Trout Rise Forms: What are they and Why they Matter?

Updated: Oct 19

A trout's rise form describes the behavior of a trout's body when it is eating prey on or in the surface film. There are three primary types of rise forms: Splashy rises, bulging rises, and surface rises.

Splashy Rises

Bulging Rises

Surface Rises

I’m so entranced by the sight of rising trout that I could probably stand in the middle of a stream and watch them without making a single cast. I use the word probably because the only time I stand in the middle of a spring creek is to cast to trout, and I’m not planning to change that any time soon.

Reading rise forms can help identify:

  • Where the trout is holding

  • What stage of the insect’s life it's keying in on

  • Sometimes, what type of insect it’s feeding on

*A common mistake is assuming the fish are eating the same flies observed in the air and on the water. This is great for determining what’s hatching, but rise forms are the trout’s way of telling us what they're eating at a specific time and which patterns and techniques might be most successful.

All rise forms are fun to watch, and a little attentiveness and background knowledge can increase the odds of hooking up with them.

Splashy Rises:

What is a splashy rise?

Splashy rises are often heard as much as they are seen. You may have had your attention focused on changing flies, tying on tippet, or looking up at the beauty around you, and been “interrupted” by the sound of a trout ripping through the surface film. This would be considered a splashy rise. These occur when a trout is chasing and attacking its prey instead of holding in a current lane and waiting for the insects to come to them.

What does a splashy rise look like?

It occurs any time more than just the trout's snout, and/or back fin breaks the surface, and is accompanied by water splashing around the rise ring. The impact on the water’s surface with a splashy rise looks similar to throwing a small pebble into the stream.

What does a splashy rise tell us?

This rise form typically signifies opportunistic instead of selective feeding. When no abundance of food is floating down the current’s "conveyor belt", trout aren’t keyed in on anything specific and are open to taking a variety of insects. When they aren’t keyed in on anything specific, they have no reason to hang out in the top of the water column, so they hold closer to the bottom. A commonly held belief is that splashy rises signify trout feeding on emergers or caddis flies. While this is sometimes true, it’s not what they’re eating that causes the splashy rise, it's that they have to shoot themselves through the fast moving water before their target gets away.

Key strategies for splashy rises:

  • Use an attractor fly a little larger and brighter than you typically would. The fish is holding closer to the bottom and you need to get its attention. Now’s not the time for tiny midge patterns.

  • Get the fish excited. It takes a lot of energy for a trout to shoot up through the water column, so they need to believe it’s worth their time. One way to induce excitement is to add a little movement to the presentation.

Best flies for splashy rises:

  • Terrestrials such as hoppers or ant patterns

  • Klinkhammer

  • Stimulator

Bulging Rises:

What is a bulging rise?

Physics tells us that anytime a trout moves, water is pushed away from them in the opposite direction. Regardless of the rise form, if a trout moves vertically while close enough to the surface, water is pushed up and creates visible waves. What makes bulging rises different, is that the fish itself never breaks the surface. The visible disturbance is created from water being pushed away from the fish instead of by the fish itself.

What does a bulging rise look like?

No fins snouts or bubbles will be seen, just a bulge from which the waves move away from. It’s also possible to see the flash of the fish’s side or open mouth as it turns back down after capturing its prey.

What does a bulging rise tell us?

This rise form has caused hair pulling frustrations for many. Fly fishermen see what APPEARS to be trout feeding on the surface, and immediately tie on an adult imitation. Bugling rises however signify fish feeding BELOW the surface, not on or in it. It also indicates that the fish are holding somewhere closer to the middle of the water column. They’re off the bottom enough to get a good look at their meal, but not taking the risk of holding too close to the top.

Key strategies for bulging rises:

  • Use a dry dropper rig with the dropper attached 4-6 inches below your dry. The dry should be no more than 1-2 sizes larger than the dropper.

  • Trout see underwater much better than they do above the surface, so be subtle with the choice of dropper pattern and attach it to the dry with fluorocarbon tippet instead of monofilament.

  • Stay low and move slow. When fish are in the middle of the water column, their field of vision above the water is much greater than when they hold closer to the surface.

Best dropper flies for bulging rises:

  • RS-2 squeezed wet