Ready, Fire, Aim
Many people know their home waters like the back of their hand. These types of anglers can be divided into two groups of people; good fly fisherman, and fisherman who know their home waters. Fisherman who know their home waters, know where to go, when to go, where to fish, where to stand and cast, Which fly to use etc.… An angler can learn many of these things from a friend, a guide, the Internet or fellow fisherman. The anglers who know these things and who are proficient at them only achieve this knowledge through many hours of fishing their home waters. When I reached this point, I fondly felt that I had arrived and that I had become a good fisherman only to be severely humbled and humiliated every time conditions changed or when I fished waters that were different than my home water. My first reaction was always to declare that one river was simply not as good as another or (in the case of my home water after a change in conditions) to blame the conditions. I could be quoted as saying things such as “the fishing isn’t any good now because….”. I would use water level, water clarity, temperature, weather patterns and even fish selectivity and fish intelligence for the reasons that I was not doing well at the time. I would say things such as “fishing was terrible today.” And “nobody was catching fish today.” Sometimes I would even say things like “Not even the guides were catching fish today.”
Eventually, it occurred to me that fish are wild animals and that they must eat every day. And if they eat every day, and I place a reasonable representation of the their food source in front of them and make it look alive, the probability of the fish eating my fly would be pretty good. Therefore, if the fish weren’t eating my fly, I was doing something wrong. This way of thinking radically changed my fly-fishing. With the help of a good friend, I became aware of a well-known life principle that says that when a person has the mindset that their problem is ‘out there’ (the thinking that the problem is not caused by them and therefore being used as an excuse for failure). That thinking is the problem. When the angler views the problem as an uncontrollable exterior force, they are fishing with a paradigm that leads them to believe that due to situational conditions, the problem cannot be solved. As apposed to an angler thinking totally different and looking ‘inward’ to discover what it is that he or she could do differently to solve a given situation and catch the fish even when conditions seem difficult (they may only be difficult if an angler is using the same technique that isn’t working, yet repeating it). I was beginning to learn that if I wanted to become a better fisherman, I had to start taking responsibility for my lack of success instead of blaming all of the conditions around me when I didn’t catch fish. I had purchased the gear and had invested years on the water but now it was time to start looking inward, thinking differently and refining a systematic approach that would allow me to dissect every body of water upon arrival and solve the puzzle even when solving the puzzle meant using techniques and systems that were not what I was accustomed to doing.
Every single day, the river or lake will offer the fly fisherman something. Sometimes it will offer you more than others. Sometimes it will offer great dry fly fishing and other times not. I believe that there are two things required to become a good fisherman. First, the angler must recognize that the river will grant the fly fisherman something even if it is not offering them what they would like it to, the fisherman must be able to evaluate the current conditions of the stream and determine what it is that the river is really offering at that moment.
Now this is where some people get into trouble. I know one fisherman who believes that he is systematically breaking down the river each time he goes fishing. He looks into the air to see if insects are flying around. If so, he will put on a dry fly. If he does not see anything flying or fish rising, he will get out his seine and begin taking samples until he finds a sow bug or other crustacean. He will then tie on a shrimp or a sow bug pattern. If he does not find a sow bug or shrimp in his sampling, he will continue to take samples until he finds one. He believes that he is being scientific and solving the puzzle but in reality he has subconsciously pre-determined that if the fish are rising, he will look into the air and match what’s flying, otherwise he will tie on a sow bug or a scud. This is fine for him about 50% of the time but what about those times when fish are eating insects on or near the surface that are different than what the angler sees flying in the air; what about the times when the fish are eating emergers or nymphs and or pupa that are rising to the surface of the water? All of these situations can produce rising fish but the type of rise will be different depending on the type or stage of the insect available to the fish and the fly will be very different, sometimes in the look and construction of the fly and sometimes simply how it should be fished. The angler that I mentioned is not really seeking to understand exactly what it is that the river is offering, rather, he is systematically reaffirming which fly he wants to use and then doing the same thing that he always does. He catches fish almost every time he goes to his home waters but he also complains from time to time that the fish are very picky. I know him well and the excuses always seem to increase when he is not fishing in one of his usual spots.
Once an angler has determined what it is that the river is offering on a given day, the second half of the puzzle is thinking differently. By this I mean that the angler should be completely willing to try any technique necessary to capitalize on the situation without predetermining techniques, flies and fishing spots. This may mean casting a different direction, changing leader or tippet configurations or it may mean being willing to do something very unconventional and out of the box.
Many fly fishermen have a set of techniques and good fishing spots where they are successful. Anglers often fondly believe that their favorite fishing holes are better than other places on the river but in truth, fish are located throughout most trout streams and the fly fisherman’s favorite hole is not necessarily always better than other places, the techniques that he or she is accustomed to using is simply matched well with the depth, currents and water speeds of the area. When the Angler can determine exactly what the river has to offer every single time and then be able to adapt and deliver exactly what is required in order to capitalize on the situation, they catch more fish with a greater level of efficiency in a broader range of fishing situations. Ideally, the idea is to systematically break down the situation and allow circumstances to determine the method.