Words: Alan Bulmer   Images: Tim Angeli

When I was young and learning to fly fish I was given a tattered book on trout fishing by a curmudgeonly old friend of my fathers. He took me aside, gruffly told me that I should read the book as it contained a wealth of useful information, attempted a wry smile and shuffled off.

The book was “Trout fishing from all angles” by Eric Taverner. The first edition was originally published in 1929. 448 pages long with 250 illustrations. It was a weighty tome for a 9 year old to digest but I gave it my best. Much of what I read initially made little sense but the many illustrations helped clear some of the confusion.

Over the years I’ve re-read many of the chapters and I would have to say that with experience the sage advice I received with the book was absolutely correct. It is a treasure trove of information and unfortunately some of what it covers has been either superceded by technology or lost in the annals of the sport. The problem was though that you simply have to fish for many years before all of the jigsaw pieces fall into place and the information becomes logical and relevant.

There is one chapter in particular which is fascinating and that is a sixteen page treatise on analysing rise forms. This chapter summarises much of what had been learned through observation by the masters, GEM Skues, Harding, Lamond and Taverner himself. These fly fishermen pioneered the sport and their observational and analytical skills were legendary. This book was published in their hey day so it must have been cutting edge at the time.

Mayfly on surface

Back in the day analysing trout rise forms was considered a necessary skill for dry fly and nymph fishermen. Those skilled in the art could look at a surface disturbance, characterise it as bulging, humping, tailing, sucking, sipping, slashing, pyramid, kidney, head and tail, porpoise roll or spotted ring and accurately determine what the trout was feeding on and where in the water column it was feeding. In some cases they even counted the number of tiny bubbles appearing within the ring formed as the trout rose to determine what fly to use. This is a skill which I fear may no longer be in the repertoire of most anglers.

We used to fish on dusk and into darkness during my formative years so analysing rise forms was difficult and at the time I thought it was irrelevant. How wrong I was. Pyramid rises are easy to spot and indicate the fish is probably feeding on hatching sedges. Slashing rises are a sign that the trout is feeding on running sedges or large terrestrials. Spotted ring rises most often indicate the fish is feeding on spent spinners and on it goes. Identify the rise, pick the fly, fish your imitation at the right place in the water column and watch your success rate improve.

I thought that I’d summarise the various rise forms and reproduce the illustrations from “Trout fishing from all angles” as they are probably relevant in NZ. It would be a shame not to share such valuable information.


  • BULGING – occurs when a trout following a nymph downstream turns quickly to secure its prey and then resumes its original position. The powerful tail stroke employed in making the turn causes displaced water to surge upwards which appears as a visible bulge or crinkling of the water surface.


  • HUMPING – the surface of the water is stretched into a hump as a fish intercepts a nymph just in time to prevent it becoming a dun or has caught a helpless pupa swimming up to the surface in readiness for metamorphosis into a sedge fly.


  • TAILING – the trout stands on its head, thrusts its neb down into the weeds or silt and maintains this position by undulations of its body which appear to the observer as the tip of the tail waving above the surface. Generally feeding on nymphs, shrimps or water snails.


Simon Chu striking at rising fish


  • SUCKING – the classical circular ring rise. The presence of an air bubble in the ring is evidence that the trout is taking an up winged dun or spinner because the fish is reaching up to suck in the fly and inhales a minute quantity of air. This air is released through the gills as the fish turns back down.


  • SIP – smaller form of the sucking rise. Gentle rise which shows that the trout gives the insect little chance of escape. Uses the minimum amount of energy to secure its prey.
  • SLASH – a sedge running across the water, a mayfly in the act of leaving the surface or another large insect blown onto the water that starts moving quickly will be taken with a violent slash. The faster the water, the more aggressive the slash.
  • PYRAMID – the projection of a column of water upwards and at an angle to the surface of the water. Shows up as a very white splash after dark. It is caused by the trout’s anxiety to secure a hatching nymph or sedge pupa.



  • HEAD & TAIL – first the nose of the trout breaks through the surface of the water, is exposed for an instant and then disappears only for the tip of the tail to appear in its place. Trout rising like this are often taking spent spinners but it could be anything caught in the surface film and lying flush.

Head & Tail

  • SPOTTED RING – thin circular walled ring with four or five air bubbles grouped around the centre. This indicates the fish is feeding on spent spinners or insects caught in the surface film.

Spotted ring

  • PORPOISE ROLL – the back of the trout is arched so that the dorsal fin protrudes through the surface. Again feeding on spent fly.

Porpoise roll

Most of the key information on what the fish are feeding on when they rise in a certain manner is listed in the following table:-

Rise table

However, Taverner issues a note of caution in using this information. “The peculiarities of a rise form are not easy to observe. Often it cannot be said with certainty what fly has been taken; the rings of each pattern proceed so rapidly outwards that the pattern is always in a state of change throughout the three or four seconds which is its maximum duration; the pattern made by a trout when taking a given fly is altered tremendously by a variation in the pace of water; a near view of the rings is often out of the question and one rise form in particular only occurs at dusk or in the semi-darkness. Elucidation of problems like these presented by rise forms is only worthwhile if the solutions can be connected with the natural fly and tested out straightaway with the artificial.”

So there you have it. Observe, compare and experiment. Record what you find and see if any patterns emerge. I’m sure that when you adopt this approach you will unearth learnings that will improve your dry fly success rate. Ultimately it is up to us to see whether the UK findings from the 1920’s hold true in NZ but if they do then wouldn’t it be a fascinating discovery?

Note: The stunning images accompanying this article were generously provided by the multi talented Tim Angeli. Check out his work on:-



  1. interesting to see if the thoughts of te 1920s,from the UK, read about on a NZ blog, will work back in the UK !!

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