Trout Rise Forms Explained: How to Tell What Fish Are Taking

Learn how to interpret trout rise forms and dial in to what they are feeding on to catch MORE trout and bigger fish

Trout rise forms – the manner in which then take their prey off or just under the surface film – can reveal a lot about what they are eating and help us immensely in our fly fishing.

By understanding trout rise forms, you have a far better chance of matching the hatch in terms of the type of insect and stage at which it is being eaten by the trout.

In this article, we break down the three basic types of trout rise form, discuss how to identify them and reveal how to fish them successfully.

Improve your dry fly fishing and catch more rising trout with this short lesson on rise forms.

The Three Basic Types of Rise Form

Trout rise forms can vary a lot, but to simplify things we have grouped them into three basic types of rise.

Sipping Rises

Sipping Rise Diagram of trout rising to a dun

What is a sipping rise?

The sipping rise is probably the most common rise you will encounter in trout fishing. Trout feeding relatively high in the water column taking duns or terrestrials off the top will do so with this type of rise. This can be a quite a subtle rise.

How to identify a sipping rise

  • Often one of the telltale signs of a sipping rise is that you will see the trout’s snout protrude through the surface film as it sips down the insect in the surface film.
  • Sipping rises in calm water usually produce neat circular rise rings that most people in fly fishing associate with the classic rise.
  • Because trout sipping like this are often quite high in the water column, it is often easy to see them if you are using polarized sunglasses, as any serious fly fisher should be, and you are fishing clear waters such as spring creek or freestone stream.

How to fish this rise?

Sipping rise forms show us the there is a relatively abundant supply of food on the water’s surface in the feeding lane – enough to get the fish to abandon their innate caution and come up to the surface.

When we see trout rising in this way when we are fly fishing, we can look at what’s floating down the current lines either by visually inspecting or using a seine net.

The sipping rise can often be fishing taking the dun stage of the two main hatching insects – mayfly or caddis. The right size and profile dry fly will often bring the right result.

It can also be trout feeding on falling terrestrial insects – beetles, ants, hoppers and more.

Trout feeding on spent spinners – the final phase of the mayfly life cycle – also show this kind of rise.

Once we have worked out what the rising fish are eating, then it is matter of matching that prey for size and profile, and usually success will follow.

Bulging Rises

Bulging Rise Diagram of trout taking a pupa or emerger

What is a bulging rise?

A bulging rise occurs when a trout comes up in the water column to take an insect just below the water’s surface.

How to identify a bulging rise?

  • The as the trout swims up, takes the bug beneath the surface and heads back down it pushes water up vertically disturbing the water’s surface with a characteristic bulge.
  • Bulging rises can be a little bit harder to spot than a sipping rise.
  • Sometimes you might even see a dorsal fin or the fish’s back protrude through the water’s surface with trout rising in this way

How to fish a bulging rise?

You can save yourself a lot of frustration when you correctly identify a bulging rise, because it does tell you that the rising fish are focused on emerging insects. To the less informed angler these fish appear to be rising, but yet they will usually ignore any dun pattern put over the top of them.

The bulging rise means you should switch to emerger patterns or even a nymph. A good emerger pattern sits low in the water with the tail and some of the body sitting beneath the water.

This is often enough to attract these subsurface feeders. But other times you’ll need to go a little deeper with a nymph. This can be fished by greasing the leader up the final six inches and watching carefully for any takes. Alternatively you can hang the nymph beneath an indicator, or better still, a dry fly in the dry-dropper style.

Splashy Rises

Splashy Rise Diagram of trout taking a spinner

What is a splashy rise?

Splashy rises are any form of fish where the rising fish emerges from the water in a chaotic way splashing a significant amount of water.

These aggressive rises you that fish are actively hunting their prey and that helps us with our tactics.

How to Identify a Splashy Rise

  • They are more dynamic, chaotic and dramatic than normal surface rises
  • Usually a fair proportion of the fish’s body will come out of the water for this rise form
  • Sometimes the whole fish will emerge from the water

How to Fish This Rise

Splashy rises show us that the fish are locked on a particular kind of prey and aren’t afraid to expend a fair bit of energy to get it. When you see trout rising in this manner it means the prey is either large or plentiful, and airborne.

Classic splashy rises occur when fish are hunting dragonflies or damselflies on the wing – a famously hard hatch to fish.

Big caddis hatches can also prompt splash rises in the tailout of pools and runs where fish in shallow water and take the caddis on the wing. This is where a skated caddis pattern can work wonders.

Trout chasing spinners is another example of this type of rise form. They charge around in the shallows plucking spinners from the air, often leaping with their whole bodies out of the water. This kind of spinner fall offers some excellent dry fly fishing, but you must be able to closely match the color and profile of the mayfly spinners to enjoy success.

The famous salmon fly hatch is another example where you will see the classic splash rise.

Trout Rise Form FAQs

Why are trout jumping but not biting?

If you see a fish rise in this way – ie jumping right out of the water – you are dealing with a splashy rise. That means the fish is hungry and actively feeding, but not on what your are imitating with your fly.u003cbru003eYou need to take a close look at your surroundings and find the insects on which they are feeding – are the fish rising to mayfly spinners, salmon flies or dragon flies or damsels or even bees or wasps?u003cbru003eOnce you’ve worked that out and tied on a close imitation, you are usually in the game.u003cbru003eTrout rising in this way are often moving rapidly and looking skyward as they chase the insects on the wing. Sight fishing is a huge advantage as it allows you to punch a cast in directly in front of the fish before it zigs or zags of course.u003cbru003eFor dragonflies and damselflies in particular, it doesn’t pay to leave the fly on the water long as a u0022dead driftu0022 presentation is not realistic here – the actual insects are always scooting across the water surface in unpredictable ways, so as to not get eaten!u003cbru003eI like to cast directly into the most recent rise ring as sometimes the fish will miss the actual dragonfly but come back round for a look in case they’ve stunned it and can pick up an easy meal. That’s where they hopefully encounter your fly and eat it!u003cbru003eA few quick strips from time to time often helps when fly fishing to damsel/dragon feeders.

How will long will trout rise for?

Trout will usually keep feeding on the surface for as long as the hatch or fall lasts. Sometimes a big hatch is so strong and long that the fish will get full and stop feeding, but that’s rare.u003cbru003eYou always have to remember that trout behaviour is government by both supplies of food and energy, and the need to feel safe.u003cbru003eThis means they’ll only feed in an energy intensive way – say taking floating duns off the surface in a swift current – if there is enough good to justify the energy expended.u003cbru003eIn this instance if the hatch wanes the fish will not be consuming enough food to offset the energy it is spending keeping on station, so it will switch to a different feeding pattern – ie taking nymphs in a deeper lie.

Does this advice apply to the evening rise?

Yes, for sure! You can see all these rise forms at various stages of the evening rise. Often as the hatch begins, the dry fly fishing angler will see the bulging rise as the trout pick up the ascending pupa or emergers close to the surface.u003cbru003eLater on they’ll switch to duns and fly fishermen will see the classic sipping rise forms.u003cbru003eAnd if we are talking mayflies, you might even see them chasing spinners on the wing during a spinner fall producing the trademark splashy rise.

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Rick Wallace is a passionate angler and fly fisher whose work has appeared in fishing publications including FlyLife. He's appeared in fishing movies, founded a successful fishing site and spends every spare moment on the water. He's into kayak fishing, ultralight lure fishing and pretty much any other kind of fishing out there.
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