Fifty Tips Tips/Tactics

Fifty Fly Fishing Tips: #18 — Imagine a Target — Fish to the Fish

November 26, 2017
You can roam the river, mending, drifting and stripping, casting into every corner pocket and straight channel. You have the skills to present the fly, the consummate awareness of currents and flows and the stamina to wade rough water for hours on end. But can you imagine a target? Can you picture a trout feeding in the hydraulic swirl behind an unseen chunk of bedrock on the river bottom? Can you believe the trout is there?

The capacity to imagine a trout in the river is a next-level skill that’s only earned by thoughtful time on the water. The angler who mentally catalogs not only the location but also the water conditions surrounding every hooked trout ultimately becomes skilled at predicting where the next fish will be. She fishes with precision, not just to a spot, but to an imagined trout that suddenly becomes real when it’s attached to the end of a fishing line.

It’s not enough to fish a good spot. Fish to the fish, whether seen or unseen.

Photo by Chris Kehres

Most of us don’t get to sight-fish very often. Water and light conditions rarely combine with fish willing to hold in water that’s clear enough, shallow enough and slow enough to reveal their position. On a good day, we catch partial glimpses of a trout, a flashing fin or a fluttering tail. On the luckiest days we might see the full length of a trout; we watch him feed, and then present our fake among the naturals. And in providential moments, the trout eats our fly.

I can count on one hand the times those stars have aligned so well.

Naturally, this is why we all love rising trout, because the target is given as concentric circles on the surface. We cast upstream of the bullseye and hope that the river may put our visible dry smack dab in the center.

The daily angler cannot wait for such moments. Sight fishing and rising trout are infrequent and special opportunities among the hours of a day and seasons of a year. Usually, we must imagine our target and believe its existence with conviction.

We’ve learned to read the water. We understand how currents interact with structure — the eroding bank, the fallen tree, the granite boulder — redirecting the water’s flow and bringing food to a single, waiting trout. Now it’s time to imagine precisely where our trout is holding, to envision how he will move and intercept the fly. And it’s our job to get it there.

We know the water and the habits of our trout well enough to imagine his position precisely. We must trust the invisible trout, as though he were in full view, and fish to him with confidence and resolve.

Fish hard, friends.

Enjoy the day
Domenick Swentosky


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Domenick Swentosky

Hi. I'm a father of two young boys, a husband, writer, musician and fisherman. I fly fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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