There once was a time where if you wanted to know what the fish were feeding on, you’d either keep a fish and examine the stomach contents or hang around the boat launches and fish cleaning stations. The truth is, what you’re getting in those stomach samples is a very vague indication as to exactly what were the fish eating. Most of the chironomids found in stomach samples of dead fish are a long ways from what the looked like when fish were actively feeding on them 3 hours ago. So what if you could see what was in the fish’s THROAT (not stomach), while still being able to release the fish unharmed? This is where the throat pump comes into play.
Many times my day has been saved by throat pumping the first fish of the day and getting an exact look on what was making my day so difficult. You see mayfly shucks everywhere & are rewarded with little success only to find out the fish are ignoring the mayflies and eating size 16 chironomids after throat pumping a fish, or maybe your black and red is being ignored because they’re keyed in on lime greens? Throat pumps are basically a glorified turkey baster with a tapered tube end, the tapered end allows the throat pump to go just into the throat without causing any cutting or scraping to the fish. A throat pump shows not just what they’re eating, but what they’ve been eating recently.
How to pump a fish? Simple. First things first, the fish has to be big enough to pump. I don’t pump any fish under sixteen inches long to avoid causing any damage in the process due to the diameter of the tube. I also do not pump bigger rainbows (8lb+) to avoid causing any additional stress to the fish. Simply put the pump in the water and squeeze the bulb, then eject the water you just pulled into the tube which will assure the tube isn’t dry in any spots. Squeeze the bulb and hold it while slowly inserting it directly into the center of the fish’s throat. Once you feel the slightest bit of resistance, release the bulb and pull the pump out. If successful, you should see a cloud of food fill the tube of the throat pump. The fish doesn’t need to leave the water for this process, and if your first attempt isn’t successful just release the fish and try again on the next one.
Once the fish is released, grab a small glass vile or the back of a clear tippet spool and squeeze the contents out of the bulb. Sometimes it takes filling the pump with water to mix up whatever is stuck in the bulb and send it down the tube. This is especially effective in the springtime when fish are keyed on chironomids, as there is such a wide variety of colours & shades it can be a guessing game until you can throat pump a fish and dial in the size & colour of the bugs. Once this is complete, open up the fly box and match the hatch as closely as possible.
Throat pumps will set you back a total of $10 dollars and it will be one of the best ten bucks you ever spend for stillwater fishing. Throat pumps are worth their weight in gold and it’s good to have one or two extras handy. Thank you for reading & best of luck on the water!