the line (the unrolling loop). When the energy reaches the front taper (with its decreasing mass), the result is an increase in velocity. Applied correctly, and with a correctly tapered leader (matched to the line and fly), that energy flow results in a smooth turnover, with the energy bleeding off as the leader straightens, and dropping the fly lightly on the water.

OK, here are some useful generalities about leaders; just keep in mind that they are not absolutes. First off, realize proper leader design begins with taper and not length. A typical dryfly leader has a moderately heavy butt section (that's thick, not stiff!), comprising roughly 60 percent of the leader's length, followed by a fairly quick transition section (say 20 percent), and ending with the tippet (another 20 percent).

If the leader is too short, the energy transferring from the line doesn't have the time to bleed off, and the fly will turn over quickly, and land hard. If the leader is too long, the energy will dissipate before the cast is finished, the leader won't turn over completely and the fly will land in a heap of monofilament.

As for taper, a long, too-skinny leader or one with a too-short butt section will collapse, and not turn over well. A leader with too light or too long a tippet for the fly size will do the same. Conversely, a too-heavy tippet will also land heavily.

But if you really know your leader construction, all these characteristics can be used to your advantage under tough conditions. For instance, an extra-long tippet, or a leader with a longer transition section, can be used to give you a better drag-free float over tough fish, such as on a spring creek. Or, if the wind is howling but the fish are freely rising, and you just can't get the leader to turn over with any accuracy, cut back the tippet, lengthen the butt and shorten the transition section. This adjustment will help you to push as much energy as you can through the leader to the fly.

Just remember that shorter, steeper, heavier leaders transfer more energy, more quickly: Use them for big flies, and tough conditions. Longer, lighter leaders are just the opposite, losing that energy before it all gets to the fly. Use them for more delicate conditions. -B.B.

Got questions about anything under the fly-fishing sun? Write to "Ask FR&R," PO Box 370, Camden, ME 04843, or e-mail us at editors@flyrodreel.com.